Malick looks poised to return to public eye

A few months ago, in a column about the long-disappeared director of “The Honeymoon Killers,” I remarked that Leonard Kastle was the inactive filmmaker most frequently inquired and speculated about in industry and buff circles, after Terrence Malick.

I recently spoke with Bobby Geisler, a New York-based executive producer, with partner John Roberdeau, of films (“Streamers,””Secret Friends”) and theater (“Strange Interlude,””Aren’t We All?”), who informed me that Malick has been anything but unproductive of late. “He, and everyone around him, is tired of reading about ‘Terry the hermit, Terry the recluse,’ ” Geisler confided.

To remedy this situation, the notoriously press-shy Malick wasn’t prepared to speak about his life since the release of his second and last film to date, the exquisite “Days of Heaven,” in 1978. But Geisler, who has been friends with Malick for 15 years, and some other associates offered the exciting news that Malick has written two screenplays he intends to direct, as well as a stage play , all of which Geisler and Roberdeau are backing.

“There has been the question of whether he is working, and working toward a goal,” Geisler admitted. “I can say that he’s feeling the gravity, and urge, to make movies, and this is no longer, as it might have been, in question. We are daily progressing toward that time when Terry says, ‘Action.’ ”

HOWEVER, THERE ARE SOME SURPRISES IN STORE. Geisler intimated, “It’s likely that the way Terry Malick will come back into public view is not through the expected route of a film, but through Broadway.”

An as-yet untitled adaptation of the famous 10th-century Japanese folktale “Sansho the Bailiff,” the play has been conceived on an epic scale, but is designed to retain an intensely human focus. “At heart, it’s a very intimate story,” Geisler said, “but its ambition has been to shake up Broadway. It’s a work of size and soul.”

Joe Melillo, producing director at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and one of the few people to have read the play, revealed that the work “is an epic theatrical piece, very large in scale, but it’s all in the writing, which is very poetic.

GIVEN THE MAGNITUDE OF THE PRODUCTION, I think it would have to be done on a Broadway scale. But it would certainly be different from what you normally find on Broadway. The settings and locales, and what is in the language, communicate visual ideas. At the same time, it has deep insights into people. There’s a nice tension between the enlightening human story among several characters against a backdrop of a lot of action.”

Filmed memorably by the great Kenji Mizoguchi in 1954, “Sansho” is as well known in Japan as “Hansel and Gretel” is in the West, and concerns two children who become separated from their parents and are put into slavery. The story, originally passed on by troubadours and wandering minstrels, chronicles great personal sacrifice, the enduring strength of familial love, an epic journey, revenge and the triumph of courage and mercy.

According to the producers’ Japanese associate Atsushi Naito, Malick’s treatment of the story, which has been in the works for three years, is sometimes reminiscent of “Pilgrim’s Progress.” The writer is not planning to stage the piece, however, and Geisler and Roberdeau are instead approaching some of Europe’s leading directors, including Ingmar Bergman, Peter Brook, Andrzej Wajda and Peter Stein.

Of Malick’s two screenplays, no one is saying anything regarding the original , entitled “The English-Speaker,” except for Geisler’s comment: “It’s something Terry’s been thinking about since before ‘Days of Heaven.’ But it’s new, not one of his old projects.”

Latter might specifically refer to Malick’s much-whispered-about epic relating to the creation of the world. Director prepared the project at Paramount in the late 1970s-early 1980s and actually shot some test footage on diverse international locations before calling it off, from all accounts fed up with Hollywood and its infinite pressures.

LIVING MOSTLY IN AUSTIN, TEXAS, but sometimes in Paris, Malick has devoted considerable time to adapting James Jones’ novel “The Thin Red Line.” An intense chronicle of the World War II battle for Guadalcanal from beginning to end, the book was filmed, unmemorably, in 1964. Malick’s version “has got everything about the book that I love,” said Jones’ widow, Gloria. “Terry Malick is extremely in love with the book, and the script is very faithful, it’s as good as the novel.”

Jones’ novelist daughter Kaylie, a great fan of Malick’s films, feels that the director “has a profound understanding of my father’s work. He seems to have an existential sense about evil, a feeling for normal people pushed into things they normally wouldn’t do. His films are about human beings in dire circumstances, and their ability to just, finally, kill. In Hollywood, there’s a tendency to pass judgment on characters who do something that’s usually construed as being evil, and Terry doesn’t do that.”

Geisler acknowledged that “The Thin Red Line” would be an enormous film on the scale of David Lean’s spectaculars and might be made after “The English-Speaker.””We’re not quite yet at the point of putting the packages together. But I don’t think it’s going to be a problem,” Geisler said.

“We’ve had many calls from people asking about Malick’s projects, if they might get involved. There’s that great Malick, almost Kubrick-like mystique.”

Speaking of which, what about Kubrick’s ultra-secret next project, which he is supposedly getting ready to start shooting?