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California Literary Review

Badlands Revisited


Badlands Revisited

Unmade Bed by Imogen Cunningham

Terence Malick plays the ‘Caller at Rich Man’s House’ in his 1973 film Badlands.

In honor of the premier of Terence Malick’s fifth film, The Tree of Life, at this year’s Cannes film festival, I’m updating my previous post relating Malick’s first film, Badlands, and the photography of Robert Adams. As I mentioned, Badlands was filmed on location in southern Colorado, and recently I finally made it to Pueblo, Colorado’s Rosemount House Museum, aka the interior of the “rich man’s house.” Fans of Malick’s offbeat, lyrical American aesthetic should find plenty to like there.

The exterior shots of the rich man’s house, including the scene in which Malick himself has a brief cameo as an architect, mostly show the Bloom Mansion in nearby Trinidad. While the Bloom Mansion’s Charles Addams-esque facade no doubt made it an irresistible location, the mid-Victorian rooms inside are relatively small and cramped.

Trinidad, Colorado's Bloom Mansion

Trinidad, Colorado’s Bloom Mansion.

While I’ve yet to fulfill my dream of visiting other Badlands sites, this website records someone else’s visit to the ghost town of Delhi, whose gas station/store featured in the late scene where Martin Sheen, on his final run from the police, unaccountably stops to empty Sissy Spacek’s suitcase of its high school textbooks and girlish clothes. (See clip at the bottom of the linked page.)

The connection to the early work of Robert Adams turns out to be stronger than I realized – if not quite strong enough to justify this post. Driving south into Pueblo along I-25, I was surprised to see off ramps leading to Eden, Colorado, subject of Adams’s early monograph, now almost absorbed into the eastern sprawl of Pueblo. Rosemount, a mansion built in the early 1890s by prominent local businessman John A. Thatcher, stands in for the more gracious old neighborhoods of Pueblo, a former steel town once dominated by Rockefeller’s Colorado Fuel & Iron Mills, set down incongruously on the arid, cactus and juniper studded plains once crossed by the Santa Fe trail. Now a likable and mellow workaday town of about a hundred thousand, its wide, sun-struck streets are lined by architecture reminiscent of Edward Hopper paintings.

Rosemount Mansion, Colorado

The Rosemount House Museum, Pueblo, Colorado

Rosemount was occupied by Thatcher’s son, Raymond Thatcher, until his death in 1968, so when Malick chose it as a location in the early 1970’s, it presumably had undergone little restoration. Today, docents in period costume, largely unaware of the mansion’s moment in the history of independent American cinema, lead the visitor through lavishly furnished late Victorian rooms kept in deep shadow. Badlands fans will recognize the gorgeous woodwork of the central hall (I think I found the closet Sheen locks the rich man and his maid in), the dining room mural reproducing Francois Boucher’s rococo painting, The Nest, which Malick’s camera pans through slowly as Sissy Spacek rings the edge of a wineglass, and the gilded harp she experimentally fingers.

There’s an even stranger treat awaiting connoisseurs of small-museum oddities in the attic — the Andrew McClelland collection, put together at the turn of the last century by a globetrotting local philanthropist for the benefit of his less-travelled fellow Puebloans. The star of the collection is an Egyptian mummy, on full and grisly display. A second mummy and other Egyptian artifacts went to form the core of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science’s Egyptian collection, but the climate-controlled museums of our urban centers don’t generally let you this close.

The collection also includes a taxidermied albatross, native Australian fishing spears, and embroidered slippers for bound feet of Chinese women. In the hallway outside hangs a copy of the so-called portrait of Beatrice Cenci, once attributed to Guido Reni. The portrait, once believed to depict the tragic heroine at the center of a web of incest and murder in baroque Rome, was the Mona Lisa of the early nineteenth century – the one painting English and American tourists had to see in order to prove they’d really been to Europe – and it played a key role in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s late novel, The Marble Faun. Beatrice’s portrait also crops up in David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive.

Portrait of Beatrice Cenci

Portrait of Beatrice Cenci, formerly attributed to Guido Reni.
Roma, Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica

For Malick completists who find themselves in the mountain west, and the merely curious, Pueblo lies 112 miles south of Denver and 283 miles north of Santa Fe.



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