Tom Cairns chose a still from the film, Badlands
Tom Cairns chose a still from the film, Badlands

Tom Cairns, director, on a still from the film, Badlands

GB Why did you choose this still from Badlands?

TC It’s a simple snapshot that represents one of my favourite films. Apart from obvious things in this film like the quality of light, the colour, the landscape, the two lead actors, it’s the tone of the film making that I find most beautiful, in spite of the fact that it’s about two remorseless young people on a killing spree.

GB They do terrible things, but we see it all through her romantic young eyes. Does the beauty of the way it’s shot also affect our view of immoral actions?

TC Well yes, I think the ease and the randomness of the killing seems to somehow be subdued by the film’s visual beauty, although that is not to diminish the extraordinary script that Terrence Malick has written. There is an innocence in the way the two main characters come together which also extends to what they do. Never has killing looked so easy, so unremarkable.

GB Is it easier to achieve that effect of beauty in film than on stage?

TC Just the scale of a movie makes it easier but that’s not to deny the effect of good theatre/ opera. The difference for me is that interesting work on stage can create more visual controversy. For some this has a different sort of beauty than the representational images on film. On stage you can experiment, reinterpret, be more abstract.

GB You’ve worked in film, television, theatre and opera. Do you think ideals of beauty and expectations of how it affects the message of a work vary much between different art forms?

TC That’s a complicated question because film can make almost anything look beautiful with the right light, the right lens. However, if the images presented to the audience in an opera or a play are not representational in the way film broadly speaking is, the issue is more acute. Live theatre of this sort is more likely to polarise opinion.

GB What makes something worthy of the word Beauty to you?

TC Rilke said it: “For beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror which we are barely able to endure….”

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