Terrence Malick’s film Days of Heaven was in large part created as it went along, its makers open to creative possibility and rediscovering it in editing and post-production. One major change in its design was the removal of much of its dialogue, with Malick and colleagues intent on telling a visual story as much as possible.
To compensate for this reduction of plot and exposition, Malick added a voiceover, as he had done in his earlier Badlands. It was provided by young Linda Manz and can be heard in the beautiful clip below. Some of the voiceover was written by Malick, and some came from Manz based on her hearing a woman read from the Book of Revelation:
In the book Terrence Malick: Rehearsing the Unexpected (2015), edited by Carlo Hintermann and Daniele Villa, film editor Billy Weber talks about Manz and the indelible effect she had on the film – including its characters’ names:
How Linda was cast is a wonderful story. Terry had Dianne Crittenden put out a casting call to schools in New York City, and Linda came in because her teacher thought she was a real character and so they sent her to the casting session where they gave her the script. So, when she came in to meet Terry, she looked at him and said, ‘I liked your script.’ He hired her on the spot! Just like that! Immediately!
I was on location when they were shooting the movie, and I spent a lot of time with Linda. … She was so sweet and naive; it’s very rare to meet someone like her in any line of life, in any point in life, and to meet her and have her be in the movie. She was someone who barely knew what movies were. It never got through to her that the people in the movie, the other actors, had names that weren’t their real names. So she would call them by their real name and we had to change the characters’ names. She’s Linda in the movie because that was the only thing she would respond to. Then we tried to make things easier for her, so Brooke Adams became ‘Abby’ because it was ‘A’, Richard Gere was Bill because it was ‘B’, and Sam Shepard – you never heard his name – but he was Charlie as that was a ‘C’. So A, B, C! and that’s how she was able to remember them. And she was Linda.
Update: I was sad to hear she died. RIP, Linda Manz (1961–2020).