A Voice (O-Graph) in the Badlands

Terrence Malick’s Badlands (1973) is one of my favourite films of all time. I hadn’t seen it in many years until I watched it on Criterion Collection DVD a few weeks ago. I vividly recalled many of the images but there’s one notable scene I’d completely forgotten – the one where Kit (Martin Sheen’s character) makes a Voice-O-Graph record shortly after killing his teenage girlfriend’s father. I find this scene totally fascinating now because I have a few Voice-O-Graphs in my record collection and it’s very cool to see how they were made back in the day (the film is set in the late 50s). Here’s the sequence (click images to enlarge):


Kit puts two quarters in the slot…


and selects the recording speed (exactly the opposite of what the instructions say – but he’s a rebel).

He begins to speak:


“Uh… My girl Holly and I decided to kill ourselves, same way I did her dad. Big decision, huh? Uh… The reasons are obvious. I don’t have time to go into them right now, but uh… One thing though… he was provoking me when I popped him. That’s what it was like… Pop…”


Time is running out.


The lathe cuts into the soft surface of the record blank.


“Now we’re sorry. I mean, nobody’s coming out of this thing happy, especially not us. I can’t deny we’ve had fun though… and that’s more than I can say for some… That’s the end of the message… I’ve run out of things to say… Thank you.”


We see the shattered door of the Voice-O-Graph recording booth.


Kit takes his newly minted record…


places it in his mouth (not an ideal way to treat a record) and leaves the (train? bus?) station.

Here are some real Voice-O-Graph recordings from my collection:

“The Chicken”

German voice letter

This is super cool: Jack White’s record store in Nashville has what may be the world’s only functional, publicly accessible Voice-O-Graph machine.

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