|TIMEOUT, August 22-29 1990, p. 14-16|
'WILD AT HEART'
OUT TO LYNCH
David Lynch has branched out from film into commercials, TV soaps, music, fine art and even cartooning; but he´ll always be a professional weirdo. In 'Wild at Heart' he serves up a twisted, violent, passionate road movie - crossed, just to be different, with 'The Wizard of Oz'.
By Alex McGregor
David Lynch, the reigning king of perverse in American cinema, looks like a benevolent priest. The man whom Mel Brooks has dubbed 'a psychopathic Norman Rockwell... Jimmy Stewart from Mars' wears a baggy black suit, a brown shirt, buttoned up to the top and greets all and sundry with a cheery 'howdy'.
Lynch is on a roll night now. He has followed 'Blue Velvet' with a remarkable double-whammy: the television series 'Twin Peaks', the ratings success of last season and recently nominated for 16 Emmy Awards; and his eagerly anticipated 'Wild at Heart', which won Best Film at Cannes. Lynch thinks surrealism, in particular his quirky brand, is the next big thing.
'I think the American public is so surreal, and they understand surrealism,' he says in a flat midwestern drawl. 'And the idea they don´t is so absurd. It´s just that they´ve been told that they don´t understand it. You go anywhere and old-timers will tell you very surreal stories with strange humour. And everyone has a friend who is totally surreal.'
But for all his awards and boyish geniality, the man who brought you a spastic woman and skinless, mutant baby in 'Eraserhead', and a severed ear and Dennis Hopper´s ether-inhaling sadist in 'Blue Velvet' is not lightening up with age. If anything his vision has become more focused and intense.
'Wild at Heart', adapted from a novel by Barry Gifford, follows a young couple, Sailor and Lula, whose passionate love leads them to escape together from Lula´s vindictive mother. The subsequent chase through the steamy south leads to an extended torture scene, bloody car accidents, and a graphic decapitation. All the while Sailor and Lula act out their fantasies, unable to keep their hands off each other. It is a world that Lula sums up with masterful understatement as 'wild at heart and weird on top'.
Lynch has described 'Wild at Heart' as 'about finding love in Hell', and elsewhere as 'a road picture, a love story, a psychological drama and a violent comedy'. It´s also an unsubtle, unsettling mix of obsessive sex and graphic violence - a Sam Peckinpah 'Animal House' for the art house circuit.
Sailor and Lula might be extreme in their lust for each other but amongst Lynch´s usual sideshow of freaks they are almost respectable. (You know when Harry Dean Stanton plays the sweetest, nicest guy in a film that the rest of the characters are going to have some serious personality disorders.)
Nicolas Cage, who plays Sailor, has specialised in transforming essentially stupid wild men into droll, charming innocents. 'All I kept thinking was he´s not red wine, he´s motor oil, things like that,' Cage says. He is dressed in a maroon jacket with matching Fedora and it is hard not to notice his big, chunky gold rings as he chainsmokes Marlboros. 'He´s an old Corvette that needs a tune-up, wearing a snakeskin jacket. He can break down but when you drive him it feels good. Those ideas kept me into the character.'
Laura Dern, on the other hand, is unrecognisable in the new film: transformed from 'Blue Velvet´s' paragon of small town innocence and sweetness into a lusty hedonist who talks in orgasmic sighs. She describes Lula as a character with a few contradiction. 'She´s Marilyn Monroe with a little bit of Lucille Ball, a little bit of Southern and a little bit of Laura - she is sorta thick, warm liquid in this glass and every time she has an experience a little bit more of the liquid oozes out of the glass into the world outside. And by that I mean she kinda exposes what´s inside, she is coming from the inside out. Her heart is putting feelers, out, she doesn´t think through situations.'
One attraction to 'Wild at Heart' for Dern was the chance to play the daughter of her real-life mother, actress Diane Ladd, who gives Dennis Hopper stiff competition for the award as the ultimate psycho in a Lynch film. 'We´ve waited 20 years to work together,' says Dern. 'I guess it isn´t normal for parents to see their daughter have sex. That´s probably why so many actors need therapy. But I think she did some things in that movie that aren´t easy for a daughter to watch either. So I figure we´re about equal.'
Dern also waxes lyrical about the freedom Lynch has given her in the two films she has made with him. 'David makes every movie experience like Disneyland. It´s like a ride in an amusement part. You come in and everybody has a blast.'
Cage concurs, 'He is one of the only directors who, the later and colder it gets, says, "Hey guys, are are you ready to have more fun!" He is extremely positive, light on his feet - he floats. With him the creative process is fun. One of the important lessons I learned was that it is important to have fun. And then David said to me, "it is not only okay, it´s necessary."'
BOB´S BIG BOY
Yet despite his flip answers and openness on the set, David Lynch doesn´t leave much to chance. His orderly habits are the stuff of myth. This is a man who sets his clock for twice-daily meditation sessions, and who for seven years ordered the same meal at Bob´s Big Boy diner at 2.30 every afternoon. Now he has apparently opened up to the point where he has four restaurants where he will eat, but always the same meal.
Lynch of all people seems an unlikely candidate to expose the sordid side of suburbia and thrust it into the mainstream of American culture. Lynch gives no clues in his press kit biog, listing only two bits of information - 'Eagle Scout' and 'Missoula, Montana', which is where he was born. He grew up in a succession of small town in the northwest, the setting for 'Blue Velvet' and 'Twin Peaks'. Eventually he went off to art school in Philadelphia, the city which supposedly inspired the nightmarish 'Eraserhead'. 'Philadelphia is my biggest influence,' he is fond of saying.
Twice married, twice divorced and with two children, Lynch now lives in the Hollywood Hills. There have been some ups and downs between Philadelphia and success, including five years delivering the Wall Street Journal. to support himself while he made 'Eraserhead'.
'I despaired plenty. I despaired during "Eraserhead" that I´d even finish the film. I despaired a couple of times during "Elephant Man" that I would make it through, and at the end of "dune", so much had gone into it and it was such a disappointment. There are dark times in every picture, and even after every picture. Not everybody loves what you´ve done and negativity is a very powerful thing. And even the positive things are upsetting in a way because then you want to please them the next time again. You gotta kinda just think about the work but it´s not always easy.'
Lynch´s film of Frank Herbert´s sci-fi classic is clearly still a disappointment to him, one he finds difficult to talk about. After spending $40 million over three years of production, 'Dune' was taken out of his hands and re-cut by the de Laurentiis father and daughter producing team. A suggestion that his four-hour 'director´s cut' might belatedly be screened on the strength of his recent successes is met with a resounding 'no'.
'There never was my cut,' Lynch says with quiet emphasis. 'There was a time when we had a four- or five-hour version but only because when you assemble all the things you always have a long film at first. My problem with 'Dune' was that I started compromising way up front, even in the shooting. And it was subtle sorta compromising because I kind felt I didn´t have final cut. I was feeling the nature of the producers and what they were going to buy or not buy, and I was making adjustments to go as far as I could in my direction and still have them allowing it. And right away that was a compromise. That´s the problem with not having final cut. Final cut doesn´t mean you´re going to abuse the privilege, it just means you can be completely true to the thing from the beginning and not worry about making these wrong choices.'
Despite the resounding failure of 'Dune' the de Laurentiis family still had enough faith in Lynch to bankroll his low-budget 'Blue Velvet'. Needless to say Lynch secured final cut.
It´s been four years since 'Blue Velvet' and what looked like a rejuvenated film-making career was stalled by the bankruptcy of the de Laurentiis organisation. Three of Lynch´s projects, including 'One Saliva Bubble' starring Steve Martin and Martin Short, remain buried under a tangle of legal paperwork.
BIG CHUNKS OF PLASTIC
Still, Lynch has been far from idle between films. Originally trained in Fine Art, Lynch has continued to paint, and occasionally holds exhibitions of paintings at Leo Castelli Gallery in New York with such titles as 'When I Returned There Were Bugs in My House and Fire and Blood in the Streets', priced between $5,000 and $13,500. There has been a performance at the Brooklyn Academy of Music of 'Industrial Symphony #1' which Lynch composed with Angelo Badalamenti who scored 'Blue Velvet', 'Twin Peaks' and 'Wild at Heart'. There has even been an LP, 'Floating Into The Night', in collaboration with singer Julee Cruise who sang the theme song for 'Blue Velvet'. Lynch wrote the lyrics and 'directed' her album with instructions to the musicians such as, 'Play me big chunks of plastic. You know, big, big chunks.'
And then there is Lynch´s weekly comic strip, 'The Angriest Dog in the World', about a dog who is so angry that he cannot move. The only thing that changes in the cartoon from week to week are the captions; the images remain exactly the same. Lynch also has the male lead in a film made last year. 'Zelly and Me', and there is talk of a coffe table book of Lynch´s drawings, writings and photos to be published by Harper and Row. When asked to describe the book he replies, 'I like dental hygiene and spark plugs. That´s sort of what it´s about.'
There have been television commercials for Calvin Klein, and of course the enigmatic TV mystery series, 'Twin Peaks'. Lynch´s involvement grew out of his frustration at having to wait around for his film projects. In comparison to his previous films, the making of 'Wild at Heart' proved effortless. Barry Gifford´s novel was optioned the day after Lynch read it and he wrote a script within two weeks. They were shooting the film within four months.
Lynch is reluctant to be drawn into discussion about the attraction of the book, although he admits he knew by the time he got to page three that he wanted to make it because he loved the characters of Sailor and Lula. But then he is altogether reticent when talking about the creative process in general or his direct influences in particular.
'In a way, talking about it is very strange because, you know, poets are the only ones who can really talk about abstractions properly. So it is a failure to talk about something that is abstract even by a hair. In a way it´s okay to talk about something after the fact. You kinda learn something from questions and things, but to talk about them up front is no good at all. A lot of power is drained away.'
Although Lynch did embellish the darker elements of Gifford´s tale, he has also given it optimism, partly by underlining the cartoon reality of 'Wild at Heart' with continual references to 'The Wizard of Oz'. Lynch admits 'The Wizard of Oz' is one of his favourite films, and his decision to refer to the yellow brick road came during the writing of the script.
'It was an awful tough world and there was something about Sailor being a rebel. But a rebel with a dream of the Wizard of Oz is kinda like a beautiful thing. And the characters of Sailor and Lula having this dream between them was pleasing.'
The film also has a fairytale ending which wasn´t in the original story. Lynch is quick to deny that it was tacked on for commercial purposes.
'I had a problem. It is much more commercial to make a happy ending. Yet if I had not done it, so that people wouldn´t say it was commercial, I would have been untrue to what the material was saying. Sailor and Lula had to be together, the problem was figuring out how they could be together and still have the scene where they were apart. So that problem helped the Wizard of Oz come along. I felt an unhappy ending would be wrong. It wasn´t a commercial thing; it was like I say, the problem was just going ahead and doing it and not worrying about people saying, "well, David´s sold out because he´s done a happy ending."