Something Really Wild

A friend of mine told me that when he went to see Blue Velvet in New York back in 1986, a small fire broke out somewhere in the theater in the middle of the movie. As wisps of smoke began to drift across the audience, people started to rise up out of their seats.

But up on the screen, Dennis Hopper, inhaling God knows what gas from his clear plastic mask, was in the middle of terrorizing Isabella Rossellini, screaming, "Mommy! Baby wants to fuck!" with Kyle MacLachlan watching from the closet in Oedipal thrall. Instead of stampeding for the doors like responsible New Yorkers, the people in this audience were just sort of half-heartedly backing their way up the aisles, eyes fixed on the screen. And when no actual flames seemed to materialize, they all sat back down again. If you ask me, that's entertainment.

How in the world did a film as "entertaining" as Blue Velvet ever get made? Each time I've seen this movie, I've found myself asking that question. But actually, when you think of it, it isn't all that mysterious. It was probably just a matter of Dino De Laurentiis bumbling along out on the fringe with yet another mind-boggling project to add along-side such outre classics as Orca, Million Dollar Mystery, and Conan the Barbarian. Dino was doing his usual thing-- making movies no one else would dream of making--and David Lynch was just the dolphin that got swept up in his tuna net.

Wild at Heart, Lynch's follow-up to Blue Velvet, has been a long time coming, largely because De Laurentiis went broke and nobody else in town would take Lynch on his auteur terms--he won't make a movie unless he has the guarantee of real creative control, i.e., final cut. Lynch spent a good deal of time trying to launch projects such as Ronnie Rocket, in which a detective travels inside the consciousness of a young idiot savant dwarf rock 'n' roller, and One Saliva Bubble, the title of which (never mind the content) couldn't be counterbalanced even by the proposed casting of box office names Steve Martin and Martin Short. Now, perhaps thanks to the trouble Lynch had getting a film off the ground, a much larger audience has been exposed to this director's strange sensibility through the cult soap opera sensation "Twin Peaks."

But Wild at Heart, a lurid, hilarious, and romantic road tour of psychosexual heaven and hell that stars Laura Dern as sexy southern yo-yo Lula Pace Fortune, a girl who escapes her mother's clutches to pursue true love with good-hearted bad-boy parolee Sailor Ripley (Nicolas Cage), is what we've really been waiting for. It aspires to far more than "Twin Peaks" ever could have.

In fact, after all the fun with "Twin Peaks," the gleeful collective revelling in its stunning weirdness, it's almost necessary to reorient one's thinking to what David Lynch is after on the big as opposed to the small screen. After all, the absurdist poetry of everyday American life (which Americans themselves seem to be getting hip to now) is just the tip of Lynch's iceberg. Hearing about the film Lynch didn't make before he made Wild at Heart does the job of reminding one of his larger ambitions.

Prague Comes to Tinseltown

Franz Kafka is David Lynch's favorite writer--a fact that should surprise no one. And it is Kafka's most famous story, "The Metamorphosis" (the dark, droll, heart-wrenching one that begins, "As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect"), that Lynch wanted to make into a movie about a year and a half ago, before he turned to Wild at Heart. In fact, Lynch still wants to make it. "It could be a no-win situation," he admits (this is a story in which the protagonist is a cockroach). "But I would like to do it, because, you know, I would just like to do it. I think it would be really thrilling. We ran into some problems, though, with the bug. It was going to cost two and a half million to make the bug and then it still wouldn't be able to do all the things... You see, I want the bug to come to work at, say, seven in the morning, and go into hair and makeup and come out and be able to work all day. I want to talk to the bug and rehearse and do all the stuff, and right now they say it's impossible."

It's pronouncements like this one, delivered deadpan in a genially pinched voice and mid-western accent, that make for Lynch's considerable reputation as an eccentric. Everything written about Lynch sooner or later begins to recount what are, to be fair, strange fascinations (morgues, human organs, factories, Reagan Republicanism), curious habits (eating the same thing at Bob's Big Boy every day at the same time for seven years, living without furniture, always wearing shirts buttoned at the neck), and quaint expressions ("cool enough," "neat"). Lynch does give the press something to run with. He presents a case of double cognitive dissonance: first, you have a very friendly man (he's got a great handshake, the warmest in Hollywood) who talks without missing a beat about such personal predilections as dissecting bodies; and you also have an obviously sophisticated person who intermittently affects extremely unsophisticated enthusiams, all without a trace of irony (Kyle MacLachlan's Agent Cooper in "Twin Peaks" is reportedly a deliberate, affectionate portrait of Lynch).

It's all well and good to shake your head at Lynch's eccentricities. But his creativity, much like Kafka's, is rare and mysterious and not to be diminished (or romanticized) by the details of his personality. Kafka once admitted that the key to his art was his ability to dream while he was awake. The inexorable, skewed logic of Eraserhead, Blue Velvet, and the new Wild at Heart also seems to be derived from conscious access to what are properly unconscious states of mind.The imagery alone bespeaks the sheer ingenuity of dream reality, in which several psychological imperatives are satisfied in single gestures. If you bring this up with Lynch, and ask him if he too can dream while he is awake, he almost answers yes: "I think that's the whole thing," he says. "Every film is like a waking dream. All the ideas are like daydreams."

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