Sunday, February 24, 2013

Wild at Heart

An American Love Story

Wild at Heart (1990) follows doomed lovers Soilor and Lulu as they take an absurd road trip through America's heartland while on the run from a wicked witch, the police, and numerous assassins. The film begins in flames with the protagonist delivering excessive blunt-force trauma to the head of an attacker in self-defense, and then ends after a visit from the good witch who inspires him to return to his true love and sing her Elvis Presley's Love Me Tender. Everything in between is a disturbing, farcical journey through the dark side of human existence.
Wild at Heart Trailer

David Lynch adapted Wild at Heart (1990) from a "neo-noir" pulp novel written by Barry Gifford in the same year the novel was published. Intending at first to produce the film, Lynch later decided to write the screenplay and direct the film himself. Lynch and Gifford would also collaborate seven years later as co-writers on the screenplay for Lost Highway (1997).
Barry Gifford, Author and Lynch Collaborator
While Lynch was editing the pilot for Twin Peaks (1990), this strangely poignant pulp novel was brought to his attention by one of his producers, Monty Montgomery—who later acted as the memorable Cowboy character in Lynch's Mulholland Dr. (2001). Lynch did not like the ending of the novel, so he altered it to be a "happily ever after" rather than see his two leads break up and move on with their separate lives. Lynch also added new characters, scenes, and strange motifs from The Wizard of Oz(1939).
The Wicked Witch is in Hot Pursuit
Barry Gifford was asked how he felt about the changes Lynch made to his story and responded that "all kinds of journalists were trying to cause controversy and have me say something like ‘This is nothing like the book’ or ‘He ruined my book.’ I think everybody from Time magazine to What’s On In London was disappointed when I said ‘This is fantastic. This is wonderful. It’s like a big, dark, musical comedy."
Sheryl Lee Plays The Good Witch of the North in Sailor's Fantasy at the End of the Film
You Will Recognize Her as Laura Palmer from Lynch's Twin Peaks
Since there is a limited demographic for big, dark musical comedies, Wild at Heart(1990) was not universally loved but it still performed relatively well at the box office compared to most David Lynch films, although never ascending near the levels Lynch's The Elephant Man (1980) made ten years earlier. During test screenings, the film boasted an impressive number of walkouts during the torture scene of Harry Dean Stanton's character Johnnie Farragut, prompting Lynch to cut it back slightly for the final cut. Lynch remarked, "By then, I knew the scene was killing the film. So I cut it to the degree that it was powerful but didn´t send people running from the theatre." Later Lynch added, "But that was part of what Wild at Heart was about: really insane and sick and twisted stuff going on."
Diane Ladd''s finest moment
The film follows two lovebirds played to comedic excess by Nicolas Cage and Laura Dern. Dern's real-life mother Diane Ladd would play her evil mother in the film. Diane Ladd would earn an Oscar nomination for her supporting role as the figurative and literal wicked witch of the film. Of note, mother-daughter team Diane Ladd and Laura Dern would go on to share a scene in Lynch's last feature film to date Inland Empire(2006), as a Hollywood talkshow host (Ladd) interviewing a motion picture star (Dern) about to begin work on a new role for a highly publicized movie within the movie On High and Blue Tomorrows. Ladd and Dern have actually acted together in a number of other films, including a recent reprise of their onscreen mother-daughter relationship for HBO's new quirky comedy series Enlightened (2010-Present).
Proof it is impossible for Isabella Roselinni to look anything but strikingly beautiful
The motifs and themes of The Wizard of Oz (1939) jump into the mix, at times making Wild at Heart (1990) feel unusually raw and experimental compared to some of David Lynch's other films. The movie plays as a darkly disturbing, farcical collection of interconnected short stories, many sequences feeling a little disconnected from each other. One could definitely note enough similarities between Wild at Heart (1990) andPulp Fiction (1994) to ask whether Quentin Tarantino was influenced by David Lynch's cinematic conflagration of extreme pulp stories that clash together in occasionally nonlinear order.
Find Me Music!
Although Wild at Heart (1990) features many bizarre villains, Willem Dafoe stands out from the pack in one of the best villain performances captured on film. Dafoe not only matches the intensity of Dennis Hopper's Frank Booth in Blue Velvet (1986) but also exceeds it. Dafoe transcends this supporting role into one of the all-time best screen villains, deserving comparison to Malcom MacDowell's Alex in A Clockwork Orange(1971), Heath Ledger's Joker in The Dark Knight (2008), and Cristoph Waltz's Hans Landa in Inglourious Basterds (2009).
Hop fast like a bunny for Bobby Peru
David Lynch's body of work on film and TV is encrypted with symbolism, to some extent obscuring the overt meaning of his stories on initial viewings, only to accumulate brutal clarity over repeat viewings. It takes time to grow accustomed to these recurring themes and motifs in his work, but once you are familiar with Lynch's style you grow more and more satisfied with the profound layers in his art. And since Wild at Heart(1990) is so raw, emotional, and is one of Lynch's most unrefined, unpolished, and raw narratives of all his films, then interestingly some of the ideas forming the foundation of Lynch's other work can be seen and understood clearly here.

That moment when you realize, your a complete fuck up who can't change
Without David Lynch stylistically experimenting with cinematic extremes in Wild at Heart (1990), Twin Peaks (1990-91) likely would not have evolved into such an artistically sophisticated series. And a film like Mulholland Dr. (2001) would have likely never emerged from Lynch's mind without first pioneering the absurd depths and bizarre lengths of Wild at Heart. And to an extent, the film feels like a hodgepodge of every other David Lynch film and project combined into one piece, which makes it one of the most unusual and powerful films ever made. But in all honesty, the film could be hard for audiences to come to terms with as it descends into extremely disturbing and vivid nightmares of rape, murder, and full-blown insanity.
We will discuss Lynch's recurring themes in more detail near the end of this article series, but Lynch has always apparently had an artistic fascination with man's journey from youth to adulthood and the fears that plague his life along the way. Lynch explores the world's corrupting pitfalls, and how in the process of becoming a provider and protector of a woman and children, he can become encumbered with fear and twist himself into a darker version of himself in the process. This happens to Henry Spencer in Eraserhead (1976), Paul Atreides in the half-written Dune sequel: Dune Messiah, and to a lesser degree this theme can be applied to Dr. Treves in The Elephant Man (1980), Jeffrey Beaumont in Blue Velvet (1986), and more than a few characters in the saga of Twin Peaks (1990-92).
This whole world is wild at heart and weird on top

Some confusing elements of David Lynch's other films are clarified in light of the directness of Wild at Heart (1990), which can act like a Rosetta Stone to his other pictures. In particular, because Lynch worked on the Twin Peaks TV series while also filming Wild at Heart, many ideas from both shows are complementary between the two projects. Some elements and themes of Twin Peaks seem clarified when contrasted with Wild at Heart and vice versa. We will save those insights for a future article, but you can look forward to our in-depth study of Twin Peaks, which begins next week with our analysis of the pilot episode.
All great artists reach a point in their development when they push a new style beyond its breaking point. This is a necessary step of artistic discovery, helping all artists better understand the constraints of their medium and craft. As Clint Eastwood explains in the Dirty Harry sequel Magnum Force (1973): "A man's got to know his limitations." Artists need to know their limitations so they can find ways to master their forms and find their own particular style.
Claude Monet was the painter most responsible for first advancing surrealism in art. David Lynch employs the equivalent cinematic surrealism in his modern art, so comparison can be made between the two artists. And one can make the case that Monet and Lynch pushed the envelope of their surrealist art forms beyond their limitations at certain times on particular projects, which perhaps come across messier and less pleasant than usual and no longer reflecting definitely enough the subject being depicted. Many might think David Lynch pushed the surrealist boundaries of Wild at Heart. They are fools!
Pushing the artistic boundaries of cinema is something Lynch has always excelled at, and it is refreshing that this trailblazer of new cinematic frontiers finally won a major award for the first time with Wild at Heart, the Palme d'Or—the top honor at the Cannes Film Festival. However, this was apparently a more controversial victory than usual, as Roger Ebert explains in his review of the film:
"Now comes 'Wild at Heart,' which won the Palme d'Or at this year's Cannes Film Festival, to great cheers and many boos, some of the latter from me. I do not think this is the best film that played at Cannes this year... and, in fact, I do not even think it is a very good film. There is something repulsive and manipulative about it, and even its best scenes have the flavor of a kid in the school yard, trying to show you pictures you don't feel like looking at."
Willem Dafoe Stands Out as the Best Part of the Film, Although His Character Arrives Too Close to the End
Sailor will get his revenge on the world

True rockers at heart, a stop for some head banging is a must on this wild road trip

And They All Lived Happily Ever After
For better or worse, David Lynch makes works of art. Of those works, some will speak directly to you, others will not connect in quite the same way. Wild at Heart has been the toughest nut for us to crack of Lynch's films we have analyzed so far, particularly because we suspect it requires a real movie theater experience to be appreciated properly. This is something we have not yet had the opportunity to do, so we anticipate our opinion of the film will improve with a theatrical screening. But on video at least, we did not quite engage with Wild at Heart (1990) as we did Lynch's other films. You can take that for what it is worth.
Wild at Heart (1990) is clearly not for everyone. If you do not have a strong stomach for sex scenes and cannot take too much "of the old ultra-violence," then you might put this one on hold for now. It contains content comparable to Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange (1971). So if you could handle the extremes of that film, then chances are you could handle this one, too. The extreme content is intended to rise above its component parts into the same realm of artistic achievement as Kubrick's disturbing masterpiece.
An uncomfortable silence in a time of madness
The good news: you can love David Lynch's films and still feel ambivalent about a few of them at first. It happens. Some of his films are bound to connect to you stronger than others. Some of Lynch's fans consider Wild at Heart their favorite of all his films, and we have heard them make valid points about why. Many others consider it their least favorite for its stranger tone and slightly edgier content. Differing tastes are welcome at the cinematic feast and reinforces what Lynch wants from his audience anyway: engagement with the audience and personal interpretation.
Wild at Heart (1990) and Lost Highway (1997) Were in Part Written with Barry Gifford and Share a Very Similar Tone and Style to Each Other. People Who Tend to Favor One of these Films Tend to be Big Fans of the Other
But if you think you are not quite ready for Wild at Heart now, then skip it for now and move on directly to the Twin Peaks (1990-91) TV series. While there are many bright and entertaining moments in Wild at Heart (1990), including its amazingly Lynchian ending, you may have to work a little harder to get that sense of catharsis that normally accompanies Lynch's work. Otherwise, prepare yourself for a wild and intense cinematic experience that apparently helped inspire a fledgling filmmaker named Quentin Tarantino set the style and tone of his second film Pulp Fiction(1994). Wild at Heart is a tour d'force in the pure language of cinema and won thePalme D'Or at Cannes for good reason.
Addendum: I recently had the opportunity to watch a 35mm print of Wild at Heart in a movie theater, the way David Lynch designed the film to be seen. I cannot emphasize enough what a difference the film's emotional impact makes when viewed with an audience at the cinema. I withdraw my former rating of 7.5 out of 10 and now give it a perfect rating of 10 out of 10. Hands down, this is one of the most brilliant films I have ever experienced. This leads me to believe that whenever presented with an opportunity to watch a 35mm screening of one of David Lynch's films, you should never miss it.
Wild at Heart (1990) is available on Blu-Ray in the U.K. but is not yet scheduled for release in the U.S., which is also the case for David Lynch's The Elephant Man (1980), Lost Highway (1997), Mulholland Dr. (2001), and Inland Empire(2006). Hopefully the U.S. rights holders will make greater efforts to release all of Lynch's films on Blu-Ray soon, but we could have a long wait. But there is hope since Blue Velvet(1986) will be released finally in November of 2011.

Murietta's Hit on Sailor
Wild at Heart (1990) is available on a Special Edition DVD in the U.S., based on the high definition master restored under the supervision of David Lynch. The best version of the film currently distributed in the U.S. is in David Lynch's Lime Green Set, which contains all his short films, films, and assorted video projects from the beginning of Lynch's career up to the release of Wild at Heart. This is currently the best way to watch the film in the U.S., although the U.K. now has a Blu-Ray release.

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