Saturday, January 3, 2015

Wild at Heart

Perhaps you're wondering how the work of David Lynch qualifies as the Craptacular... 

After all, Blue Velvet is amongst the finest films made by anyone, ever, classic or modern, American or foreign, indie or studio. No argument there. Eraserhead is a work of divine madness, Mulholland Drive is a haunting piece of cinema that turns on itself like a Mobius strip, Twin Peaks was the precursor of today's dark, narrative-heavy television series. Of course, there is some genuine crap in the output (Lost Highway). But Wild at Heart is Lynch's best attempt at drive-in cheese, whether he (or the jury that gave it the Palme d'Or at Cannes) knows it or not. 
And it has Nicholas Cage. The role of Sailor Ripley helped focus Cage's ass-kicking, snakeskin-wearing, pseudo-Elvis persona... for good or for ill. (Gotta love how he tells everyone that his beloved snakeskin jacket is "a symbol of my individuality and my belief in personal freedom.") I believe we can also add Wild at Heart to the (very) long list of films Quentin Tarantino has cribbed from.
So, the film opens with flames, guitars and action-movie punching sounds. We go straight to Nicholas Cage beating some guy to death in the Los Angeles Biltmore Hotel. (It says it's somewhere in the Carolinas, but i've drank at the Biltmore and stayed at the Biltmore and i know it's the goddamn Biltmore.) Since he could have stopped at the beating part and left off the "to death" and it was in front of about 100 people, he goes to prison. This distresses his girlfriend, Lula, played by Laura Dern. But it delights her mother, Marietta Fortune, played by Dern's mother Diane Ladd -- not as much as it would have delighted her if Sailor had been the loser in that battle (as was her intent), but it brings a fuschia-glossed smile to her pancaked face nonetheless.
Wild at Heart then flashes forward 22 months and 18 days when Sailor is released into the waiting arms -- and bitchin convertible -- of Lula. The two fuck and talk, the first of many rounds of fucking and talking in this film. They go to a bar where they flail around to some speed metal until Sailor stops the band to sing the Elvis ballad, "Love Me" to Lula. Then it's back to the hotel for more fucking and talking, during which the two decide to break Sailor's parole and point that convertible west.
However, Lula's mama is still pissed and figures she'll take another crack at getting Sailor whacked, sending her boyfriend Harry Dean Stanton to take care of the killin'. Like a job you send Harry Dean Stanton to do is gonna get done. The man has played many, many roles but damned few of them were fellows you'd describe as "go-getters"...
Let us also point out here that Diane Ladd has a remarkable series of wigs and pseduo-Dynasty prom dresses to aid in her demented overacting. But, of course, it's probably hard to figure out what is "too much" when you're acting in a David Lynch film.
Yeah. So that's basically your setup. Crazy young lovers on a road trip pursued by a series of weird, inexplicable villains. Like all Lynch films, Wild at Heart has plenty of odd supporting character turns. The most incredible is, of course, Crispin Glover as Cousin Dell. His narrative technically adds nothing to the story and is simply another of Lula's post-coital tales but, oh, is it bizarre. Cockroaches in underpants.'Nuff said.
Really, i kind of feel like it was stuck in when they realized Wild at Heart just wasn't weird enough. So, they cut out the torture-snuff scene and added Crispin Hellion Glover. I can tell you which one disturbs me more...
Then we have a phantasmagorcial scene of a roadside nighttime car crash with Sherilyn Fenn as a crash victim. The barrage of bad news, ugly accidents and evil mojo that our idealistic young lovers run up against is a recurring motif in this film.Another recurring motif is The Wizard of Oz, which feels a little forced, especially when we have Diane Ladd in full Wicked Witch of the West drag flying alongside Sailor and Lula's Eldorado. Be subtle, Mr. Lynch: Use the flying monkeys.
More plot-crucial, there's Willem Dafoe -- and some really ghastly prosthetic teeth -- providing another of his unhinged turns as Bobby Peru, a creep whom Sailor and Lula hang out with when they decide to strand themselves in Big Tuna, Texas.
Yep, that's a face you can trust. A face that you would have no problem with taking advice from, a face you would get drunk with, a face you would allow to fondle the mother of your child. The face of a man whose hare-brained, low-return criminal schemes you would certainly want to involve yourself in.

Is Wild at Heart a crucial entry in the David Lynch canon? Not really (although it is essential to understanding the evolution of Nicholas Cage). It's got plot holes you could run a fleet of semis through and still have room for a freight train. It's got way too much hotel-room soliloquy not not enough of the not-quite-our-planet otherworldly weirdness that characterizes Lynch's best work.
 It's oddly by-the-wayside in his filmogrpahy now, given the tumultuous reception it received at release -- though that perhaps had more to do with  Lynch's Twin Peaks-era cultural high-tide than the quality of Wild at Heart itself. But it's an entirely watchable film and perhaps the less-overtly Lynchian quality has something to do with that.

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