Wild at Heart [DVD]
Director : David Lynch
Screenplay : David Lynch (based on the novel by Barry Gifford)
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 1990
Stars : Nicolas Cage (Sailor Ripley), Laura Dern (Lula Pace), Diane Ladd (Marietta Fortune), Willem Dafoe (Bobby Peru), J.E. Freeman (Santos), Harry Dean Stanton (Johnnie Farragut), Isabella Rossellini (Perdita Durango), Grace Zabriskie (Juana), Sherilyn Fenn (Girl in Accident), Crispin Glover (Dell), Calvin Lockhart (Reggie),
The title of David Lynch’s Wild at Heart thuds onto the screen one word at a time against a backdrop of ravenous flames--“Wild” (thud!) … “at” (thud!) … “Heart” (thud!)--immediately suggesting what is to come: a film that is deliriously and violently alive, one that hits you in the gut. Surprise winner of the Palm d’Or at the 1990 Cannes Film Festival, Wild at Heart was a hotly anticipated film, given Lynch’s cult following after 1986’s Blue Velvet and his quirky television show Twin Peaks. Wild at Heart is a “Lynch film” through and through, mixing together genuine human emotion with absurdist characters, black comedy, and surreal situations; it’s an explosive cocktail of romance and violence.
The two main characters are Sailor Ripley (Nicolas Cage) and Lula Pace (Laura Pace), young lovers on the run from Lula’s psychotic mama, Marietta, perversely played by Diane Ladd, Dern’s real-life mother. In the film’s shocking opening scene, Marietta hires a man to knife Sailor, but Sailor gets the better of him by literally bashing his brains out. Sailor spends a few years in prison, during which time Lula dutifully waits for him. When he gets out, she picks him up and they follow a night of lovemaking and dancing by breaking Sailor’s parole and heading out to California. Marietta, meanwhile, hires a private detective (Harry Dean Stanton) to follow them, but deciding that isn’t enough, calls on a local crime boss named Santos (J.E. Freeman) to hire assassins to kill Sailor.
Wild at Heart is Lynch’s version of Romeo and Juliet by way of Bonnie and Clyde, and just for fun he also throws in visual and thematic allusions to The Wizard of Oz, right down to a last-minute hallucination involving the Good Witch of the East, played by Sheryl Lee, Twin Peaks’ Laura Palmer, floating in a sparkly bubble. Those who don’t appreciate Lynch tend to look at his films and see only madness, but there is a decided method to it, one that elevates Lynch above a carnival showman. The worlds he creates are decidedly bizarre, but they are always funhouse mirror reflections of our own world; the brilliance of his films is the way in which he can get us to see ourselves and our obsessions.
Wild at Heart wouldn’t work if we didn’t genuinely believe in the romance between Sailor and Lula, which is why the performances by Cage and Dern are so crucial. In a way, they are caricatures. Cage does a hipster Elvis impression by way of James Dean, bellowing proudly that his snakeskin jacket is “a symbol of my individuality and my belief in personal freedom.” Dern, on the other hand, channels every dim-witted, hypersexual blonde to ever cross a silver screen. Yet, just beneath their giddy surfaces we sense the beating of genuine human hearts, and Lynch doesn’t mind punctuating the visceral narrative with quiet moments in which these two characters interact, talking about their pasts and their ambitions and sharing secrets. For all their flamboyance, they are clearly human beings with emotions and desires and beliefs.
Sailor and Lula’s trip across America is really a descent into madness, capped off with their extended pit-stop in a dusty nowhere town in Texas called Big Tuna. It is there they become involved with the film’s most notorious character, Bobby Peru (Willem Dafoe), one of Marietta’s hired assassins. Dafoe, decked out in bad polyester suits and sporting a mouthful of dingy black teeth that are almost lost in his oversized gums, is an unforgettable presence, one who is so creepy that he leaves a stain on the screen. Dafoe clearly knew that he was competing against Dennis Hopper’s Frank Booth from Blue Velvet as the most deranged character in a David Lynch film, and he definitely gives Hopper a run for his money.
Wild at Heart is, like many of Lynch’s other films, extremely violent. Part of this is because of the visceral way in which Lynch presents the violence and also because of his tendency to find humor in the gore, such as when a character literally shoots his own head off or when a dog trots out of a bank with someone’s hand in its mouth. Yet, part of it is also that the film constantly feels violent because violence is always hovering, threatening any sense of peace. Critics have taken Lynch to task for being ironic with violence, and sometimes he is, yet he also plays it straight, which some may find confounding. For example, there is one scene in which Sailor and Lula come across a dazed, bleeding woman (Sherilyn Fenn) who is the only (temporary) survivor of a car accident. The quiet, penetrating horror of the scene and the way in which Sailor and Lula react to seeing this poor woman literally dying in front of them has no irony about it whatsoever.
Visually, Wild at Heart is another Lynchian masterpiece, turning the smallest details of the mundane into painterly vistas of vague unreality. So much of the film takes place in everyday locations--cheap motels, honky tonks, tacky living rooms, the open stretches of highway between small towns--yet it never seems quite right. Lynch and cinematographer Frederick Elmes (who also shot Lynch’s Eraserhead and Blue Velvet) structure the film around repeating close-up images of a match striking, a vision of sudden combustion that defines the film’s impact and, in a sense, Lynch’s entire body of work. “This whole world is wild at heart, and weird on top,” Lula cries at one point. I couldn’t say it any better.
|Wild at Heart Special Edition DVD|
|Subtitles||English, French, Spanish|
|Distributor||MGM Home Entertainment|
|Release Date||December 7, 2004|
|Wild at Heart has been given a new, David Lynch-supervised high-definition anamorphic widescreen transfer from a fine-grain master positive struck from the original negative, and it looks fantastic. Lynch’s beautiful, sometimes painterly images come across vibrantly, with strong color saturation and good detail. Some of the darker scenes are pretty dark, but I assume that reflects the look of the film.|
|The soundtrack has been given a Dolby Digital 5.1 surround remix and sounds just as good as the image looks. The film’s wide palette of music, from soaring orchestral crescendos to pummeling guitars, sounds clean and well mixed, as do the various sound effects.|
|The 30-minute retrospective making-of featurette “Love, Death, Elvis, & Oz: The Making of Wild at Heart” brings together virtually everyone involved in the film for new interviews, including writer/director David Lynch, novelist Barry Gifford, producer Steve Golin, actors Nicolas Cage, Laura Dern, Willem Dafoe, J.E. Freeman, Dianne Ladd, Crispin Glover, Grace Zabriskie, and Sheryl Lee, cinematographer Frederick Elmes, editor Duwayne Dunham, and sound designer Randy Thom. It includes some behind-the-scenes footage shot during the film’s production and offers some interesting trivia, including the fact that the riveting scene between Dafoe and Dern in the motel room was improvised on-set that day. The section of the disc titled “Dell’s Lunch Counter” contains seven extended interviews with those included in the making-of featurette, each of which run about two to five minutes. The “Sailor & Lula Image Gallery” is a 2-minute scored montage of production and studio photos of Cage and Dern. In the 7-minute “Specific Spontaneity: Focus on Lynch,” Lynch’s actors and collaborators talk about Lynch’s artistry and methods. In “David Lynch on the DVD” (3 min.), Lynch discusses the work that went into color correcting and timing the film for the telecine process. Lastly, the disc includes an original 1990 featurette from the electronic press kit, the original theatrical trailer, and four TV spots that are, with the exception of a few words in voice-over, exactly the same. All the supplements save the TV spots are presented in anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1).|
Copyright ©2004 James Kendrick
All images copyright ©2004 MGM Home Entertainment