BR: Wild at Heart (1990)

June 11, 2014 | By


WildAtHeart1990_BRFilm: Good

Transfer: Very Good/ Extras: Excellent

Label: Twilight Time

Region: All

Released:  April 8, 2014

Genre:  Suspense / Noir / Black Comedy

Synopsis: Freshly released from prison, Sailor reunites with forbidden love Lula, and the pair trek across state lines, evading a detective and a vicious killer sent after them by Lula’s possessive momma.

Special Features:  Isolated Stereo Music & Effects Track / 2004: “Love, Death, Elvis & Oz: The Making of Wild at Heart” (29:30) / 1990 Making-of EPK (6:54) / 2004: “Dell’s Lunch Counter” – 10 Extended Interviews (21:01) / 2004: Director Featurette: “Specific Spontaneity: Focus on David Lynch” (7:11) / 2004: David Lynch on the DVD / 2004: Publicity Still Motion Gallery with music (2:09) / Original Theatrical Trailer / 4 TV Spots / 8-page colour booklet with liner notes by film historian Julie Kirgo / Limited to 3000 copies / Available exclusively from Screen Archives Entertainment.




Originally intending to produce a film version of Barry Gifford’s novel,  David Lynch moved into the director’s chair after becoming enamored by the story of Sailor and Lula, two oddballs on the run from Lula’s mother because of their forbidden love and determination to preserve their ‘individuality.’

Lynch reportedly shot the bulk of the book’s dialogue, changed the ending to ensure the characters remained together (this was a love story, after all), and added oddball references to The Wizard of Oz. Lynch also saw Sailor and Lula as Elvis and Marilyn Monroe, so Nicholas Cage ran with the concept and delivered another high-pitched performance as an Elvis-like character (who also croons two of The King’s songs), while Laura Dern dove into the role of a perpetually horny Lula, always running a few degrees above the hottest day in the desert. The casting of Dern’s mother Diane Ladd was another coup, as the actress transformed Lula’s mother, Marietta, into a 3-D monster, and the cast was supported by a plethora of skilled character actors and bit parts with the kind of oblique functionality found in Lynch’s hit TV series that same year, Twin Peaks [TP].

When Wild at Heart emerged in theatres with laurels from winning the Palm d’Or at Cannes, there were high expectations that it would somehow be an even more extreme showcase for Lynch’s innate weirdness from TP. One could say fans were divided between those who welcomed Lynch’s raunchy, profane, sometimes gory noir road movie – the original theatrical trailer neatly spliced together the shock shots with heavy metal music in a brilliant campaign – and others expecting a storyline as eerie and surreal as TP.

Not unlike Steven Spielberg who franchised his suburban wonderment from the hit film E.T. – The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) to movies (Poltergeist, *batteries not included, Young Sherlock Holmes) and TV (Amazing Stories) productions, Lynch exploited his brief fling with mainstream popularity by producing and directing projects that either bore his imprimatur, or were directly helmed by himself.

WAH occurred at the tip of this brief wave, after which the director made Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992) to show in graphic nightmarish detail what happened to TP’s Laura Palmer; he resuscitated his performance art piece Industrial Symphony No. 1 (1990) for a videotape release featuring music and vocals by TP’s composer Angela Badalamenti and singer Julee Cruise, respectively; and produced the deadpan, golden age of TV satire On the Air (1992).

On the Air was an unfunny dud and the full series was never broadcast, and Industrial Symphony No. 1 was just too weird and cheap looking for those hooked on TP, the soundtrack album, and Cruise’s own solo song CD. Fire was a creative disaster, but there are some striking similarities as to why audiences hooked on TP the series were befuddled by its spin-off film and WAH.

Both feature films have a long and meandering first third in which the introduced characters don’t do anything significant and prolong the actual middle where stories finally shift into gear, allowing Lynch to needle drop little bits of odd one-time characters which either add colour and texture; or gradually figure into the finale where there’s an almost cathartic release for the characters after being dragged into sleazy, violent endeavors.

Perhaps the biggest issue with WAH resides in two leading characters driving from place to place, remaining almost shrill in spirit and sexuality, and are fundamentally annoying in part because the best dialogue is often spoken by secondary and bit characters. The pair may have been designed as one-note characters and riffs on pop culture icons which Lynch used to comment on the era’s most violent news items, but it takes a long time before enough small characters leave their mark and affect the couple’s safety, and the hunters get closer to their sexed-up targets.

WAH is essentially a novel distilled into a cinematic graphic novel, but lacking taut pacing and winnowed dialogue scenes after some needed pruning. It also demands an acceptance of Cage and Dern evoking Elvis and Monroe and little else, even though Lula does periodically tell her love a story from her troubled past.

Fans would (and can successfully) argue the extreme nature of the performances and shrill sexual behaviour are faithful to Gifford’s novel and are more vivid extrapolations of Lynch’s own odd characters from TP (themselves barking, screwing, teasing, and turning cherry stems into pretzels with their tongues), but even if the couple are to be accepted as lovable idiots, they pale when placed beside Cage’s beloved moron ‘Hi’ in the Coen brothers’ Raising Arizona (1987) – itself a chase / road movie with its own combustible finale where hunter / assassin Smalls (Randall ‘Tex’ Cobb) explodes just as shockingly as Bobby Peru’s head is bisected, rebounds off a building, and sloshes to the ground in WAH. Peru (brilliantly played by Willem Dafoe) may not have been able to sustain further scenes, but he’s a more interesting figure than Sailor.

Most likely WAH will remain one of Lynch’s most divisive films, but perhaps the reason it pales when placed besides his second collaboration with Gifford, Lost Highway (1997), and Mulholland Drive (2001) is due to there being too few hypnotic moments and recurring surreal material in the first third; the Wizard of Oz references, for example,  are poor substitutes for Lynch’s pure surrealism in spite of being part of the film’s major motifs.

(In fairness, Mulholland was expanded from a fully scripted TV pilot that was rejected by network ABC, and Lost Highway builds to a sudden out-of-body swap that pivots the film and its central character towards a different and more nightmarish direction, but WAH has a jumbled quality which doesn’t fade until Sailor and Lula are driving at night, and the film changes from candy-coloured day material to the creepy darkness where Lynch tends to pull out his creepy figures.)

WAH does have some standout small characters, with Bobby Peru and his rotting stump teeth being the top draw. Grace Zabriskie’s Juana Durango – first seen almost in monochrome behind a veil like The Elephant Man (which Lynch directed in 1980) – is a woman of few words, and she’s terrifying when tormenting Marietta’s private eye boyfriend Johnnie (Harry Dean Stanton) before his his life is extinguished.

Excellent sequences include Johnnie’s death, and Peru’s ‘seduction’ of Lula, during which Lynch cuts from a static wide shot to brutal close-ups as Sailor’s love is tormented by Peru’s man-handling and verbal taunts. Ladd’s ‘red face’ scene is a bizarre eruption of rage and self-loathing (and was actually crafted by the actress), whereas TP actress Sherilyn Fenn has a small cameo as a car crash victim unaware the stickiness on her head comes from brain leakage; and fellow TP actress Sheryl Lee appears as a Good Witch in a very poofy costume with big curly hair. Veteran British character actor Freddie Jones (also an Elephant Man alumnus) has a memorable eenie-weenie role as a parrot-squawking jazz fan, and to match Perdita’s lineage to mother Juana Durango, Isabella Rossellini is given a thick monkey-brow and yellow hair.


The Blu-ray & Extras

Twilight Time’s Blu-ray marks the film’s first North American release on Blu, replicating the extras from MGM’s 2004 DVD. Included are a half-hour making-of doc, 1990 EPK, short interview extensions, publicity materials… which of course begs the question among fans: is this edition of WAH uncut?

Sadly, no, and that seems to be a problem tied to the DVD masters being made from a print newly struck (in 2004) by MGM for the DVD release. Like the laserdisc edition, it’s the theatrical cut where Bobby Peru’s head – flying off from a self-inflicted gunshot – is partially obfuscated by a flash and smoke. There are reports panned & scanned cable TV airings featured the uncut version, and there’s an A/B comparison which shows the differences between the U.S. and German DVD releases of which the latter contains the ‘uncut’ edition.

Lynch supervised the 2004 transfer (the DVD and TT’s BR feature a short blurb by Lynch on the transfer) but he’s shown little interest in producing a proper special edition for WAH. TT’s release provides us with most of the best of both worlds: a proper albeit older HD transfer that’s fine, a still vibrant 2.0 and new 5.1 sound mixes, and all those DVD extras which MGM used to make for their own Special Edition DVDs but fully ignored for their own budget-line BR release of films, like Escape from New York (1981).

Should Lynch ever consider revisiting the film, fans would certainly demand a new 4K transfer, and archiving properly mastered deleted scenes (about 75 mins. worth) which Lynch included as a Bonus Disc in his limited (and now out of print) Lime Green DVD set.

TT managed to include a stereo isolated music & effects track, but as the Publicity Stills Motion Galley reveals in the edited music montage, there are surviving music stems of Angelo Badalamenti’s score; for the time being, however, fans will have to settle for the BR’s music & effects stems and the short soundtrack album which favoured a lot of source songs and classical music rather than original score.

Films adapted from Gifford’s Sailor and Lula novels include Wild at Heart (1990) Perdita Durango / Dance with the Devil (1997). Gifford also wrote the screenplays to episodes of the Lynch-produced Hotel Room (1993), City of Ghosts (2002), Ball Lightning (2003), and You Can’t Win (2014). Gifford also appeared in The Phantom Father (2012), adapted from his short story.



© 2014 Mark R. Hasan



External References:
Editor’s Blog — IMDB  —  Soundtrack Album  —  Composer Filmography
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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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