Monday, November 13, 2006

Wild At Heart

I first saw Wild at Heart on an old VHS copy, and I didn't particularly like it. It dragged quite a bit, and I never got caught up in the world of the film. I saw it again last year on DVD and liked it more so I bought my own copy and rewatched it again yesterday. My initial opinion has been radically revised, it's a great movie, though a minor work in Lynch's overall canon. Looking at the overall progression of Lynch's career, there's a pretty clear line from Blue Velvet->Twin Peaks->Fire Walk With Me->Lost Highway->Mulholland Dr.->Inland Empire. We see his themes evolve and him move from a straightforward narrative to stories based entirely on dream logic. Wild at Heart has a lot of Lynchian stuff, but feels more like a one off fun project than a critical personal statement.

Wild at Heart is notable for being one of the least complicated Lynch films. A lot of bad stuff happens along the way, but there's very little of the extreme psychological angst that plagues the characters in his FWWM, MD or IE. Sailor and Lula are anchored by their love, and that allows them to pass through their various trials relatively unscathed. It's notable that Lynch basically skips over any sections where they aren't together. Sailor's two prison sentences pass quickly, we never see Lula suffering with her mother, or Sailor's trials in prison. Considering how evil Marietta seems, those six years that Lula is living with her must have been awful. However, that's never even mentioned. The way the film plays, it's like they don't even exist when they're not with each other.

The emotional lowpoints occur when Sailor leaves Lula, trying to do what he thinks is right for her, ignorant of the fact that all she really wants is to be with him. His epiphany at the end is that they're both wild at heart, Lula doesn't want an ordinary, reliable guy, she wants the fire that she and Sailor shares. That fire is wonderfully visualized in the numerous extreme closeups of matches being struck. The fire imagery is some of Lynch's most powerful, and the sound design maximizes the impact. The titles are overflowing with visual and sonic input, I love the way the words Wild at Heart fly towards us and land with a thud in place. It's always interesting to follow directors' font choices, and the font here is the same as in Fire Walk With Me.

The film has an episodic structure, and that structure contributes to most of the issues with the film. Everything up until Big Tuna is really well paced, the editing working on a free associative level, connecting images and characters in a subconscious kind of way. There's so many brilliant moments in the opening, the color drenched sex scenes, the strobe light backed opening of the dance scene and the excessive mise en scene of the Mr. Reindeer scenes. More than any other Lynch film, I think you could criticize this for being weird for weird's sake. The Crispin Glover episode has no particular reason for being in the film, but it works because of the narrative flow. The intercutting between Marietta, her associates and Sailor/Lula means we're not in a strictly organized narrative. I'm still not sure who all the people on the periphery of the story are, and there's no particular reason for them to be there, other than the enjoyment we get from watching the weirdness of the interactions. Harry Dean Stanton's death scene is great stuff, and I love Francis Bay instructing the prostitutes on how to best serve Mr. Reindeer.

The best moment in the film is when Lula and Sailor are cruising down the highway, listening to Chris Isaak's Wicked Game. They encounter Sherilynn Fenn and watch her die. It's very sad and captures the mystery of driving down the street at night. One of Lynch's favorite recurring images is a pair of headlights speeding down the highway, illuminating the yellow lines on the road, and seldom has it been used to better effect than here were the road at night becomes a world isolated from the rest of reality.

The film loses a bit of energy once they got bogged down in the stuff at Big Tuna. I really like the night gathering scene and Bobby Peru's entrance, but after that, Peru becomes too obvious an antagonist. The joy of the film isn't in seeing the characters tested, it's more just being with them on the ride. The scene where Bobby forces Lula to say "Fuck me" is the ultimate violation, with Lula's positive sexual energy being used for destructive ends, however there's no particular consequence to it. Plus, it's tricky moral territory when a scene walks the line of implying that she might actually want to be raped by him. The way it's played, you could easily interpret it that way.

I love the image of Bobby with the stocking over his face, but other than that the robbery sequence feels like something I've seen in a whole bunch of other movies. The other element of the film that feels cliched is the Wizard of Oz references. I get that it's a major film for Lynch, but with the arguable exception of Star Wars, it's the most cliched movie to reference. I suppose one could argue that it's transcended to the level of cultural mythology, but if that's so, we probably don't need the constant verbal references throughout, just the glass ball and Good Witch appearance at the end would work.

The film stumbles again with the structuring of the finale. All the momentum in the film comes from being on the road, and the release from prison stuff just takes too long. It feels like the movie's over, then there's another ten minutes. I don't think this kills the film, it's just that most Lynch movies end on their best moments, and this one burns out before it reaches the finish. But, I think that's an inevitable consequence of the road movie. It's about the journey, so the destination is always going to feel a bit underwhelming. I want to see Lula and Sailor flying down the road, not hanging out with their kid, stalled in traffic. Like Blue Velvet, the ending affirms the American ideal of the nuclear family, but I think it would have been better to drop the kid from the plot.

Jeffery in Blue Velvet is clearly an analogue for Lynch himself. Is Sailor as well? I see him as a fantasy persona, again drawing on 50s mythology, he's the ultra cool greaser, sort of like James from Twin Peaks, only actually cool. He's a juvenile delinquent who's allowed to grow up and actually get a happy ending. So, the film is removed from the stifling morality of most actual road films in the 50s. That's because the world around them has shifted. They're the most normal ones, it's the rest of the world that's totally insane and evil. The film is structured to emphasize the us vs. them quality, it's Sailor and Lula versus this massive conspiracy designed to keep them apart. However, they overcome it and are united together in the end.

The film features a lot of Lynchy moments, the cabaret singer in front of blue curtains, strobe lights, characters representing the essence of evil. However, it's somewhat removed from most of his stuff. The film it's closest to is The Straight Story, which also has a road movie structure, though that one is significantly less Lynch than most of his other stuff. I see Wild at Heart as Lynch at his least serious. Having proven himself with Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks, he was ready to just cut loose and do whatever he wanted, forsaking the heavy themes of those two films for just pure adventure. Of course, being David Lynch, his idea of a fun romp is quite different from your average movie like this. There's plenty of great stuff in here and it succeeds in being a wonderfully entertaining movie. Coming off of the heaviness of MD and IE, going for something like this again, a lighter, but still offbeat movie, could be the best way to keep his art moving forward.

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