Friday, January 22, 2010

FIlm Review: WILD AT HEART (1990, David Lynch)

Stars: 5 of 5.
Running Time: 124 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: One of the greatest ensembles ever assembled: Nic Cage, Laura Dern, Diane Ladd, Willem Dafoe, Grace Zabriskie, Sheryl Lee, Sherilyn Fenn, Harry Dean Stanton, J.E. Freeman, David Patrick Kelly, Isabella Rossellini, Crispin Glover, Jack Nance, John Lurie, Calvin Lockhart, William Morgan Sheppard, Freddie Jones. Music by Angelo Badalamenti. Based on the novel by Barry Gifford.
Best one-liner: "This is a snakeskin jacket! And for me it's a symbol of my individuality, and my belief... in personal freedom."

Magnificent, beautiful, and disturbing, Lynch's Palm d'or-winning adaptation of Barry Gifford's novel, filtered through the emerald lens of THE WIZARD OF OZ, is certainly as fiery and unpredictable as the slow-motion flames that are wont to erupt intermittently from the screen.

A masterpiece of style, a frequent complaint is that the whole is less than the sum of the parts. I can concede that this film is not for everyone. It's not. But how can you say 'no' to a Nic Cage that's so intense, he karate chops the air when he dances and wears thong underwear;

a Laura Dern so sultry, she's posing with her hand sweeping through her coiffure for most of the film; a Willem Dafoe so creepy his gums cover half of his teeth (and whose first appearance, a slow stroll amid Christmas lights and obese porno actresses- is one of the most comically terrifying entrances in film history);

a Harry Dean Stanton so endearing he tugs at your heartstrings even as he yips and yaps at hyenas on TV:

a crippled, lipstick-smeared Grace Zabriskie who is so goddamned freaky that she'll make your hair curl:

or a Diane Ladd whose tremendous performance is punctuated by the real-life mother-daughter relationship? There's the regular host of Lynchian terrors, laughs, and genuinely bizarre characters that make Hollywood's attempts at quirkiness seem like the pathetic fumblings of a child. There's a cameo by Crispin Glover that packs more material and layers of performance and meaning in a mere two minutes than most actors can aspire to in a feature. There's John Lurie in a Confederate flag hat. There's Jack Nance with an invisible dog.

There's Angelo Badalamenti making the most blood-curdling use of a brass section, ever. There's homage to Jacques Tati (involving a giant red pipe in Big Tuna) and Akira Kurosawa (the feed store dog with the severed hand like in YOJIMBO). It's 124 minutes of exhiliration, dread, and magical Americana. And there's as much oddness, terror, love, and joy as there really is in this world that's so "wild at heart and weird on top," and to give any more away would do the film a disservice. One of the greats.

-Sean Gill

Side Note: The current R1 MGM DVD is an edited version of the film, but not severely. About 2 seconds have been obscured by smoke and a few frames removed from a scene where a certain character loses their head.

Additional Side Note: Read my LOVELESS review for my opinion on Monty Montgomery's contributions to the film.


J.D. said...

Amen, my brother! I think that the opening credits sequences says it all. Flames and the film's titles rushing out at you, writ LARGE. Lynch seems to be saying this is going to be an epic, in-yer-face love story and if that wasn't enough of warning, the opening scene of Sailor bashing some guy's brains out is the ultimate litmus test. You either hang in there or turn the film off.

Ah, there are just so many quotable lines from this film and Cage and Dern have exude genuine heat and chemistry in theirs sexed up roles.

Good call on the eclectic (to say the least!) supporting cast. Lynch was at the height of his pop culture/zeitgeist popularity and wisely called in all his favors getting an all-star cast of your fave character actors in supporting roles.

Plus, I love J.E. Freeman's slow burn Santos, esp. when he tells Diane Ladd how he's gonna kill Sailor. "Lots of irreparable brain damage." heh.

Sean Gill said...

You're right- I think Bob Ray Lemon's brutal demise in the first 5 minutes is a well-constructed gauge of whether or not you're gonna like this movie's sense of humor- or its sense of terror.

There're so many exquisite details and performances in this film- I feel like I could have easily written an entire review based on an appreciation of J.E. Freeman or William Morgan Sheppard or David Patrick Kelly...

It's a fantastical universe, but the way Lynch populates it with utterly wack but completely believable characters, from Freddie Jones' pigeon-hating bar patron to Crispin Glover's roach-luvin' perv, that it injects a tangible sense of verisimilitude into the proceedings.