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Wild at Heart: Special Edition DVD Review

Wild at Heart: Special Edition

June 20, 2005

Director: David Lynch, ,
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Laura Dern, Willem Dafoe, J.E. Freeman, Crispin Glover, Diane Ladd, Calvin Lockhart, Isabella Rossellini, Harry Dean Stanton, Grace Zabriskie, Sherilyn Fenn, William Morgan Sheppard, David Patrick Kelly, Freddie Jones, John Lurie, Jack Nance, Pruitt Taylor Vince, ,

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DVD Review

By 1990, David Lynch was at the peak of his popularity and enjoying the most productive period of his career. His television show, Twin Peaks, had captivated American audiences and he was directing a number of commercials and performance art pieces (Industrial Symphony No. 1). This all culminated with Wild at Heart (1990), an adaptation of Barry Gifford’s novel, which went on to win the coveted Palme d’Or at that year’s Cannes Film Festival. It established Lynch as America’s premiere cinematic surrealist.

Sailor Ripley (Cage) and Lula Pace Fortune (Dern) are young lovers on the run from her crazed and over-protective mother, Marietta (Ladd). Sailor has jumped parole (after serving time for manslaughter) and takes off with Lula for sunny California. This doesn’t sit too well with Lula’s mom who sends her boyfriend, private investigator Johnny Farragut (Dead Stanton), and, unbeknownst to him, her lover, ruthless gangster Marcellos Santos (Freeman) on the trail of the young lovers.

Wild at Heart perfectly illustrates Lynch’s love-hate relationship with America. The film is filled with beautifully shot iconography of Americana, like big convertible automobiles from the ‘50s and rock ‘n’ roll music from the period. Sailor and Lula are loving (albeit tweaked) homages to Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe.

Lynch’s two leads are also on the same page in this respect, especially Nicolas Cage who affects an Elvis-like drawl and sings two songs made famous by the King. There is a show-stopping moment where he instructs a speed metal band to back him on a note perfect rendition of “Love Me.” Cage plays Sailor as an instantly iconic figure who can turn a simple gesture of lighting a cigarette into a dramatic gesture of epic proportions.

Laura Dern delivers a completely uninhibited performance as Lula. She exudes a captivating sensuality in the way she carries herself and makes a line like, “You got me hotter’n Georgia asphalt,” sound like an enticing come-on. There is genuine chemistry and heat between her and Cage—rather appropriate for a film dominated by images of fire.

Also prevalent is Lynch’s trademark fascination with the dark underbelly of America as personified by the character of Bobby Peru (Dafoe), one of Lynch’s most disturbing psychopaths (right after Blue Velvet’s Frank Booth). With his horrible teeth and all-black attire (to match his pitch black heart), Peru sets his sights on Sailor and Lula with the intention of killing the former and seducing the latter.

Lynch juxtaposes this darkness with absurdist humour as personified by Lula’s wildly eccentric cousin, Jingle Dell (Glover), who believes aliens are after him and enjoys cockroaches in his underwear. There is also a memorable scene with Lynch regular, Jack Nance as Boozy Spool, a crazed rocket scientist who may have been sampling his own rocket fuel. He delivers a brilliantly surreal monologue that is amongst some of the best moments in any Lynch film.

Special Features:

“Love, Death, Elvis and Oz: The Making of Wild at Heart” is a fascinating 30 minute documentary with brand new interviews with Nicolas Cage, Laura Dern, Willem Dafoe and, in the biggest coup, David Lynch (who doesn’t normally consent to these kinds of things). Best of all, even peripheral, yet memorable cast members Crispin Glover and Grace Zabriskie are interviewed. Wild at Heart was Lynch’s response to the craziness of the world at the time. It becomes obvious over the course of this extra that Lynch is the glue that holds everything together. The actors adore and trust him which makes them willing to do anything he asks of them. This is an excellent retrospective look at the movie that will appeal to newcomers and devoted fans alike.

“Dell’s Lunch Counter” features more interview soundbites that didn’t make it into the above documentary. Some highlights include Diane Ladd and Nicolas Cage talking about the scene they did together (including a surprise bit of dialogue that Ladd and Lynch sprung on Cage at the last minute), Lynch on Freddie Jones’ memorable “pigeons spread disease” scene and Cage on the origins of Sailor’s famous snakeskin jacket and how it defined the character.

There is also a two minute montage of stills of Sailor and Lula set to music.

“Specific Spontaneity: Focus on David Lynch” is a seven-minute featurette where the film’s cast and crew talk about Lynch’s unique vision and the specific world he created. It gave the actors the freedom to be spontaneous. Frederick Elmes tells a story that illustrates Lynch’s exactness for detail and how everything in a scene has to feel just right for it to work.

“David Lynch—On the DVD” has the veteran director talking about the process of restoring and remastering Wild at Heart. It was painstaking work that took a year and a half to do.

Also included is the original electronic press kit that was made around the time of the film’s production. Lynch talks about his movie and some of the key cast talk about his working methods in a surprisingly substantial extra.

Finally, there are four brief TV spots and a theatrical trailer.

Wild at Heart is an underrated film that is often ignored in favour of Lynch’s more well-known work, like Blue Velvet (1986) or Mulholland Drive (2001). Thankfully, MGM, working with Lynch, has assembled a fantastic looking and sounding (so important with any Lynch movie) transfer (the film has never looked or sounded better) with a modest but excellent collection of extras. It reminds one what a great film Wild at Heart is and how it deserves to be ranked amongst Lynch’s best work.

J.D. is a freelance writer who is currently doing research for a book on the films of Michael Mann. He likes reading anything written by Jack Kerouac, James Ellroy, J.D. Salinger, Harlan Ellison or Thomas Pynchon. J.D. is currently addicted to the T.V. series 24 and enjoys drinking a lot of Sprite. This is not a blatant plug for the beverage but if they ever decided to give him a lifetime supply he certainly wouldn’t turn them down.
view all DVD reviews by JD Lafrance

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