The Auteurs: David Lynch (Part 2)

Lynch_02

Part 2 (1981-1992)

In this stage of his career, Lynch began to make his ascension up the Hollywood ranks. In demand, Lynch had the chance to work on several high profile films. However, it would be one of his indie films and a quirk television show that helped to define him as an artist.

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Dune (review)

Thanks to the Oscar nomination under his belt, David Lynch had several suitors in Hollywood wanting to work with him. Lynch turned down the chance to direct Return of the Jedi knowing that the film was more about what George Lucas wanted rather than incorporating his own ideas. It was around this time Lynch met famed Italian film producer Dino de Laurentiis, who offered the director a three-picture deal and asked him to produce an adaptation of Frank Herbert’s acclaimed sci-fi novel Dune. A tale of conflict between factions over a planetary resource, getting the story to the big screen proved challenging. Several individuals, including most famously Alejandro Jodorowsky, failed to get the film off the ground.

Lynch’s massive ensemble cast included Kyle MacLachlan, Sian Phillips, Francesca Annis, Alicia Witt, Jurgen Prochnow, Patrick Stewart, Everett McGill, Sean Young, Virginia Madsen, Dean Stockwell, Kenneth McMillan, Richard Jordan, Brad Dourif, and Sting from the rock band the Police. Lynch regulars Jack Nance and Freddie Jones also made appearances in the film. Production began in March of 1983 and was a rather difficult shoot; however, it was during post-production where the trouble really began. Lynch’s request for more time to work on the visual effects, and the lengthy initial running time, caused some friction with the studio.

Universal Studios demanded that Lynch and Laurentiis deliver a two-hour version of the film. The pair decided to provide a compromise by issuing a 137-minutes theatrical cut. Upon its release in December 1984, the film flopped at the box-office grossing only $30 million worldwide against its $40 million budget. Receiving poor reviews, and unhappy with the overall experience of making the film, Lynch refused to take part in anything further with the film, including the subsequent extended cut.

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Blue Velvet (review)

The disappointing experience of Dune prompted Lynch to go for something smaller and more personal with his next film. Given a budget of $6 million, Lynch jumped at the chance to make Blue Velet, a film he had been working on since the 1970’s. Set in a small town, the story followed a man as he endures a series of events involving a woman who lives with a sociopath. Despite the terrible time making Dune, Lynch enjoyed working with Kyle MacLachlan and casted him in the lead role of Jeffrey Beaumont. The rest of the principle cast included cult actor Dennis Hopper, then-newcomer Laura Dern, and Isabella Rossellini. Lynch regulars Dean Stockwell, Jack Nance, and Brad Dourif all had small roles in the film.

The two-month shoot was far less hectic than the director’s previous film. He even brought composer Angelo Badalamenti to coach Rossellini on the techniques of singing, since her character in the film was a singer. Lynch and Badalamenti really hit it off while assembling the film’s soundtrack as both men shared an interest in rock n’ roll and dream-pop.

Lynch decided to premiere the film at the Montréal World Film Festival in 1986 before its unveiling to an international audience at the Toronto International Film Festival a month later. Blue Velet was a major festival hit and ended up grossing more than $8 million at the box office. While the film had a few detractors, such as Roger Ebert who accused Lynch of being misogynistic in one of the most infamous episode of At the Movies, in which co-host Gene Siskel argued in favor of the film, the general critical response was positive. The film even garnered Lynch an Academy Award nomination in the Best Director category.

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The Cowboy and the Frenchman (review)

The global success of Blue Velvet led to Lynch being approached by French producers who wanted him to contribute a short for a television project entitled The French as Seen By… The program included segments by Jean-Luc Godard, Werner Herzog, Andrzej Wajda, and Luigi Comencini. Lynch’s short, The Cowboy and the Frenchman, revolved around a culture clash between a Frenchman and a cowboy in the American west. Starring Harry Dean Stanton, Frederic Golchan, and Jack Nance, the short showcased Lynch’s unique approach to humor and proved that there was more to director than merely being a surrealist filmmaker.

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Industrial Symphony No. 1 (review)

Going back to his more experimental side, Lynch decided to collaborate with Angelo Badalamenti on Industrial Symphony No. 1 which was a mixture of performance art, drama, and music (provided by Julee Cruise). Set inside a factory, Cruise sang on stage while elaborate set pieces, exotic dancers, and all sorts of things occurred around her. Lynch presented the performance for two nights at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York City in November of 1989. Nicolas Cage and Laura Dern, who were filming Lynch’s Wild at Heart at the time, made appearances in the production.

TWIN PEAKS

Twin Peaks

Though he had gained success in the world of film, David Lynch had expressed interest in working in the realm of television for some time. He was even linked to a mid-80’s for a project about Marilyn Monroe that was eventually scrapped. Collaborating with Mark Frost, Lynch came up with a murder mystery set in a small town in the American northwest. In their pitch to ABC, during the Writers Guild Strike in 1988, Lynch and Frost sold the series as a murder mystery with an element of soap opera and horror. Given $4 million to shoot a pilot, Lynch put together a large ensemble that included some of Lynch’s regulars in Kyle MacLachlan, Jack Nance, Grace Zabriskie, and Everett McGill in key roles. The rest of the diverse cast included 1950’s film stars Richard Beymer, Piper Laurie and Russ Tamblyn; as well as noted TV stars like Peggy Lipton and Michael Ontkean; stage actor Warren Frost, and rising young stars in James Marshall, Dana Ashbrook, Sherilyn Fenn, Madchen Amick, and Lara Flynn Boyle. Sheryl Lee was cast in the key roles of both Laura Palmer, the young woman at the center of the mystery, and Palmer’s cousin Maddy Ferguson.

When the two-hour pilot episode made its premiere on April 8, 1990, it garnered strong ratings and became an instant pop culture phenomenon. Critics showered accolades on the successful first season, which ended just as his film Wild at Heart was hitting theaters, and the series earned several Emmy nominations. It also won three Golden Globes for Best TV drama series, Best Actor for Kyle MacLachlan, and a Best Supporting Actress prize for Piper Laurie.

While the second season got off to a hot start rating wise in September of 1990, Lynch and Frost received pressure from ABC network executives to reveal the identity of Laura Palmer’s killer. The duo gave in and unveiled the killer during the middle of the second season. It was a decision that they soon regretted as the ratings went into a decline. The show was eventually cancelled on June 10, 1991.

Wild at Heart

Wild at Heart (review)

In the aftermath of Blue Velvet, things between David Lynch with Dino de Laurentiis went south due to the bankruptcy of de Laurentiis’ company. It was around that time Lynch met Barry Gifford who was writing a book, Wild at Heart, about two lovers who go on a road trip across America. Their journey is complicated when the woman’s mother hires a hitman to find them. Lynch liked the premise so much that he got the rights to adapt it into a film.

Nicolas Cage and Laura Dern were cast in the respective lead roles of Sailor and Lula. The rest of the cast included Diane Ladd, Willem Dafoe, J.E. Freeman, Crispin Glover, Pruitt Taylor Vince, John Lurie, Harry Dean Stanton, Sherilyn Fenn, Isabella Rossellini, Grace Zabriskie, Jack Nance, David Patrick Kelly, and Sheryl Lee. Shooting began in the late summer of 1989 with Lynch working with his regular crew of collaborators such as cinematographer Frederick Elmes, editor Duwayne Dunham, set designer Patricia Norris, composer Angelo Badalamenti, and casting director Johanna Ray.

Following a lengthy post-production period, which included a few poorly-received test-screenings, Lynch finally unveiled the film at the 1990 Cannes Film Festival. Critical reaction was divided but the film did win the Palme d’Or, the festivals top prize. Lynch was elated that the film grossed more than $14 million in the U.S. alone and that its success led to Diane Ladd receiving an Oscar nomination in the Best Supporting Actress category.

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American Chronicles

With Lynch being a very hot commodity in film and television, he and Mark Frost were approached by Fox to create a series. The duo decided to create a documentary special called American Chronicles, narrated by Richard Dreyfuss, that highlighted various aspects of life across the United States. Everyone for from ordinary Americans to moguls like Hugh Hefner were profiled in the show. Although traditional in its format, the film carried many Lynchian hallmarks in terms of quirky visuals, offbeat music, and an emphasis on sex and violence. The show premiered in September of 1990 but, despite Lynch’s name as its major selling point, failed to pull in ratings. American Chronicles was cancelled on New Year’s Day in 1991.

Twin Peaks - Fire Walk With Me

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (review)

A month after Twin Peaks was cancelled, Lynch announced he was working on a film adaptation that largely focused on Laura Palmer’s final days. Receiving funding from the French production company CIBY-2000, Lynch worked with co-writer Robert Engels, who had written episodes, to get the Fire Walk with Me script ready. Despite getting Sheryl Lee to once again play Laura Palmer, unfortunately for Lynch, not everyone was on board for the featured film treatment as Sherilyn Fenn, Lara Flynn Boyle, and Richard Beymer were unable to take part due to scheduling conflicts. Fenn and Beymer’s parts were written out of the film while Boyle’s Donna Hayward character was played by Moira Kelly.

While Kyle MacLachlan initially claimed he was not going to appear in the film, he eventually changed his tune and agreed to reprise his role as Special Agent Dale Cooper. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me also included appearances from Jurgen Prochnow, Chris Isaak, David Bowie, Kiefer Sutherland, and Harry Dean Stanton in small roles. Some of them appeared for free as they were fans of Lynch’s work. Shooting began in September of 1991 with Ron Garcia serving as the cinematographer and Mary Sweeney assuming editing duties. Sweeney not only became one of the director’s professional collaborators, but she also embarked on a personal relationship with him as well.

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me premiered at the 1992 Cannes Film Festival where it played in competition for the Palme d’Or. Expectations were high but the screening was considered one of the most notorious events in festival’s history due to the number of boos and walkouts. The film was given a theatrical release in the U.S. in late August and only made $4.2 million against its $10 million gross. Though critical re-evaluation has been kinder to the film, its reaction at Cannes and its poor commercial reception was a major blow to Lynch’s career.

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On the Air

In an attempt to salvage his already damaged reputation, Lynch had pitched a new TV project to ABC that was drastically different from anything else he had done. On the Air was a sitcom that revolved around a fictional 1950s television network’s attempt to put on a live variety show hosted by a washed-up film star. With Ian Buchanan and Miguel Ferrer on board, they had previously appeared in Twin Peaks, the rest of the cast included Marla Rubinoff, Gary Grossman, Nancye Ferguson, and Mel Johnson Jr.

Co-written with Mark Frost, whom Lynch’s relationship with had become strained due to creative differences on the second season on Twin Peaks, On the Air was a quirky take on the American sitcom. The show was poorly received as only three of its seven filmed episodes were aired. ABC canned the show less than a month later. It would take several years before Lynch and Frost even considered working with each other again.

(Part 1)

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