30 Days of The Plaza, Day 20: Don’t Let Us Be Too Bad – Why We’ll Always Be WILD AT HEART For David Lynch

WILD AT HEART (1990); Dir: David Lynch; Based on the novel by Barry Gifford; Starring Nicholas Cage, Laura Dern, Willem Dafoe, Crispin Glover, Diane Ladd, Harry Dean Stanton, Isabella Rossellini; Sat. July 7, 9:30 p.m.; Co-presented by and featuring a live performance by Women’s Work, come dressed as your favorite Lynch character, coffee and pie in the lobby; Plaza Theatretrailer here.

“I’d go the far end of the world for you, baby!”

“A man can’t ask for more than that.”

“You rope me, Sailor, you really do.”

These immortal lines are exchanged between Lula Fortune (Laura Dern)and Sailor  Ripley (Nicholas Cage), but in 1990, I’d have to admit I would have gone to the ends of the world to see any piece of celluloid created by David Lynch.

If you were a certain type of young person drawn to the deepest darkness but still enchanted by the lure that true romance can exist even if it kills you, you worshipped at the insane, amazing altar of Lynch back then. You saw a college or midnight revival of ERASERHEAD, and your head throbbed with pain while watching it, yet your eyes were glued to the screen. ELEPHANT MAN was even more excruciating because of the toll it took on your emotions, but you knew brilliance onscreen when you saw it. You really, really wanted to embrace DUNE and liked some of the visuals, but …well, but then came BLUE VELVET, and every time you heard that song ever after, it had a different meaning and while you didn’t want to admit it to anyone but your diary, Dennis Hopper made you all hot and bothered ever after. So, of course, you tuned into TWIN PEAKS like an addict desperate for a Lynch fix and told your lover “don’t let me too bad,” hoping just the opposite as you twisted a cherry stem into a knot behind your ruby lips.

Sailor Ripley (Nicholas Cage) in his iconic snakeskin jacket is WILD AT HEART for Lula Fortune (Laura Dern). Polygram/Propagada Pictures, 1990.

Into that era of Lynch euphoria arrived WILD AT HEART, perhaps the best example of how behind the violence, Lynch is sweetly sentimental about love. Based on the Barry Gifford novel of the same name (though Lynch changed the ending), the movie didn’t test well with audiences and was not completely critically well-received, but yet walked away with the Palme d’Or at Cannes. In other words, a typical Lynch movie. You either love Lynch or you don’t.

Without giving too much away for anyone who has not seen it before, the plot hinges on a simple love story–boy meets girl, they fall in love, girl’s mother (Diane Ladd) forbids them to marry and hires a hitman to take out boy, boy goes to prison and serves his time, girl picks him up and they hit the road, mom hires another hitman (J.E. Freeman) and craziness, violence – and yes, beauty ensue topped off by a cameo by Glinda the Good Witch (Sheryl Lee, aka Laura Palmer)! Yup, this road movie may be set in contemporary America and include all the requisite stops at seedy motels, but it’s also a fairy tale with heavy references to the Road to Oz.

Diane Ladd as Marietta Fortune in WILD AT HEART. Polygram/Propagada Pictures, 1990.

Like Woody Allen, Robert Altman or Quentin Tarantino, Lynch has been a genius in assembling an intriguing ensemble cast, and WILD AT HEART is no exception. It may be hard to remember now but Nicholas Cage was once a fine actor and just weird enough to make him a perfect Lynch leading man. In those days when he put on a snakeskin jacket and impersonated Elvis, he was sexy, not creepy. Pretty but still real-looking Laura Dern brings just the right mix of passion, forthrightness and stroppu Southern accent to pull off Lula without turning her into a cliche. Casting Laura’s mother, Diane Ladd, as her domineering, disapproving and crazy-as-a-Lynch-movie Marietta Fortune, though, was pure brilliance. At the time, Ladd was at that middle age where she wasn’t getting many great roles, and this one proved a comeback that earned her both Oscar and Golden Globe nominations. The supporting cast also includes Harry Dean Stanton as a private dick and Marietta’s boyfriend, a scary-toothed Willem Dafoe as a psychotic gangster hired to kill Sailor, Crispin Glover as Lula’s cockroach-eating cousin (isn’t insect-dining a David Lynch movie prerequisite?!), Lynch favorite Jack Nance as a loony rocket scientist, a gone-blonde Isabella Rossellini (then still Lynch’s lover) as a gangster moll, and a cameo by Sherilynn Fenn (Twin Peak’s Audrey and then every Lynch-boy’s fantasy and every Lynch- girl’s role model) as a car crash victim.

Sheryl Lee (TWIN PEAKS' Laura Palmer) as Glinda the Good Witch in WILD AT HEART. Polygram/Propagada Pictures, 1990.

Sigh, because I’ll only be there “In Dreams.” Nope, I won’t be able to take that wild ride with Sailor and Lula tonight because I alas already am committed to other plans. So all I’m going to say is I hope you’ll go in my stead and fill up the Plaza as it should be for a special screening like this (come early and see STAND BY ME for a double feature if you can! If you missed Plaza Day 19, catch up here). If you haven’t seen WILD AT HEART, you should and encourage all your friends. If you haven’t seen it in a while or even more if you’ve never seen it on the big screen, this is a rare opportunity and another reason why Atlanta needs The Plaza.Remember, your ticket and any concessions purchases help keep Atlanta’s longest-running, locally owned historic independent cinema and Retro treasure alive!

 

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