‘Wild at Heart’ is deeply sexual, splendidly grotesque and mammothly entertaining

Immediately in love with Barry Gifford’s novel of the same name, David Lynch decided he needed to make Wild at Heart, feeling that the current emergence of violence in America would make for a perfect backdrop for an unconventional, modern love story. Despite winning Palme d’Or at Cannes, Wild at Heart failed to acquire universal critical acclaim, perceived by Ebert and others as fake, style-over-substance money-collecting excuse for a film. However, the film has numerous virtues, literally riddled with Lynch’s trademark style, iconography and symbolism. Lynch has described Wild at Heart as “about finding love in Hell,” and elsewhere as “a road picture, a love story, a psychological drama and a violent comedy.” It’s also an unsubtle, unsettling mix of obsessive sex and graphic violence—a Sam Peckinpah Animal House for the art house circuit. Nicolas Cage and Laura Dern magnificently portrayed the couple on the run from a domineering mother and the mobsters she hired to break them apart. Written by the director himself, with traditionally wonderful music by Angelo Badalamenti, Wild at Heart is deeply sexual, full of Lynch-like surreal details and packed with Cage’s unforgettable rendering of several of Elvis’ songs. It’s a dark Romeo and Juliet road thriller that stands out as peculiar even in the context of Lynch’s generally puzzling and twisted filmography.

Here’s a rare revised first draft of David Lynch’s screenplay for Wild at Heart, adapted from Barry Gifford’s novel of the same name [pdf]. (NOTE: For educational purposes only). The DVD/Blu-ray of the film is available at Amazon and other online retailers.

Lynch knocked off the script in six weeks. “Well, you never get all the visuals first time, but it was a complete script. I wrote it once, very fast. I sat with my assistant and dictated. It wasn’t so hot, so I did it again. The second one, we shot. I stuck to it… in a way. Scripts, to me, are super-important. But not the final word, for sure. This went through more changes than any other film. However, when studios approve a script, they expect to see it, y’know, done that way. I’m sure they’d send police guards out on a set pretty quick if they saw too many changes in the dailies. But if you’ve got somewhat of a foundation, you get ideas and start changing bits during the shooting. So many things are discovered when all the elements are in front of you and you’re rehearsing. That’s half the fun of it.”

In this discussion, just before the 1997 release of Lost Highway, Lynch demonstrates his aversion to interpretation, preferring to let viewers take what they will from the mood and texture of his films. He reveals his method of working by instinct and embracing the role of chance in his creative process.

Wild at Heart was a screenplay that you wrote based on his novel. But this is the first time that you have actually written the screenplay together and written it from scratch. Can you talk about what that was like, that actual working process with Barry?
LYNCH: I know we were doing that, but looking back, it’s a magical process because you can’t tell where ideas come from, and it seems like it’s just both of us focusing on something. And it was a couple of ideas that were fragments, and those fragments focus you. And it seems that they release a little lock on a door and the door opens and more fragments start coming in—drawn by the first fragments. It’s strange, because if any of you have ever written anything, you know that one day it’s not there and then a month later or two months later it’s there. And it’s two people tuning into the same place, I think. —A Pinewood Dialogue with David Lynch

Here’s a rarely seen video of Chris Isaak’s Wicked Game directed by David Lynch in 1990. It was included on the original VHS release of Wild At Heart and hasn’t appeared on any commercially available video or DVD since. —Dangerous Minds

A selection of articles for further reading:

Wild times on the set of David Lynch’s Wild at Heart.

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