Saturday, May 12, 2012

Destroying David Lynch

(This blog sometimes publishes non-political posts on the weekend.)

David Lynch is my favorite living artist. Yet, oddly enough, I've done him a great injury -- and one day, I may do him further injury.

1. Dune. As most of you know, Dune is the only massively-budgeted epic (massive by the standards of the day) in the Lynch canon. This film was his great chance to prove himself as Mr. Big Shot Hollywood Director, as opposed to Mr. Quirky Artiste, which is what he had been and would be again.

I saw a preview screening of Dune months before it opened. We're talking about the fabled original cut -- the very, very long director's vision that so many have tried to reconstruct.

Can't quite recall why I was invited, but in those days -- and against all reason -- I had friends. One of those friends was a tyro movie critic and Frank Herbert fanatic who spent that entire morning prattling on about the intricacies of the Dune-iverse. His monologue soured me on the film before it started. The screening, held in the early morning, was at one of the newly-constructed Chinese "twins" built next to the original Chinese theater.

My reaction is the probable reason you never saw that version.

Confession: You know those assholes kids who spew pretentious crap all over the Talkback sections of Ain't it Cool and other movie sites? I was the pre-net version of those creeps. Picture a young jerk with big opinions, delivered with jackass confidence, jackrabbit speed and the volume knob turned up to 11.

After the screening, my big opinion on Dune ran thus: "It's brilliant. But it's unreleasable. This thing cannot be salvaged."

The uncut version was a talkfest -- endless, endless exposition. Waiting for the story to start felt like waiting for a long freight train to pass as you sit in a car with malfunctioning A/C on a hot summer day and then the train comes to a complete halt and there you are screaming, screaming for escape. All of that narrative-killing verbiage existed only to provide what we now call "fanservice" to those annoying Herbert aficionados. Maybe they wanted every jot and tittle of the Master's musings preserved on celluloid, but I wanted a movie that moved.

The original version also contained some unwanted laughs that broke the film's spell. (I'm thinking, in particular, of one scene with Linda Hunt.) The first big action sequence -- the Harkonnen attack on Arrakis -- was amateurishly handled. Weirdly, everyone in House Atreides gave off a Nazi vibe even though they were supposed to be the good guys. The film had an uncertain rhythm; everything seemed off-kilter.

And yet...

Yet the film brimmed with brilliant stuff. I loved the Harkonnens. I wanted them to have their own TV series, perhaps called Oh, Those Harkonnens! I loved the Guild Navigators. I loved the worms. I loved the big hand. I loved the surreal visionary scenes. I loved the old witch ladies. I loved Paul's freaky sister and I loved the insane final line. I loved the look of the film -- the set designs, the costumes. I loved the seriousness and psilocybin dreaminess of it all.

I also loved the way the movie began, even though other people seemed bothered by the opening monologue. Many complained that they couldn't understand what Virginia Madsen was saying. Actually, every sentence was quite comprehensible. The problem was simple: It was Virginia Madsen, all of 22 years old, and nobody had ever seen her before. Guys were so tranced out by the sight of her face they could scarcely pay attention to her words.

There were studio people at that screening who asked for our opinions -- and you better believe they heard mine. For months afterward, I told people that the film might never see the light of day.

Eventually, it was released, with much of that expository dialogue cleverly snipped. Also gone were a rather cool fight scene involving one of the Fremen, and an important bit at the end where Virignia Madsen plays an actual role in the story. Despite those questionable excisions, the revised version struck me as a great improvement.

Yet over time, the revision didn't sit well. Lynch had cut to the bone and nicked into the marrow. I wanted a second chance to see the first version. It played better in memory.

Today, if you search through the dark and lawless areas of the internet, you can find reconstructions of Dune which come very close to what I saw at the preview screening. But no version matches the original precisely.

And now you know the story. In my former incarnation as the Ultimate Young Loudmouth Asshole, I killed your chance to see Dune as intended.

2. The secret. Maybe six years after that screening, an incorrigible Hollywood gossip told me David Lynch's dark secret.

I won't reveal it here. (Yes, I'm still an asshole -- but a different kind of asshole.) Suffice it to say that you cannot possibly guess it, so don't even try. That first guess which just now popped into your brain is wrong. So are your second, third and fourth-through-fortieth guesses.

Seriously: Do not try. Your imagination is too limited. We're not talking about something obvious.

And yet the secret explains so much. If and when you learn it, your reaction will be: "Oh, I can see that...!"

How did my source learn the secret? Don't know. Was he misinformed? Possibly. Yet well after he said what he said, I saw a Lynch film which makes direct reference to the Great Untold Thing.

Confirmation? Well, yeah. At least for me.

I swore never to divulge the secret until after both David Lynch and my source had died. If there's any justice in this world, I'll die before Lynch does, in which case you will never know. But now that the source has passed away, I can, at least, reveal his name.

Charles Higham.

I interviewed Higham twice pursuant to a couple of really stupid writing projects which seemed important at the time. (Long stories.) Not sure why he bothered to meet with a young loudmouth creep who thought he knew everything. Possibly he did so because he was gay and wrongly presumed that I was too.

The first meeting with Higham (circa 1980) began acrimoniously, since advance word on his Errol Flynn book infuriated everyone who had grown up with The Adventures of Robin Hood. Who wants to see a boyhood hero trashed in print? But Higham made a persuasive case, and so did his book. Documentation is documentation.

Higham went on to write two books which he considered the justification of his life: Trading With the Enemy and American Swastika. These works are necessary to an understanding of this nation's covert history. His scholarship is superb. The writing style is dry -- intentionally so -- but the facts still astound.

Aside from those two books, Charles Higham usually kept one eye on the bestseller lists when choosing projects. He was a classic Hollywood gossip who made it his business to know everything about everyone -- yet he also knew the National Archives better than the people who worked there did.

Speaking of secrets, he told me one about Vicki Morgan: "She specialized in seducing gay men." Said he, with a wistful and faraway look in his eye. He had met Vicki via a mutual friend, Bernie Cornfeld.

Was Higham bullshitting or misinformed about David Lynch's dark secret? Maybe. All I can say is that Higham's claim explains much about Lynch's later work.

Even if I do outlive David Lynch, it might be best to leave it at that.

So. I destroyed David Lynch's one chance to be Mr. Big Shot Hollywood Director. And one of these days, I may or may not destroy him again -- posthumously.

Did I mention that David Lynch is my favorite living artist?


Anonymous said...

"Did I mention that David Lynch is my favorite living artist?"

I'd hate to be on your shit list.

marc b. said...

well, give us a hint. which film? i have a theory about the 'meaning' of mulholland drive, a topic of considerable debate.

Anonymous said...

But was the long-cut as bad as Cimino's Heavens Gate?

Started out fine. Rich Tapestry which thinned down to burlap by the intermission. His film was cut before it was made, then he was exiled like Orson Welles.

Ben Franklin

Joseph Cannon said...

I've never seen the uncut Heaven's Gate, but someone who has seen it tells me that it is terrible. I saw the cut version when it was first released and actually rather liked it. Don't know what my reaction would be these days.

Another old school chum is now a very well-known film editor. (He won an Oscar a few years back.) Although I haven't spoken to the guy for decades, a mutual friend told me that he worked with Cimino and had some stories to tell.

Basically, word (from a number of different sources) has it that Michael Cimino has been known to act in a bizarre and thoroughly unprofessional fashion.

I wouldn't say that Cimino was "exiled like Orson Welles." He directed four films with fairly high budgets after the "Heaven's Gate" fiasco.

I may be wrong, but I don't think that any of those films did particularly well. (The only one of the four I saw was "Year of the Dragon," which had some good scenes.)

Welles caused a lot of his own problems.

Obviously, there ARE cases in which one failed film can destroy a career.

About that school chum of mine who became an editor: His father was a director, and had done some very interesting work in the 1950s and early '60s. Then he directed one (1) high-profile failure -- a notorious bomb -- and it completely walloped him. I don't think he ever directed after that.

Oh...hell. I've been too secretive today. Let's fill in some blanks: The editor referenced above is a guy named Chris Rouse. His father was Russell Rouse. The high-profile bomb was "The Oscar." I'm surprised that Mike and the bots never got around to it.

(That movie was a very sensitive subject for Chris. His friends were never supposed to bring it up. Naturally, we had the script practically committed to memory and would act out whole scenes whenever it was Chris' turn to be given a hard time.)

Oh, and just to make sure all of the legalities are covered: The characterization of Michael Cimino given above is mine and mine alone.

Bob Harrison said...

I'd pay good money to see an uncut version of Dune.

Maz said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

David Lynch takedown described in two words:


Anonymous said...

You Tease !
David Lynch dark secret
there is a ' deformity ' theme that runs thru most of his films