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Wild at Heart
Release Date(s)1990 (April 8, 2014)
Studio(s)Samuel Goldwyn/MGM (Twilight Time)
The first time I saw David Lynch’s Wild At Heart was in an almost deserted theatre in West Virginia. If memory serves, the audience that day totaled four: me, my friend and two others. When the lights came up, I noticed that we’d lost half of that number.
I mention this not just to make you jealous of the fact that I was visiting West Virginia in 1990 (although I’m sure you are and you are right to be). In the late summer of 1990, the Twin Peaks phenomenon was at its height and, for one brief, weird moment, David Lynch was a household name in mainstream America. The show’s popularity was so pervasive that The Samuel Goldwyn Company thought that even a movie as aggressively odd as Wild At Heart stood a chance at breaking through to a crossover audience. And make no mistake, Wild At Heart is as thoroughly bizarre as anything Lynch has ever directed.
Nicolas Cage and Laura Dern star as Sailor and Lula, two lovers whose passion for each other doesn’t cool off even when Sailor is imprisoned for manslaughter. Reunited at last, they hit the road and head for California. But Lula’s domineering mama (Diane Ladd) will do whatever it takes to keep her daughter away from Sailor. She sends her current beau, nice-guy private detective Johnnie Farragut (Harry Dean Stanton), to track them down. She also contacts gangster Marcellus Santos (J.E. Freeman), Sailor’s former employer, and sends him off to kill everybody.
Although it’s based on a novel by Barry Gifford, Wild At Heart fits squarely inside David Lynch’s wheelhouse. Lynch must have found a kindred spirit in Gifford. The two would go on to collaborate on the screenplay to Lost Highway and the extremely short-lived TV series Hotel Room. Lynch doesn’t exactly take liberties with Gifford’s book as much as he adorns it with extra Lynchian touches and atmosphere. For the most part, they work very well. The imagery and sound design are both incredible and odd moments like Sailor and Lula encountering a horrific car crash victim (Sherilyn Fenn, one of many Twin Peaks vets who turn up in small roles) are haunting. It’s hard to say where all the Wizard Of Oz references came from and I don’t think they entirely work. But they’re so inextricably tied to the movie that it’s hard to imagine it without them.
But it’s the performances of the incredible cast that make Wild At Heart truly memorable. Cage and Dern make a dynamic couple and I’ve always been a little disappointed that they haven’t been paired up since. Diane Ladd delivers the kind of galvanizing, go-for-broke performance that makes you look at her in a completely different light. Willem Dafoe gets one of the creepiest, slimiest roles of his frequently creepy and slimy career as Bobby Peru. Crispin Glover appears in little more than a cameo as Cousin Dell but almost steals the movie. Only Isabella Rossellini seems miscast as Perdita Durango. She isn’t terrible but Rosie Perez would do a better job with the character a few years later in Alex de la Iglesia’s Dance With The Devil.
Wild At Heart makes its US Blu-ray debut as part of Twilight Time’s Limited Edition series (the film has been available on Blu in other regions for a few years now). For the most part, the news is good. It’s essentially the same disc as MGM’s Special Edition DVD from 2004. Lynch supervised that transfer and while it was certainly good enough for DVD, it’s just OK by Blu-ray standards. As far as I know, Lynch didn’t sign off or comment on this release, although I’d be curious to know what he thinks of it. It’s certainly fine but it looks a little older than it really is. On the other hand, the 5.1 DTS-HD audio is terrific. The disc also includes 2.0 mixes in both English and Spanish.
Extras are ported over from the MGM disc and include the 29-minute documentary Love, Death, Elvis & Oz, the original 1990 EPK, a number of extended interviews grouped under the heading Dell’s Lunch Counter, a 7-minute featurette on Lynch called Specific Spontaneity, 4 TV spots, the trailer, a photo gallery, and Lynch’s comments on the DVD restoration. Unique to the TT disc is their usual isolated music & effects track and liner notes by Julie Kirgo. The content is very good but Lynch obsessives will still want to hang on to The Lime Green Set for the hour’s worth of deleted scenes included as a bonus.
David Lynch has made too few movies to dismiss any of them as minor works. Wild At Heart is frequently overlooked today, despite winning the Palme d’Or at Cannes. It’s worth revisiting and Twilight Time’s disc is very good even if it stops short of being definitive.
- Adam Jahnke