Judge Daryl Loomis doesn't get why "Take a bite of cabbage" isn't a more effective pickup line.
Step it and steer.
I might as well just get this out the way: Wild at Heart is my favorite movie. As a man who likes his sex scorching, his violence graphic, and his profanity plentiful, no movie comes even close to delivering the things that I want per minute than this bizarro romance-fantasy from David Lynch (Inland Empire). I've seen this movie more times than any other, by a wide margin and, even though I've been able to say that it's my favorite movie from its first moments that afternoon in 1990 that I snuck into the theater to see it, I recognize that it's not the best movie. It's not even Lynch's best, but this is the movie that taught me a clear difference between favorite and best, which are now totally separate lists in my head. Oddly, having seen it so many times, I've never written a word about it, but with this newly released Blu-ray from Twilight Time, I'm more than excited to get going.
Facts of the Case
Lula Fortune (Laura Dern, Rambling Rose) loves her man Sailor Ripley (Nicolas Cage, Moonstruck) with a painful intensity that is only matched by Sailor's love for Lula. The problem is that, after a two year stint for manslaughter, Lula's mother, Marietta Fortune (Diane Ladd, Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore), absolutely forbids Lula from seeing Sailor. Lula's a little too hot under the collar to stay away from him, so when she picks him up from prison, they head out on a road trip. First, they go to New Orleans, but Marietta has sent her boyfriend, the hapless Johnny Farragut (Harry Dean Stanton, Dillinger), to go find them. As the action heats up, they head out to Big Tuna, Texas, on their way to California, but old scores and new enemies have a way of catching up to the couple.
There are a lot of words that can be used to describe Wild at Heart, and not all of them are positive, but nobody can describe it as boring. No matter what you think of David Lynch in general and this movie in particular, few other movies ever made provide so much craziness and none other, at least for me, is as much fun. This is two hours of unbridled passion and utter ridiculousness…and I have never been able to get enough of it.
It starts with the story, which was adapted by Lynch from a novel by Barry Gifford. The plot is as lurid as it could possibly get, starting from the brutal, brain-spattered slaughter of Bob Ray Lemon (Gregg Dandridge), all the way to the insane and weirdly touching final moments. There isn't a moment of the movie that isn't rife with sex, violence, or heightened emotion. It's almost like Lynch took his suburban noir sensibility from Blue Velvet and took it south and into the worlds of Tennessee Williams and Douglas Sirk, but creating something wholly original, with its own life and breath that is at once beautiful and absolutely grotesque.
It's the cast, though, that really makes Wild at Heart shine. First of all, Laura Dern as Lula Fortune is quite possibly the sexiest thing to ever get poured onto the silver screen and her chemistry with Nicolas Cage is absolutely crackling, some of the very best in modern movies. Laura Dern must have all kinds of trust in Lynch, because every time she has worked with the director, he pulls her absolute best from her. Cage is iconic as Sailor Ripley, with his snakeskin jacket and Elvis obsession and absolute cool, he is everything good about the Cage bit without all the crazy that would emerge in later years.
But it's definitely not just about Dern and Cage, not by a long shot. Wild at Heart features some of the most enjoyable casting that I've ever seen. First, Diane Ladd and Harry Dean Stanton are absolutely terrific together, but the list of great performers is huge. Grace Zabriskie (Armageddon) and Isabella Rossellini (Blue Velvet) are brilliant as the mother and daughter assassins, while the cameos from Sherilyn Fenn (Two Moon Junction), Jack Nance (Eraserhead), Crispin Glover (The River's Edge), and Sheryl Lee (Twin Peaks) are all choice moments of the film. And, of course, there's Willem Defoe (Antichrist) in one of the most singular roles in cinema history, Bobby Peru, possibly the most disgusting character to grace the screen and definitely the one with the worst teeth. It's an amazing ensemble whose weirdness only gets better over time.
The characters never get old because, outside of the lead performers, the nutjobs come and go in the same way that the story unfolds. Some complain that this episodic nature is to the movie's detriment, but I find that not spending too much time with anybody other than Sailor and Lula keeps them from getting overplayed. The only one you might want to spend more time with is Bobby Peru, but any more of him might make him too disgusting, so I think it's just right.
For all its charm, violence, and humor, though, Wild at Heart still rubs people, even some David Lynch fans, the wrong way. The problem seems to me to be that this is a transitional movie for Lynch. Even in the obscurity of Blue Velvet there is something of a narrative and, of course, he had just finished the pilot for Twin Peaks when he started production here, but he would never again make a traditional narrative-based movie (aside, of course, from the absolutely anomalous The Straight Story). There's a relatively firm narrative here, but he lets it go for randomness more often than not. Characters and set pieces are there for effect rather than narrative weight, so if you need plot cohesion to enjoy a movie, Wild at Heart is probably not for you.
Lucky for me that I basically don't care about that, especially when the director doesn't have any interest in delivering a sensible story in the first place. Instead, I prefer to enjoy it for all its lurid, grotesque beauty. The cinematography by Frederick Elmes (Kinsey) captures Lynch's vision perfectly, while the Lynch mainstay Angelo Badalamenti (Lost Highway) does some fantastic work with the musical score. Wild at Heart is a sensory explosion that works really well if it's treated like that; less so if one goes in looking for a traditional movie.
David Lynch's movies have never fared particularly well on DVD or Blu-ray, but this limited edition disc from Twilight Time fares quite well, though to be fair, there isn't much difference between this disc and the 2004 special edition aside from the most important thing: the audio visual quality. While it isn't brand new, this is the Lynch-approved 2.35:1/1080p transfer from before and the uptick in detail and clarity is notable. There are a couple of scenes that look a little bit soft, but colors are very strong and black levels are mostly quite deep. The sound is excellent as well, with your choice of the original stereo track and the remixed surround sound. I prefer the latter for fullness, but both sound great.
The extras, while not disappointing, are nothing new, either. The only addition is Twilight Time's customary isolated score track, which is especially nice for Badalamenti's gorgeous music. Otherwise, it's the same interviews and featurettes from before, with a vintage featurette in which everyone looks very young, along with a number of brief pieces recorded for the old DVD about the movie's production and Lynch's filmmaking process.
I recognize the problems that exist in Wild at Heart. It's disjointed and the farthest thing possible from subtle. It's too on the nose with its references and weird for the sake of being weird. But I don't care. Like your black sheep child that keeps screwing up, but is the funniest, most outrageous kid imaginable, I can't help but love it to death. This is a highly recommended upgrade for fans of the movie, not for the repeated extras, but for the excellent AV presentation.
This whole world might be wild at heart and weird on top, but this movie is
free to go.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Twilight Time
• New! Isolated Score
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