When you create a film that many people consider to be a masterpiece and a lasting contribution to the art of film (in director David Lynch’s case, it was 1986’s “Blue Velvet”), it’s a fool’s errand deciding what you’re going to do for an encore.
Some directors scale back and do something more modest (i.e. Quentin Tarantino’s “Jackie Brown,” Barry Levinson’s “Avalon”). Some directors create the epic they’ve always wanted to make, oftentimes with varying results: from great (Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now”, PT Anderson’s “Magnolia”) to severely flawed (Bernardo Bertolucci’s “1900”) to catastrophic (Michael Cimino’s “Heaven’s Gate”).
Still others decide to make a film that is a depository for every weird idea they’ve ever had, for every f–ked-up notion they’ve ever wanted to put into a film but couldn’t before, and are making this film because this is the one time they can possibly get away with it. These films are typically ones that you probably hate on first viewing, but may grow to like, even love. The best examples of this are Robert Altman’s “Brewster McCloud” (his follow-up to “MASH”), The Coen Brothers’ “The Big Lebowski” (their follow-up to “Fargo”), and David Lynch’s “Wild at Heart.”
“Wild at Heart” came with big expectations and actually won the Palme d’Or at 1990’s Cannes Film Festival (to a cavalcade of boos, allegedly led by Roger Ebert). I had huge expectations for “Wild at Heart,” not only because it was Lynch’s new film, but had Nicolas Cage (when he was only starring in cult movies), Harry Dean Stanton, Laura Dern, and Willem Dafoe, all favorite actors of mine.
My initial reaction? Supreme disappointment, almost anger. The film was as violent and disturbing as “Blue Velvet,” but I thought Lynch trying way too hard to live up to some reputation as some Fellini-esque boogeyman and was just being freaky and weird for the sake of being freaky and weird. I thought it was calculated and crass, a Troma film for art houses.
But … I couldn’t get the movie out of my head. I saw it again at college a few months later and liked it a little more. When I was home that summer, I rented it on video and grew to appreciate it even more. By the end of the summer, I was a fan, but still thought it was a much lesser work than “Blue Velvet” and “Eraserhead.”
Over the years, I’ve grown to like it a lot more and now see it as a transitional film for Lynch as an artist. Kind of a movie he had to get out of his system, before he really let his freak flag fly with “Lost Highway” and “Mulholland Dr.,” arguably his masterpiece even more than “Blue Velvet.” (I like “Blue Velvet” more, but think “Mulholland Dr.” is one of the most complex and brilliant films ever made).
This is not to belittle “Wild at Heart”. As I’ve said earlier, I’ve grown to appreciate and even love this film. Yes, it’s oftentimes weird for the sake of being weird. Yes, it’s patently (and I believe intentionally) ridiculous in many scenes, but if you’re in a mood to be rocked silly with graphic sex, violence, vulgarity, and insanity, it can be a lot of fun. Definitely not for prudes.