David Lynch's "Wild at Heart," his first feature film since the controversial "Blue Velvet," was met with wild enthusiasm at its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival Saturday, but it's a version of the film that may be seen only by a handful of Americans at home.
That handful is made up of members of the Motion Picture Assn. of America's Sherman Oaks-based ratings board, a group that Lynch is certain will demand changes in the film to get an R rating.
"This is the version that will be shown in Europe, but we're going to have a few problems in the U.S. for sure," Lynch said, during a post-screening press conference. "I don't know why it is, but (the ratings board) has been getting very conservative lately. . . . There will be some changes we have to make."
Lynch and the film's producers acknowledged at the press conference that he is contractually obligated to work his film into shape for an R rating. The question is how much cutting and editing that will require.
"Wild at Heart" is a rural nightmare about a pair of young lovers who hit the road to escape the girl's domineering and dotty mother, and end up being pursued by professional--and very weird--assassins. The film is as violent as "Blue Velvet" and vastly more erotic, meaning that it may provoke the industry censors to slap it with an X rating on two counts--for sex and violence.
Make that three counts; the movie is also chockablock with profanity.
The leavening factor of "Wild at Heart" is that it is also Lynch's funniest film. Those few people who can pat themselves on the back for "getting" Lynch's offbeat sense of humor in the cult films "Eraserhead" and "Blue Velvet" have been joined by millions of TV viewers who have rallied around Lynch's series "Twin Peaks." And if "Wild at Heart" survives the ratings process without serious damage, his growing army of fans have a treat coming.
Laura Dern, who plays a hipper version of the small-town optimist that she played in "Blue Velvet," isolates the theme of "Wild at Heart" when she tells her parolee boyfriend Sailor (Nicolas Cage) that "The world is wild at heart and weird on top." In David Lynch's world, of course, it is pretty weird all the way through.
But the same tone of absurdity that made "Blue Velvet" a jolt and "Twin Peaks" a joy are turned up to full volume in "Wild at Heart," which is scheduled for release in the United States by the Samuel Goldwyn Co. Lynch calls the film a "violent comedy," and he's got it right. The audience at its maiden screening here (or was it just the Americans?) were howling.
Cage, one of the most daring actors of his generation, has created a character here as interestingly offbeat as his other parolee in "Raising Arizona" and the faux vampire in last year's "Vampire's Kiss." Cage plays a good-hearted but short-tempered petty thief who wears a snakeskin jacket, talks and sings like Elvis Presley, and wears his heart on his sleeve.
The story was adapted by Lynch from an unpublished novel by Barry Gifford. The novel follows Sailor's cross-country flight, but it was Lynch who turned the whole thing into a comically dark version of "The Wizard of Oz."
We're not making assumptions; the film is laced with references to "The Wizard of Oz," the yellow brick road, and it even includes ghostly appearances by the good and bad witches from that tale.
As with "Blue Velvet," Lynch used music from the 1950s to evoke a mood that seems to separate good and evil and bury evil just beneath the surface. The films lure you into a false sense of well-being, then ambush you with unpredictable--sometimes unspeakable--acts of violence.
Does the ratings board take into consideration the context and tone of films before affixing them with the dreaded X? Lately, as Lynch said, it's been hard to tell.
Lynch made it clear Saturday that he will not get caught up in a fight with the ratings board. "This is not going to be a breakthrough movie," he said, when asked if he thought a debate over his film might prompt changes that critics and others have been calling for in the ratings system.
So far, the MPAA has resisted adding an adult-only rating between the R (children under 17 not admitted without a parent or guardian) and the X, which has become associated with pornography. (MPAA President Jack Valenti debates the ratings with TV film critics Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel on CBS tonight at 10. See Morning Report, Page 2.)
"We're upset about (having to cut scenes to get an R rating)," he said. "But there's not a whole lot we can do about it."