Tag Archives: Bill Pullman

Karma chameleon: David Lynch on death and rebirth, interview part 3

28 Jan
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Natasha Gregson Wagner with Balthazar Getty in Lynch’s Lost Highway

Click the links for part one and part two of the interview. My review of David Lynch’s current exhibition at the Photographers’ Gallery is here. Lynch and I are playing a game of “hot or cold” to get to the truth about Lost Highway…

Back to split personalities. All your films deal with the duality of good and evil, often fought out internally. The Mystery Man in Lost Highway seems, like Frank Booth in Blue Velvet, a straightforward embodiment of evil, the dark side. (Lynch cocks his head like a bird to indicate “cold”.) Um. Or is he a Creature From The Id, summoned up from Bill Pullman’s subconscious? (Lynch nods.) Is that warm? “Yeah.”

One bit I really like in Lost Highway is where Getty transforms back into Pullman, when they’re making love in front of the car headlights in a bright white light, like at the end of Fire Walk With Me where the angel descends. So is this a kind of angelic visitation? (He’s nodding, saying uh-huh, but as if he’s expecting more.) So I don’t know where that goes exactly… (Lynch laughs, and doesn’t help out.)

Okay. You’ve said before you believe in reincarnation. Is it anything to do with Karma, the wheel of life, with rebirth? “It could be.” Then: “You know there’s, ah, all sorts of symbols of beautiful transformations, like the cocoon into the butterfly. So it makes you wonder, you know, what is this transformation we’re going through?”

So there is life after death? “Aaah, I think so. I think it’s a continuum.” So what’s it like? (He laughs.) Not a room with red curtains and people talking backwards, then? “That would be kinda beautiful to me.”

So the blackest, most depressing thing about Lost Highway is that Bill Pullman can never die. He’s trapped in this time loop, doomed to repeat his murders and mistakes for ever and ever. “Well, maybe not forever and ever, but you can see how it would be a struggle. Yeah, that’s it.” (Lynch looks uneasy. He’s given away too much!)

So it is that Buddhist notion of reincarnation, that you can only get off the wheel to Nirvana after thousands of years? “Exactly.” So there is light? Pullman could be released if the film carried on? “Oh yeah. Sure. It’s a fragment of the story. It’s not so much a circle as like a spiral that comes around, the next loop a little bit higher than the one that precedes it.”

So there you have it. I think I’ve come as close here as any human can to the central idea behind the film.

I have one more game to play with Lynch; but first, I need to ask him about the accusations of misogyny and pornography that have dogged him ever since Blue Velvet. I have up my sleeve a book of film noir reviews by Barry Gifford, author of Wild At Heart and co-scripter of Lost Highway. Written in 1988, before he started working with Lynch, it describes Blue Velvet as “One cut above a snuff movie. A kind of academic porn. I can never imagine things as depraved as those that occur here, and I’ve always thought I could get pretty low in that department. Pornography, as such, simply bores me. So this movie isn’t for me, yet it seems somehow important and worth discussing.” With friends like that, who needs enemies?

“He says it’s not for him?” Lynch responds when I read this to him. “I’ll never work with him again.” He’s joking, of course…

Lost Highway certainly reopens the debate. It features Patricia Arquette being screwed from behind and made to strip at gunpoint, only to discover that she enjoys it. Lynch counters that that’s just the way the character happens to be. Certainly, his male characters are even more passive, and no less sexually screwed up. It’s more perhaps that Lynch’s own sexuality was imprinted in the ’50s, with his fetishistic fondness for sweater girls in high-heeled shoes with lipstick like a gash of blood. It does seem suspicious that a man who went out with Ingrid Bergman’s daughter (Isabella Rossellini) for several years also cast Natalie Wood’s daughter, Natasha Gregson Wagner, in Lost Highway – wearing a tight ’50s sweater with nothing underneath it, as you can see when she takes it off in a car.

So, Dave, ‘fess up: was it because you used to fancy her mum?

“I fancied Natalie Wood, sure, but that’s not why Natasha was hired. I met her and suddenly realised I’d met her 18 years before. I didn’t actually see her then, but her mother was eight months pregnant. It was when I first went to the American Film Institute, and they had a big party one evening, and Natalie Wood came out on the verandah.”

So it’s back to your cycle of life and birth?

“Exactly right.”

Another score. Lynch has certainly warmed up over the course of our interview. It’s time to put him on the psychiatrist’s chair, and play a game of word association…

Come back tomorrow for part four

A game of “hot and cold” with David Lynch: interview part two

27 Jan
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Robert Blake as “Mystery Man” in David Lynch’s Lost Highway

Though the next two parts of this interview are pretty self-contained, part one is here

David Lynch is unassailably up there now in the pantheon of great film auteurs. But when I meet him in 1997, his career is on the skids. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me was booed at Cannes, where two years earlier Wild At Heart had won the Palme d’Or. His second stab at TV after Twin Peaks, On The Air, had been pulled after a few painfully unfunny episodes. In these circumstances, most people would choose a crowd-pleaser for their next project. Instead, Lynch made Lost Highway: brilliant, fascinating, but one of the darkest and least accessible of all his dark and impenetrable movies.

The first third is slow and sombre and pregnant with menace, as Bill Pullman and Patricia Arquette, married but separated by invisible walls, receive anonymous videotapes each morning that are filmed inside the house, penetrating further and further each time. Then we’re in another film entirely as Bill Pullman, on Death Row for the bloody butchery of his wife, metamorphoses inside the police cell into a young Balthazar Getty – why, we never really know. The baffled prison guards have no choice but to release him, and he steps out into a bright, ’50s-styled world where Patricia Arquette is also transformed, this time into a blonde-haired gangster’s moll who sucks him into danger, lust and finally murder again.

Things are further confused by a man known only in the credits as Mystery Man (above), Lynch’s most disturbing creation since Dennis Hopper in Blue Velvet, who also has a habit of being in two places at once. The film ends, in an infernal time-loop, exactly where it began.

That’s about all the plot that can be described. Along the way there’s hot sex and distant sex; a head-wound of epic proportions even by Lynch’s standards; and a gratuitously weird but very funny sequence in which crime boss Robert Loggia pistol-whips a tailgaiting driver while lecturing him on the highway code.

That’s the beauty of Lynch films: they are an enigma wrapped inside a puzzle hidden inside a maze. I try to ask Lynch outright what Lost Highway is about, but as expected I get this response: “It’s good to talk about some things, and some things it’s good not to talk about. I love more than to intellectually understand something, to feel an understanding of something.”

Right. Thanks a lot, Dave. But I’ve come prepared for this eventuality. Here’s what we’ll do, I say: I’ll tell you what I think this movie means, and you can tell me if I’m hot or cold. Okay? He’s tickled by this. Off we go…

Kyle MacLachlan once said that, when playing Agent Dale Cooper, he imagined him as Jeffrey from Blue Velvet grown up. Maybe the Bill Pullman character isn’t actually a different person from the Getty character; maybe he’s just the grown-up version? That’s why the second half seems so ’50s, because it indicates a shift back in time. And while Getty and Jeffrey both lusted after these doomed mystery women, Pullman has actually married her, and found that life with her isn’t all he’d hoped for.

Lynch nods like a dog in a car’s back window, almost rocking his head off during the bit about marrying the mystery woman. Is it my imagination, or are we both thinking of his now terminated relationship with Isabella Rossellini, whom he met while casting the part of Jeffrey’s doomed siren in Blue Velvet? But all he’ll say is: “Very good.” So, does that mean warm? “Yes, that’s very good.” Have you anything to add to that? “No.” Jesus!

Still, I’ve scored one hit, with another to come…

Click here for part three, where the real meaning of Lost Highway is revealed as David Lynch discusses death, rebirth, and why he got Natalie Wood’s daughter to strip off.