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The American director David Lynch on a hotel balcony in Cannes.
Cannes Film Festival
A Smooth Exterior But Wild at Heart

David Lynch in Competition for 4th Time

By Joan Dupont
International Herald Tribune
May 19-20th, 2001

Cannes, France - There are filmmakers, like Jead-Luc Godard, with his sardonic eye and quavering mumble, who look and sound like the kind of person you would expect to find behind the movies they make. But David Lynch, with his friendly smile and velvety Montana voice, is something of a surprise - after all, he makes those strange films. He is, in fact, a homespun auteur, straight on the surface, wild at heart, an American surrealist.

This is the director's fourth time in competition at the Cannes International Film Festival. he won the Palme d'Or with "Wild at Heart" in 1990. "To me, being here is not he competition, it's all about a celebration of films," he says.

After "The Straight Story", shown two years ago, Lynch is back on a crooked path, a lost highway, with the bizarre, sensuos - and sometimes nightmarish - "Mulholland Drive." When you tell him that his film has the mood of Nathanael West's "The Day of the Locust," he says "Bless your heart," in warm tones straight from the heartland. "I love that book, I love the '30s and Sunset Boulevard."

"Have you been up to Mulholland Drive?" he asks. "It's the wilds, in many places it's desert, and you could run into a coyote, ot who knows what? It's easy to imagine almost anything happening. To me, every film is dictated by an idea. I follow it and it illuminates the road that it's on - but it doesn't tell you everything."

The script, written by his long-time partner, Mary Sweeney, who is also his editor, is a story of two women lost in Hollywood. One has come to seek fame, the other seeks her identity. "I fell in love with that story and those ideas. They are seeds that grow and you have to pay attention to allow them to be the way they want to be, because seeds hold the final thing. The most important thing is to fall in love with the ideas and to be true to them. If you do that and pay attention, it's a beautiful ride."

A perilous ride as well, through the horror house, with vanishing tricks, bad dreams and hallucinations happening in gracious home and right outside the local diner. More than one lady vanishes, monsters surge from the bushes.

He calls "Mulholland Drive," "a love story in the city of dreams."

The two women come in two different sizes: There is petite, blonde, wide-eyed Betty, played by Naomi Watts, a Doris Day kind of girl, who comes to Hollywood to be an actress, and the regal, brunette Rita, played by Laura Elena Harring, an Ava Gardner goddess, who cannot remember who she is after a crash.

The film opens with Rita's esacpe from the car.She leaves the scene and in no time, is in the woods. She ends up in somebody else's house, walks right through the looking glass, as it were, and falls asleep on Betty„s bed, entering a dream world where nothing is quite as it seems; or perhaps, where people lead two lives, have more than one identity.

There are clues along the way, like the ear in "Blue Velvet," Lynch's 1986 cult movie. "The ear, for him, started him on a journey of discovering many things in himself and his environment," the director says.

"The story isn't so complicated, it's just a matter of trusting your inner feelings. It may be harder for people now because films are what they are, and it's all on the surface, so when you introduce some abstractions, the mind isn't trained to see them. Now, music is so abtract, and no one has a problem with music. Yet film is so much like music, the way things occur in time and come back; those harmonics are really interesting."

The idea for "Mulholland Drive" started at the time Lynch made "Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me" (1992). This was to be an offshoot of the 'Twin Peaks' series. I did a pilot for ABC television, and they hated the pilot I made. They never said why, they never talked to me. But this is possibly an indication that something is happening: Fate is working slowly, but it's working," he says in a sybilline fashion. "When ideas aren't coming, you can veer off course, but that's part of the process, and it's not all beautiful."

Pierre Edelman, his producer and friend, saw the pilot and thought he could make it a film: "It was a beautiful moment, but very frightening because I didin't have the ideas to finish. I was lost, until a night a series of ideas entered me and I was so thankful - they just came in."

Adam, the man between Betty and Rita, is played by Justin Theroux - "a great guy and he's got so many great characters in him." Ann Miller, known as the Queen of Tap, plays Coco Lenoix, a fairy godmother or, possibly, a witch. "I love Ann Miller," he says. "She is a real straight shooter, just the kindest, most professional, anything-goes great gal you ever want to meet." Lynch, born in Missoula, Montana, now lives in Los Angeles. "I went to the American Film Institute in 1970, and have been there ever since then," he said. "I like Los Angeles. There's smog, and there's gangs and trouble, but, at the same time, there's an optimistic sort of feeling."

Yet he is perceived as being the least Hollywood person, an independent filmmaker with a French producer. "Well, it doesn't matter where you live. You should live in a place where you're happy enough to let those ideas flow. It's no good living where you're miserable because it's not going to happen there."

He leads a normal life, he says. With time out to read, to take a swim? "Oh, no, no!" he exclaims, horrified. "I like to work and that's what's fun. I have worked to get what I call a set-up for myself: I've got a wood shop, a painting studio, I've got a music recording studio where we can mix film. So ideas take you to different things, like still photography or music or furniture or film or Internet; I'm building a website. If you have an idea for painting, you have the material to express it - that's the beauty of a set-up, that's where I live.

The work keeps him from going out. "I don't get that much of a chance and I'm not a film buff." He hasn't seen any of the Asian films that have become popular. "I would like to see each film on the big screen, which is near impossible these days. But that's the way it is, because of my work, that's where the fun is."

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