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Mower Man Film Rolling

David Lynch changes course to use Lansing bridge

by James Q. Lynch
Gazette Northeast Iowa Bureau

Cedar Rapids Gazette, October 15, 1998 (Iowa

LANSING -- Dustyn Conway wasn't impressed.

Not by a big-time movie director, or the lead actor or the film trucks rolling across the bridge in his hometown. And especially not by the story line.

"It sounds like a movie we would watch in P.E.," the Kee High School sophomore said.

"The Straight Story" -- with scenes being filmed in this northeast Iowa town on Wednesday -- chronicles the 240-mile trip Alvin Straight made across Iowa on his riding lawn mower in 1994.

The 73-year-old rode from Laurens, in northwest Iowa, to Blue River, Wis., to mend his relationship with his dying 80-year-old brother.

"They had a rocky relationship -- they hadn't spoken to each other in years," director David Lynch's publicist, Gaye Pope, said. "When his brother has a stroke, Alvin Straight decides this may be the last chance to get things right. He had to get there."

Conway and other members of Jerry Hartin's film class and Marcia Kruse's art class watched as Lynch (creator of the quirky "Twin Peaks" TV series) directed a scene on and around the Blackhawk Bridge. The bridge crosses the Mississippi River at Lansing.

Not everyone was as hard on the movie-in- the-making as Conway. Classmate Justin Shepard wasn't sure that it sounded like his kind of movie, "but I'll probably go just to see our town."

Hartin said, "This is a chance, we hope, to see some professionals do what we've been working on for nine weeks."

Lynch, whose credits include controversial and critically acclaimed films such as "Lost Highway," "Blue Velvet" and "The Elephant Man," moved Straight's river crossing.

Straight crossed the river at Marquette, but Lynch liked the "character" of the Lansing bridge better than the concrete bridges that connect Marquette and Prairie du Chien, Wis.

"It's a great bridge, a beautiful bridge," Lynch said after filming actor Richard Farnsworth, who plays Straight, crossing the former toll bridge on a riding lawn mower.

"Richard Farnsworth? I've never heard of him," Conway said.

Straight made the trip on the lawn mower because he had poor eyesight and didn't have a driver's license. He bought a 1996 John Deere lawn mower, hooked up a 10-foot trailer to carry supplies and headed across the state at 5 mph. He and his brother are now both deceased.

Lynch and his crew started filming the movie in Laurens on Sept. 14 and have been slowly making their way across the state. A number of scenes were filmed in Clermont, where Straight waited 10 days for a mower belt to be repaired.

Lynch was attracted to the story because of the human interest angle, as well as the chance to shoot a movie outside, on location and during the harvest season, said Pope.

"He will make it very visual," Pope said. "It's a very visual story. That's the beauty of it."

Shooting will continue along the Mississippi River through this week. "The Straight Story" is expected to be released in the spring of 1999.

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