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David Lynch on the Road

Two years after the sinuous Lost Highway, the filmmaker takes the straight routes through the American Champagne for a slow motion road movie, The Straight Story.

Text and Photos Christophe D'Yvoire
Translated from French

David Lynch and Mary Sweeney who has written the script (2nd pic from the left) depict the strange journey of Alvin Straight (Richard Farnsworth), an eighty year old farmer.


White shirt, black coat, beige pants and a soft hat, David Lynch seizes his megaphone: "Action !" On the small Champagne road bordered by corn fields the camera truck sways quite gently, followed by an old farmer behind the wheel of a tiny tractor.

For five weeks the filmmaker and his crew have travelled that way through the American Champagne of Iowa in the south-west of Chicago to shoot The Straight Story, the astonishing, even nutty story of an 80 year old american farmer who undertook his 700 km journey solitarily on his tractor to visit his sick brother in Wisconsin. A kind of slow-motion road-movie (7 km/h, that's the maximum speed of the tractor!), that is, a priori far away from the usual universe of the Maître du Bizarre. Here, not a nightmare as in Blue Velvet, not a mysterious murder as in Twin Peaks, not the pretence of Lost Highway. Just a simple story, clear and straight like the name of the eighty year old protagonist: Alvin Straight.

It's Mary Sweeney, Lynch's companion, but also his producer and editor who has written the script for The Straight Story. Based on a true story, she worked four years on the project before she proposed it to Lynch. "I had just read three scripts which I really liked," says the director. "So there were few chances that I'd make this one. But I was overwhelmed by the emotion that came along. The story of this simple man who sets out to this last journey takes you back to essential emotions. That made me think of my own aging, my dad, my brother."

As the filmmaker recognizes that he approaches this film in a certain way ("If you film your own script, you know, you're free to change anything while you're shooting. Here I must be true to the script."), his working method stayed the same. Surrounded by a relaxed crew and in spite of a high-speed working rhythm (only five weeks for shooting) he displays an imperturbable serenity. At the same time self-confident, and lying in wait for the unforseen (a passing cow, a rumbling thunder storm), constantly listening to his collaborators (those are the technicans, like the director of photography Freddie Francis with whom he worked on The Elephant Man, or his actors like the veteran Richard Farnsworth, Sissy Spacek and Harry Dean Stanton), David Lynch is radiating every moment an elegance on the plateau. This elegance inspired that, exactly, that his cinema has this particular aura.

"I was immediatly attracted to the journey of this old man who carries the weight a whole life along." David Lynch


Like a travelling circus follows the filmmaker and his team the displacement of their hero. Preceded by the camera truck he last crossed the Mississippi at the border between Iowa and Wisconsin.

With it's look always changing, this is rural America rarely explored in cinema that David Lynch wants to make us discover.


"This is the simplest and straightest plot I've ever filmed. But I approach it like all my other films." David Lynch


original French version

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