Monday, January 23, 2012

some movies simply haunt me

i caught an extended version of david lynch's adaptation of frank herbert's vast novel dune [1984] the other night. it's not what you might call a good movie. the film is a huge, sprawling mess of portentous cries and whispers. lynch might not have been the best choice to bring herbert's visions to the screen. yet, what lynch achieves is a kind of lunatic genius.

i remember seeing this picture at the local multiplex when i was 17. long before i read the novel i didn't know what to expect but i'd heard that it was the most expensive sci-fi film thus far produced. i was vaguely aware of director david lynch but barely. i'd seen the elephant man [1980] but remembered the movie for its intense melancholy.

we were given leaflets as we entered the theater. a glossary of terms that were spoken by the characters of the movie. didn't make a lick of sense and in the darkness of the cinema reading the leaflet was out of the question. i was wholly disappointed in the movie. confusing, long, and pretentious as all get out i wondered how something so cheap looking could be the most expensive sci-fi movie in the history, at that time, of movies.

but that wasn't the end of my viewing. dune was released not long after on vhs video cassette. i lost count on how many times i watched the movie. something about the set decorations, the religious sweep of the action, the bizarre formality of the characters in manner, speech and dress. there was a kind of faux-victorian design of the sets and the space ships that beguiled me. there was also a sadean body horror present in the vision of lynch and embodied by the baron harkonnen and the guild navigators. if this flick was a mess it was a beautiful sort of mess.

then i got around to reading the novel and of course the story made sense. i watched the movie with new eyes. i don't know if i fell in love with the picture. i am haunted by it. i still am. the vast scale of herbert's creation might not be an exact fit for lynch's manias. lynch proved himself an adept at sadean horrors in smaller films such as blue velvet [1986] which is as close to a masterpiece in contemporary u.s. cinema you can get. dune is rather an experiment in scale for lynch. i'd imagine hardcore herbert fans were probably deeply disappointed upon first gazing at dune. i argue that if one is to take the time there is much to admire in lynch's vision of herbert's book. then again maybe that's just me. perhaps the movie for me is like staring into the abyss. stare long enough and you find it stares right back at you.


At 1:51 AM, Blogger Allen said...

That you hadn't read the book probably helped you grasp the movie. Lynch didn't track the book too carefully. Further, any attempt to film anything but a short story means leaving tons of stuff out. Sting looked greasy.

At 11:49 PM, Blogger richard lopez said...

sting is gross. terrible actor. don't know why he was cast.

novels vs. movies. movies always have to truncate the books. impossible to put everything in. i think lynch was attempting to be as linear a storyteller as he could manage with this flick. which means leaving chunks of material out.

but the shear ambition of lynch's version of frank herbert's vision is audacious and a masterly mistake.


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