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BBC-Online Interview with David Lynch

by Jonathan Ross

Director David Lynch is still cherished by movie fans for his moments of high weirdness displayed in such late night classics as Eraserhead, Blue Velvet and Wild At Heart. The dark, unsettling imagery that one normally associates with Lynch is conspicuously absent from his latest film, The Straight Story. It tells the story of 73 year old Alvin Straight, a widower who lives with his daughter Rose, played by Sissy Spacek way out among the cornfields of Iowa.

When Alvin hears that the brother he hasn't spoken to in over ten years is seriously ill, he determines to make the several hundred mile journey to see him on the only mode of transport he has - a '66 John Deere lawnmower.

Congratulations on the film. I understand it's based on a true story.

Yes, it's based on a true story. In 1994 Alvin Straight took the same journey on a lawnmower

And the journey's from where to where?

From Laurens, Iowa, which is way west, so he traversed the entire state, crossed the Mississippi and then went another 75 miles into Mount Zion, to see a brother.

In many ways it's a very different film for you and in others it has a lot of images we associate with you. The cornfields and the love of machinery.

I'm glad you picked up on that because there are trucks, there are lawnmowers, there are the harvesters in the fields.

The harvester in the field reminded me of the spice gathering machine in Dune.

Maybe Frank Herbert was out in the mid-west when it struck him, the spice Harvesters. Man and machine and man and nature is a phenomenon of that part of the country.

This is from your youth?

I was born a north-western boy, so I've never really been to the state of Iowa and it's very flat and it's miles and miles of corn and soya bean.

Tell me about Richard Farnsworth. He plays a very difficult role, were you familiar with him before?

Yes, I was familiar with him. It strikes everyone that he's born to play this role. Everything in his life seems to lead him to this character and you're right that he carries the film because he makes it so real and so heartfelt. So much comes through with those eyes and that voice. He's just a beautiful soul.

It strikes me that this is the first film for you where the movie is carried by the acting maybe more than the central idea and the director.

Maybe so. You rely on actors, but many times you have other thing happen around them. It's not that they don't do great work and I've worked with some of the best, but this is so pure and so simple. There are no tricks. It's straight ahead and there's nowhere to hide. If Richard wasn't delivering the goods we'd be in trouble.

Tell me about some ideas you once had that I hope haven't disappeared. One is Saliva Bubble and the other is Ronnie Rocket.

Right. A project sometimes has a time and if you don't move during its time it may be gone, but there's another saying 'never say never', so I don't now what will happen to either one of those. I still love them but I don't know that they'll get made.

I had a copy of the script of Ronnie Rocket, so maybe we'll shoot it using plasticine models.

It's a digital world now, so it could happen that way.

You must be pleased with the film. It reunited you with Harry Dean Stanton.

Yes, Harry I've worked with many times now. Harry asked his name not be in the front credits, for kind of an obvious reason, so it's hard to talk about his role, but he's a guy that has in a way, like Richard, so much heart and soul, and he can deliver the goods.

There's one particularly moving scene, and I'm Jewish, in which Richard is describing events that took place during the second world war. Whether that's something that he drew upon, or if that was already in the script.

That was in the script. Those were two events that came from different places. The camera's on you in a big close up. I didn't shoot a wide shot, I shot close ups, and we had two cameras, one on each one, and I'm pretty sure it was the first take that was used. It came over them. Sometimes I think for both the actors in that scene, Richard and Wiley, saying those wordsjust transformed them before your eyes.

Thinking of other images, you seem to like bridges.

Really. When have I used bridges before?

Twin Peaks.

Yeah, that's true. There are bridges. There's something about a bridge in this film. Alvin starts on the bridge in one frame of mind and then leaves the bridge in another because he knows that it represents him getting closer to his destination, so you can talk about a bridge probably for a long time.

How do you feel about Cannes?

It's great to be in competition because it adds a whole other dimension to presenting the film and it has the suspense. There's no film better than another film. Each film is its own thing, but it's part of the world's greatest film festival. You never know what's going to happen. Fate is in the driving seat, and so it's a big question, but it's a beautiful question.

And it's a beautiful film.

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