Sound SHOCK looks at one of the great film soundtrack albums: David Lynch’s WILD AT HEART.
David Lynch‘s 1990 film WILD AT HEART is, like most of Lynch’s work, indefinable in terms of genre. Like the greatest filmmakers, Lynch never sets out to make a “type” of film. He makes the movie he wants to make. He tells the story he wants to tell. He shoots the images he sees in his head. And if those images happen to be more than a bit deranged, well, that’s why we love him.
And that’s why coverage of his work continues to appear here at SHOCK, a website that focuses on horror. Certainly, Lynch’s films are often infinitely more disrupting than any FRIDAY THE 13th sequel or reboot could ever hope to be; so, with that, they will always have a place here. They will always belong here.
WILD AT HEART belongs here.
Fresh off the first season success of his instant cult favorite TV series TWIN PEAKS, Lynch’s feature adaptation of Barry Gifford’s rough and tumble novel contained all of the obsessions we’d seen in previous Lynch works, namely madness, innocence perverted, extreme love (Lynch has said that WILD AT HEART is about trying to hold on to love while in Hell), dangerous and eccentric characters and marvelous music.
In WILD, the score is composed primarily by Lynch’s chief collaborator Angelo Badalementi and, like all of Badalamenti’s work, his themes and cues here are evocative and haunting.
But the WILD soundtrack is also supported by a wealth of material, both existing and original, that help define the movie’s emotions, its wanton violence, its rowdy passions and its beating, often broken and, yes wild, heart.
Telling the tale of ex-con Sailor Ripley (Nicolas Cage) and his one and only love Lula Fortune (Laura Dern) and their descent down the rabbit hole of passion, sex, murder and misery while evading Lula’s deranged mother Marietta (played by Dern’s mother Diane Ladd), WILD AT HEART is pure Lynch, a film that no one else could make.
Released to mixed reviews, the movie nevertheless took home the coveted Best Film award at Cannes and has since been embraced and hailed by generations of strange cinema admirers as a masterpiece, maybe even Lynch’s finest accomplishment.
And its soundtrack album is equally as beloved, a 15 track tapestry of sound that tells in music, the entire film’s story.
Here’s a track by track look:
1.IM EBENDROT (Excerpt): Richard Strauss – As the film opens into roaring flames, this Strauss piece begins in mid-swell and with it, our hearts also fill to the brim with blood. A beautiful overture that hints at the glories to come, this version was performed by Gewandhausorchester Leizpig. It also figures into one of the most powerful moments later on in the film, when, after Sailor and Lula mosh in the desert, they embrace and he holds her hand to his heart. I’m getting misty just typing that…
2. SLAUGHTERHOUSE: Powermad – Speed metal band Powermad provide this blazing track, one of the key musical moments in the film. Hell, the band is actually in the film too! As Lula picks Sailor up form the Pee Dee Correctional Institute, she tells her lover that “Powermad’s playing at the…Hurricane!” and they drive off, have sex and the dance like lunatics at a weird nightclub to the strains of the song. But the track also figures earlier in the movie, during the now-shocking sequence where Sailor smashes in the skull of a would-be assassin sent by Lula’s mother (a bit that caused walkouts at Cannes and is even more nasty in the uncut version). Portions of the track appear elsewhere at select moments as well.
3. COOL CAT WALK : Angelo Badalementi – A classic Badalementi/Lynch collaboration that gels a 1950’s innocence with something a dash more predatory. A track that would be right at home in the world of TWIN PEAKS.
4. LOVE ME: Nicolas Cage – Cage croons this classic Elvis track in the aforementioned nightclub, the Hurricane, with Powermad(!) backing him and it’s a surreal moment. Cage sounds like the King, of course (his character is essentially a quote on JAILHOUSE ROCK-era Elvis anyway), and the swooning Lula and screaming girls around her add to the weird coolness of the scene.
5.BABY PLEASE DON’T GO: Them – Van Morrison and Them’s classic scrapper, begging whoever is listening to not “go to New Orleans”, is a great one and perfect for the film, as that’s exactly where Sailor and Lula are headed, pursued by Marietta and her boy-toys Johnny Farragut (Harry Dean Stanton) and the malevolent Marcelles Santos (J.E. Freeman).
6. UP IN FLAMES: Koko Taylor – More magnificence from Lynch (who wrote the lyrics) and Badalementi, sung by jazz great Koko Taylor, who also appears in the movie. A slow, sexy, atmospheric and ethereal horn-drenched nightclub torch song that, again, would feel right at home in TWIN PEAKS.
7. WICKED GAME: Chris Isaak – Lynch had long been an Isaak fan and had used his music in his 1986 psychodrama BLUE VELVET and here, he made the singer/songwriter’s track from his 1989 album “Heart Shaped World” a hit, directing the initial shadowy black and white video (not the later supermodel beach frolic nightmare clip) and using the song in a key driving scene. Though in the film, WICKED GAME plays as an instrumental, the lyrics which Lynch believed struggled against the dialogue.
8. BE-BOP A LULA: Gene Vincent and The Blue Cap – A great, classic Vincent track, employed here for obvious reasons…
9. SMOKE RINGS: Glen Gray and The Casa Loma – A light, whimsical, 1937 swing piece that adds some much needed levity and charm to Lula and Sailor’s final third act decent into Hell, rendering the action akin to a sweet-natured OUR GANG episode.
10. PERDITA: Rubber City – A song sculpted by Lynch and music editor David Slusser to work as the theme for Sailor’s dangerous ex-lover Perdita Durango (Isabella Rossellini). It’s like something by THE VENTURES but with a Spanish sound that mixes piano, twang guitar, upright bass and a sultry, dirty sax solo.
11. BLUE SPANISH SKY: Chris Isaak – Another rapturous Isaak track that accompanies Sailor and Lula to New Mexico, where they meet the maniacal Bobby Peru (Willem Dafoe). Like with WICKED GAME, this beautiful Spanish guitar driven song is delivered without lyric in the film. But on the record, with Isaak’s mournful croon, it’s devastating.
12/13. DARK SPANISH SYMPHONY (Edited String Version and 50’s Version): Angelo Badalementi – A moving, double sided orchestration of a piece that echoes the Strauss opener.
14. DARK LOLITA (Angelo Badalamenti) – Lynch suggested this riff to Badalementi, a piece that starts with gentle ascending piano before slowly fleshing out as a tender 50’s styled piece. It’s a heartbreaking track that is used in the movie’s most wrenching moment: the slow, sad, surreal death of roadside car wreck victim Sherilyn Fenn.
15. LOVE ME TENDER (Nicolas Cage) – Earlier in the film, after singing LOVE ME, Sailor tells Lula he’ll only sing LOVE ME TENDER to the woman he’s going to marry. And he does, as the film closes and the credits roll, right on top of a parked car in the middle of a traffic jam. It’s a happy ending to a roller coaster ride of a film, one that betrays the novel’s bleaker finale and thank God for that.
The WILD AT HEART soundtrack album is the rare soundtrack in which every single piece figures into the action on screen. The music is the movie. The movie is the music.