Summer Guide: Surveillance, Jennifer Lynch's First in 16 Years

Surveillance co-writer/director Jennifer Lynchundoubtedly has a distinctive artistic voice, but as the daughter of the guy who made Eraserhead, you might say the decomposing apple doesn't fall far from the gnarled, nightmarish tree. In her first film since 1993's divisive amputee-fetish fable Boxing Helena, Julia Ormond and Bill Pullman star as FBI agents investigating a brutal highway massacre, witnessed in deliciously demented, Rashômon-style flashbacks by three survivors: a sadistic small-town cop, a coked-up blonde, and an eight-year-old girl. No cameras were rolling when Lynch called in for further scrutiny.

What took 15 years to get your second feature made?

I decided to compound three spinal surgeries with being a single mother, just to keep it all interesting. I had a baby, and she's now 13. I was still writing, trying to recover from the backlash of Boxing Helena, but, mainly, I was Mom. My spine fell apart—it was degenerative after a car accident at 19, so I was bedridden and had my spine rebuilt. It felt really fucking good to be back to work.

Lynch squad: Pullman and Ormond as cops in Surveillance
Magnolia Pictures
Lynch squad: Pullman and Ormond as cops in Surveillance

Surveillance was originally about witches. How did that evolve? 

Kent Harper, who plays the cop who survives—he and I have been producing short films for a couple years. He asked me to read a script of his called Tres Brujas, which is Three Witches. I said, "Do you want your friend's opinion, or another writer's opinion?" He said, "However you want." [The elements] I loved [included] cops who couldn't be controlled because they were so abusive of their power, and the middle-of-nowhere setting. I took those ideas and ran with it. He was upset at first: "Fine. You do something with it," he said. So we share the story and writing credit because one idea [was] born of another. It's no more about witches now than Peyton Place is.

You won the Best Director Award at the New York City Horror Film Festival. Is that what Surveillance is? 

You shouldn't ask me, because I call it a romantic comedy. To me, it's a very dark, very funny love story with tragic elements. Now you get a little inkling of what it's like to be in bed with me. It's perhaps more hazardous than it should be. [Laughs.]

What scares you? 

Exactly what inspires me: new things. Also, clowns. Keep them the hell away from me. Any guy who has a painted smile when he's making a straight face, I want no part of. It's no accident that John Wayne Gacy dressed as a clown. And every single music box I've ever heard or seen gives me the heebie-jeebies.

David Lynch helped the film get made by adding his name as an executive producer. Is that a double-edged sword when people then compare you to your father? 

It doesn't trouble me, but it's like someone saying, "Boy, you taste like chocolate." I love chocolate, and I wouldn't mind tasting like chocolate, but I hope that somewhere in there, I also taste the way I taste. [Laughs.] I take a lot of inspiration from him—not as much from his work as his attitude. He taught me something I live by: The joy is in the making.

How disheartening was the Boxing Helena reception for you? 

I couldn't give two shits if people don't like the film. It's that suddenly it was whether or not I was a bad person, which really astounded me. The argument was that I didn't deserve to be loved because I had made such a hideous film, and that I was a misogynistic whore. [Laughs.] Maybe a whore—misogynist, no. It's an awkward fairy tale about obsessive love, with a flaccid Prince Charming and a bitch Snow White, and what we do when we think we can control each other. I'm proud of the film. It was definitely a lesson: People's opinions matter as much as you let them matter. Some part of me thought that they were right, that I was a horrible person. Where did all the self-loathing come from?

Surveillance opens June 26 in limited release (Magnolia Pictures),


Away We Go
June 5

The Office's John Krasinski and SNL vet Maya Rudolph are a thirtysomething expectant couple journeying cross-country to visit family and old friends in search of a place to put down roots. Shot quickly by director Sam Mendes while he was still polishing Revolutionary Road, this light-spirited, character-driven comedy was written by literary powerhouses Dave Eggers (likely the year's hottest screenwriter, having also adapted this fall's Where the Wild Things Are) and his wife, Vendela Vida, new parents at the time. Focus Features, in limited release,

June 11

Working from his first original screenplay in more than 30 years, Francis Ford Coppola returns to form with his richest, most enrapturing film since Apocalypse Now, an elegiac familial drama set in the bohemian Buenos Aires neighborhood of La Boca. Vincent Gallo is pitch-perfect as the eponymous killjoy, a self-destructive literary genius who has fled his imperious father with a suitcase full of puzzling secrets and rivalrous grudges. The black-and-white cinematography alone is as intoxicating as a bottle of the director's finest red. Sunshine Cinema, 143 East Houston Street, 212-330-8182,

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