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.
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), magnetreleasing.com/surveillance
Away We Go
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,
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
The Ultimate Grey Gardens Festival
Now that Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore have resurrected Big and Little Edie on HBO, the Maysles Cinema brings it all back home with a series entitled “STAUNCH!,” a tribute to one of the greatest documentaries of all time and its countless fans. Besides screenings and a panel discussion with Albert Maysles, expect Rocky Horror–like re-enactments, a Grey Gardens–themed fashion show, outtakes, rare audio, prizes, and a re-created diorama of the subjects’ bedroom. Maysles Cinema, 343 Lenox Avenue and Malcolm X Boulevard, 212-582-6050, mayslesinstitute.org/cinema
June 17–July 2
Fourteen NYC premieres pepper BAM’s inaugural celebration of new indies (not just from Sundance) and repertory faves, opening with Cruz Angeles’s touching post-9/11 drama Don’t Let Me Drown. Highly recommended are the hilariously perceptive bromance Humpday; Big Fan, a sort of sports-themed take on The King of Comedy; and Bronson, a hyperkinetic biopic on Britain’s most violent prisoner. There will also be outdoor screenings, “An Evening With Arnaud Desplechin,” four all-night movie marathons, and more. Brooklyn Academy of Music, 30 Lafayette Avenue, Brooklyn, 718-636-4100, bam.org
New York Asian Film Festival
June 19–July 2
Transformers 2? Harry Potter 17? Spit out the stale multiplex popcorn and munch on summer’s wildest blockbuster event, still bursting with pop insanity in its eighth year. Forty movies are on tap, including Yoshihiro Nishimura’s nuttier-than-it-sounds Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl, short films based on his notorious Tokyo Gore Police, and a soft-core “pink” surprise from the director of this year’s Oscar-winning Best Foreign Language Film, Departures. Expect special guests and restored rarities, too. IFC Center, 323 Sixth Avenue, 212-927-7771, and Japan Society, 343 East 47th Street, 212-715-1258
The Secret Policeman’s Film Festival
June 26–July 31
For the 30th anniversary of the Amnesty International “mock ‘n’ roll” benefit show, co-founded by John Cleese, Lincoln Center and the Paley Center for Media will be home to 22 rare movies and TV specials, plus live performances from more than 60 comedians (the Monty Python team, Eddie Izzard, Sarah Silverman) and as many rockers (the Police, U2, Radiohead, Morrissey)—though Spinal Tap certainly falls under both categories. The Film Society of Lincoln Center, filmlinc.com, and the Paley Center for Media, paleycenter.org
John Travolta digs out the polyester suit in this sequel to . . . no, just kidding. Set in the turbulent late ’70s of Pinochet-era Chile, Pablo Larrain’s marvelously unhinged study of pop-culture obsession in a suffocating environment concerns a fiftysomething sociopath (Alfredo Castro), whose deepest passion is a restaging of Saturday Night Fever in a dirty cantina. Easily my favorite from last year’s New York Film Festival, it’s a shocking indictment of the extremes to which fascist rule will drive people. Cinema Village, 22 East 12th Street, 212-924-3363, cinemavillage.com
Mexican auteur Fernando Eimbcke’s 2006 goofball comedy Duck Season tenderly explored adolescent longings with a minimalist deadpan wit, and his stylish follow-up further mines the static vignettes and long pauses of classic Jarmusch or Kaurismäki. Diego Cataño stars as a despondent, small-town Yucatán teenager who crashes the family Nissan, the reasons for his melancholic nature revealed as he meets eccentric strangers in search of the car parts he needs. Anthology Film Archives, 32 Second Avenue, 212-505-5181
Brassy young British pip-squeak Thomas Turgoose reunites with writer-director Shane Meadows (This Is England) in this shaggy, endlessly charming dramedy set in working-class London, wistfully shot in black-and-white. A Nottingham runaway with a permanent chip on his shoulder, Tomo (Turgoose) befriends and crashes with reticent Polish immigrant Marek (Piotr Jagiello); together, they’re a couple of schemers and dreamers who both fall in love with the same Parisian waitress. Witty and warmhearted, it’s a feel-good movie that never seems forced. Film Forum, 209 West Houston Street, 212-727-8110, filmforum.org
Co-organized by the Rio de Janeiro International Film Festival, MOMA’s seventh annual survey of contemporary Brazilian cinema includes a retrospective of renowned documentarian Eduardo Coutinho, up through last year’s Juego de Escena—his experimental doc-narrative hybrid about women and storytelling. Also screening are poet-songster Caetano Veloso’s only directorial effort, Cinema Falado, and Humberto Mauro’s rare 1937 O Descobrimento do Brasil, scored by the great Heitor Villa-Lobos. On Thursday nights, various Brazilian musicians will perform for free in the sculpture garden. The Museum of Modern Art, 11 West 53rd Street, 212-708-9400, moma.org
July 17–August 6
Screening for one week is a brand-new 35mm print of Ray’s breathtaking 1950 noir masterpiece In a Lonely Place, starring Bogey as a down-and-out screenwriter suspected of murder and Gloria Grahame as his golden alibi. Beginning July 23, the bigger-than-life auteur will be honored through a 14-film retrospective, including They Live by Night, Johnny Guitar, Rebel Without a Cause (obviously!), as well as little-seen gems like Party Girl, Wind Across the Everglades, and Born to Be Bad. Film Forum, 209 West Houston Street, 212-727-8110, filmforum.org
World’s Greatest Dad
Comedic actor–turned-filmmaker Bobcat Goldthwait’s Sleeping Dogs Lie—a/k/a “the dog blowjob rom-com”—planted the seed (OK, wrong choice of words) that Goldthwait wrings tender humanity from disturbing premises, but his scandalously entertaining new satire proves a darker, funnier success. After his asshole son dies embarrassingly, high school teacher and failed writer Robin Williams fakes his kid’s suicide note out of pain and desperation, earning himself sympathy while martyring his pathetic offspring as a tortured, misunderstood hero. Magnolia Pictures, in limited release, magpictures.com
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on May 13, 2009