© 2010 by James Clark
It would be difficult to identify a wider gulf between film casts than that presented by the two David Lynch productions, The Elephant Man (1980) and The Straight Story (1999). In the former, we are treated to blue-chip displays by a roster of British thespian-aristocrats, including, John Hurt, Anthony Hopkins, Wendy Hiller and John Gielgud, each of whom constitutes an advanced clinic in tradition-buttressed sheen, in sophisticated self-possession. In the latter, there has been raked up a company largely consisting of rural American Midwestern candidates with only their day-to-day personas to offer, headed by an ailing old pro, Richard Farnsworth, pulled out of retirement and headed into suicide soon after the work was done.
Both casts, as it happens, were letter-perfect to deliver transfixing explorations of the buoying and deflating arena of home turf. Though the latter film was not written by Lynch, he has been able, by dint of expunging any trace of diversity of cultural energies, to provide as sharp and compelling a stimulus for proceeding into the unknown and unusual as he let fly with his experimentally-controlled surrealist shocker, Eraserhead. And so, by reason of, rather than in spite of, production demands that could have been fatal (this was a Disney-managed event), Lynch could, with gusto, see to unfinished business about interpersonal intent, exerting troublesome pressures in the aftermath of Lost Highway (1997). And his most fertile reference-point in this safari would be another atypically mainstream (and likewise showered with lucky stars) entry, the Mel Brooks production of The Elephant Man. (more…)