With The Straight Story,
concentrates on tender mercies rather than wild hearts. But it's still a prime slice of Lynch-style Americana.
Words: Miles Fielder
THERE'S NO SEX 0R VIOLENCE IN The Straight Story. .\'either are there fast cars. faster women or psychotic criminals. There‘s no thrash metal or rock ‘n‘ roll soundtrack. no weird haircuts. no references to The Wizard Of 0:. There is a character called Dorothy. but that‘s accidental.
The Straight Story is a true life one. it follows the 7()() mile journey which septuagenarian Alvin Straight undertook in 199-1. from his hometown of Laurens. Iowa to Mt. Zion. Wisconsin to see his estranged. btit seriously ill brother. The trip took Straight over six weeks because. when health problems denied him a driving licence. he hit the two lane blacktop on his John Deere lawnmower. Yes. a lawnmower.
‘l'd only been hearing about the surface of the story. and I didn‘t think it was going to be for me.‘ says director David Lynch. more
12 THE lIST 2—16 Dec 1999
71-3 H N 0‘:
'I fell in love
with Wild At Heart, I fell in love with The Straight Story. That’s all it takes.’ David Lynch
accustomed to the menacing worlds of Twin P'aks and Blue Velvet. ‘After
reading the script. I fell in love with the emotion coming from a simple story.‘
It‘s a tender tale. sure enough. and not what you‘d expect from Lynch‘s
trademark plumbing of the depths of
the human soul. ‘Well.’ he laughs. ‘you‘re plumbing it in a different way. People have all these different sides. I fell in love with Wild At Heart. I fell in love with Tlte Straight Story. That‘s all it takes. who can explain it‘."
Actually. it‘s not that difficult to explain. The Straight Story maintains Lynch‘s fascination with the American Midwest where ‘normal' folk are revealed to be anything but.
Normal folk don't go on the road for almost two months on a piece of
gardening equipment. There‘s more evidence of Lynch's preoccupations elsewhere in the film: Straight’s home has a white picket fence just like the one in Blue Velvet; in his hometown. a grain silo generates the same eerie night-time hum as the industrial wilderness of Eraser/read: and an encounter on the highway with a woman. distraught after running over a deer. proves to be as funny and disturbing as anything in Wild At Heart. As the director confirms. America is ‘full of David Lynch characters‘.
What The Straight Story also has is a beautiful central performance. ‘Richard Farnsworth‘s name came tip and bells began ringing — joyous bellsi recalls Lynch. ‘A lot of times people say someone is born to play a role. If there is ever a case for that. it‘s this — Richard Farnsworth is Alvin Straight. Richard doesn't really consider himself an actor. but he‘s one of the all-time greats because. to me. he fits the definition of an actor: you make something real. When you're in close on Richard. the mind is engaged and your imagination goes and your heart goes and there's an interaction that takes place. Film is a beautiful medium. because it‘s not all about words.’
Out of this sense of delight with film. Farnsworth and Alvin Straight. Lynch has crafted a deeply optimistic movie. ingrained with an old- fashioned sense of decency. It‘s a quality the director maintains has always been with us. ‘It's just that the focus is on the negative. Cynicism is sort of a safety thing — you smell a rat and you don‘t want to be made a fool of. But it also closes off part of you and that is as dangerous as being made a fool. Yet all these tender things happen to all of us at times. and people make decisions for right reasons all the time.‘
The Straight Story opens Fri 10 Dec. See review, page 24