David Lynch’s “Dune”


Yesterday morning Apollonia greeted me with: “Ah!  Third-level Guild Navigator!  Have you just folded space from Ix?”



I smiled serenely.  “Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam!” I said.  “Did you bring your little box of pain?”



And then we both cackled demonically.



Now, if you know what the above gibberish means, I give you a gold star.  You are probably laughing too.



For the rest of you:



There’s this movie called “Dune,” based on the classic science-fiction novel of the same name by Frank Herbert.  The movie came out in 1984, and it starred about a hundred people.  It’s set in outer space in the far future.  It was directed by David Lynch (of “Twin Peaks” and “Blue Velvet”).  It is one of the most (you should pardon the expression) unearthly movies ever made.  I first saw it projected on a bedsheet behind the Marine Corps House in Tunis in 1985, under the North African stars, and it made a walloping impression on me, and not a day passes that I don’t think of some odd image or line of dialogue from it.



So what’s so great about it?



        Its dialogue.  Spacey, elliptical, almost coded.  It’s as if you’re overhearing a conversation in something that’s almost but not quite English. 

        Its costumes.  They’re a melange (sorry!) of everything from Victorian ballroom attire to Bedouin robes to something resembling 1960s Carnaby Street style, not to mention all kinds of desert-planet sportswear.

        Its non-reliance on special effects.  The special effects here aren’t much more elaborate than the ones you see in “2001: A Space Odyssey,” made almost twenty years before.  All of the strangeness comes from the sets, and the dialogue, and the costumes, and the acting.  Brad Dourif gives instructions to a group of killers, making odd swooping hand-gestures as he speaks: are the gestures meaningful?  People float through the air, laughing manically: is this normal?  Anyway, you can be absolutely certain that you’re not watching “Gold Diggers of 1933.”



Apollonia tells me that she has seen a much longer cut on BBC America.  This makes sense: the movie as released, long as it was, was choppy and confusing (which, strangely, adds to its charm.)  (I just read online that David Lynch hates the longer cut and has disowned it.  Naturally.)



So what is it about this movie that makes it so fascinating? 



It is a pure ballet of surreal images and ideas, graceful and very sure of itself



It is alternately violent and serene, and sometimes even funny.



It has extended scenes in which people ride giant worms.



And it features Sting in a Speedo with wings (see above photo).



How can you not rush right out and see it?



And, kids: tell ‘em the Kwisatz Haderach sent you.



Sunday blog: A humanity test


In “Dune” (both the book and the David Lynch movie), there’s a scene in which the Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam tests young Paul Atreides to see if he’s a human being.  She makes him put his hand in a black box.  “What’s in the box?” Paul asks.  “Pain,” the Reverend Mother replies.



Paul passes the test.



Here is a test for you.  Go to the following link.  If you do not feel something very powerful tugging at your heart, then you are not very human, and you should stuff yourself in a dumpster immediately, or volunteer for medical experiments.






The movies in my head, part one


Apollonia’s sister Augusta came to the office recently, and we had a long and lively conversation about old movies. We are both addicted to Turner Classic Movies, as it turns out. She challenged me to come up with a list of my favorite movies. Impossible! But we started naming our favorites, and . . .



Dodsworth!” Augusta proclaimed. Oh my god what a movie. It’s based on a slender but uncharacteristically sweet Sinclair Lewis novel. Walter Huston is a patient man who gets dragged to Europe by his nervous silly wife Ruth Chatterton; he meets Mary Astor, and – well, I won’t tell you more. But what a final scene! Who needs CGI when you have acting?



Okay, I’m up to this challenge. Five, four, three, two, one:



The Red Shoes. Spectacular Technicolor, classic plot, incredible acting. Featuring real ballet stars: Moira Shearer, Robert Helpmann, Leonid Massine. And featuring one of my favorite actors, the grave and handsome Anton Walbrook.



Holiday. Katherine Hepburn, Cary Grant, Edward Everett Horton. Glorious Philip Barry 1930s dialogue, and a classy upper-crust setting, and a happy ending. And it has a charming air of insouciance, almost as if the characters were ad-libbing the dialogue – which is just as it should be. “Do you mean your father isn’t even a Whoozis?”



Black Narcissus. Another Archers movie, like “Red Shoes,” based on a Rumer Godden novel. The colors and the scenery, oh my God. Apollonia can’t stand this movie because of the male lead, David Farrar, an ugly hairy brute who’s shirtless for maybe a little too much of the movie. But, for me, it just seems hilarious that this gargoyle actually seems attractive to the sex-starved nuns in the movie.



Witness for the Prosecution. I am not normally a fan of courtroom movies: too claustrophobic. But this one I’m okay with. Charles Laughton as a lawyer, Elsa Lanchester as his nurse. Tyrone Power! Marlene Dietrich! A complex twisty plot, with humor, yet! And every time you think the mystery’s resolved, it snarls back up again . . .



Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo. As with courtroom movies, I am not warm to the war-movie genre. This movie is the exception: it’s intense and simple and methodical. I understand why they made it: it was a war thing, they needed to show America striking back at Japan. It’s the American version of something by Leni Riefenstahl.



Dune. I first saw first in the back yard of the Marine House in Tunis, under the stars, projected onto a sheet. It’s one of the most peculiar, spaciest, funniest, scariest movies of all time.  It opens with the ethereal Virginia Madsen as Princess Irulan, floating calmly against a starscape, saying calmly, “A beginning is a very delicate time.” It’s perfectly magical. The whole movie gets into your head if you watch it more than once. “Wait for my brother, Baron!”



More soon. This is fun.




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