***/**** Image A+ Sound A Extras A-
starring Robert Mitchum, Trevor Howard, Christopher Jones, Sarah Miles
screenplay by Robert Bolt
directed by David Lean
***½/**** Image B Sound B+ Extras B
starring Francesca Annis, Leonardo Cimino, Brad Dourif, José Ferrer
screenplay by David Lynch, based on the novel by Frank Herbert
directed by David Lynch
DUNE (Extended Edition)
*½/**** Image B Sound B+ Extras B
starring Francesca Annis, Leonardo Cimino, Brad Dourif, José Ferrer
screenplay by Judas Booth, based on the novel by Frank Herbert
directed by Alan Smithee
by Bill Chambers The common charge levelled at Ryan's Daughter when it was released in 1970 was that it seemed anachronistic within contemporary film culture. Indeed, what so infuriated the New York critics, in particular, was not just that Lean had strayed from his roots (thematically, Ryan's Daughter in fact represents a throwback for the Brief Encounter director), but that he had lost all trace of humility in the bargain. One might say the English were finally getting a taste of their own medicine, as Lean had essentially become a Hollywood imperialist, intruding on cinema's evolution towards minimalism by treating a rather insular love triangle--catnip to the infidelity-obsessed British realists--like a theme-park attraction, subjecting it to both hyperbole and an incongruous perfectionism.1 ("In general the only way for artists to work in the medium is frugality," wrote Pauline Kael, thereby consigning Lean to the realm of not-artists.) This violation of an unspoken Prime Directive resonates in the current trend of giving A-list makeovers to grindhouse fare.
And yet the passage of time has thrown the value of Lean's classicism into sharp relief, since the film's ambition has gone from unfashionable to timeless, something similar to what's in store for The New World.2 (Some hippie-dippiness dates the picture, but the vérité posturing of Lean's peers looks a lot kitschier in retrospect.) It's been said that Ryan's Daughter never stood a chance against the iconoclasts after Lean's Oscar-anointed hat-trick of The Bridge on the River Kwai, Lawrence of Arabia, and Doctor Zhivago, but there's a kernel of self-hatred in the consensus that one woman's problems do not an epic make, as though Lean were out to test their sense of entitlement. I actually find Doctor Zhivago's revolutionary backdrop more disingenuous than that of Ryan's Daughter, where it's less a pretext for meet-cutes than it is the elephant in the room, a source of simmering dread. Doctor Zhivago has always struck me as a bit of a Scarlett O'Hara, refusing to be content with his Rhett Butler while pining away for Ashley Wilkes; like the Civil War in Gone with the Wind, the Bolshevik uprising is mostly sustenance for his self-pity. One doesn't feel quite as guilty empathizing with martyred sinner Rosy Ryan (Emily Watson archetype Sarah Miles), for who among us isn't a hothouse flower?
By the same token, fashioning a spectacle from Rosy's world renders it as vulnerable to attack as Rosy herself. In depicting the proto-Straw Dogs villagers as a formidable cluster of torch-wielders, Lean exploits the SuperPanavision70 format better than he indicts mob mentality (just as their fair-weather reverence betrays an escape hatch that allows Father Collins (Trevor Howard, poignantly cast as the moral opposite to the adulterer he played in Brief Encounter) to instigate mass exodus simply by entering a scene--Lean's orchestration of pandemonium here is cumbersome like that), while John Mills has too much room to Holy Fool it up as village idiot Michael. (Robert Bolt's screenplay even bears the title "Michael's Day.") Although the character is such a literary device that broadly is perhaps the only way to play it, Mills's Lon Chaney Jr. performance--for which he was awarded an Oscar, natch--practically taped a "kick me" sign to the film's backside, and consistently cheapens Ryan's Daughter by threatening to reduce it to tardsploitation.
If anything diminishes the picture's artistry, though, it's ironically the artistry itself: This is a work of sublime beauty, but an undeniably overproduced one. Though Lean's clever symbolism is often heralded in equal measure with his vistas (I do love the insert of a streetcar cable sparking when Zhivago brushes up against his future inamorata Lara in Doctor Zhivago), the subtext of almost every image in Ryan's Daughter is exertion. In the opening sequence, immortalized on the film's one-sheet, Rosy chases her parasol to the edge of a steep slope and it drops anchor in the sea below, next to Father Collins's rowboat. You can read a lot of foreshadowing into this unfolding of events (and the scenery is of course postcard-perfect), yet for the most part, we wonder how they got the umbrella to land beside the boat. (My guess, based on behind-the-scenes footage of Lean holding a fishing rod hooked to the parasol, is that they shot it upside-down, had Howard place the umbrella in the water and Lean reel it in, then flipped the negative, thus reversing the action.) It's why Kael called Doctor Zhivago primitive: because you're too awed by the amount of labour it must have taken.
There's a flipside to that primitivism, however. Once Lean had earned the clout to order the weather around, the Weimer influence that got him noticed in the first place departed his technique, as it would've been a little cute for him to continue using canted angles and stylized sets on budgets the size of the national debt. Still, a certain deliberate crudity metastasized in his aesthetic, manifesting itself in his later pictures as flukes of distortion (the menacing way that Rod Steiger is photographed in Doctor Zhivago (which recalls the baroque views of Bill Sikes in Oliver Twist), for example, or this film's fittingly gothic introduction of Major Randolph Doryan (Christopher Jones, the smouldering bridge connecting James Dean to Benicio Del Toro)) and, in the case of Ryan's Daughter, a bracing vulgarity that precludes it from being the passive viewing experience that is Doctor Zhivago. There is of course the humanizing explicitness of Rosy's tryst in the meadow with the shell-shocked Major, but Lean also serves up gang-rape analogies--first when the men line-up at Rosy's wedding, bukkake-style, to lay increasingly impolite kisses on the bride, then when the bloodthirsty townspeople decide to mete out a little Ox-Bow justice for Rosy's alleged sympathies with the British occupation--that, what with their emphasis on the incapacitation of Rosy's kindly husband, Charles Shaughnessy (Robert Mitchum), are maddeningly immediate. Yes, Robert Mitchum inverts his carefully-cultivated persona à la Henry Fonda in Once Upon a Time in the West by playing, in addition to an Irishman and a cuckold, something of a shrinking violet--and doing so beautifully.3 Ryan's Daughter is nothing if not a film of paradoxes.
David Lynch shares with David Lean a fascination with machinery, an early love of expressionism, a preference for 'scope, and a big-budget flop that changed the course of his career. But where Ryan's Daughter's disappointing reception drove the exceedingly proud Lean out of the business for fourteen years, Dune's critical drubbing took Lynch off the overcrowded commercial beat while leaving him with enough of a profile to get more personal projects bankrolled. (It was truly a blessing in disguise.) Like Ryan's Daughter, Dune's reputation as a soulless money pit unfairly precedes it: It's unmistakably, rewardingly Lynchian, but, rather like his weekly comic strip "The Angriest Dog in the World," it exacts none of the psychic toll of his masterpieces. You put it on when you want to blot out the world without the attendant hangover. This is, of course, why Dune leaves cold so many fans of David Lynch and Frank Herbert alike. For the former, there can be no such thing as minor Lynch--it's a mind-altering experience or nothing; for the latter, Lynch more or less represented the Ralph Bakshi to their J.R.R. Tolkien.4
Dune really comes alive as an excavation; what you must understand, and what Universal's new DVD helps clarify, is that Lynch didn't set out to subvert the text per se. ("I didn't feel I had permission to really make it my way," he tells Chris Rodley in Lynch on Lynch.) Perusing a 17-minute selection of deleted scenes culled from a workprint of the film's four- or five-hour assembly, one encounters a more scrupulous, almost DeMille-ian, interpretation of Herbert's arcane prose, in addition to a couple of tragic tangents best described as novelistic in their narrative expendability, executed in the borderline-bathetic (but always affecting) key Lynch reserves for melodrama--thus placing them in the Old Hollywood, larger-than-life context to which an ideal adaptation of Herbert's tome ostensibly belongs. What lingers of this approach in the final cut is often so diluted as to come off as inspired lunacy--an eight-year-old Alicia Witt, for instance, delivering the picture's utterly ridiculous closing line ("For he is the Kwisatz Haderach!") as though she were Vivien Leigh pledging survival amidst the ruined crops of Tara.
Nor is Lynch's gravitation to the source material as inexplicable or, moreover, opportunistic, as some have speculated. (The man did turn down the chance to helm Return of the Jedi, after all.) Going back to the Rodley book (recently reissued with shockingly forthcoming chapters on Lost Highway, The Straight Story, and Mulholland Drive), Lynch says he identified with Paul Atreides (Kyle MacLachlan), a political heir who gradually realizes his superheroic potential, for it's written of Paul that "the sleeper has awakened"--the allegorical foundation of every Lynch protagonist up to that point: Eraserhead's Henry, dreaming as the film begins, has his bubble burst when his girlfriend leaves him in charge of their hideously deformed newborn; The Elephant Man's John Merrick salvages his dignity once he's released from sideshow purgatory5; and Blue Velvet's Jeffrey--whose existence in screenplay form predates Lynch's involvement in Dune--is a college kid without goals suddenly engaged by his environment when he stumbles on a severed ear. I would also bet that Lynch, the man responsible for introducing cryptic phrases like "fire walk with me" and "garmonbozia" into the cultural vernacular, saw a kindred spirit in Herbert's idioglossia, with its bottomless supply of "gom jabbar"s and "weirding way"s.
Nevertheless, fate and an enforced edict that Dune not go over 137 minutes--a rarely-shattered glass ceiling on genre movies that, far from coincidentally, is the exact running-time of the theatrical versions of James Cameron's Aliens and Terminator 2: Judgment Day--conspired to give us a David Lynch film through and through. As Dave Kehr writes in the CHICAGO READER, he "thoroughly (and perhaps inadvertently) subverts the adolescent inanities of Frank Herbert's plot by allowing the narrative to strangle itself in its own unnecessary complications, leaving the field clear to invasions of imagery as disturbing as anything in Lynch's midnight classic Eraserhead." In Lynch's words, Dune went through "a garbage compactor" in post, leading to radical consolidations of the sound and picture elements at hand. It's not economical storytelling, but something akin to interpretive dance; through the truncation of Dune, Lynch inadvertently discovered the power of montage, crystallizing an aesthetic that already operated on nightmare logic--and the film's dreamlike momentum concentrates our attention on the spellbinding visuals. (Especially fond of the brilliant, Mario Bava-esque bursts of colour that characterize Geidi Prime, home of the villainous Harkonnens.) I suppose Dune ultimately caters to David Lynch fetishists, alienating some moviegoers to the point of spite, as is wont to happen. But if you think he's the Kwisatz Haderach, baby, have I got a movie for you.
Preserving the film's overture, intermission, entr'acte, and exit music, Warner's Two-Disc Special Edition DVD release of Ryan's Daughter is, from the standpoint of its 2.20:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation, worth every superlative in the book. My god, it's full of stars. Mastered from the 65mm negative, the image recaptures a crystalline clarity and brilliant palette lost to various sub-par telecine efforts over the years. As lush as the Superbit release of Lawrence of Arabia--the yardstick for home video transfers of David Lean's films--looks, it doesn't look this lush. All the more impressive, from a purist perspective, celluloid imperfections (most notably vertical fluctuations in latitude during the main titles) have not been whited-out for the spoiled home-theatre generation. The picture's stereo soundmix opens up similarly well, the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio achieving a fine sense of spatiality, if not directionality; Maurice Jarre's score has the punch you'd expect it to have on CD. Another track contains a film-length commentary featuring Lady Sandra Lean, Petrine Day Mitchum, AD Michael Stevenson, second-unit director Roy Stevens, assistant editor Tony Lawson, location manager Eddie Fowlie, stuntman Vic Armstrong, Lean biographer Stephen M. Silverman, directors John Boorman and Hugh Hudson, and DVD fungus Richard Schickel. Moderated by the ubiquitous Laurent Bouzereau, it pieces together vaguely screen-specific observations culled from the numerous interview sessions conducted for the second-platter's retrospective featurettes--which actually wash out as a pretty good distillation of this dead-air-prone yakker.
Disc 2's three-part documentary "Ryan's Daughter: Rising Storm" (28 mins.) kicks off with Lean in a revealing talking-head annexed from the BBC's vintage making-of "We're the Last of the Traveling Circuses" (20 mins.), also on board the DVD. (Footage of screenwriter Robert Bolt and DP Freddie Young will likewise trigger déjà vu.) "Ryan's Daughter: Storm Chaser" (21 mins.) and "Ryan's Daughter: The Eye of the Storm" (14 mins.) follow, and as any party likely to be embarrassed or offended by the resurrection of old grudges is dead, a fairly no-holds-barred account of the production and its aftermath transpires--albeit one that disregards the heavy-drinking among the cast and the indecisiveness on Lean's part that resulted in one of the longest shoots in film history. As Stevenson had the most intimate access to Lean's creative mind, he emerges as an invaluable proxy, divulging that Lean wanted Peter O'Toole for Michael (O'Toole passed) and Alec Guinness for Father Collins (Guinness dreaded the amount of walking he would have to do) and regretted that he never got to work with Marlon Brando. Only a typically insufferable appearance from Schickel weighs down the proceedings: he shows up to smugly refuse accountability for Lean's sabbatical from motion pictures (he hosted the NYFC luncheon at which Lean was raked over the coals for Ryan's Daughter, although Kael, not Schickel, was the real bee in Lean's bonnet), passive-aggressively renewing his inextricable link to the legacy of Ryan's Daughter in the process. Better-preserved than the aforementioned BBC special, "Ryan's Daughter: A Story of Love" (6 mins.), an EPK from 1970 composed entirely of B-roll, closes out the package.
Universal reissues Dune on DVD in a sleek tin keepcase containing both versions of the film on a dual-sided, dual-layered platter as well as a foldout glossary of "Dune" terminology not unlike the one that was handed out before press screenings of the film. (Talk about inspiring confidence.) An A/B comparison showed that the anamorphic widescreen transfers are identical in terms of colour, contrast, and aspect ratio (2.35:1), but the Extended Edition's source print exhibits fewer pinholes. Gone is the severe edge-enhancement and oversaturation of the 1998 release, which, derived from the same letterbox master as the LaserDisc, wasn't enhanced for 16x9 displays besides. The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio of the theatrical cut is slightly shrill (Toto's score sounds particularly squelched at times) but calls on the subwoofer more frequently than any '80s movie in memory; the EE's DD 5.1 remix is a little cleaner but, like the film itself, gracelessly executed. As Lynch took his name off the Extended Edition (replacing his screenwriting credit, amusingly, with "Judas Booth," in reference to the biblical betrayer and Blue Velvet's heavy, respectively), I refuse to consider it a valid alternative to the theatrical cut. It certainly doesn't reflect well on the sci-fi geeks that they ate it up when it premiered in syndication in the early-'90s, for its first amendment--the substitution of nubile Virginia Madsen bringing us up to speed on the origin of Dune's central conflict with a stentorian narrator delivering interminable backstory over a series of lousy oil paintings--pigeonholes them as asexual.
For a complete breakdown of the EE's additional scenes, as well as a summary of this DVD's Lynch-sanctioned supplemental elisions (introduced by producer Rafaella DeLaurentiis so she can put an urban legend or two to rest), visit the unparalleled web resource DUNE - BEHIND THE SCENES. Despite Lynch's predictable lack of participation, CO-X Entertainment has compiled a nice batch of extras, starting with "Designing Dune" (9 mins.), in which various members of the design team reflect on the international hodgepodge that comprised the art department. Lynch's vision is celebrated (and his sketches highlighted, sometimes side-by-side with the late Tony Masters's more polished renditions of the creature or prop in question), with set designer Kevin Phipps recalling Lynch's tendency to submit ideas on napkins. In "Special Effects" (6 mins.), mechanical effects supervisor Kit West remembers Lynch's fondness for black smoke and Gary Zink reverse engineers for us the teacup-ride contraption that enabled Kenneth McMillan (as Baron Harkonnen) to do 360° rotations in mid-air. "Models & Miniatures" (7 mins.) discusses worms (much to the chagrin of ancient and veddy British production coordinator Golda Offenheim), while in "Wardrobe Design" (5 mins.), Hollywood veteran Bob Ringwood discloses the secret to the Guild's otherworldly uniforms: they were made out of body bags. Even though Lynch appears in nearly every production still we see in the exhaustive, animated "Photograph Gallery" (6 mins.), the notorious chain-smoker is curiously cigarette-free in all of them--perhaps because, according to the Production Notes that round out the disc, the crew breathed in the equivalent of two packs a day on the film's Mexico City soundstages, anyway. Originally published: February 23, 2006.
1. Fitting, mind you, that Ryan's Daughter was inspired by Gustav Flaubert's Madame Bovary: Flaubert took pride in his constant search for "the precise word." return
2. Then again, I don't know that I'd go so far as to equate Lean with a transcendentalist like Terrence Malick. Lean's awe of nature is more prosaic. return
3. That Mills won the Oscar while Mitchum failed to receive a nomination can only be interpreted as a perverse compliment. return
4. Herbert cultists like to skylark about the abortive Alejandro Jodorowsky incarnation. Do they realize it would've ended with Paul becoming a planet, à la Lynch's Eraserhead? return
5. Apropos of Lean and Ryan's Daughter, the unwatchable pawing of John Merrick during an impromptu bacchanal in The Elephant Man bears a striking resemblance to how Michael is manhandled at Rosy's wedding. return