Brain Candy and the Karma of Art
Q: What's the best thing to do on a cold, rainy Saturday night? A: Go to the movies with your friends and drink hot chocolate! I almost stayed in with a book, but when my friend Charon called with an invitation to see a late show of Wild At Heart at the Egyptian Theater – complete with door to door service - I couldn't refuse. I'd never been to the Egyptian, and I can say now that it is quite possibly the best place to see a movie in Los Angeles. The screen is enormous, the ceiling is decorated with an elaborately carved, gilded Egyptian relief, and the stadium seats are brand-new and comfy. And that's just the theater. We had about 20 minutes to kill before the film (it was part 2 of a double feature; yeah, they have double features!) and when Charon's husband Gaston announced a hankering for hot chocolate, we popped in to Lickety Split next door, where they have sublime, truffle-y cocoa almost as good as my mom's. Riding the sugar high, we romped about on the fabulous columned plaza with painted hieroglyphs. It's like being on the set of Cecil B. Demille's Cleopatra or something; just being there inspires overacting. Here, Charon vogues like an Egyptian. And speaking of overacting, Wild At Heart, which I last saw 15 years ago, is indeed wild. Nicolas Cage's over-the-top Elvis send-up is definitely one of his best roles, with no hint of the doughy caricature of a cool guy he would eventually become. The version we were seeing was X-rated (yeah, the Egyptian shows X-rated movies!), and it didn't take long to figure out the difference between X and R: in the opening scene, Cage's Sailor bashes some guy's head into the floor and leaves his brains gruesomely strewn across the marble. "Saiiiiilorrrrr!" shrieks Laura Dern hysterically, setting the tone for a film that, like most of David Lynch's work, dances uncomfortably on the edges of sanity, sick subconscious urges, and pure evil. There are few things creepier than the image of Diane Ladd convulsively weeping with her face completely smeared in red lipstick, but a later scene beats even that: Sherilyn Fenn, the bloody victim of a car crash, is wandering among the wreckage, looking for a bobby pin. It appears that she's just in shock, has only suffered a flesh wound, because she's walking and talking. But then she complains of sticky stuff in her hair and starts scratching at her head, making a squeaky sound that lets us know the sticky stuff is her brain, poking out of her skull. I didn't know whether to cover my ears or eyes so I just squealed and gripped Charon's arm. The next day I was talking about the film with a friend, and I pointed out how strange it is to think that David Lynch is a total peace-loving transcendental meditator whose main mission at the moment is to help people tune in to their bliss. She replied that it didn't surprise her at all, that he just got all the dark stuff out in his art and so was able to live serenely and contentedly. "It's a testosterone thing," she added, meaning: men have certain primal urges that women don't, based on our internal chemistry. Does that mean my perception of morality is different because I'm a woman, without testosterone creating base urges to fuck and kill which I need to somehow release through artistic catharsis? A onetime Twin Peaks freak, I truly admire David Lynch for his ability to so completely envelop the viewer in the dark vapors of his universe, and for the most part I dig his twisted humor and bizarre faces and places (give me Isabella Rossellini with bleached yellow hair and bubblegum pink lips any day). But a part of me wonders: is it healthy to have visions of brutality and horror floating around in your head? Is creating them, in some way, an act of violence? And would that then cancel out inner peace? It's almost enough to make your brain hurt. No, wait, I didn't mean that. Just give me another hot chocolate like my mom used to make and I'll go peacefully off to dreamland. Won't I?