‘It’s no secret that the last few years have been good to Laura Dern. From Enlightened to Wild to Certain Women to Twin Peaks: The Return to Big Little Lies to Star Wars: The Last Jedi, there’s been no shortage of reminders that she’s an actress of extraordinary range and ability, one just as capable of tremendous subtlety as she is delivering crushing moments of overpowering emotion. Dern has recently come to specialize in standout supporting roles, but she takes the lead in The Tale, directed by Jennifer Fox and based on Fox’s own experiences. Dern plays Jennifer, a documentary filmmaker forced to reevaluate her past and interrogate her own memories when her mother (Ellen Burstyn) unearths a creative-writing assignment Jennifer wrote at 13, a thinly veiled account of the sexual abuse she experienced at the hands of a track coach (Jason Ritter) with the cooperation of a trusted riding instructor (Elizabeth Debicki).
‘Dern gives an extraordinary, constantly shifting performance at the heart of a film that never lets viewers find their footing. Previously confident of framing her experiences as that of a teen edging into womanhood by taking an “older lover,” she becomes unmoored when shown a picture of herself at that age, and has to reconsider how much of a child she was — and how little choice she had in what happened. Slowly, she becomes determined to piece the past together, even if it means reworking the story she’s told herself for years.
‘It’s the latest in Dern’s still-growing category of revelatory performances and, like the others, it’s possible to trace its roots back to a turning-point performance. Some actors have careers easily divided into two phases: before and after a particular role. The film that gave Dern that role, Wild at Heart, hasn’t been very easy to see in recent years. Released in 1990, the David Lynch film won the Palme d’Or at Cannes and hit American theaters at the height of Twin Peaks’ popularity. But it’s not currently available on any streaming services and has been in and out of print on physical media for years. (It will receive a long-overdue Blu-ray release from Shout! Factory, a company with a good track record of handling movies that might otherwise fall through the cracks, in August.) But revisiting the film confirms it was the role that pointed Dern toward a future playing complex, conflicted, difficult-to-defeat women.
‘In Wild at Heart, she’s Lula Fortune, one half of the film’s central couple, lovers on the run from the law, and from Lula’s overbearing mother Marietta (played by Dern’s real-life mother, Diane Ladd). Nicolas Cage plays the other half of the couple, Sailor Ripley, a tenderhearted roughneck with an Elvis fixation and snakeskin jacket that, as he’ll tell anyone, doubles as a “symbol of my individuality and my belief in personal freedom.” It’s a funny line, but one that points to a divide between the two performances that becomes more conspicuous as the film goes along: Cage’s works mostly in references, symbols, and gestures. Dern plays Lula as a full-bodied character, one driven by emotions — be it lust, fear, or sadness — she doesn’t always know how to control. That’s not a knock on Cage, who’s terrific in the film. But he, and the film as a whole, need Dern’s humanizing work to stay grounded.
‘Lynch adapted Wild at Heart from a novel by Barry Gifford, but inevitably brought his own obsessions to it, swirling in images from The Wizard of Oz, classic road movies, and other instantly recognizable references. In the 2004 making-of documentary Love, Death, Elvis & Oz, Gifford says Lynch “saw Sailor and Lula a bit like Elvis and Marilyn Monroe, these very American icons.” From the resulting film, Cage ran with the suggestion, channeling Elvis (or as Sailor calls him, “E”) at every moment. Dern went her own way.
‘Apart from a head of blonde hair, there’s little of Monroe in Dern’s Lula, a passionate 20-year-old southerner incapable of hiding her feelings. She shares none of Monroe’s breathy flirtatiousness or her expertise at adapting a veneer of naïveté. Lula’s honest to the point of guilelessness. She hates her mother and loves Sailor, and Dern’s expressive face makes no attempt to hide these feelings. Keeping anything to herself is against Lula’s nature.
‘This sometimes puts her at odds with Lynch’s film, an often stunning, sometimes muddled collection of ideas whose mix of horrific violence and dark humor often feels out of balance, especially when compared to the director’s best work. Dern, however, remains surefooted. Her Lula is open and earnest even when Wild at Heart seems too self-aware for its own good, staying real and true in the midst of all that artifice and giving the film a beating heart, whereas an actress who’d stayed true to Lynch’s original Monroe-inspired vision might have seemed like just another prop. Not that this put her at odds with the director. “She’s the best actress I’ve ever worked with,” Lynch says in the making-of doc, and he’s made good on that praise by working with her again and again.
‘It was, to that point, the role of a lifetime, a break with what she’d done before and a step forward to what she’d do in the years to come. Dern had often been good before. She’s memorable in 1980’s Foxes, showing the dark side of teen-dom, and the cult favorite Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains. She’s better still in Joyce Chopra’s Smooth Talk, an adaptation of Joyce Carol Oates’s much-anthologized short story “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?”, and Blue Velvet, her first pairing with Lynch. Both cast her as an innocent getting dragged into experiences she’s not ready to face, but Lula is more complicated. She’s already seen some of the horror the world has to offer, revealing to Sailor that, shades of The Tale, she was raped at 13 and describing her father’s death by incineration. That she remains open to life and uncompromising in her desires becomes, largely thanks to the strength of Dern’s performance, the film’s central story. She commandeers the movie for its own good. There was no fading into the background after that.
‘Wild at Heart led to opportunities she didn’t have before, and continued to inform her work. She called on her ability to play frank sexuality with Rambling Rose a year later. There’s more than a little of Lula’s wildness in Citizen Ruth’s Ruth Stoops. More recently, working with Lynch again, she delivered a deft performance as Twin Peaks’ Diane, making a character referenced but never seen in the original series into a fully realized creation who, like Lula and The Tale’s Jennifer, had to learn how to live on the other side of a traumatic experience. Dern never gives the same performance twice, but her performance in Wild at Heart that opened up the other opportunities. Recalling his conception of Lula, Lynch has said “bubble gum was a key element.” Dern became the actress we know today when she decided to make that bubble pop.’ — Keith Phipps, VULTURE
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GARY INDIANA: Where did you go to school?
LAURA DERN: Here in Los Angeles, in the Valley. A very college-preparatory high school. Before that I went to a Catholic school. The private school was good—the teachers wanted all of us to have the freedom to think for ourselves. The education was good at the Catholic school, but you only got that one ideology.
INDIANA: I went to a Catholic school in New Hampshire, which was scary.
DERN: Private boarding schools and Catholic schools on the East Coast are something. Choate really ruined my father’s life. He’s had nightmares about Choate every since he went there. Treat Williams, who’s a good friend, went to Kent School, in Connecticut. The stories I’ve heard about those places—didn’t you have one nun who was just the worst nightmare?
INDIANA: Sister Mary Jude, who should’ve been a truck driver in some real redneck town. She loved to beat kids up, with this thick triangular ruler, right across the hand.
DERN: I don’t know how people parent in this day and age, just before I came here I read an article in a doctor’s office about Raymond Buckley in Los Angeles magazine. It was so frightening what he felt was appropriate when dealing with preschool kids. I don’t know what the whole story is there.
INDIANA: No one does. After reading articles by Dorothy Rabinowitz in Harper’s and by Debbie Nathan in The Village Voice, I’d almost become convinced that these preschool molestation cases were being fueled by antifeminist hysteria. And they probably are, but when I got out here, I saw people I worked with at Legal Aid in Watts 15 years ago, some of whom worked on the McMartin preschool case, and they said it’s all true. Even the animal mutilations.
DERN: It’s terrifying that it occurred, if it did, but it’s caused a real shift in awareness. People are more willing to talk about child abuse. When this whole McMartin thing went down, I was at a dinner party with about eight people, all from different backgrounds and from all over the world. And every single person at that table had had some weird experience as a child. I think everyone has—whether it was with a babysitter, or playing doctor, but usually when some older person tries to come in contact with you. It’s amazing how much we block out. Obviously, the urge to molest children comes from some experience the person has had as a child, and he or she never worked it out. Watching Raymond Buckey describe how he loved working with the kids, I could sense this 11-year-old who’d stopped and never grown further on a sexual level. He denied that anything happened, but even the way he described loving to play with the kids and the toys and so on, it was…weird. It’s a strange world, as David Lynch would say.
INDIANA: But don’t you think it’s weird that when society unearths something that’s been repressed for a long time, suddenly everyone’s pointing the finger at everyone else instead of figuring out how to deal systemically with it? Last night on the news, they gave figures for child-beating in America, something like two million children every year.
DERN: It’s so frightening. Even if you’ve gone through an average childhood, you have girlfriends who get pregnant and then have to choose whether or not to have a child. And this stuff certainly makes you think about what you’re taking on. I mean, I certainly want to have children, but I could never do it until I felt I loved myself enough, and wanted to bring someone into the world because I had some kind of security. I’m starting to, but I still have a lot to learn. I just have two cats, and when I’m in a bad mood—you know, it would be very easy to throw a cat across a room.
INDIANA: Years ago I was living with somebody and I kept telling him, “I want a dog, I want a dog.” And he said, “The first thing you’d do, if you got really hysterical, you’d throw that dog right out the window.” And I realized it could very well be true. You just don’t know what you’d do.
DERN: The thing I love about acting is, whatever character you play, it gives you the chance to expose another side of yourself that maybe you’ve never felt comfortable with, or never knew about. Not that every character is you, but there are underlying emotions that everybody has. I feel that movies are gifts that come to you, and there are no accidents in what you end up doing. I study Jung, who talks a lot about the shadow side, the repressed side. I think the scariest thing in the world is repression. There’s plenty to be idealistic about, but we have to be aware of all sides of ourselves, and there are definitely shadows in all of us.
INDIANA: How do you find what you need to work on in a part? I’m thinking of Connie in Smooth Talk and that mind-boggling scene where you’re inside the house and Treat Williams is outside talking to you through the screen door, and it’s really Connie’s passage from childhood to being a woman.
DERN: It’s funny you bring up that scene, because there’s a similar scene between myself and Bobby Peru, Willem Dafoe’s character, in Wild at Heart. In Cannes, people kept comparing those two scenes and asking why I’m always half-seduced and half-raped in my movies. I’m sure I don’t know. But whether a movie part comes to me or I seek it out, there’s always this journey to darkness through light, or vice versa; that element has been in almost everything I’ve done. In Smooth Talk it was a much more intuitive search—I was only 17 at the time, and I wasn’t aware, as women are when they get a little older, that there’s always a side of a woman that likes a man from the other side of the tracks. We all have an attraction to what’s different from us. Connie and Lula and I all share something, namely that we all want to be loved or accepted in a love relationship or family relationship, whatever; but we all bring our baggage with us in terms of how we expect that love. Connie has such a need to be found attractive by a grown-up man, and there’s that feeling of wanting to break away from mother and say, “I’m a woman now.” A couple of years before I made that film, I certainly had a lot of those feelings. My transition was much calmer, but I tried to use those dynamics in making the character.
Wild at Heart made a few people angry—they thought I was exploiting women by showing that when a woman says no she really means yes—that Lula’s repulsed by Bobby Peru, yet she wants him. I don’t feel that way at all. In Wild at Heart I tried to find the essence of myself and Lula, what we shared; so the scenes with Bobby Peru became even more intense and connected. I had dreams the night before I did that scene which revealed why the character does what she does. The more conscious I become about these different sides of myself, the more I can contact each side of the character.
INDIANA: Those scenes also seem connected by the fact that the audience projects onto them a greater physical threat than is actually there.
DERN: It’s amazing, too, how many people said after seeing Smooth Talk, “Well, obviously he raped her.” I think he actually did just take her for a drive. I also think both Lula and Connie are in control in those scenes. The line I find fascinating in Smooth Talk—when I come out through the screen door and Treat says, “Come on, you gonna come out of your daddy’s house, my sweet blue-eyed girl?”—is when I reply, “What if my eyes were brown?” It’s sort of “fuck you,” in a way. It’s like Connie’s saying, “I’m in control of this, I’m in the driver’s seat.” Maybe she says it out of fear, to protect herself, but on some level she is controlling it.
INDIANA: In Wild at Heart, though, doesn’t Bobby Peru force Lula to say, “I want you to fuck me”?
DERN: Well, with Lula, some people will say, “My God, he raped her.” But the bottom line is, she never touches him. And Lula has an orgasm. She wins! She gets off, and he gets nothing. What’s devastating to her is that he thinks he’s won her, so she’s afraid for her boyfriend, Sailor. She gives Bobby Peru what he wants on the verbal level, saying what he wants her to say, out of general fear. But at the same time, she stays in control. It’s a battle, that scene.
INDIANA: You were fantastic as the blind girl in Mask. I was completely convinced by you, even in the scene where Eric Stoltz gives you different things that are hot and cold, to explain what colors are—it could easily have turned into saccharine, but it really worked.
DERN: Thank you! I think it’s interesting that there’s always a dark cloud hanging over my character, in every movie. Even in Fat Man and Little Boy, where it’s a real dark cloud. In Mask, it’s more the judgment of others, but it’s still a threat. Sandy in Blue Velvet is the archetype of that. David Lynch says, “If you wanted to buy a bottle of innocence as a shampoo, you’d buy Sandy in Blue Velvet.” Lula, I guess, is a bottle of passion-flavored bubble gum.
INDIANA: You always play characters embedded in difficult family relationships. In Wild at Heart it’s this demented mother; in Mask you have these disapproving parents. Did some of those parts come to you because you started acting so young, or are you naturally attracted to them?
DERN: Maybe it’s some kind of karma. I certainly don’t seek that out. In fact, I hadn’t really thought about that, but you’re right. I’m very connected to my own family, and maybe I like to explore the feelings that come up in families. I’m fortunate that my parents taught me to look further into why I might feel a certain way; it was normal to expose things. When I started dating I had relationships with people who came from families that weren’t at all artistic or whatever, and they didn’t understand how to communicate. I find that so boring.
INDIANA: What do you think the difference is between the way you went into acting, as opposed to someone who didn’t have it in their background? You came into it from inside rather than outside.
DERN: I never had a misunderstanding of what it was about. Unfortunately, overall, movies are a conglomerate. People buy and sell people in this business, which can get really ugly unless you have the right set of values and understand why you’re doing it. Luckily, I was raised by people who’d already gotten to that point, and seen all the yuck stuff—which is probably why they originally didn’t want me to act. I also understood the difference between getting a part at a Hollywood party and really getting a job. I knew you had to go in and audition and maybe then they’d hire you, and that’s where you start. I also had a good understating about press: that it’s the actor’s responsibility to publicize his or her films, that the press can be fun, that it’s not about hyping yourself into stardom or trying to sell yourself as a hot ticket. I think a lot of young actors now are getting caught up in that. And it’s very easy to get caught up in. there’s a hype going on now that I haven’t seen in years, and it’s actually more about press than it is about an actor’s work or what films they’ve been in.
19 of Laura Dern’s 86 roles
Martin Scorsese Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1974)
‘Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore is a American romantic comedy-drama film directed by Martin Scorsese and written by Robert Getchell. It stars Ellen Burstyn as a widow who travels with her preteen son across the Southwestern United States in search of a better life, along with Alfred Lutter as her son and Kris Kristofferson as a man they meet along the way. It is Martin Scorsese’s fourth film. Director Martin Scorsese cameoed as a customer while Diane Ladd’s daughter, future actress Laura Dern, appears as the little girl eating ice cream from a cone in the diner.’ — collaged
Laura Dern describes Scorsese’s Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore and the start of her career.
Adrian Lyne Foxes (1980)
‘”When I got the part in ‘Foxes,’ she recalled, “I was in seventh grade, and I went away to shoot for two weeks. When I came back, the kids hated me. I had a best friend who never spoke to me again. She said, ‘You only got the part because your parents are Bruce Dern and Diane Ladd.’ It was very depressing. Jealousy is a scary thing. And teachers were jealous too, I think. They would say, ‘You’re off making a million dollars on a movie, and you’re going to fail this class.’ Little did they know I was making far from a million dollars. It’s tough now with my parents. There’s no jealousy or competition with them, but I sometimes feel guilty if I’m working and my parents aren’t, because I so admire them. The fact that teen movies are taking over from movies about 45-year-olds scares me and makes me angry.”‘ — NY Times
the entire film
Peter Bogdanovich Mask (1985)
‘The young promising actress arrives late into the film as Diana, a blind girl and something of an equestrian. Rocky has left his mother alone (for obviously the first time in his life) in order to work as an assistant at a summer youth camp for the blind. When Rocky sees her (and by extension when the camera gets a good look at her) he’s a goner. Instantly Dern’s open distinctive face, which has always been the opposite of a mask, incapable of hiding humanity, plays to the unusually specific strength of this particular movie. Because Mask is dimensional enough to allow for conflicting feelings about its characters, Dern is able to really shine in a role that would be merely decorative in a lesser film. And because Bogdanovich and his actors have created such rounded people we find ourselves suddenly split in two, protective of Rocky but also worried for this innocent girl who Rocky pursues as if he’s suddenly a threat. Through Dern’s sensitive careful work, we understand that she has as little experience and confidence about romance as he does but we also intuit that she’s yet more vulnerable, and sheltered in a way he never has been by his hard-living mother.’ — The Film Experience
David Lynch Blue Velvet (1986)
‘Laura Dern was surprised to learn that she didn’t have to read for the part—Lynch felt she was right for the role upon meeting her. But to make sure that she had chemistry with Kyle MacLachlan, who would play her love interest, Lynch conducted a crucial meeting at the fast food chain.’ — Mental Floss
David Lynch Wild at Heart (1990)
‘With its good and wicked witches, and references to Toto and the yellow brick road, David Lynch’s Wild at Heart is an overt, elaborate homage to The Wizard of Oz. Lula (Dern) and Sailor (Nicolas Cage) set out from Cape Fear, North Carolina, in a Ford Thunderbird, headed for the obligatory Oz of California but end up detained in the Texas hellhole of Big Tuna. Winner of the Palme d’Or at the 1990 Cannes Film Festival, Wild at Heart is Lynch’s first all-out comedy, but despite the prevailing tone of aggressive absurdity, it contains some of the filmmaker’s most harrowing scenes. The film also features Dern in one of her most memorable roles (at times acting opposite her mother, Diane Ladd, whose performance earned her an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress). A striking counterpoint to her previous Lynch persona, Sandy, Blue Velvet’s paragon of youthful innocence, Lula is mature, self-possessed, and recklessly romantic.’ — filmlinc
David Lynch Industrial Symphony No. 1: The Dream of the Brokenhearted (1990)
‘I knew of Industrial Symphony No. 1 because of a popular urban myth among Lynch fandom; that, while he was adapting Barry Gifford’s Wild At Heart, he actually filmed the novel’s downbeat ending before settling on the very different one the movie has, and used the discarded footage as the opening to this multimedia theatre piece. Lynch always denied this, and watching Industrial Symphony No. 1 I believe him. Yes, the opening film footage has Nicolas Cage and Laura Dern playing Southern lovers. They’re also shot against plain black backgrounds, talking in a dreamy, narcotic rhythm, lit with cold, white, non-naturalistic light. None of that resembles Wild At Heart at all, so this must be a specially-shot piece with the same actors. That said, there are so many themes and motifs from Wild At Heart and Twin Peaks floating around in here, it’s easy to see how the story gained purchase. The lyrics and imagery of this musical stage piece refer to falling, fire, car crashes and logs, Michael J Anderson plays an enigmatic key role, and Julee Cruise performs a lot of the songs while flying around on wires in a white dress, recalling Sheryl Lee at (the actual) end of Wild At Heart.’ — Graham Williamson
Martha Coolidge Rambling Rose (1991)
‘The plot in “Rambling Rose” is slight and elusive; if it were not for a framing device, it might almost have none. The movie is all character and situation, and contains some of the best performances of the year, especially in the ensemble acting of the four main characters. Laura Dern finds all of the right notes in a performance that could have been filled with wrong ones; Diane Ladd (her real-life mother) is able to suggest an eccentric yet reasonable Southern belle who knows what is really important; Robert Duvall exudes that most difficult of screen qualities, goodness, and Lukas Haas (the boy in “Witness”) brings to his study of Rose such single-minded passion you would think she was a model airplane.’ — Roger Ebert
Steven Spielberg Jurassic Park (1993)
‘Laura Dern was chosen by Steven Spielberg to portray Dr. Ellie Sattler because she was a very good and honest actor. The role of Ellie Sattler was offered to a lot of actresses. Juliette Binoche was offered the role but she turned it down in order to make Three Colors: Blue. Robin Wright, Jodie Foster, Sigourney Weaver, Michelle Pfeiffer, Ally Sheedy, Geena Davis, Daryl Hannah, Jennifer Grey, Kelly McGillis, Jamie Lee Curtis, Julia Roberts, Linda Hamilton, Sarah Jessica Parker, Bridget Fonda, Joan Cusack, Laura Linney, Helen Hunt, Gwyneth Paltrow and Debra Winger were all considered for the role of Dr. Ellie Sattler.’ — Jurassic Park Wiki
Clint Eastwood A Perfect World (1993)
‘Within its narrow, unambitious, commercial boundaries, the movie is highly watchable.’ — Washington Post
Alexander Payne Citizen Ruth (1996)
‘In Citizen Ruth, Dern is once again in over her head, albeit this time it’s not much of a head to start with, what with the paint-huffing and all. She plays Ruth, whom we first see getting humped by some string-haired loser in a flophouse, then summarily thrown out of said flophouse by said stringy-haired loser. Ruth staggers around a landscape of empty warehouses, peeling-paint homes, chain-link fences and crumbling asphalt — in life’s drawer full of sharp knives, she’s a plastic spoon, grabbing at anything that might get her loaded. Citizen Ruth was released just over 20 years ago — not only does the issue of choice its based around remain current, but its examination of how political forces use people as symbols feels prescient. It was the first full-length film by director Alexander Payne (and, for you trivia fans, the only one not to receive an Oscar or Golden Globe nomination). He followed it up with Election, another examination of politics and the blonde, although it’s very clear that Tracy Flick knows who’s pulling which levers — and it’s also very clear that her appetite for power is as strong as Ruth’s for schnapps and patio sealant.’ — Outtake
Robert Altman Dr. T & the Women (2000)
‘”Dr. T & The Women” is a very underrated film from Robert Altman. While it’s far from his best work and the comedy is much broader than his other films from the 00s, it’s still immensely enjoyable. At it’s heart, this is a film about women and how wild and unpredictable they can be. The film ends with a tornado, so the symbolism can get a bit heavy handed. Thankfully, Altman uses his trademark overlapping dialogue to great effect and he pulls out some lovely and funny performances from all the women and especially an understated Richard Gere. Like we saw with “Nashville,” “Short Cuts” and now “Dr. T & The Women,” this is a film about a city. Altman understands what makes Dallas tick as much as he got Nashville and Los Angeles. Don’t go into this film thinking it’s a romantic comedy, like many do, because it’s far from it.’ — Steven Carrier
Jane Anderson The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio (2005)
‘The power in the film comes from the disconnect between the anger and emotional violence in the marriage, and the way Evelyn keeps her dignity, protects her children, fights to put food on the table and deals with a husband she always calls “Father.” She is “Mother,” of course. She has never been outside of Ohio, never had a spare dollar in the bank, never been able to express her creativity, except through the contests. Julianne Moore plays this woman as a victim whose defenses are dignity and optimism. It’s a performance of a performance, actually: Evelyn Ryan plays a role that conceals the despair in her heart.’ — Roger Ebert
David Lynch Inland Empire (2006)
‘You know, again I’ll almost repeat the same idea of liberty that comes with working with that. You’re liberated as an actor in the same way David describes. You never miss anything because you’re right there. You never miss an opportunity of being in the moment because suddenly now, not just the performance but the camera is offering that in-the-moment opportunity. You can catch anything and he can hear what the actor seemingly off camera is doing and wanna capture that and just flip around. And because of the luxury of a forty minute take, if you need it, I mean, forty minutes in the camera, that you just shoot an entire scene without ever stopping and he can get all the coverage he wants and we are staying within the moment of acting out the scene and you know, not cutting and resetting but in fact even while filming talking to me because the luxury of the lack of expense as well to say, “Let’s do it again. OK, go back to this line, let’s keep going.” And you’re just, as an actor it’s just an incredible feeling to stay true to the mood, the feeling that’s going at that given time.’ — Laura Dern
Mike White Year of the Dog (2007)
‘Year of the Dog is a quirky little art house movie with a great cast and a decent script. It is at times amusing and at other times poignant but the blend doesn’t always mix well. Half the time it is the expected Molly Shannon style of overt comedy, especially in her scenes with Regina King (who is, by the way, one of the most gifted comic actresses working today). Screenwriter Mike White (Chuck and Buck) makes his directorial debut and though the tone is at times awkward he does manage to treat a polarizing political issue with fairness. Some viewers will identify and agree wholeheartedly with Peggy’s evolution from dog lover to animal rights activist, while to others her behavior will reinforce their beliefs that some people are just plain nuts. Everyone in the movie is portrayed as flawed so in that sense it doesn’t take sides.’ — THREE MOVIE BUFFS
Paul Thomas Anderson The Master (2012)
‘The Master, even though it’s only tangentially about L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology, depicts the humiliating yet symbiotic relationship between causes and followers in the modern era, when belief systems are no longer governing frameworks but just software to be renewed and replaced. You can see it in the Master’s irritated response to Helen Sullivan (Laura Dern) who, upon reading his new book, inquires about a major difference she’s noticed: “I did note that on page 13, there’s a change. You’ve changed the processing platform question from ‘Can you recall?’ to ‘Can you imagine?’” Meanwhile, Freddie, who never really understands the Master’s methods and has just had to listen to another B.S. sermon from Dodd, beats up a longtime believer who dares to question the Master’s rambling text. Maybe this is the way Freddie deals with his doubts, by doubling down on his obedience to the Master.‘ — Vulture
Kelly Reichardt Certain Women (2016)
‘Delicacy, intelligence, compassion and control are what writer-director Kelly Reichardt brings to her muted but utterly involving new film, about separate women’s lives in the prairie towns of southern Montana in the United States. It features Laura Dern as provincial lawyer Laura, Michelle Williams as discontented wife and mother Gina, and Kristen Stewart as law student and teacher Elizabeth. Everything is photographed in a distinctively subdued indie-stonewash colour palette, the soundtrack and spoken dialogue are murmuringly quiet, and it’s a film that never forces its emotional effects on us. One of the opening scenes actually contains an armed hostage standoff with a crazy guy, but it’s directed so calmly it feels as if we’re watching a mild disagreement at a church coffee morning. Certain Women is a title with a tentative, open-ended quality. A random sample selection? That’s coolly at odds with the obvious fact that Reichardt is very deliberate – very certain – about what and who she wants to show on screen, and how. The “why” is up to us.’ — The Guardian
Alexander Payne Downsizing (2017)
‘Less isn’t really more, but there’s an intriguing premise at the heart of Alexander Payne’s affecting and surprisingly sweet Downsizing. If we are, as our science seems to indicate, really killing the world, then maybe we should avail ourselves of any means necessary to minimize ourselves. If Norwegian scientists come up with a way to shrink ourselves to about 5 inches tall, why shouldn’t we volunteer to reduce our footprint?’ — Philip Martin
Laura Dern discusses her new film Downsizing
David Lynch Twin Peaks: The Return (2017)
‘On Sunday night, Laura Dern popped up on Twin Peaks, finally revealing the character she’s playing in David Lynch’s mysterious revival. Folks, it’s time to officially meet Diane, Agent Cooper’s loyal secretary—who has never been seen before in the history of the series. The long-awaited reveal takes place when Albert Rosenfield (the late Miguel Ferrer) slowly makes his way through a packed Philadelphia bar. Slowly, he walks up and sees a sylph-like woman with a blonde bob standing at the bar. “Diane,” he asserts. She turns, slowly, one hand holding a cigarette, the other resting on the base of a martini glass. “Hello, Albert,” she replies. And there you have it! Whatever image fans have held on to for the last few decades flew out the window in a matter of seconds. All along, Diane has been an icy blonde with rather kooky personal style, favoring brocade dresses, multi-colored stacked bangles, multi-colored nails, and thick, Cleopatra-esque eyeliner. This probably isn’t the long-suffering secretary everyone was imagining, though it does fit with Cooper’s previous description of her as an “interesting cross between a saint and a cabaret singer.”’ — Vanity Fair
Twin Peaks – Laura Dern as Diane Evans (For Your Consideration)
Rian Johnson Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)
‘Dern had a lot of fun working on The Last Jedi and is particularly keen to learn some more of Holdo’s past, stating “I’m eager to learn about the future — or the past — of this character only because I loved playing her so much it would be heartbreaking not to have an experience of playing her again.” It seems unlikely Holdo was intended to escape in The Last Jedi, so it might feel like a cop out if the next adventure reveals she bailed at the last moment. That said, the movie didn’t have much time to dive into Holdo’s background, so maybe there is room to explore her past. The recent canon novel Leia, Princess Of Alderaan is a prequel set before the events of A New Hope, where a young Leia first gets involved with the resistance and becomes friends with Holdo. It provides some interesting background on the friendship between the two, but it’s unknown if Star Wars IX helmer Abrams has any interest in bringing Holdo back again. Given the amount of characters he’ll have to service in the next adventure, it feels unlikely.’ — Screen Rant
Laura Dern – Star Wars: The Last Jedi On Set Interview
p.s. Hey. ** Will Northerner, I love that word, thank you, and how treatful to see you here, Mr. N. ** Ishmael, Ish! Well, duh. Ha ha, I like your portrait, it’s a weirdo, but mine gives me nightmares. Awesome, let me know what happens with Vallejo. Big love, me. ** David Ehrenstein, Hi. I guess I need to see ‘First Reformed’, but I’m so suspicious of it for some reason. I’ve never liked how Schrader’s stuff channels Bresson before, but there’s always a first. ** Tosh Berman, Hi, Tosh. Yes, I agree. That was the first thing I’ve read by him, so I have nothing to compare it to. Thank you for the list. It’s far, far from limited. All sorts of things I don’t but will. ** Bill, Hi, B. Great list with a bunch of stuff I haven’t fraternised with, so thank you very much for my consequent explorative weekend. Oh, ‘Complete History of Seattle’: see, there’s one I spaced out on that would have been on my list, darn. Have a superb today and tomorrow. ** Sypha, Hi. Don’t mind at all, no, au contraire. Writing the first draft is definitely ‘the hard part’ and yet also, once you’re actually inside it, a great reason to live. For me, at least. You need to have the title first? Interesting. Gosh, I would spend years getting ready if I had that rule. May Maine turn your imagination into Old Faithful. Have an amazing time in any case! ** Steve Erickson, I’d like to read the Buruma. I like his books. Thank you for the runners-up list. I’m not convinced by the new Let’s Eat Grandma yet, but I feel like that could change. Right, the Sleep album, that’s one I forgot. It’s excellent. Have a great one (weekend). ** Mark Gluth, Hey! Well, no, thank you for co-writing it, maestro! I guess Michael has a new and presumably final cut of the film since I skipped town that I haven’t seen yet but will pronto. How’s stuff with you? How and what is writing? ** Dóra Grőber, Hi! Well, of course. SCAB has been one of the biggest stars in my eyes this year by far. Okay, really interesting and seemingly really good about the first acting class. There’s definitely no reason not to learn and have on hand the ‘basic skills’ he can teach you. What do they say … you can’t fall off a bike unless you know how to ride it? Something like that. So, hooray, and you sound pumped, awesome! Oh, ugh, the ARTE thing. Okay, very long, complicated story very short: ARTE sent notes/ comments to our producer. She refused to pass them along and instead ‘paraphrased’ them. In her paraphrase, their comments extremely suspiciously matched her own earlier comments on our script to the letter. We simply don’t believe her paraphrase. Things are so bad with her that we requested/ demanded to have a meeting with her before we have a big meeting with ARTE on Monday because there’s a great danger that our huge problems with her will explode in front of the ARTE people and basically get the project cancelled. She declined to meet with us. So Gisele, Zac, and I will meet to figure out how to handle the situation and try to make sure things don’t get weird and ugly at the ARTE meeting. Huge fucking mess. And, no, we can’t fire the producer right now because that will definitely doom us and get the TV series cancelled. So we’ll need to have a very, very intense talk with the producer after the ARTE meeting and just hope that everyone can keep it together until then. Sorry to go on. It’s a terrible situation. Otherwise, hm, I finished the newest draft of the new film script, and I’m waiting for Zac’s commentary. I think we’re close to finishing it. Some friends are in town, and I hope to see them and some art and maybe a movie? How’s your weekend looking and going? I hope it’s a knock-out! ** Jeff J, Hi, Jeff! Good to see you! Sorry, of course, about the ongoing problems on your end with the blog. I’m ‘praying’ for a magic resolving. ‘Them’ went great, yeah, thanks! Other than the the art in my list, … just seeing friends, did an video interview thing with Artforum to promote an upcoming thing/event I’ll announce any moment, … ‘Them’ kept me pretty busy. But I actually really liked being in NYC for the first time in a long time, largely because I was staying in the East Village, which seemed to remind n=me of when I lived in the EV years ago. Yes, there are two great US-related bits of PGL news that I’ll be sharing any minute/day now. Things go well with the film in general. Ah, Michael Silverblatt, I miss him too. I was just wishing I could phone him up and blab not two days ago, but I don’t seem to have his number weirdly. He’s the best. That was the first Malaparte I’ve read, unless I’m spacing. Yes, I believe it says in the book that it’s an unfinished work. It didn’t feel hampered by that for me, but I don’t really read novels/fiction in an A = B way, so I don’t know. The Quick album is a bonus track-supplemented reissue of their only released album, ‘Mondo Deco’. It’s superb even though it’s produced in such a way as to make them sound as much like Sparks and Queen as possible even though they weren’t Sparks- or Queen-like much at all. But it’s very, very good nonetheless. I think their work got stronger in the years after the album, but the later work only exists in demo form on a comp album because labels back then were too skittish to sign their later incarnation for moronic, short-sighted reasons. How’s everything in general? You working on fiction or anything else? ** _Black_Acrylic, Hey, Benny Boy. Does anyone ever call you that? Thank you kindly for your list! Good luck to England in the WC today. ** Troy, Hi, Troy! Thank you so much for coming in here. Well, it’s a fantastic book. My listing it was a total no brainer. Best and respect to you, sir. ** Misanthrope, Thanks, G. I quite liked ‘The Rachel Papers’ back in the day when I read it. But it was gifted to me by a guy I had a huge, obsessive crush on so it is remotely possible that I read it with kid gloves — kid glasses (?) — on. Dude, the reasons why it’s so hard to get those kids are pretty fucking logical. It wasn’t flooded when they went in, right? Anyway, all the luck to those unlucky lads. ** Ken Baumann, Ken! My eyes have been so sore, and now they are not! Great to see you in this neck, my pal! I loved ‘On Hell’. Well, obviously, but, yeah, She’s one heck of a writer, whoa. Okay, I haven’t read, heard, or seen anything on your lists except for ‘On Hell’, the JPEGMAFIA, the Lamar, the Gambino, and ‘The Fragile’ (isn’t that from years ago?). I’ve got some serious catching up to do. So how are you, buddy? Life is good? You working on anything that’s exciting the hell out of you? Much love, me. ** JM, So happy to have aced that perfect timing thing. That’s harder to do even that it seems. Well, I love Wes Anderson’s films, and I thought ‘IoD’ had all the formal, structural, framing, tonal, etc. things that drive me happily crazy about his work in a maxed out way. I guess that’s why. Yes, The Rock is going to be the new cultishly beloved action hero centerpiece of awesome, extremely dated shit very soon. Thank you for your lists. A bunch I don’t know yet. Notes taken and search imminent. I really like your new thing. I have to read it again with my full brain power because the p.s. turns my brain into something weird, but I will pronto, and I already think the thing is a beaut. Great weekend, eh? ** Okay. I decided, quite understandably, I’m sure, to blow the blog’s smoke in the direction of Laura Dern this weekend, and I hope you all will benefit from that decision in whatever way the beneficial tends to constitute in you. See you on Monday.
Laura Dern is both a fine actress in and of herself and a fascinating mixture of the influence of her parents.
While Paul has written a lot on Bresson in the past (and “Pickpocket” is practically a fetish with him the religious influence in “First Reformed” is a lot closer to Rossellini, specifically “Stromboli.” The finale goes there and then beyond it into pure science fiction.of the Kubrick kind.
Laura Dern: what a dreamboat/badass. I love watching her freak the fuck out. Other than Adjani in Possession, she’s maybe the most relentless freak-the-fuck-outer actress in history! Hmm.
Johanna is a badass. They’ve got a great future; was happy to help out at this point.
I was bad and included old stuff I just took seriously or encountered for the first time since January. Eee!
Life is pretty good, even though many days are bleak. I’m spending more time doing political organizing and direct action—got arrested occupying our Governor’s office recently. Artwise, I’ve got a book coming out in a couple weeks called Eat the Flowers—poems, aphorisms, and essays. I’m self-publishing it through Sator. Also reprinting the big tabletop RPG book so I can pay my friends this summer. Waiting on agents &/or editors regarding A Task, the novel I finished last summer. A lot of no’s, which I don’t care about—just impatient, cuz I know the book’ll help people. Haven’t found another writing project, though I suspect I need one soon to keep me burning steady. Got a yearlong fulltime job coming up at St. John’s College (my alma mater), making sure freshmen don’t lose it, and making campus culture more welcoming, inclusive, and fun. Aviva’s in good shape—her woodworking is getting more popular, and she’s working often.
Hey Dennis, long time no see. Hope you’re having a weekend as varied and great as Laura Dern’s career. I recently watched The Tale and it’s great, kind of a female Mysterious Skin. I got the new David Lynch biography that he co-wrote with someone… kind of reminds me of the format you were gonna use for your biography, which I hope you still write someday.
It’s been kind of a weird year for me. I was dating this great guy for like five seconds and he took me to a Transcendental Meditation class. The bill for the classes lasted longer than the relationship. I had a BPD freak out at work and got demoted after four years of promotions, so now I work from home everyday, which was great for like two months but I’m pretty sick of now. I know it’d be different if I were living with someone or my writing were going better. As for writing, in the last year I put together my CV/website, sent a TV script to a few contests but lost, and put together a different version of my BPD book. You read parts of it before. I still feel like something is missing with it but it’s probably time to move on.
Anyway, just wanted to say hi and that I hope you’re doing great!
Hey Dennis! Laura Dern= swoon. What are your thoughts on her in Twin Peaks:The Return? I think she and it were just ace, top shelf.
Well thanks for the kind words and support as always. Yeah, I think I’ve seen the final cut, and it’s great. It captures the mood and feeling of this little world I imagined perfectly. As far as writing, I finished this novel thing Michael is putting out later this year. He loves it, but he’s always super supportive of me so maybe I should take his opinion with a grain of salt. But I’m super proud of it. It’s really complicated structurally. I named it Come Down To Us, after the Burial track, you know it? With everything I’ve written, I’ve wanted to do something I’ve never done before which I accomplish by trying to forget everything I’ve written before. If I’m correct you accomplish kinda similar ends by viewing your current work as a reaction to your previous work, no? That seems more intelligent and sensible than I can handle . Anyway, I’ve taking the summer ‘off’ to let ideas stew. I know what my next book will be, but it’s blurry still. It has something to do with religion and transcendence. Sorry about that producer crap you mentioned in your PS. It’s weird how non-book writing/work has to jump so many more hurdles to come together…but maybe the complicated part of that makes the final product stronger or more compelling?
Unfortunately, while I have HBO, I was at my parents’ house the weekend they showed THE TALE, and their cable service is bare bones. I think I can order it on my HBO service here, but I haven’t really looked into it. To be honest, given that it got the best reception of any film at Sundance this year, I’m pissed that I will probably never have the chance to see it in a movie theater.
Have you heard ERRORZONE, the debut album by Boston hardcore band Vein? For a long time, I have thought that nü-metal was about to get a revival and a revisionist consideration; the Deftones have been hip for a long time, but after their 2nd album, they stopped sounding anything like that scene and mixed post-punk, shoegaze and hard rock influences instead. Well, Vein sound like they grew up listening to “cool” leftfield metalcore bands like Converge, Botch and the Dillinger Escape Plan and “uncool” bands like Korn and Slipknot (especially their first album) simultaneously without anyone telling them they couldn’t mix these influences. So we get really abrasive and rhythmically skewed music that also features a hip-hop influence (breakbeats, guitars trying to imitate turntables) and downtuned guitars straight out of nü-metal. And apart from Sleep’s much different album and Code Orange’s recent EP (which ventures into electronics and mixing hardcore with industrial music, and actually features backing vocals from Slipknot’s Corey Taylor), it’s the best heavy music I’ve heard so far in 2018.
On Wes Anderson; I was watching Speed Racer the other day and came to the conclusion that Anderson irks me because his symmetry is ultimately limiting. Of course it is only another structure to play inside, but symmetry forces away movement that isn’t about depth, two dimensional motion becomes very difficult. Speed Racer does this very well.
Hi Dennis, thanks for the list yesterday. Great one and I’m glad you saw some art shows in NYC. I’m sorry for the absence for a little while. Really, really busy. But my favorite 2018 film lists are Glide of Transparency (Betzy Bromberg), the Arboretum Cycle (Nathaniel Dorsky), The Dreamlike Path (Angela Schanelec), Mitote (Eugenio Polgovsky), I’ll Remember You as You Were, not as What You’ll Become (Sky Hopinka), Erie (Kevin Jerome Everson), Araby (João Dumans & Affonso Uchoa), Blending and Blinding (Richard Tuohy) and … more. Books: Nioque of the early spring (Francis Ponge), Our Book (Florbela Espanca Selected Poems), Codes for north (Stephen Broomer), Slow Writing (Thom Andersen), They Knew what they wanted: poems & collages (John Ashbery), Joan Murray: Drafts, Fragments, and Poems, and River (Esther Kinsky)
That’s it, I think. Have a nice week!
Dennis Congratulations!!! On the Film Society screenings of PGL. I think that’s a great place for a great film to be!
Laura Dern was outstanding in Twin Peaks: The Return, and she’d better share a trolleyful of awards with Naomi Watts and Kyle MacLachlan or we really are all alone in a godless universe.
@ DC, I hope the ARTE car crash can somehow resolve itself on Monday. All round here are rooting for you guys, obvs. And your good luck message to England in the World Cup worked a treat because well, football’s only bloody coming home! Surprised at how giddy that makes me feel. What’s even better is that on Tuesday I’ll be heading back to Leeds for my mum’s birthday so will catch the semis and the final while I’m down there.
How have you been? I’ve missed talking with you.
Apologies for my absence. I’ve been having a bit of a low period and not feeling so communicative. But, instead of retreating into a virtual cave, like I usually do in such situations, I’ve gotten out and about and been hanging out in the sun with friends, and it’s working.
I feel relatively behind with what’s been going on with you, mon ami. NYC/Them sounded all good. What’s been happening since then? Are you happy? I hope so.
Laura Dern is wonderful. So great to have her in Twin Peaks and The Last Jedi and I really liked her in Big Little Lies, though I’m guessing you haven’t seen that.
I have a lot of blog post to catch up on too, but I surely will. I was really happy to see the Horror Movie intros post restored and I diligently watched every single one of them. I’m now putting a section on horror movie credits into a thing I’ve been writing, so ta for that inspiration.
I really look forward to catching up with you.
How was your weekend?
May Monday unfurl like a sumptuous silk banner.
Dennis, Laura Dern! I know her from The Last Jedi. (I’m kidding. She’s fucking great in everything. If anything, I think her weird role in The Last Jedi actually ADDS to her mystique, if that makes sense.)
I’m going to give The Rachel Papers to a very close friend of mine for his birthday. I think he’ll like it. I’m giving his girlfriend, also a close friend, a copy of Try for her birthday. I think she’ll love it. She’s much more into your type of stuff than he is, though he’s a smart dude and I think he’d definitely appreciate your work too. I’ll be sure to tell her to give it to him when she’s finished.
So here’s this thing. My close friends that live close to me (relatively speaking) and who I hook up with every couple months but stay in contact with almost daily through an FB email thread, we all have birthdays within roughly a 2-month period. We usually get together in August to celebrate all the birthdays at once. This year, I’m getting everyone a gift. My other friend is getting Sally Mann’s Immediate Family. Her own photography reminds me a lot of Mann’s and I think she’ll like it. I’m getting my other friend the blu-ray of Ladybird, which I think she’ll love because she’s into movies like that (girl-centric, funny, sad, etc.). It’ll be a surprise for all because we usually just get together and eat and laugh but don’t exchange gifts. We’re meeting up on August 4 for the celebration. Now I have to find a good vegan recipe for my one friend. That’ll be a surprise for her too.
Well, yeah, upon further reading, the boys being stuck in that cave is logical…but I, being the eternal optimist, don’t see it as impossible to get them out and even rather “easy.” I’m so Pollyanna about things, hahaha.
Oh, shit, I just read they’ve already gotten four of them out! Eight more to go!
i hated laura dern for years, she ached my teeth but oddly i’ve come around to her again, i’ve just finished david lynch’s book both on paper and audio as they’re both different and she comesacross really good, i hope she’s happy
its great that gary indiana interview is here, that guy is fucking awesome
ooh, fuck, here goes my list of 2018 so far
favourite planet…the moon
favourite colour…pink / yellow on blue ( on other people )
music…glenn gould / mark kozelek / pusha t / kid cudi / bark psychosis / felt /
films…lucky ( my favourite film in years ) phantom thread / like cattle towards glow / i don’t know jack / seconds / elephant / satantango / the childhood of the leader / junun/ of horses and men
illegal downloads tv…rick and morty / billions / twin peaks 3 / louis ck
poetry…paul celan, the later meta poems are head wrecking
books…karl ove / houellebecq / 3 books on wilde’s last years in france / severed a book on the history of beheadings /
art…none, i live in eire, there is no art scene
most overrated star…the sun
dennis, il remember something in an hour and scream
love you, alex,xx
Was there a new Bark Psychosis album or reissue this year? I just heard them for the first time, after murmurs about them being a big influence on “post-rock,” when HEX was reissued in 2017. Maybe that’s what you’re referring to?
Great comment on the most overrated star.
I went to Bandcamp and saw that Fire Records reissued Bark Psychosis’ 2nd album last May.
I enjoyed your favorites post the other day. My most recent discovery that fits well with this blog is a treasure trove called The Public Domain Review:
I’m switching back to an old alias here but I’m your Tel Aviv commenter. Unfortunately I couldn’t make it to Jerusalem to see your play. I lead a very regimented life with work, Hebrew study, writing, and preparations for film school. I’ve settled in nicely here, thank God. A lot of what eluded me in America has just been coming naturally here. I’m glad you enjoyed New York. I have a fraught relationship with the city but I’m sure I’ll also have a good time when I’m back for a visit next month.
What’s been your relationship with words lately given al the work you’ve been doing with images and performances?
P.S. I have a layover in Warsaw in August from morning through mid afternoon. Does anyone here have any ideas?