The Straight Story -
rated - HOT! HOT! HOT!
Lynch goes Straight
David Lynch telling a straight story? You'd better believe it! And
you'd better see it, too. As I watched this film I remembered what Me l
Brooks called David Lynch: "Jimmy Stewart from Mars." Well this is the
Jimmy Stewart part.
The stunning opening sequence (the Director of Photography is Freddie
Francis (The Elephant Man (1980), The Innocents (1961), Saturday Night
and Sunday Morning (1960)) features a tractor on a wide open field.
Then there's a long slow pan across a yard. All is very slow - which of
course, immediately establishes the speed of movie. We see a tractor
behind the yard's house and a woman lying prone sunbaking. Then the
camera focuses on the outside wall of the house, and you hear someone
fall to the ground, but you don't see it. I seem to remember seeing a
shot of grass on a shed wall, held for ages. This is a very special
kind of movie.
There's so much to relish in this film. There are many scenes which
just involve people talking to each other. Most of these characters
don't have much screen time, but they are beautifully drawn. Clearly
Lynch knows them well, and loves them. There's a beautiful scene where
two old men have a drink together in a bar, and just start telling the
truth about the past. Something about Alvin Straight (Richard
Farnsworth, playing a real life character) makes it easy for people to
There's also a shopkeeper who can't bear to part with his goods (a
"grabber"!). There's a salesman who makes a "straight" deal with Alvin
over a used ride-on lawnmower, and it turns out that it is the
salesman's own lawnmower. These people are honest and good, and you
begin to feel for them.
Throughout Alvin's slow and steady journey, Lynch's camera follows at
the same pace. We take our time. The camera lingers on faces. There's a
long long hold on a girl's face in a roadside campfire. There are more
long pans up & down & across the countryside. There are
close-ups of passing wheat fields, and then a tarpaulin on the trailer.
There's a close-up of road. There's time for things to sink in.
Lynch is giving us the time and space to think about the little things.
He shows us Alvin's joy at accomplishing the task of getting his
blown-off hat back, but tempers it with his failure to start the
tractor. he shows us the connection between the land and the weather.
In this country the weather is not just an inconvenience - it's a vital
part of your day. Could this be a movie about the real America? After
all, much of American is rural countryside like this. People ask simple
questions: "How long you bin on the road?", "What day is this?", "How
far've you come?" They list the places. An old guy marvels: "You come a
long way, haven't you?" Alvin is making a relatively small journey, but
the people he meets on the way instantly grasp how huge it really is.
After all, on Alvin's journey even bicycles seem to whiz by at
breakneck speed. But at Alvin's pace we can share with him the sheer
joy of crossing a bridge over a river. Or we can just gaze at Alvin's
face - lit by fire, time and again lit by fire.
Who else but David Lynch could pull this off? And who else would have
Angelo Badalamenti do a western score? And make it work?