RTIndie: David Lynch, Terry Gilliam Living on the Edge of Hollywood

by | October 23, 2006 | Comments

It’s a tough time to be a veteran in the indie game. Why are celebrated auteurs David Lynch and Terry Gilliam having a hard time getting their films into theaters?

David Lynch has never been a conventional filmmaker, but his latest project, "Inland Empire," may mark an even stranger turn in the director’s career. The three-hour film, starring Laura Dern and Jeremy Irons, has gotten a mixed reception in its festival runs at Venice and New York; it currently stands at 67 percent on the Tomatometer.

The story is, of course, enigmatic: As an actress cast in a doomed film project, Nikki (Dern) becomes confused with her character, lost within the tale of a Polish couple and a trio of giant rabbits (voiced by Naomi Watts, Scott Coffey, and Laura Harring). Her descent into madness is punctuated — in classic Lynch style — by musical dance numbers.

More intriguing, however, may be Lynch’s plan to self-release the film, thereby getting it into theaters and retaining the rights to his work.

David Lynch

Terry Gilliam won’t have to worry about distribution for his latest, "Tideland"; it was recently given a limited release. The story follows a young girl, Jeliza-Rose (Jodelle Ferland), as she is left to survive on an isolated farm when her parents OD on heroin within days of each other.
The film’s exploration of childhood fantasy hinges on exhaustive (or, as many critics have said, exhausting) scenes of Jeliza-Rose playing with her dolls.

At 26 percent, "Tideland" is the worst reviewed film of Gilliam’s career.

His lack of recent commercial success may hinder his ability to make films in the future. Gilliam is famous for feuding with studios (the most famous example is "Brazil" although 2005’s "The Brothers Grimm" found him in something of a squabble with the Weinsteins), and he’s also had a few runs of bad luck (see "Lost in La Mancha").

And although Gilliam met with Warner Bros. about directing "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone," he believes he was never a serious candidate, given the mainstream constraints of the job. He’s also unsure if he’ll secure funding for "Good Omens," which he hopes will be his next project.

Terry Gilliam (left) in "Lost in La Mancha"

While iconoclasts like Lynch and Gilliam may seem like extreme examples, a recent feature in the New York Times points out that a number of established indie directors must find other avenues to make ends meet when they can’t get a green light for their work. Some, like humanist John Sayles, take uncredited script-doctoring gigs, punching up the dialogue on blockbusters. Others, like documentarian Errol Morris, direct commercials. Still others, like Mary Harron and Rose Troche, have found television, particularly HBO series like "Six Feet Under," to be more hospitable to their talents.

In an era that might be described as post-indie, some of the genre’s most successful directors face a surprising return to their roots: Struggling to get their movies produced and distributed without compromising their artistic vision. When marketability still looms as one of the biggest factors in movie making, you have to wonder what impact the independent film boom of the last decade really made on the industry.

This Week’s Indie Openings:

Opening last week in limited release: "51 Birch Street," a documentary exploring the hidden lives of the filmmaker Doug Block’s parents, is at 100 percent on the Tomatometer (with 13 reviews); "Sweet Land," a sweeping tale of the American immigrant experience, is at 95 percent (21 reviews); "Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple," a documentary about cult leader Jim Jones and his flock, is at 90 percent (20 reviews); "Requiem," a German tale of epilepsy/demonic possession, is at 88 percent (16 reviews); "Hair High," a perverse animated comedy about a strange high school, is at 67 percent (nine reviews); "Sleeping Dogs Lie," Bobcat Goldthwait‘s sweet, taboo-busting rom-com, is at 54 percent (28 reviews); and "Running with Scissors," a tale of therapy and growing pains starring Annette Bening and Gwyneth Paltrow, is at 25 percent (44 reviews).

In "Sweet Land," we learn about portable music in the days before the iPod.

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