Lynch reigns over 'Empire,' hits film biz


NEW YORK -- David Lynch criticized standard methods for distributing film -- and even film itself -- as he prepared to screen his newest work, an epic fever dream "Inland Empire," at the New York Film Festival, where it had its North American premiere Sunday night.

"The world is changing and the old ways are going quickly," Lynch said in an interview Friday after the film's press screening. "People are thinking of new ways to begin a film, new ways of shooting, new ways of post production, and you've got to come up with new ways of distribution." While Lynch acknowledged "there are a lot of rumors flying about" concerning "Empire's" theatrical release, with several indie distributors said to be closing in with offers, he said he hopes to announce his release plans for "Empire" early this week.

Not that Lynch appeared very concerned about the film's commercial prospects. "I would like it to be a summer blockbuster, but I'm realistic," he said, adding facetiously that his target audience is "14-year-old girls in the Midwest." No one would mistake that for a serious statement after viewing the three-hour film, which had its world premiere at the Venice International Film Festival and which has sharply divided critics because of its often inscrutable scenes.

"Empire" begins with two interwoven stories of an actress, played by Laura Dern, who is making an onscreen comeback in a Southern melodrama she's filming called "High in Blue Tomorrows." But the film soon branches off to follow a third abused and abusive character also played by Dern. "I figure I have at least three roles, maybe a few more," she laughed in an interview.

Each plotline deals with issues of betrayal in relationships, but the film soon veers off those tracks as it showcases musical dance sequences and dramatic episodes with actors speaking Polish. Perhaps only Lynch devotees will fully appreciate a monologue that describes a woman with both a hole in her vagina and a pet monkey that "shits everywhere."

The director created each scene individually before lacing them together thematically, but despite the film's winding road, he pooh-poohed talk that his film is too long. "A time restraint is so arbitrary and kind of meaningless," he said. "This is the length that feels correct."

Sitcom-style segments featuring a family wearing rabbit heads with an oddly timed laugh track are laced throughout the film. They're adapted from "Rabbits," a series of nine shorts that Lynch showed on his website in 2002. Naomi Watts, Laura Elena Harring and Scott Coffey, who starred in Lynch's last film, 2001's "Mulholland Dr.," filmed the original shorts on a sitcom-looking set and later re-enacted their scenes on the same set for "Empire."

"Empire" was shot digitally after the director became infatuated with a Sony PD150 camera he used to create the shorts, and he has since sworn off celluloid. "For me, film is completely dead," he said. "[It] gets dirty and breaks breaks and scratches, and the equipment is so heavy. It's like swimming through cold molasses. Digital is getting better every day."

Dern started on the project by shooting a 14-page, single-spaced monologue that belongs to the character of the violent woman. She was surprised that Lynch gave her a co-producer credit, which she discovered only when she saw the completed film. "I think it came from sticking with him for three years, being part of the creative process and and giving up other projects to go on this experimental adventure," she said. "There were some scenes where it was just David, me and the camera, which made it a very financially easy way to do it."

What the film lacks in budget -- Lynch will only say it cost "under $100 million" -- it made up for in time, taking nine months to complete in the editing room. It left the director feeling a bit drained. "There's always a vacuum when you finish a film, but I have a couple of ideas," for new projects, he says. "I'd like to do some painting first."