Auteur Theory: ‘Wild at Heart’ Deleted Scenes

David Lynch has never been accused of doing anything in a conventional manner. Typically, when a filmmaker adapts a book to the screen, he or she must condense the text into a manageable length by removing inessential scenes or storylines. For his 1990 film ‘Wild at Heart’, Lynch took the opposite approach. Despite working from short novella that could be read from start to finish in a couple of hours, the director greatly expanded his script and shot enough material that his first rough cut ran over three hours long. He eventually trimmed that down to 125 disjointed minutes, but fans wondered for years what the longer version of the movie may have looked like. In 2008, Lynch actually released that extra footage, but did so on an obscure and expensive DVD that few have seen.

After a series of bad experiences that soured him on working with the Hollywood studio system again, Lynch retreated to the internet in the mid-2000s. He established an online store on his personal web site where he attempted to self-distribute content through his Absurda label. Among the products sold were DVD editions of ‘Eraserhead’ and his short films. The most ambitious product offered was a ten-disc DVD collection called ‘The Lime Green Set’. Before you ask, no, other than the color of the box it came in, no particular explanation was ever provided for that name. I guess that Lynch just liked the color lime green that day.

For this ‘Lime Green Set’, Lynch consolidated DVDs that he had previously sold separately (‘Eraserhead’, ‘The Short Films of David Lynch’ and the animated series ‘DumbLand’), along with some studio discs that he was able to license (‘The Elephant Man’ from Paramount, ‘Blue Velvet’ and ‘Wild at Heart’ from MGM). Those latter movies were the official studio DVDs, simply inserted into the box set. The remaining discs contained the ‘Eraserhead’ soundtrack CD, some new featurettes for ‘The Elephant Man’, Lynch’s 1990 concert film ‘Industrial Symphony No. 1’ and a so-called “Mystery Disc.”

As far as I’m aware, ‘Industrial Symphony’ and the Mystery Disc still remain exclusive to this ‘Lime Green Set’. The Mystery Disc held an assortment of odds and ends, such as some short films that Lynch made for his web site and a montage of his early experimental work. Most significantly, it also included 75 minutes of deleted scenes from ‘Wild at Heart’.

Part of David Lynch’s working method is that he likes to experiment on set and to film just about any crazy ideas that come to mind whenever he feels inspired. He overshoots all of his movies, with the intention that he’ll pare them down to the essentials in post production, when he’s determined which ideas “stick” and which aren’t necessary.

The ‘Wild at Heart’ deleted scenes are provided in very cruddy workprint quality. Although anamorphically enhanced for 16:9, the footage is washed out, hasn’t been color timed and is covered in dirt and print damage. It’s also been very badly encoded on the DVD and suffers a number of digital artifacts like aliasing and macroblocking. Basically, it looks like crap, and you just have to accept that. Considering what a fuss Lynch has made about not releasing the deleted scenes to ‘Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me’ until he can get them fully restored to optimal quality, his willingness to dump the ‘Wild at Heart’ scenes on disc like this seems a bit hypocritical to me. Perhaps he just doesn’t care as much about ‘Wild at Heart’ as he does ‘Twin Peaks’?

Among the 32 scenes are a number of inconsequential extensions to existing scenes and pointless filler material. Does anyone honestly care where Lula got her car from? Of course not, which is why that scene was rightly cut. The more interesting material includes:

  1. Lula has a conversation with her friend Beanie (who was cut from the film entirely).
  2. A flashback to Lula’s father going crazy is too similar to the story she tells later about her cousin “Christmas Dell.”
  3. The story about Dell (Crispin Glover) is one of the strangest and most pointless digressions in the finished movie. The deleted scenes contain additional footage that marginally helps to flesh his character out a bit. We see more about his Christmas fetish (“I’m Dell and I have a blender!”) and watch him harassing random people on the street. Lula and Sailor were meant to cross paths with Dell later in the movie. That scene is found here as well.
  4. We also learn that Dell was the father of the baby that Lula aborted. The final cut rearranges scenes to suggest that Lula got pregnant after being raped by Uncle Pooch.
  5. The helium-voiced George Kovich (Freddie Jones) explains in more detail why he hates pigeons so much. This scene is still rather choppy and lacks a proper introduction, which suggests that some footage may still be missing.
  6. Johnnie Farragut (Harry Dean Stanton) spots Sailor and Lula in New Orleans and intentionally lets them get away. This helps to show that Johnnie was really on their side the whole time.
  7. Sailor and Lula pick up a dirty hitchhiker with a box full of dogs. The actors all seem distracted in this scene and push for too much of an over-the-top comical tone.
  8. Perhaps the biggest loss to the movie is a series of scenes where Johnnie interacts with the assassins Reggie and Dropshadow, who feed him a load of bull about their identities but keep mysteriously crossing his path. These two characters barely have any dialogue in the final film. Their presence in the movie is made much clearer by this deleted footage.
  9. Lynch has often told the story about an early test screening of ‘Wild at Heart’, in which audience members walked out in droves during Johnnie’s death scene, because it was too visceral and violent, and soured the tone of the whole movie. The DVD contains a long extension to the beginning of that scene, which is fairly creepy. However, the scene has no more violence or gore than the completed version, and honestly doesn’t seem terribly out of place. I’m not sure if this means that Lynch is still withholding additional footage, or if the length of the scene was enough to make audiences uncomfortable on its own.

Running throughout these scenes is also a recurring theme where Lula tries to derive “lessons” from the random stories she tells, which helps to explain why she tells so many of them.

A good number of the deleted scenes and dialogue here are taken directly from the original Barry Gifford novella. In fact, it appears that Lynch filmed the entirety of the book, scene for scene, in addition to tossing in mountains of his own material.

One thing not found here is a motorcycle crash that was originally intended to open the film. The shooting script has a detailed description of this scene, but Lynch has claimed in interviews that he never found an opportunity to shoot it. Nonetheless, the end of the finished film still contains a scene that refers back to this motorcycle crash. You’d think that Lynch might want to cut that reference. As it stands, it’s just another pointless non sequitur in a very messy movie.

I still consider ‘Wild at Heart’ one of my least favorite of David Lynch’s films. However, these deleted scenes provide some insight into his creative process, and I’m glad that I’ve finally had a chance to see them.

If I’m not mistaken, I think that Lynch originally sold the ‘Lime Green Set’ for $135. I don’t believe that it sold very well, since the seven of the ten discs were simply recycled DVDs that most fans already owned. That price seemed like a rip-off just to get ‘Industrial Symphony No. 1’ and these ‘Wild at Heart’ deleted scenes. I can’t disagree with that, but I also don’t regret buying it, personally.

Although now out of print, copies of the ‘Lime Green Set’ are still available (at an even higher mark-up, unfortunately) from Amazon Marketplace sellers. I bought mine on eBay recently for less than the original MSRP, from a seller who seems to have an unlimited supply of these but who was very slow to ship.

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  1. PatR

    I believe that the killing of Bob Ray Lemon is cut on the dvd and possibly the VHS. It was originally slightly more gory/violent. i know for a fact that Bobby Peru’s death scene has been modified with CGI to lessen the gore and visceral feel. This modification is present on my DvD, while my original VHS version has the uncut, unmodified version. I think someone uploaded what they thought was the uncut version of the scene on youtube, however the clip is in fact the modified version. Ive noticed theyve done this with a few movies. They make these little cuts and sneak them on (old)newer vhs and DvD versions.

    • Josh Zyber

      As far as I’m aware, there is only one version of the Bob Ray Lemon death scene. It’s plenty gory and violent now. I can’t imagine what else could make it worse.

      The Bobby Peru death scene originally had a clearer view of Bobby’s head being blown off. The MPAA objected to this and threatened to give the movie an X rating. Lynch added a smoke effect to obscure the image a little. This was in the days before CGI, so it was an optical effect. That was good enough for the MPAA to secure an R rating. That’s the only version of the film that was ever released in the United States. Overseas markets received the version without the smoke because the prints for those had already been struck and distributed before Lynch made the change.

      My understanding is that Lynch was fine with adding the smoke, and that is considered the final version of the movie and his director’s cut, regardless of what’s been released in other countries.

      I’ve seen both versions. The one with the smoke looks better. The gore effect looks pretty fake without it.

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