Film: Strange. The man seems so normal

In his new film there's no weird stuff - no dead homecoming queens, no filicide. And he's even taken to wearing a tie. Has David Lynch gone soft?

News from the first previews was truly shocking: David Lynch's latest film, The Straight Story, did not disturb, offend or mystify. It contained no scenes of twisted sexual desire or violence. Surely there was just a little filicide? Some incest maybe? Uxoricide even? No. And before you ask, there are no dwarves, Mystery Men, strange hairdos, doughnuts, drugs or dead homecoming queens.

The director is in town promoting this apparent abberation and - shock horror - he's even wearing a tie. This, from the man who created an entire aesthetic out of the buttoned-up white shirt, sans-tie look.

So what's happened to David Lynch? Stay calm. The press kit for The Straight Story still includes what has always been his preferred biographical note, word for word - all four of them: "Eagle Scout, Missoula, Montana." No change there. And that trademark tall hair is still cocking a snook at gravity. And chances are he's still probably "lost in darkness and confusion".

With that characteristic Jimmy Stewart-style good nature, Lynch quizzically reflects on the puzzlement his new movie has caused: "Somebody was standing in line for a preview screening and a lady behind them said `Isn't it odd that there are two directors named David Lynch'." He laughs.

Lynch fans can relax. The director is still that slightly bemused innocent, in a world out of whack, incapable of making a movie that doesn't mystify his public in some way. With his last, Lost Highway, critics and audiences found his representation of the interior struggles of a man who murders his wife for her infidelity too abstract and confusing. This time round they've been wrong-footed by the absolute simplicity and - at times - heartbreaking humanity - of The Straight Story. "Every story is different," observes Lynch "but you work the same way. This movie passed through the same machinery that Lost Highway passed through."

Which brings us to the lawnmower. The Straight Story is about 73-year- old Alvin Straight (an excoriating performance by Richard Farnsworth) going to visit his ailing older brother, Lyle, (poignantly played by Harry Dean Stanton). They haven't spoken for 10 years and it's time to put things right. The only trouble is, Alvin - too blind to drive - lives in Laurens, Iowa and Lyle lives some 300 miles away in Mt Zion, Wisconsin. Having spent most of his life on the road, a stubborn Alvin is determined to make the trip on his own terms - alone.

Despite the fears of his emotionally scarred daughter Rose (Sissy Spacek) he hits the highway astride a John Deere lawnmower - top speed five miles an hour - for what might be the last journey of his life.

Lynch more often than not writes or co-writes his own scripts. This time that credit goes to John Roach and Mary Sweeney. Sweeney began working with Lynch as an assistant editor on Blue Velvet 13 years ago, but now produces and edits all his work, as well as being his "sweetheart" (their son, Riley, is now six). Lynch admits to being surprised by his reaction to the script. "Originally, I said I wasn't going to direct it, but I changed my mind. I don't know that I could have written it. But it doesn't matter where the ideas come from. At some point you make them your own."

Original Lynch ideas are notoriously difficult to finance. Ronnie Rocket, a film "about electricity and a three-foot guy with red hair", Dream of the Bovine, "about three guys who used to be cows" and One Saliva Bubble, "about an electric bubble from a computer that bursts above a town and changes people's personalities" all remain in a state of arrested development.

One experiment we'll probably never see is Mullholland Drive, Lynch's new television series. He made a pilot for ABC and the network not only abandoned the idea of continuing the show but decided they may never even show the first, feature-length episode. "They hated everything about it." Lynch says. "The guy from ABC said he had to watch it standing up to stop himself falling asleep." As ever, Lynch makes this sound funny, but you know he's heartbroken. "As far as I'm concerned it's dead." Cynics will see The Straight Story as Lynch's attempt to regain some commercial ground. Certainly, Sweeney has, for some time, been trawling for more "legible" books, scripts or ideas that might work for Lynch.

So is the new movie his response to the incomprehension that greeted Lost Highway? "Not a bit," he asserts. "It just so happened that this is what I fell in love with next. Maybe there are reasons I don't know about why I fell in love with it, but I don't really care about finding out about those."

It's my guess that, among other things, the painfully slow pace of Alvin's progress appealed very specifically to Lynch's sensibilities. Just think of all those somnambulistic, highly detailed moves made by Jack Nance in Eraserhead. Or the comically slow old folk often glimpsed in the margins of Twin Peaks. "When you slow down, you see things differently," says Lynch, "and The Straight Story is not a sprinter's movie." For someone with a Muybridge-like fascination for the minuti of human locomotion, Alvin the Easy Lawnmower Rider, has aided Lynch in his own quest to arrest not only the often mindless speed of much of contemporary American cinema but also of the world itself.

"When we took the first trip for the recce, we would sometimes go slow by the side of the road. But the car would hardly go that slow. If you took your foot off the accelerator, you'd still be doing 15mph. So you'd have to use the brake. But the speedometer wouldn't even hover at five mph.It doesn't know that area."

Following in Alvin's lawnmower tracks, Lynch has been able - more than ever before - to look at the American landscape in extreme detail. "You have certain things to choose from, and a lot that's given to you. It's not a documentary, but the sun is your only light, this is your landscape, and there's not a lot you can fiddle around with." The Straight Story is all texture, colour, light and dark (Richard Farnsworth's face itself becomes a feature of the landscape - all crags, wattles and liver spots).

Even though Lynch is completely uninterested in genre film-making, this is classic Western imagery, painstakingly captured by our very own maestro, cinematographer, Freddie Francis. "There was something that just felt so right about working with Freddie on this film," Lynch enthuses. "I think it would have been very different if it had been someone younger," Lynch said, alluding to the fact that Francis is 82 years old. "Richard could look behind the camera and see someone older than he is. It was important to the feeling." For his part, an underawed Francis simply states that he was happy to work a 10-hour day, "and not an hour more".

Lynch is all about feeling and mood. That's why music and sound have always been as important to him as the imagery. In The Straight Story, he again uses the landscape as his source. "There's music in the air there. It's really beautiful. If you pull off the road and kill the engine and walk away from the car - because the ticks of the engine just drive you nuts - if you just listen to the wind and the insects, it's like music. It's completely quiet there except for those two things."

It's tempting to see The Straight Story as tapping directly into David Lynch's childhood. The Lynch family lived an itinerate lifestyle, following his father, Donald (a research scientist for the government's department of agriculture) to Montana, Idaho, Washington, Durham, North Carolina, back to Idaho and finally Virginia - by which time Lynch was still only 14 years old. "Sometimes Richard reminds me of my father," Lynch says, "and other times he doesn't. It's not something I even thought about while shooting."

I know this particular Eagle Scout from Missoula Montana and he's never forgotten the motto "Be Prepared" - particularly when it comes to questions about personal stuff. In 1992, Lynch was quoted as saying "I've heard that exiting the body is painful. You've got to pull yourself out of your earthly existence, and it's hard to do that unless you're really old. It's like getting the stone out of a peach. It's hard to do when the peach is ripe. When George Burns dies he'll be such an old peach that stone will just pop right out of there. It'll be such a beautiful thing."

Does growing old like Alvin Straight scare Lynch? "No. Dying scares me because it's a big change," So what is the worse thing about growing old? "I'll tell you when I get there."

`The Straight Story' is released 3 December

Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine