Tag Archives: Wild at Heart

Honeymoon in Vegas (1992)

31 Mar

After watching Honeymoon in Vegas last night, I had a dream that I myself was Nicolas Cage, and I was wearing a kilt and brazenly showing off my muscular calves to a troop of admiring schoolgirls. Of course, Cage doesn’t wear a kilt in Honeymoon in Vegas – he wears an Elvis costume, completing the Elvis diptych begun in 1990’s Wild at Heart.  It’s the Elvis costume, coming only in the last 20 minutes of the film that puts Honeymoon in Vegas in the passion portion of the venn diagram, and Cage seems to be having a ball when he gets to improbably win back the woman of his dreams through a sky-diving Elvis extravaganza.

Cage plays Jack Singer, a man who is emasculated in the first five  minutes of the film when his mother, lying on her deathbed, makes him promise that he will never get married because ‘No girl could ever love you like I did!’ . In Peter Jackson’s brilliant film Braindead, hero Lionel’s mother utters a very similar sentence to him; the difference being that she says it at the end of the film, rather than the beginning, and that Lionel’s mother is a 15 foot tall reconstituted zombie, opening the cavernous maw of her womb to slide her rebellious son back in once and for all.

"No-one will ever love you like your mother, Lionel!"

Jack Singer foolishly promises the coddling harridan that he will never marry, and so embarks on a fearsome battle against the frenzied ticking of his girlfriend Betsy’s biological clock.* When a casino sleazeball resembling an evil Gene Wilder falls in lust with Betsy, Singer’s emasculation grows tenfold, and his subsumed aggression is released in staccato hand gestures and erratic bouts of shouting. There are traces of Vampire’s Kiss in Cage’s performance – in a scene in which Betsy reveals that she is going for a weekend in Hawaii with the sleazeball, Cage pleads, prowls and menaces to Sarah Jessica Parker’s admirable unconcern.


The slightly unhinged performance is given a virility by Cage’s abundant body hair, generously smothering his chest and arms in unusual profusion. Not in this film are the burnished bronze expanses of The Boy in Blue and Ghostrider, here Cage is hairy as a modest bear. At times, he seems to put on a New York accent to fit in with his humorous gambling cronies, butt of many a fat joke throughout the film’s 90 minutes. It’s hardly consistent, but perhaps helps to lend Jack Singer’s claim that ‘I’m an everyman!’ some kind of credence. In any case, the New York accent disappears entirely when he puts on the Elvis suit, flexes his hip and delivers his lines in the drawl familiar from Wild at Heart. It’s in the Elvis costume that Cage seems to come alive, he’s magnetic, even sexy – perhaps the more so in contrast to his previous costumes in the film, all patterned shirts and long beige cardigans that make him look like a Chris Ware caricature of Nicolas Cage .

The ending is a top-class crazy random happenstance, but kind of delightful anyway. Cage somehow makes it work; who wouldn’t (you find yourself thinking) forgive their selfish, gambling-addicted, commitment phobic boyfriend if he laconically fell out of a plane, gazing soulfully up at you from under his flirty Elvis eyebrows?

And who wouldn’t (you begin to ponder) forgive Nicolas Cage his odd blunder when he sky-dived over Vegas, dressed as Elvis Presley, lit down on a landing pad like an illuminated celestial moth and gazed into your bemused yet delighted eyes, languidly inclining his head as if to say: ‘I’m all yours audience, all yours’.

* All sexism in the sentence is irony accredited.

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Wild at Heart (1990)

29 Oct

"Go grease lightning you're burning up the quarter mile..."

Wild at Heart is bold, brassy (sometimes literally, the soundtrack features a few blasts from some demonic trumpets) and about as subtle as Brian Blessed overdubbing an episode of Transformers, yet beneath the cock-crowing visuals, Nicolas Cage as Sailor Ripley is possessed of a tenderness that puts the heart, if you will, in this restless, tempestuous film.

Wild at Heart wears its pulp origins tattooed upon its chest. It follows some strange days and nights in the lives of honeymoon tearaways Sailor Ripley and Lula Fortune (Laura Dern) as they attempt to escape from the Bad Circumstances that attempt to drive them from their yellow brick road. Lula’s momma Marietta (Diane Ladd) has placed a hit on Sailor’s head, who once spurned her advances in a bathroom stall and might know too much about the death of Lula’s pappa. Sailor is blue-eyed with love for Lula and muscle-bound with violence for anyone who would stand in the way of that love. In Bad Lieutenant the teal & orange colouration of post-production turned Cage’s eyes to a jaded grey, but here Lynch lights Cage’s eyes so they are clear Texas sky blue. Whether lit by a bedside lamp in a roachy hotel room or by a light hidden in a tree stood in the middle of Texas shrub-land Cage shines… which might have much to do with the iridescent snake-skin jacket he wears throughout the movie that is a symbol of Sailor’s individuality and his “belief in personal freedom”.

This would seem like a fitting manifesto for Cage who, to evoke Fleetwood Mac, tends to ‘go his own way’. While we saw that under the auteurist Coens a fine performance was subsumed into the body of the film as a whole, here Cage stands tall through his unusual decision to perform Sailor in impersonation of Elvis. In interview Cage proclaimed; “In the book An Actor Prepares, by Stanislavski, it says the worst thing an actor can do is to copy another performer. I had always believed that, but then with Wild at Heart, I thought, maybe it’s time to try something else.” The Tennessee drawl, sweet/ sardonic smile and insouciant swagger are all clear signifiers for the King.

Also, putting myself at risk of swooning into a cataleptic state, Cage’s inner furnace of acting power seems to be fuelled by coal-sized lumps of libido! Gasp as Cage kick-boxes his way through a hair-metal routine! Scream as Cage recounts a lurid sexual experience with a kinky weapons enthusiast! Take a cold shower as Cage thrusts his serious face through steamy sex scene after steamy sexy scene!  Cage has recounted that as a child he was always shocked when he would go to the doctor’s and find he wasn’t some alien with blood the colour green. In Wild at Heart Cage’s green blood boils over and spits.

But what I love most about Cage’s performance as Sailor Ripley is that through his evident passion for Elvis and the source material, he transforms what could seem glib  and cursory in the script, to something downright romantic. Many critics have argued that the romance between Sailor and Lula in the film is intentionally corny and a parody of the earnest romances of 50s Hollywood cinema. What is pretty special about Lynch is his ability to make cynicism and sincerity compatible and it is Cage’s performance which allows for this fusion animated, as it is, by a brimful of desire.

Also, Cage and Dern are a useful point of anchorage and identification in the film, which is a rogue’s gallery of creeps and carnies. There is a lot of ‘casting at face value’ going on by Lynch here (see also Terry Gilliam) which has the advantage of creating a cohesive-feeling world of nightmarish deformity and the sure disadvantage of using funny looking faces as scene-dressing and little more. William “Willem” Dafoe is particularly repulsive as Bobby Peru, a warped and giggling sleazebag with teeth that look like extended stalks of gum braced with metal. Cage’s manly yet angelic face, even when sheathed in a nylon tight, fares comparatively well besides it.

I have a real fondness for Lynch, especially at his most grubby-fingered. While his stories may be slight, his sound work and shadows compensate through atmosphere. Wild at Heart is undoubtably a road movie with several pit-stops, but it also includes stretches of sublime film-making. I would hardly be the first to describe Lynch’s films as oneiric and there are times where the outlandishness of Wild at Heart seems too calculated to fully justify the description, yet there are other moments still where some grand intuition on Lynch’s part has clicked the elements into place and the film registers a shift of consciousness, in which the viewer feels transported to a stranger, queasier plane of seeing, a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call The Twilight Zone.

One sequence, firmly within this blue-and-purple-Bemuda-Triangle-nightmare-of-a-lost-child territory involves a car crash and its victim (Sherilyn Fenn) pleading desperately for Sailor and Lula to help her locate a lost comb that is bookended perfectly by mesmeric, cyclical guitar music that plays as if uninterrupted on the car’s radio before and after the accident, as if the tragedy was an interlude that took place in quite a different time and place to the one occupied by Sailor and Lula cruising along in their car.

Take it away, Cage:

(A sterling performance of Love Me Tender by Cage, while wearing a plasticine conk over his real nose – somehow it seems to assimilate with his face)