Or, Hey David Lynch, How ya Dune?
By Don Stradley
For those who have yearned for a total subterranean plunge into the making of David Lynch’s Dune, author Max Evry has finally delivered it. A Masterpiece in Disarray: David Lynch’s Dune. An Oral History. is a massive offering. Mammoth in scope, highly detailed in execution, it is a brave attempt to unearth every last detail of this embattled, and underappreciated production. Evry spent nearly as much time writing it as Lynch spent making the movie.
The author recently spent some time discussing his book with Film Masters. Here is the result.
FM: You spent two years on this book. By the end, is it the same book you had imagined when you set out to write it? Or were there surprises for you?
This is true: When I was hired by 1984 Publishing, the expectation was for something that was 150 pages with maybe two or three new interviews. By the time I finished it was 560 pages, with something like 50 interviews. The material very much dictated the length and dedication, since I don't believe the '84 DUNE has ever had a proper contemporary tome devoted to it... and it damn well deserved it! My publisher, Matthew, was beyond supportive, and when he saw the momentum I was building basically gave me a blank check time-wise, hence my turning it in a year-and-a-half late. If I had turned the book in after 7 or 8 months like I was originally supposed to I don't think it would have been even close to what it is now.
It was thrilling to get everyone I got — three dozen of the cast and crew alone — when you consider that this is a 40-year-old movie that none of the actors or technicians had a contractual obligation to promote. Most of them spoke to me because they loved David Lynch and cared about the movie, and that very much comes through. The biggest surprise in terms of the shape of the book was when I got to the end (or what I thought was the end) it turned out that my 400+ pages in Microsoft Word translated to something like 700 pages in actual formatted text. That was embarrassing! I never set out to make something that unwieldy, I am not Leon Uris. So I took a very stark second look at what I'd done and started excising big chunks of anything that reeked of filler or overly-academic material. I ultimately excised over 100 pages, and now the book is much more entertaining and fun. I always wanted it to be fun, I'm not an intellectual at all. For me it's all about telling the story of Lynch's DUNE in a way that engages people, whether they're certified “Dunatics,” Lynch fans, or just interested in nuts-and-bolts filmmaking.
FM: Why is Lynch's Dune still so fascinating for film buffs? Haven't we heard enough about it by now?
It's such a beautifully odd anomaly, the kind of weirdo blockbuster no one would ever get to make nowadays. None of this would get through the current algorithm-driven Hollywood system. Look at the 2021 DUNE: PART ONE... it takes a very strange book and makes the most accessible, audience-friendly version of it. Lynch, on the other hand, leaned heavily into the strangeness and foreign feeling of Herbert's book. He drops you in medias res into a future millennia's away and (even with all the exposition) trusts the audience to intuit so much about that world.
At the time it was considered this very bastardized movie, then you look at it today and it's so refreshing in its boldness of vision. David Lynch's unique view of the world shines through the rushed editing and the botched special effects. Given how much cultural bandwidth sci-fi franchises like Star Wars and Marvel get in the discourse, seeing Lynch's DUNE having a kind of comeback or reclamation is a beautiful thing. There are so many details to pour over in the film, the world building is second-to-none. Set designer Tony Masters and costumer Bob Ringwood put so much thought into really transporting viewers into the four worlds depicted in the movie, and Freddie Francis shot it all like an arthouse epic.
FM: What other botched or disparaged masterpieces are out there from other filmmakers? Is there anything that compares to Lynch's Dune?
The obvious one for me is Michael Mann's THE KEEP, which had a very similar trajectory in that it was savagely cut down by the studio (Paramount instead of Universal) and suffered when the initial visual effects artist (in DUNE's case John Dykstra) pulled out or — with THE KEEP's Wally Veevers — died. Even so, I love what's left of it and consider it my favorite Michael Mann movie. The combination of this isolated gothic castle in the mountains with invading Nazis being picked off spectacularly by a supernatural force is pulpy in the best way. Sadly, F. Paul Wilson's novel of THE KEEP has been largely forgotten and no remake is forthcoming. 2018's OVERLORD had shades of THE KEEP, but Wilson's book has not endured the way Frank Herbert's has, so there's less demand. Even Mann himself seems uninterested in revisiting THE KEEP with a new cut or even keeping it in circulation.
FM: What does David Lynch think of Dune? I imagine him saying, "Get off my back about this movie!”
Lynch has a boilerplate response when asked about it, i.e. "That movie is a sadness because I didn't have final cut and it's not the movie I wanted to make," etc... Which is why when I spoke to him I led with personally repeating the shtick he usually says, because I wanted to move past that.
My intention during my interview with him was not to get any big scoops or revelations, but to impart to him that people really do like the movie, warts and all. I wanted him to come away from my interview liking the movie a little more, or just feeling slightly less shitty about it. I hope he gets to glance at the finished book and that it maybe heals some of the wounds he has about the experience. He feels like he let a lot of people down, but there's not one person I talked to from DUNE who wouldn't want to work with him again.
FM: Here is a quote from the press release: "Lynch’s Dune is finally poised to find its rightful place alongside the director’s other masterpieces such as Blue Velvet and Mullholland Drive." Do you really believe that? Is there evidence to support such a statement?
I do! The evidence is certainly presented in "Masterpiece in Disarray," because a lot of Lynch fans think of the film as a footnote simply because the director himself is dismissive of it. Even David Foster Wallace's famous piece for Premiere Magazine chronicling Lynch very glibly writes off DUNE, seeing it as merely a stepping stone to making "real movies" like BLUE VELVET. I don't believe Lynch's own feelings have any bearing on DUNE's place in his canon. He made the movie, he put his name on it. He put three years of his life into it. It's actually still his highest-grossing movie! It deserves to be reckoned with, and I make the case that he injected a voluminous amount of his own personality and beliefs into Herbert's narrative. On that last point Lynch agrees with me, by the way. A lot of the changes that irk Herbert fans (like Weirding Modules and pug dogs) are actually the most Lynchian aspects of the movie. To whatever extent you think it succeeds, DUNE is very much a David Lynch film, and I don't know if it's possible to read my book and come away thinking any different.
FM: What was the impetus to write this book? And did you find people were willing to talk, or were they hard to pin down?
I had been doing very lackluster movie journalism for a long time, writing for one particular site that slowly became an ungodly content farm/internet sweatshop. The worst. What I was doing wasn't film writing at all, it was churning out worthless content and interviews that at-best could be described as PR material. I didn't want my legacy to be "Check Out Three New Character Posters for Mortdecai!" As soon as I left that job I got this book deal and dove into it with gusto, because the idea of getting as in-depth as humanly possible on solely one film seemed like a substantial 180 from what I had been doing.
As the process went along and more and more people were willing to talk to me, it became clear that there was real value in preserving their stories. Several of the folks I spoke to were in their 90's! Not naming names, some were harder to pin down than others. Some took the full two years to lock down, others were immediately onboard. Again, they have no obligation to give me their time, and I'm not some famous writer for Variety or Entertainment Weekly. A few of them had literally never been interviewed about the subject, which is crazy to me. This was my first book, but you build momentum the more people you get, especially when you're approaching it seriously and not like a fan boy or gossip hound. Everyone was so generous with their time and their memories. Once enough people were onboard, I realized I could do the book as an oral history instead of just dropping the interviews in wholesale. The oral history format was a dream, because you can really shape the story and contrast different people's POVs on how things went down. Some accounts differed, but the truth is always somewhere in-between.
A Masterpiece in Disarray: David Lynch’s Dune. An Oral History is now available for purchase. https://www.amazon.com/Masterpiece-Disarray-David-Lynchs-History/dp/1948221292/ref=tmm_hrd_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1694962896&sr=1-1