Twin Dunes: The cards of David Lynch
By Kurt Kuersteiner (© Monsterwax Monster Trading Cards) for The Wrapper Magazine
There's a niche for just about everything these days. When it comes to Hollywood, there's even a niche for weirdness. The director that currently holds that title is Tim Burton. But the man who CREATED that niche isn't very far behind. His name is David Lynch, and he's still "out there".
Remember David Lynch? If you don't recall the name, you'll certainly recall his work. Who can forget Eraserhead (besides the millions who never saw it, that is)? Or Elephant Man or Blue Velvet? These were all films with one consistent theme: They were all disturbing. Maybe that's what is so weird about Lynch. He seems to actually enjoy disturbing people. Sometimes they disturb him back by not going to his films. But with or without big box office success, Lynch continues to thrill critics with taboo topics and memorable material.
Eraserhead was his first feature film (1978). It was a very dark comedy. The first time I saw it, I was so shocked by the depressing premise, I couldn't enjoy it. But something drove me back and the second time, I found myself laughing. It follows the story of a down and out nerd (played by Jack Nance) who finally gets a girl friend. Naturally, she gets pregnant the first time, and to make matters worse, gives birth to some strange alien mutant. Not exactly the stuff of which standard comedies are made of. But it's so depressing and so surreal, it's -- well, funny!
Comedian Mel Brooks must have also been amused because he saw the film and produced Lynch's next project: The critically acclaimed Elephant Man. This was the true life story of a man born so deformed that he was kept in a circus freak show. An English doctor buys him to show his medical students, and is stunned to discover the freak not only speaks, but is highly intelligent. So intelligent, he becomes a celebrity.
Both films were shot in black and white with an emphasis on darkness. The mysterious shadows allowed audiences to fill in the void with their own imaginations. It was something few films had done.
Then came the big time and the first card set. Producer Dino de Laurentiis threw $47 million at Lynch to produce the movie version of the sci-fi classic Dune. Filmed in the Mexican desert, this story told of distant planets, mystic religions, giant carnivorous worms, and utilized amazing special effects. The book was a grand epic by Frank Herbert. Lynch tried to include the interesting sub plots and the film lasted over 9 hours! (Potty break anyone?) Dino went bonkers, slashing and burning the story line to cut it down to 140 minutes. The result was a beautiful film to watch, but difficult to understand or follow. Voice over narration is usually a sign that the film didn't turn out the way the director intended and they're trying to fix it. Dune not only had narration, it had multiple voice overs from different characters! (A BIG mistake.)
It was a box office disaster. Yet it remains one of the most visually stunning science fiction movies to this day. Try to watch it with the volume off and you'll see what I mean. The images are incredible. Fleer must have wet their pants when they saw the production stills. Without knowing the financial fate of the movie, they went all out and produced a gorgeous set of 132 cards and 44 stickers.
The cards have a smart red border with yellow inner trim, plus a desert graphic at the bottom. The costumes are lavish, the sets are (literally) out of this world, and the cast is all-star: Kyle MacLachlan, Sean Young, Max von Sydow, Jose Ferrer, Linda Hunt, Dean Stockwell... The list goes on. Even Star Trek's Patrick Stewart is in it plus the rock star Sting.
The backs do a good job of telling the story and only four of the cards are bland (two checklists and two "glossary" cards). The set is inexpensive except for the stickers. In typical Fleer fashion, they were packed next to the gum which has since stained most of them and made completing a decent set difficult at best. The front of the stickers are kind of cheesy, with color close ups of most the main characters. The backs have 11 different line illustrations of various characters. They're neat!
Far more elusive is the other set of Dune from Panini. These are all stickers and measure just 3 inches by 2 1/8". Many of the pictures from Fleer appear in this 180 full color set. Each sticker back is identical and urges collectors to get the album. The album is 32 pages and contains the story line of the film. Conspicuously absent from the list of distributors are any US outlets. (Why do the foreigners get to have all the fun?)
Perusing either of these sets makes the viewer really want to watch the movie. I often wonder what the nine hour director's cut would have looked like. It would have been murder in the theater, but if it had been broken up and broadcast as a mini series it probably would have been incredible. TV attempted to do this a few years later. But they didn't use Lynch, nor spend the money to finish the necessary effects, and foolishly added yet another narrator. (The more the scarier!) It was a six hour mess. It is now doubtful that Lynch could ever be convinced to fix his bastardized opus.
But life goes on, and in 1986 Lynch directed a major blockbuster, Blue Velvet. It was a mystery thriller with Kyle MacLachlan, Isabella Rossellini, Laura Dern and Dennis Hopper. Hopper's psychopath performance was a cross between Frank Gorshin's Riddler and real life killer Charles Manson. It was very weird, very dark and VERY unpredictable. No card sets resulted from this classic, but it put Lynch back on the map in a big way. A few years later he duplicated the same atmosphere in a series that made television history.
Twin Peaks used a similar small town mystery premise to hook viewers on the first detective soap opera. The ongoing question was "who killed Laura Palmer". Viewers joined FBI agent Cooper as he investigated the quirky North West town for two seasons. Surprise! He never solved the case! But he did encounter many strange clues: Evidence of Aliens, backward speaking dwarfs, friendly giants, demonic possession, you name it. It was the weirdest, most surreal TV series ever made by a US network, and still challenges viewers to provide logical explanations for seemingly unexplainable events.
American couch potatoes didn't appreciate having to "think" during TV, and ratings predictably sank. After the series was canceled, Lynch directed Fire Walk With Me, a prequel film that answered (but didn't arrest) who killed Laura Palmer. (Rock star David Bowie made an interesting cameo in this flick.) It was a fitting "beginning" to a series that never really ended.
But Twin Peaks created more than just a cult TV series. It also created a interesting set of 76 cards. Produced by Star Pics in 1991, the color series was released in factory sets. What made it unusual was that nearly every star signed his or her portrait card and these autographs were randomly inserted into sets. They included a gold stamp of authenticity on each autograph. Only three stars didn't seem to sign their cards. They were #32 Peggy Lipton (who played Norma Jennings), #54 Michael Parks (Jean Renault) and none other than David Lynch (card #73). Why, David, why!?!
Here's a check list of known autograph cards that were signed:
#4 Kyle MacLachlan "Dale B. Cooper"
#9 Michael Ontkean "Harry S. Truman"
#10 Harry Goaz "Andy Brennan"
#11 Kimmy Robertson "Lucy Moran"
#12 Michael Horse "Tommy Hill"
#14 Sheryl Lee "Laura Palmer"
#16 James Marshall "James Hurley"
#17 Russ Tamblyn "Lawrence Jacoby"
#19 Warren Frost "Will Hayward"
#20 Lara Flynn Boyle "Donna Hayward"
#21 Austin Lynch "Pierre Tremond"
#22 Sheryl Lee "Madeleine Ferguson"
#23 Jack Nance "Pete Martell"
#25 Piper Laurie "Catherine Martell"
#28 Joan Chen "Josie Packard"
#34 Madchen Amick "Shelley Johnson"
#35 Eric DaRe "Leo Johnson"
#36 Dana Ashbrook "Bobby Briggs"
#37 Everett McGill "Ed Hurley"
#39 Wendy Robie "Nadine Hurley"
#42 Catherine E. Coulson "Margaret Lanterman"
#46 Richard Beymer "Benjamin Horne"
#47 Sherilyn Fenn "Audrey Horne"
#48 David Patrick Kelly "Jerry Horne"
#50 Ian Buchanan "Richard Tremayne"
#55 Carel Struycken "The Giant"
#57 Al Strobel "Phillip Gerard"
#58 Frank Silva "Killer Bob"
#59 Ray Wise "Leland Palmer"
#60 Grace Zabriskie "Sarah Palmer"
#63 Miguel Ferrer "Albert Rosenfield"
#64 Don Davis "(Major) Garland Briggs"
#72 Mark Frost (Co-writer)
#74 Angelo Badalamenti (composer)
#75 Jennifer Lynch (daughter of the big shot)
#76 Julee Cruise (Singer? Mistress? Who knows.)
It was quite of collection of autographs, one of the largest ever undertaken for just one set. Non-autograph seekers can get unsigned sets pretty cheap. The main detraction to this otherwise super set is that many cards use blurry video grabs. (An all too common problem with modern TV related cards.) There are also five bland cards without photos of any sort (a checklist and four trivia/note cards).
Like the director himself, the cards of David Lynch are pretty unusual. Who knows what weird story (or card set) will next emerge from the mind of this mischievous movie maker. A special thanks go to Jim Walls and Tom Goodwin for their help with this article.
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