David Lynch would like his first movie in five years to be a "summer blockbuster" that will resonate with "14-year-old girls in the Midwest."
But he knows the reality will be different for his epic fever dream "Inland Empire," which had its North American premiere at the New York Film Festival Sunday.
The three-hour film, which had its world premiere at Venice, has sharply divided critics because of its often inscrutable scenes. The Hollywood Reporter's Ray Bennett described it as "an interminable bore." It currently has no distribution, but Lynch hopes to announce plans early next week.
"Empire" begins with two interwoven stories of an actress, played by Laura Dern, who is making an onscreen comeback in a Southern melodrama she's filming called "High in Blue Tomorrows." But the film soon branches off to follow a third abused and abusive character also played by Dern.
"I figure I have at least three roles, maybe a few more," she laughed in an interview.
Each plotline deals with issues of betrayal in relationships, but the film soon veers off those tracks as it showcases musical dance sequences and dramatic episodes with actors speaking Polish. Perhaps only Lynch devotees will fully appreciate a monologue that describes a woman with both a hole in her vagina and a pet monkey that "s--ts everywhere."
The director created each scene individually before lacing them together thematically, but despite the film's winding road, he pooh-poohed talk that his film is too long.
"A time restraint is so arbitrary and kind of meaningless," he said after a press screening Friday. "This is the length that feels correct."
Sitcom-style segments featuring a family wearing rabbit heads with an oddly timed laugh track are laced throughout the film. They're adapted from "Rabbits," a series of nine shorts that Lynch showed on his website in 2002. Naomi Watts, Laura Elena Harring and Scott Coffey, who starred in Lynch's last film, 2001's "Mulholland Dr.," filmed the original shorts on a sitcom-looking set and later re-enacted their scenes on the same set for "Empire."
"Empire" was shot digitally after the director became infatuated with a Sony PD150 camera he used to create the shorts, and he has since sworn off celluloid. "For me, film is completely dead," he said. "(It) gets dirty and breaks breaks and scratches, and the equipment is so heavy. It's like swimming through cold molasses. Digital is getting better every day."
Dern started on the project by shooting a 14-page, single-spaced monologue that belongs to the character of the violent woman. She was surprised that Lynch gave her a co-producer credit, which she discovered only when she saw the completed film. "I think it came from sticking with him for three years, being part of the creative process and and giving up other projects to go on this experimental adventure," she said. "There were some scenes where it was just David, me and the camera, which made it a very financially easy way to do it."
What the film lacks in budget -- Lynch will only say it cost "under $100 million" -- it made up for in time, taking nine months to complete in the editing room. It left the director feeling a bit drained. "There's always a vacuum when you finish a film, but I have a couple of ideas," for new projects, he says. "I'd like to do some painting first."