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MOVIES : Shadow Boxing : 'Helena' director fears that with the heavily publicized baggage about Madonna and Kim Basinger accompanying the film, practically no one will see without prejudice the movie she, David Lynch's daughter, made

August 29, 1993|STEVE WEINSTEIN | Steve Weinstein is a regular contributor to Calendar

She wrote the script in less than two months when she was just 19, but even with the marketing capital that "daughter of David Lynch" represented, "no one wanted a young, blonde girl to direct a movie," said Lynch, who sports a tattooed art deco coffee cup on her arm.

But all interested directors wanted to do it as a horror film, and Lynch remembered that she began to feel very protective of the script. "I was in love with this story and it wasn't about a guy hacking up some beautiful woman that he wanted to screw. And though I never really wanted to go into film--that was Dad's thing and I had so much respect for what he did that I just considered it all his--I started to have these fantasies that I should direct it so it wouldn't turn into some horrible misinterpreted gore-fest."

Lynch, whose parents split up when she was 5, had never made another movie, never been to film school, never been to college. She attended an arts school in Michigan her last two years of high school, and as a child, she said, her parents--her mother is a fiction writer and painter who met David Lynch in art school--instilled in her a sense of independent thought. "They helped me be open to things that other people might deem absurd because I was never told this is good or bad, but only asked what I thought about it. That kind of upbringing can't help but make you interested in more than the fashion magazine side of life."

Her only film education, however, was hanging around on her father's movie sets, watching and learning about as many aspects of the process as she could simply because it was fun. But up until she was handed the idea for "Boxing Helena," she had intended to direct her creative urges toward writing books, painting and acting and to leave the filmmaking to her old man.

"I had worked in production on a number of films with first time directors directing their own screenplays and doing very well," said Carl Mazzocone, the film's producer. "Ron Shelton on 'Bull Durham' and Steven Kampmann and Will Aldis with 'Stealing Home.' And her screenplay was so original and it was written in such a cinematic way that it gave the impression that whoever wrote it knew what they were doing. Then I met her and she was bright and articulate and charming and passionate and cooperative and she just seemed like she would make a great partner."

Mazzocone, who was the plaintiff in the suit against Basinger, conceded that the fact that she is David Lynch's daughter will provoke some to see the movie out of curiosity. He added that the Lynch name "was also a welcome mat for the bizarre that allowed for some liberties with the subject matter." But he claimed that he hired Jennifer Lynch to direct primarily because she is a woman.

"It would have been politically incorrect to have a man direct this film," he said. "It is perceived as a horror film even though it isn't, and if people saw a man's name as the director, a lot of women probably wouldn't even give it a chance."

Mazzocone will only predict modest numbers of people taking a chance on "Boxing Helena," even though the persistent notoriety has given it "a name recognition that Madison Avenue would be jealous of." From the outset, he said, he knew it was not a movie for the masses.

"It's a provocative film and people are going to walk out either loving it or loathing it," said Mazzocone.

Just the fact that moviegoers finally will have the chance to decide for themselves is enough triumph, both Lynch and Mazzocone said. When Basinger pulled out, according to testimony in the trial, the film lost millions of dollars in foreign pre-sales and its domestic distribution. This forced Mazzocone to reduce the film's budget to just over $4 million, and while Lynch insists she got the film on the screen that she wanted--and that she would have made the film for $100,000 if she had to--Mazzocone said the reduced budget did hurt the eventual result.

Lynch was forced to shoot on location in less expensive Atlanta rather than on a more adaptable sound stage here, and she had to do without a costume designer or art director. When the set decorator quit over the cost of bed sheets, Mazzocone took that job on himself, he said.

The director made no apologies for the film or for the ending, which turns the whole thing into an ugly fantasy that Lynch believes permits Sands' character to work out his obsession without ruining anyone's life. And she lavished praise on Fenn for having the courage to show up and do the part in the wake of the other's rejection. Still, she is curious too about how it would have turned out with one of the bigger stars and her built-in sexual cache.

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