Ronnie Rocket is an unfinished film project written by David Lynch, who also intended to direct it. Begun after the success of Lynch's 1977 film Eraserhead, Ronnie Rocket was shelved after Lynch felt he would be unable to find financial backing for the project. He instead sought out an existing script on which to base his next film, settling on what would become 1980's The Elephant Man.
|Directed by||David Lynch|
|Written by||David Lynch|
Michael J. Anderson
(Both attached at different times)
Ronnie Rocket was to feature many of the elements which have since come to be seen as Lynch's hallmarks; including industrial art direction, 1950s popular culture and physical deformity. The script featured a three-foot tall man with control over electricity; Lynch first met Michael J. Anderson when tentatively casting for this role, and later cast him in Twin Peaks and Mulholland Drive as a result.
Ronnie Rocket concerned the story of a detective seeking to enter a mysterious second dimension, aided by his ability to stand on one leg. He is being obstructed on this quest by a strange landscape of odd rooms and a threatening train; while being stalked by the "Donut Men", who wield electricity as a weapon. In addition to the detective's story, the film was to show the tale of Ronald d'Arte, a teenage dwarf, who suffers a surgical mishap which leaves him dependent on being plugged into an electrical supply at regular intervals; this dependence grants him an affinity over electricity which he can use to produce music or cause destruction. The boy names himself Ronnie Rocket and becomes a rock star, befriending a tap-dancer named Electra-Cute.
The film was to make use of several themes that have since become recurring elements within David Lynch's works, with a write-up for The A.V. Club describing its contents as "idealized 1950s culture, industrial design, midgets, [and] physical deformity". In addition, the film features two separate but connected worlds, another hallmark of Lynch's writings. The film's art direction would have featured a heavily industrial backdrop, setting the action against an "oil slick, smokestack, steel-steam-soot, fire-sparks and electrical arcs realm", similar to the direction ultimately taken in the depiction of Victorian England in The Elephant Man and the planet Giedi Prime in Dune. Although Lynch's first two feature-length films were shot in black-and-white, he had hoped to film Ronnie Rocket in color, inspired by the works of French film-maker Jacques Tati. Lynch planned to experiment for some time in order to find the right balance and application of color for the film.
After releasing 1977's Eraserhead, a black-and-white surrealist film and his début feature-length production, Lynch began work on the screenplay for Ronnie Rocket. Lynch and his agent Marty Michaelson, of William Morris Endeavor, initially attempted to find financial backing for the project. They met with one film studio on the matter, with Lynch describing the film to them as being "about electricity and a three-foot guy with red hair"; the studio never got in touch again.
Lynch also met Stuart Cornfeld during this time. Cornfeld had enjoyed Eraserhead and was interested in producing Ronnie Rocket; Cornfeld was working for Mel Brooks and Brooksfilms at the time, and when the two realized that Ronnie Rocket was unlikely to find sufficient financing to be produced, Lynch asked to see some already-written scripts to work from for his next film instead. Cornfeld found four scripts he felt Lynch would be interested in, but on hearing the name of the first, the director decided his next project would be The Elephant Man.
Lynch would return to Ronnie Rocket after each of his films, intending it at different stages as the follow-up not only to Eraserhead or The Elephant Man, but also Dune, Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. After producing The Elephant Man, Lynch had planned to cast Dexter Fletcher in the title role.
In 1987, after having released Blue Velvet, Lynch once again attempted to pursue Ronnie Rocket. While scouting actors for the eponymous role, Lynch met Michael J. Anderson, whose work in short films the director had previously seen. As a direct result of meeting Anderson during this time, Lynch would cast the actor in a recurring role in the television series Twin Peaks, with his first appearance coming in 1990's "Episode 2". Anderson would also appear in Lynch's 1990 short film Industrial Symphony No. 1, and the 2001 film Mulholland Drive. Lynch also visited northern England to scout a possible filming location; however, he found that the industrial cities he had hoped to use had become too modernized to fit his intended vision.
The project has also suffered setbacks due to the bankruptcy of several potential backers; both Dino De Laurentiis's De Laurentiis Entertainment Group and Francis Ford Coppola's American Zoetrope were attached to the project at different times; both production companies went bankrupt before work could begin. Lynch had stayed with Coppola in the latter's home in Napa County, California, while Coppola and musician Sting read the script several times; however the failure of 1982's One from the Heart forced Zoetrope to file for bankruptcy.
Having been temporarily unable to begin production on the film for some time, due to De Laurentiis owning the rights, Lynch stopped actively pursuing Ronnie Rocket as a viability in the early 1990s. However, he has never officially abandoned the project; frequently referring to it in interviews as "hibernating". The director has expressed interest in filming the project in the same manner as Eraserhead, using a small crew, building the sets himself and living on them during the length of the production. He has also claimed that he will revisit the film when he is at the stage in his career "when I don't really care what happens, except that the film is finished".
Speaking of the film's difficulty in attracting financing, Fletcher has said "I should imagine that the big money heads at whatever studio it was couldn't get their brains round it at all. It's fine for the artist to read and enjoy, but for accountants it was probably a very different proposition. But that's David Lynch all over in a lot of ways". The Guardian's Danny Leigh has compared the script's reputation among film fans to those of Sergei Eisenstein's unproduced adaptation of An American Tragedy and Michael Powell's unmade adaptation of The Tempest. Leigh recalled having read a photocopied version of the script in the early 1990s, and felt that it "might have aged far better than Wild at Heart". Filmmaker Jonathan Caouette has expressed interest in reviving the project, though he believes Lynch will "do it someday".
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