David Lynch first made a name for himself on the midnight movie circuit with 1977’s surrealist nightmare Eraserhead, which he wrote and directed while studying at the American Film Institute (AFI). The filmmaker then chose 1980’s The Elephant Man as the follow-up to his first feature-length film. This, however, wasn’t his original intention.
Shortly after the success of Eraserhead, Lynch wrote the screenplay for Ronnie Rocket, which he has described as “an absurd mystery of the strange forces of existence. It’s about electricity.” He’s also said it’s “about a three-foot tall guy with red hair and physical problems, and about 60-cycle alternating current electricity.”
Lynch planned to direct the film, but due to concerns about securing financial backing, he decided to shelve the project. After the release of 1984’s Dune, a disappointing adaptation of Frank Herbert’s science-fiction masterpiece, and 1986’s neo-noir classic Blue Velvet, Lynch tried to get the ball rolling again, but to no avail.
Possible cast members included Brad Dourif, Dennis Hopper, Jack Nance, Isabella Rossellini, Harry Dean Stanton, and Dean Stockwell, all of whom appeared in his previous films. The titular role would also have gone to Michael J. Anderson, who was later cast in 2001’s Mulholland Drive.
Ronnie Rocket’s reputation has since been compared to Sergei Eisenstein’s An American Tragedy and Michel Powell’s The Tempest, both famously un-produced films. Lynch fans have even made their own fan videos and posters for the long-fabled movie, which contains classic Lynchian motifs such as industrial art design, 1950s facades, and physical deformities.
Lynch’s groundbreaking television series Twin Peaks premiered on ABC in 1989. The show, however, was cancelled after the second season, and later followed by 1992’s Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. While not critically acclaimed at the time of its release, the Criterion Collection has decided to reissue the prequel film this October.
Eleven years after his last feature film, 2006’s Island Empire, Lynch returned to Twin Peaks. The revival series, which features many of the original cast members, along with countless new ones, premiered on Showtime this May, and is scheduled to run until 3 September. Perhaps, Agent Dale Cooper will now find some kind of peace.
Being that it took Lynch 25 years to revisit a story that fans thought would go unfinished, maybe its time for him to revisit Ronnie Rocket. Filmmaker Jonathan Caoutte has expressed interest in directing the film, but believes Lynch will eventually make the movie. “It’s his baby,” the Walk Away Renee director said.
Nevertheless, Lynch has expressed concerns about the script needing more work. He explained that Ronnie Rocket is set in the world of the smokestack industry, and unfortunately for a lot of industrial workers, that world doesn’t exist anymore.
“It was still really alive in the ’50s and ’60s, but this industry is going away,” Lynch told BOMB in 2013. “And then a thing happened. This thing called graffiti. Graffiti to me is one of the worst things that has happened to the world. It completely ruined the mood of places. Graffiti kills the possibility to go back in time and have the buildings be as they were. Cheap storm windows and graffiti have ruined the world for ‘Ronnie Rocket’.”
Two drafts of the script can be read on David Lynch Unproduced Films, along with another unproduced screenplay, One Saliva Bubble, written by Lynch and Twin Peaks co-creator Mark Frost. Ronnie Rocket feels more like Eraserhead than any other Lynch film. And like Eraserhead, it’s difficult to see a film like this being made today. The art house theaters are dying, and its unlikely Lynch would ever release his film, one that has surely been keeping him up at night for nearly four decades, on a streaming site.
So, unlike Dale Cooper, who seems to be getting out of that second dimension he’s been trapped in since the early ’90s, the three-foot-tall rock star, the tap dancing Electra-Cute, the archetypical ’50s detective, and the “Donut Men” of Ronnie Rocket will be spending more time in that absurd world that Lynch crafted — perhaps only for himself — all those years ago.