Author Max Evry discusses A Masterpiece in Disarray: David Lynch’s Dune. An Oral History, and the challenging multi-year journey to write it.
- A Masterpiece in Disarray offers a comprehensive oral history of David Lynch’s maligned cult classic, Dune, covering pre-production, production, and post-production.
- The book features deeply researched documentation and interviews with the movie’s cast and crew, providing an extensive breakdown of how the project came together and ultimately fell apart.
- Author Max Evry’s intention was to dig deep into one movie rather than produce superficial content, aiming to resuscitate interest in Dune and give it a second look.
David Lynch’s Dune gets a detailed look at how it became a maligned cult classic with A Masterpiece in Disarray. Penned by entertainment journalist Max Evry, the 560-page oral history book offers an extensive breakdown of the 1984 Frank Herbert adaptation’s pre-production, production and post-production, highlighting the creative ambitions of the movie’s cast and crew and the multiple speed bumps that led to its infamous downfall.
Featuring everything from deeply researched documentation of the movie’s development to interviews with those who auditioned for its cast, those who ultimately made the cut, and a rare interview from Lynch himself, A Masterpiece in Disarray: David Lynch’s Dune. An Oral History leaves few stones unturned about how the movie came together and fell apart.
Related: Dune: 12 Biggest Differences Between The 2021 and 1984 Versions
In anticipation of the book’s release, Screen Rant spoke exclusively with author Max Evry to discuss A Masterpiece in Disarray: David Lynch’s Dune. An Oral History, his multi-year journey to put the book together, his hopes of it igniting a new level of cult following for the 1984 movie and the other cult classic he would consider writing an oral history for.
Max Evry On A Masterpiece in Disarray: David Lynch’s Dune. An Oral History
Screen Rant: You mentioned in your foreword that you had an interaction with a director who was once attached to direct a Dune remake, and his describing Lynch’s as “campy” sparked an interest in doing something like this, but was that the catalyst for you to get this going, or was there another moment in your life that did that?
Max Evry: I think the whole thing for me is I’ve been doing what you do for so long, I’ve been doing it for like 18 years, and at a certain point, you get a little tired of the grind of just pushing out 300-word aggregate articles about this, that or the other, or doing sort of hollow interviews — they’re not always hollow, but some are. [Laughs] I liked the idea of instead of doing something so superficial, of doing the deepest dive humanly possible into just one movie. It’s the total opposite of how I’ve been trained, and how I’ve been making my living, and, yeah, it taught me a lot. It taught me that once you start digging, you’re just scratching the surface, and there’s so many more multitudes, especially to a movie like this, which had such a sprawling cast, was such a huge production. I think, by today’s standards, Dune would have been at least a $150 million movie.
It was, at the time, the most expensive movie Universal had ever made. It was a biggie, the fact that it had been kind of remanded to a cultural artifact, or a footnote in David Lynch’s career, made it all the more enticing, because it’s like the little kid on the playground that nobody wants to talk to. [Chuckles] You know that kid’s got a secret clubhouse in the woods or something. This movie contains multitudes, Dune contains multitudes, and what’s funny is, originally, the book was only supposed to be 150 pages, and it was only supposed to take seven or eight months to do it. As the momentum built, and as I started getting more and more interviews, my publisher was like, “Okay, take your time, do this right.”
And then eventually, I got David and Kyle, and the momentum really built to the point where I felt like I could get a holistic view of the whole movie, somebody from every department, and, yeah, that’s what I wound up with. So that’s why I wound up with a 560-page book. The last thing I’ll say is it was almost 700 pages. [Laughs] Because I wrote it all in Word, and the draft I turned in from Word was about 400 pages. And then they told me that when it was laid out, it would be 700 pages, and I’m like, “Oh, no, that’s too much book!” They told me the spine would literally break if it was that long, so I had to cut over 100 pages out. But it was all crap, you don’t need it, what’s left in the book is all the good stuff.
So this is the Max Evry Cut of the book?
Max Evry: Yeah, that’s not to say I wouldn’t mind doing a special edition, a director’s cut, a Final Cut, a super Final Cut, whatever. I have dug up other stuff that I wish I’d put in the book, since finishing the book, I’ve talked to my publisher about it, and he says, “Yeah, we can throw some of that good stuff in if we do a paperback edition.” I think if I add much more, you could kill a person with this book. It weighs three pounds.
560 pages alone is already pretty heavy.
Max Evry: I guess I didn’t want my only legacy as a movie journalist to be like, you know, “Three New Character Posters For Mortdecai”, or whatever. [Laughs]
It sounds like Kyle and David’s interviews came later in the game of putting this book together. Where did you start with interviews leading up to those?
Max Evry: That’s a good question, because, obviously, not only was David not the first person I approached, I never intended on talking to David ever. I just assumed I wasn’t gonna get him, there are other people that tried, that had done documentaries, and things like that, and they didn’t even come close. It was actually in searching for Kyle that I found a contact, they’re like, “Oh, you are talking to Kyle, talk to this person,” and then I realized, “Oh, this person might be able to help me with David.” So, that’s how David ultimately came about, and I think without David, I wouldn’t have gotten nearly as many people as I did, because it kind of gave the book some authenticity. It’s like, “Oh, this is for real, it had his kind of seal of approval.” It’s a movie he doesn’t like to talk about, it’s a sore spot for him, but the process of interviewing started with people who are lower on the food chain, you know, art directors, DGA trainees, and then you build from that, but those people, in and of themselves, were fascinating to talk to, because it’s always kind of the below-the-line people who can give you a little bit more dirt.
They’re a little less media trained, or maybe they just don’t give a f–k. Also, it’s been 40 years, they can really be a little more honest, it’s why the book is kind of balanced between above-the-line people, a few below-the-line people. Another thing that I was really pleasantly surprised by was some of the studio executives that I talked to, because a lot of times when people are writing books about films, they tend to bypass executives, and now, I don’t even know why they do that. Because, obviously, there’s this perception that filmmaker is David, executives are Goliath, and they’re the opposite opposition of art, or whatever.
But the truth is, the executives are the ones that greenlight all these films, the executives are the ones that nurture the relationships with talent and support the talent while they’re making the films. Those guys like Thom Mount and Frank price that I talked to, they had so many insights into the film, and they have their own frustrations with the process, and their own things that they were trying to fight and push back on, and that stuff to me was really refreshing. What did you think about that aspect of the book?
I did love reading Thom and Frank’s insight on the movie, but I also did love how candid everybody was in their interviews with you. That’s something that I feel really comes from having a place of trust with the interviewer, and given your prior work as a journalist interviewer, how do you go about fostering that level of trust with someone you’re interviewing, whether it be for a one-time interview or for multiple interviews?
Max Evry: Well, I think it’s really important to do your research. So like every interview I did, I would do at least two or three hours of prep, in terms of trying to come up with questions, you know, trying to phrase the questions in a way that’s not fanboy-ish, or insulting, or anything like that. Also, you have to have a certain degree of integrity, you can’t be digging for gossip. Sometimes, somebody will just throw something at you, and you’ll be like, “Okay, you did not say off the record!” [Chuckles]
But I was never digging for dirt. In fact, in some cases, some people would tell me things that I think a less scrupulous writer, that would have been the first thing that they glommed on to, and for me, I was like, “No, I’m not.” That may be interesting, you know, because it’s scandalous or whatever, but if it didn’t have a direct connection with the movie, if it was just about, “so-and-so is this,” that kind of gossipy stuff, I tossed that stuff aside. I think people could sense that I wasn’t trying to add insult to injury. It was a movie that already has a tarnished reputation, I was trying to come in to resuscitate [interest], show people that it deserves a second look, and I hope that comes across.
This was a multi-year process, you started this, I believe, before Denis’ movie came out, or at least around the time it was announced that he was making it, and obviously, a lot more people have now put their eyes on Lynch’s Dune, and there seems to be a little more appreciation from audiences at least. Being a big fan yourself, how does it feel to see that public favor start to turn in recent years?
Max Evry: Well, I think a lot of that has to do directly with Denis’ movie reviving interest in the property itself. It is a property that’s never been quite dormant, although it’s never reached Star Wars or Star Trek-level stratosphere, but there was the miniseries, video games, there have been lots and lots of books by Brian Herbert, they’ve been keeping the IP alive for a long time. But, you know, Villeneuve’s movie took it to another level, and then once it came out, I think a lot of people were curious about the Lynch movie.
This is what I’ll say: I don’t want to tarnish what Villeneuve did, but I think the big difference between the two is I think Villeneuve was trying to make the most accessible and commercial version of Dune possible, and I think Lynch was trying to do the opposite. Not make an anti-commercial movie, but to make a movie that leaned into the strangeness of the book, and the foreign feeling of the book. Just dropping you in media res into this really strange, far-off future where there’s all this terminology, and customs and cultures, and trying to convey a lot of that visually. Just the way he differentiated the four worlds of the film, Arrakis, Caladan, Kaitain and Giedi Prime. Every one of those cultures has a different look, different feel, and I think the Villeneuve version, striking as it is, is a little bit more visually samey, a lot of the sets are very brutalist, and compositions are very big, landscape compositions, and that’s cool. That’s just a different flavor, but I prefer the more eccentric vision of Lynch.
Speaking of the look, I love how in-depth you went down to the specific visual effect details, such as the Light Flex. A lot of times, when I’ve read oral histories, they will include images to help reference these details, and your book is very particular about what images to use and when to use them. What was your process behind doing that?
Max Evry: Yeah, I wish that it had been more integrated in the sense that like if you hear somebody talking about something, you’re looking at a photograph of it. I wish it was more integrated, but I think our timeline was such that we just kind of had to crunch, and we had to just put all the images into one section. There’s a few scattered throughout where basically they asked me, “What is really essential to see right here?” I had to pick and choose, just because every time you add a photo to the layout, it’s a house of cards. So, that was more of a logistical thing than a creative thing. If I do a paperback version, I would love for there to be more images.
There also wasn’t enough time to clear a lot of the images that I had access to. I had so many cool storyboards, and production paintings, and stuff that I would have loved to do. Honestly, I feel like there could be a whole other book just on the art of Dune. I know that Giles Masters, who’s the production designer Tony Masters’ son, and who also worked on the film. He has a lot of his father’s stuff, work from the film, in storage in London. It would be great if he, and Ron Miller, and some of the other art department guys got together and did just a whole book that’s the Art of Dune. Because, yeah, there’s so much great material that was thrown out, too, because the movie’s eyes were bigger than its stomach, especially towards the end, when it came time for the visual effects, as you read. [Chuckles]
I mentioned how refreshingly candid a lot of the interviews were, but was there anyone who you were really surprised about being invested in the conversation or conversations with you?
Max Evry: The fact that it is so candid is a testament to the fact that this was an independently produced book. This was not a studio-sanctioned book, this wasn’t even sanctioned by the De Laurentiis organization, even though Raffaella participated, and Lynch participated, it was my own thing. Nobody told me what to do, nobody told me what to cut out, nobody said, “Oh, can I approve this or that?” They gave me what they wanted, if somebody said, “off the record,” off the record is sacred to me. I would listen to them and I would bite my hand, because I wish I could put it in the book. [Laughs]
Honestly, one of the most candid people, which I’m sure if you read the book, you know he’s an MVP, is Bob Ringwood, he costume designer. He’s great, because he didn’t do it in a meanspirited way, he’s not mean spirited, and I think it comes across that he really does respect David, and respect Raffaella, and respect everybody that he worked with on the film, but he didn’t mince words. He was very honest about a lot of the things that went wrong, he is, I think, still very upset about how everything went pear-shaped, went FUBAR. I don’t blame him, because I think the work that he did was singularly incredible, those are some of the greatest costumes I’ve ever seen in any movie, period. Not just a sci-fi movie, like any movie. Those are incredible costumes, and just the stillsuit alone. We get into a little bit [in the book] about how the stillsuit is, in many ways, the forefather of the modern superhero costume, because Ringwood’s work on Batman, and then subsequently on X-Men, those are two defining movies for the superhero genre. The stillsuit was a direct link to those, you can even see the first Batman costume is very visually similar to the stillsuit.
Oh, absolutely, you can even see it in Denis’ movie, which clearly pulled from Ringwood’s interpretation of the suit as much as the book. Now, given that this was a multi-year journey for you, some writers could get discouraged at points with the mounting pressure of having something this big. Were there any moments like that for you, and if so, how did you push through?
Max Evry: I think it was just the foolish naïveté of having never done a book before. [Chuckles] I started out just happy to be there, and then by the end, I went from happy to be there, to, “Oh, this could be something,” to,” Oh, this is a real book now,” to by the end, “I need to make this the last Dune book, I want to make it like a scorched earth thing, so no one could ever write another book about this movie.” That was my journey, humble as it may be, and I don’t know if that’s true, I’m sure there’s many more great books to be written about David Lynch’s Dune.
But if you were trying to do a book like mine, which is like a historical document, I think you’d have your work cut out for you, because you do have to talk to everybody I talked to, and then some, and it was a lot of work. I would love to write another book, but I don’t know if I would ever go into another book again just blind, like I did with this, like, not knowing if I was gonna get a single person. My publisher was, like, “We’ll be happy if you get two or three people from the movie,” so I’m glad I was able to push past that. But yeah, when you’re without a net, when you’re without a guarantee that you’re gonna get any of the key people.
Would I have liked to get Patrick Stewart, would I have liked to get Sting? I can name a dozen people just off the top of my head I would have loved to have gotten, but the fact is that the people that I got were so generous to talk to me, because they’re under no obligation to talk about this movie, they’re under no contract anymore. In some cases, they’re retired, some of the people I talked to are in their 90s, and they’re under no obligation to talk to me, but they did, so I have to thank them all, because now, fans can read this book, and they’ll have a much clearer idea of not only why it turned out the way it did, but also what it could have been.
When I was reading the pre-production part of it, Val Kilmer was someone who I would have loved to have heard some insight from for this book, because the amount of stories that you were getting from people about him, I was like, “Ah, I would love to have heard that,” but maybe another book, you know, or maybe it’s the follow-up for the special edition you mentioned.
Max Evry: It would be great to talk to Val. I did reach out at one point, but I don’t know if I followed up. The problem with having this many people involved is it’s hard to even remember who I’ve reached out to already, who I followed up with. In some cases, it took four or five tries for some people, and then there were some people I just couldn’t follow through on. I would have loved to also talk to Michael Biehn, and I did reach out to a few of the other people who auditioned to play Paul. I got a couple of them, Zach Galligan, I got Dexter Fletcher, I got Ken Branagh. That’s also a delicate thing, when you’re talking to an actor about a role they didn’t get, it’s a tough pill to swallow sometimes. In the case of Zach Galligan, I felt very comfortable with it, just because I knew that he came out on top there getting Gremlins over getting Dune, that was definitely a better get for him.
I’m sure it pains you to say that, but in a sense, yes, it was the better get. Before we wrap this up, now that you’ve dipped your toes into this field, I know you also do a lot of commentaries for Arrow Video.
Max Evry: Yeah, Arrow, Kino Lorber, Via Vision, Imprint, I just did my first one for Indicator. Yeah, I’ve been doing a lot of them, they’re really fun.
You mentioned earlier that you don’t know if you’d go into another book without maybe a little more preparation. Would you do another oral history like this on a film in the future?
Max Evry: Yeah, sure. Somebody asked me some other [similar] questions. I would love to see an oral history of Michael Mann’s The Keep, because that’s very similar to Dune, it would make a great sort of companion to Dune, because it was a similar thing. The film was heavily truncated to the point that it didn’t make sense, and in Dune’s case, the effects guy pulled out, in The Keep’s case, the effects guy, Wally Veevers, died. But I love The Keep, I would love to do a book about The Keep. I just did a commentary for Michael Mann’s Blackhat, but again, I would only do a book about Michael Mann’s The Keep, just as an example, if I knew Michael would do it from the get go. Like if I didn’t have to just hope and pray for two years that I got Michael Mann, because yeah, it is nerve racking, and not knowing if you have him for the book or not, but yeah, I think there’s certain movies you just have to get it from the horse’s mouth. Otherwise, why bother?
I remember when I saw your reference to Michael Mann’s The Keep in the book, all I could think was how you’ve been telling me to watch that movie forever! I don’t know if you have much interest in it, but Event Horizon, given how crazy of a thing that movie turned out to be, could be a fun one to do in this field, but obviously, something that you’re passionate about first and foremost.
Max Evry: Giles Masters was the art director on Event Horizon. Yeah, and Tony Masters, his father, was the guy that originated the tablet in 2001: A Space Odyssey, which Tony designed, they have tablets, and then they have tablets again in Dune, and then they have tablets again in Event Horizon. So, that’s a family thing there, the precursor to the tablet, as seen in all these films. By the way, I don’t blame you for having not seen The Keep, because it is, for all intents and purposes, out of circulation by design. I think Michael Mann is deliberately withholding it, he’s just like, “No, don’t put that out.” [Laughs]
I’m gonna get my hands on it one day, because I know it’s got that cult following. But in the meantime, I’m really excited to spread the word about this book. I know we wrote the excerpt for you, and we’ve got the giveaway, but it’s exciting stuff, and it’s opened up my eyes to really go back. I didn’t hate Lynch’s Dune by any means, but at the same time, I was polarized by it, and now, I have to go back and really dig into those layers a little deeper now that I have all that context and I hope people do the same.
Max Evry: It’s like Mark Bennett, who runs DuneInfo, has this great quote in the book where he says, “Dune is like the Venus de Milo. You have to admire it for what it is, not for what’s not there.” The most amazing thing about David Lynch’s Dune that I have discovered in the process of writing this book, and then putting the book out, is there is a real Richard Nixon silent majority out there who really love this movie. I’m glad that, after all these years, they can finally get out and get a real full meal about the movie.
About A Masterpiece in Disarray: David Lynch’s Dune. An Oral History
Following his underground hit Eraserhead and critically acclaimed The Elephant Man, visionary filmmaker David Lynch set his sights on bringing Frank Herbert’s beloved sci-fi novel Dune to the screen. The project had already vexed directors such as Alejandro Jodorowsky (El Topo) and Ridley Scott (Alien). But by the early ‘80s Lynch was given the keys to the kingdom – and one of the highest film budgets at the time – so that he could lend his surrealistic chops to this sprawling story of feuding space dynasties. They would also hopefully be creating a “Star Wars for adults” franchise-starter.
As the hot young filmmaker commanded a cast with 42 major speaking parts as well as a crew of 1,700 (plus over 20,000 extras) on 80 sets built on 8 sound stages in Mexico, what happened next became as wild, complex, and full of intrigue as Herbert’s novel itself. Film writer Max Evry goes behind the erratic ride of David Lynch’s Dune like never before, with a years-in-the-making oral history culled from a lineup of new interviews with the film’s stars, creatives, film executives, and insiders – not to mention Lynch himself. David Lynch’s Dune initially left many filmgoers and reviewers scratching their heads, most dismissing the film upon its release. However, four decades and a big-budget remake later, Lynch’s Dune is finally poised to find its rightful place alongside the director’s other masterpieces such as Blue Velvet and Mulholland Drive.
A Masterpiece in Disarray: David Lynch’s Dune. An Oral History is now available to purchase.
Source: Screen Rant Plus