What's David Lynch's next project? According to screenwriter/filmmaker Alan Greenberg, it's his very own, long-in-limbo script, Love In Vain, inspired by/about blues legend Robert Johnson.
Speaking from his home in Portland, Oregon, in advance of his appearance at Art Center/South Florida in Miami Beach this weekend, the 62-year-old Greenberg broke the news with the casual but excited air of a man who has patience to spare. After all, he has been waiting for this moment for 30 years.
"Years went, and people like Martin Scorsese were signed to do it for Warner Brothers. Then, later, HBO was going to do it. It's the greatest film never made, and now finally, this week, we're closing the deal on the financing, and David's standing by all excited," Greenberg claims.
UPDATE: A spokesperson for Lynch denies any plans are underway. More information after the jump.
Greenberg notes Lynch had been a fan of the script from its early inception. However, there was a tiny detail the director felt unsure about. "David and I had been talking about Love In Vain together for 30 years," notes Greenberg. "We've been good friends, and he read it on his own exactly 30 years ago and gave me a call and was all excited about doing it."
UPDATE: A representative for David Lynch told us there were no plans underway for Lynch to direct Love in Vain. In a statement to New Times, Lynch said, "I'm a 30 year fan of the screenplay Alan Greenberg wrote for Love In Vain. I would very much like to direct it someday. But, a number of things would have to fall in place before that would occur."
Johnson, the subject of the film, is known as the King of the Delta Blues Singers. He has influenced many musicians beyond those in Mississippi, where he was born in 1911, including Eric Clapton. Clapton's cover of Johnson's "Cross Road Blues" remains one of the British guitarist's enduring hits. The song also encapsulates the unshakable myth that Johnson had sold his soul to the devil for his talent. It's a tale that spread via oral history, like much of Johnson's life.
At the time Greenberg devoted his interest in Johnson's life, little had been known about the musician, who died in 1938, allegedly poisoned. "There hadn't been a book, there hadn't been a booklet, there hadn't been a magazine article. Nothing whatsoever was known about Robert Johnson, so I went basically on my instincts and how he hit me," says Greenberg.
After a movie failed to materialize, his script for Love In Vain was first published as a book in 1983. The writer recently revised it for a new edition, which saw release six months ago. "I wrote the screenplay when I was 28," he notes, "and I had been working with [Werner] Herzog and before that [Bernardo] Bertolucci."
Greenberg's life in cinema began in the early 1970s, working with Bertolucci, who pointed him out to Herzog, the subject of another book of his, Every Night the Trees Disappear, published last year. Greenberg says he was re-born in Munich, steeped in the German New Wave movie scene pioneered by Herzog and Wim Wenders, among others.
"My blues scene that launched me and influenced me was the German New Wave, when I lived in Munich in the mid-70s for several years," notes Greenberg. "My best friend was Herzog. All my friends were like Fassbinder and [Hans-Jürgen] Syberberg and all the great figures of the German New Wave."
Herzog, who, at that point had only directed Aguirre: The Wrath of God and The Enigma of Kasper Hauser, met Greenberg at the Cannes Film Festival in 1975. "He was unknown in America at the time, but I was convinced, from what I had known, he was a genius, and I went looking for him," recalls Greenberg. "I wrote him a little note basically saying whenever you're free, I'd love to meet, and he called me that night. He was laughing about my note saying 'We need to discuss the universe and why.' And Werner, who adored his mother, left his mom's bedside, who had a stroke, and called me that night, and I came right over, and we just hit it off famously as if there were some astrological thing going on."
They would work together on the screenplays for Fitzcarraldo, Cobra Verde and Heart of Glass, though writing credit was solely held by Herzog. "I always joke and say I'm Werner's typist," says Greenberg. "Even though I do a lot of writing of the screenplays, it's his vision. I have no ego attachment to any credit. I usually get the credit 'English Adaptation By.' He also has out several books and collections of his screenplays that I adapted from rough German translations to English."
Greenberg's new book Every Night the Trees Disappear interweaves the script of Heart of Glass with behind-the-scenes insight, including the fact Herzog decided to hypnotize his actors.
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"It was to create a stylistic effect, which he didn't publicize," reveals Greenberg. "He just did it because it was necessary to create the film he was looking to create, which was a pseudo-Bavarian folk tale and had to do with a town that slowly and gradually goes mad. Werner studied hypnosis, and I attended a few sessions that he conducted with a professional hypnotist, and then Werner couldn't stand the hypnotist and decided to do it himself, so I knew, very early on, that he was going to do this, and it didn't faze me. I didn't think it was weird. I thought it was a brilliant idea, and it turned out that it was."
Alan Greenberg will appear at the Art Center/South Florida on Saturday, June 8, at 2:30 p.m.
Follow Hans Morgenstern on Twitter @indieethos.