Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Films of David Lynch: The French as Seen by... : The Cowboy and the Frenchman (1988)

The French as Seen by... : The Cowboy and the Frenchman (1988) 
Directed by: David Lynch.
Written by: David Lynch.
Starring: Harry Dean Stanton (Slim), Frederic Golchan (Pierre the Frenchman), Jack Nance (Pete), Tracey Walter (Dusty), Michael Horse (Broken Feather).

The Cowboy and the Frenchman is an oddity even among the film of David Lynch’s career. It was made as part of a TV miniseries called “The French as Seen by…” – although I cannot find out much information about any of the other episodes. But the premise is pretty clear – a director gets an opportunity to make a film about how they view the French. For Lynch, he made this bizarre 25 minute comedy.

The short stars Harry Dean Stanton as Slim – a nearly deaf ranch hand, who along with his two underlings – played by Jack Nance (obviously) and Tracey Walter, see a strange man coming down off the mountain. They catch him, tie him up, and then start going through his comically large suitcase. The man speaks in some sort of strange language that none of them know (it’s clearly French), and they pull one clichéd French item out of his suitcase after another – finally realizing he’s French after they pull out a plate of French fries. From there, the ranchers decide not to kill the Frenchman – who they had thought was an alien – but befriend him.

This opening scene is probably the highlight of the whole short – it’s funny, and well played by the whole cast, and done in seemingly one shot, as they keep pulling the various items out of the suitcase. It’s well acted too – especially by Stanton, who spends most the time yelling, repeating what the others tell him, because he cannot hear them.

From there, the film gets weird – more Lynch-ian than the beginning to be sure, but also less interesting. The Frenchman becomes one of the cowboys, and Stanton slowly starts turning into a Frenchman. There is a scene with a Native, played by Michael Horse of Twin Peaks, which goes nowhere (it’s about a debt, and if it had a point, I missed it). The film than becomes a bizarre party scene – with dancing girls, and a Stanton on his guitar singing in a surprisingly good singing voice.

Overall, The Cowboy and the Frenchman is an odd short. It’s very funny at the start, but does start to drag as it becomes more abstract. It’s more of a curiosity piece than anything else – not particularly great, but an interesting diversion. It’s Lynch one true out and out comedy – and for that, Lynch fans should seek it out.

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