In 1993, shortly before the release of Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, David Lynch was attempting to create arguably one of his most surreal projects of all time; Dream of the Bovine.
Teaming up with Robert Engels, a writer who was working alongside Lynch on Fire Walk with Me, the duo dreamt up an all-star cast for a project that Lynch himself called “a really dumb, really stupid, meant-to-be-pitifully-bad-quality budget thing” before adding that “not too many people were interested” in working with them on it.
While the duo may have had very few high profile names realistically interested, they did manage to successfully lure in the great Harry Dean Stanton to star in the proposed project. Buoyed by their initial success, Lynch and Engels then approached Marlon Brando in a bid to convince him to co-star alongside Stanton but, in a disappointing turn, Brando rejected the opportunity and called the script “pretentious bullshit”.
Reflecting on their plans, Engels later described the script as being about “three guys, who used to be cows, living in Van Nuys and trying to assimilate their lives”. It was later rumoured that Lynch had planned to set the film in 1911 Paris while shooting the entirety in black and white but that was never confirmed by either of its creators.
“To make this film, I must be free, this is an absolute priority,” Lynch later commented. “This liberty gives you the total responsibility for what you project on other people… a really bad, stupid and repulsing comedy, but I found the whole thing just fantastic.”
Very few of the specific details around the plans for Dream of the Bovine were released in the years that followed. However, Lynch would later revisit the abandoned film as part of his biography memoir, Room to Dream which was released in 2018. The book, written alongside close collaborator Kristine McKenna, sees Lynch “open up for the first time about a life lived in pursuit of his singular vision, and the many heartaches and struggles he’s faced to bring his unorthodox projects to fruition.”
In the memoir, Lynch and McKenna detail the somewhat mysterious failed project Dream of the Bovine and, at one point, suggests that both Harry Dean Stanton and Marlon Brando could have ended up filming the entirety of the film in drag.
Read the book excerpt, below.
“Around that time I was also trying to get Dream of the Bovine going. Dream of the Bovine is sort of in the same realm as One Saliva Bubble in that they’re both about misunderstanding and stupidity, but One Saliva Bubble is more normal and is kind of a feel-good movie. Dream of the Bovine is an absurd comedy. The script needs a lot of work, but there are things in it that I really like. Harry Dean and I went up to talk to Marlon Brando about the two of them doing it together, but Brando hated it. He looked me and I and said, “It’s pretentious bullshit,” and he started telling us about these cookies made out of grass that grows in salt water that he wanted to promote. Then he told us about a car he wanted to build that had this bladder underneath that would cook this grass and make fuel, like the car would digest the grass. You could never tell if Marlon was putting you on or he was serious.
“The thing about Marlon was, he just didn’t give a shit about anything. Every business has bad behaviour going on, but there’s something about this business, with all the egos and lies and backstabbing, that makes you want to do something else rather than be in it. For sure, if anybody had that feeling it was Brando. He played the game for a while, then he couldn’t do it anymore because it made him sick, and he’d reached a point where he just wanted to have fun. In a weird way I think he was having fun, too, and it was fun talking to him. This was around the time he went on The Larry King Show and kissed Larry King.
“He came here to the house a couple of times. One time he came up here by himself––I guess he’d driven himself––and he came in big, you know, just being Brando in this house. It made me a little nervous because I didn’t know why he was here or what we were going to do. I figured I’d make him a coffee, but right after he got here he says, “So, you got anything to eat?” I thought, Oh my God, but I said, “Marlon, I don’t know, let’s go look.” There was one tomato and one banana in the kitchen and he said, “Okay, that will do,” so I got him a plate and a knife and fork and we sat down and started talking. Then he says, “You got any salt?” So he was salting the tomato and cutting it up and eating it while we were talking. Then Mary came over with Riley, and Brando says, “Mary, give me your hand, I want to give you a gift,” so she put her hand out. He’d made a little ring out of the Del Monte sticker that had been on the tomato and he slipped it onto her finger.
“Marlon was dressing in drag now and then during that period, and the thing Marlon really wanted to do was dress up as a woman and have Harry Dean dress up as a woman, and the two of them would have tea together and ad-lib while they were drinking tea. Think about that. It would’ve been fucking incredible! All I’d have to do is turn the camera on, but Marlon chickened out. It would drive me nuts. He should’ve done it!”