In 1985, an avant-garde filmmaker by the name of David Lynch set up shop on Wilmington’s streets, armed with the bona fide acting chops of Isabella Rossalini and Dennis Hopper. What was born, “Blue Velvet,” has gone on to be hailed as one of the greatest made in ILM’s local film industry (sans “Muppets From Space,” of course). As such, our independent Cualorus Festival pays homage to the flick annually.
“The Bus to Lumberton” (“Blue Velvet” was set in Lumberton) has become many art installations throughout the years during Cucalorus. Joel Fernando decked out a three-story building as an immersive experience in the heart of downtown Wilmington, with every room taking on a different theme from the movie and actors portraying it. Josephine Decker’s Lumberton 5K and Michael Arcos’ “Dark Ride” also are standouts. In 2018, performance artist Alexandra Tatarsky, a Cucalorus alum, is taking over the wheel, so to speak.
“What I love so much about Bus to Lumberton lives on in stories, distortions, mystery, curiosity, legends,” Tatarsky tells. “That’s what’s so delightful about it as a tradition: The surreal, the inexplicable, the misremembered all weave together, eerily.”
Inspired by how David Lynch digs into the depths of what it means to be ugly, writing and perverse in the midst of America’s happy shiny faces is driving Tatarsky’s hand. It actually appeared last year during her show, “Americana Pyschobabble,” which focused on processing a multitude of feelings in a vulnerable nation: rage, fear, hope, despair, anxiety.
“Dan Brawley was the first to tell me my show felt very Lynchian to him,” she says, “and I hadn’t realized it but it’s true. I am fascinated by the way ugliness lurks within the seemingly innocent, and absurdity is everywhere you look, once you open up to noticing it—especially in the U.S. We have a lot of work to do to continue unpacking the violence upon which this nation was founded and continues to propagate.”
Tatarsky will be emceeing between many films this year, as she has done at previous Cucaloruses. These small stints have provided her a place to cultivate a unique voice for her stage performances, too.
“I discovered some of my best material while trying to impress audiences as an MC—improvising while eating an extremely hot pepper to introduce ‘Hot Pepper Shorts Block,’ or having capers thrown at me to introduce a ‘caper,’ or writing a very long lizard song about assholes to introduce an amazing film called ‘Assholes.’”
She is continuing on her windy and unpredictable path to bring delirium and surrealism to captivate audiences in her rendition of Bus to Lumberton on Saturday and Sunday during the festival. Folks who wish to participate must email BusToLumberton@cucalorus.org and receive a response from Tatarsky on where to meet and when. What happens on the other side is unknown. However, folks will find her inspiration culled from candy-colored clowns, velvet undersides, dirty roses, and ears in the ground.
“Encounters might include anything from simply drinking a Pabst and touching a hidden softness at Slow Club, to inhabiting a scene of love and abjection in an abandoned field,” she explains.
Mainly, it will be an auditory experience for folks, in true Lynchian fashion. Tatarsky may ask participants to “find their lost ears and listen to the festering ground.” There may be cake to eat or a wig to try on, but it all revolves around keeping an open mind and open ears to find a healing experience of sorts.
“I think close listening is the first step toward healing these very deep and complicated wounds,” Tatarsky notes. “And I hope brave works of art can help us learn how to sit with fear, discomfort, and complexity and move toward understanding.”
More so, she hopes participants walk away with a light of wonderment shone on everything they encounter thereafter. She hopes they embrace that which can even be found disgusting with a bit of compassion. It’s basically the heart and soul of “Blue Velvet.”
“After all, it’s a strange world, isn’t it?” she asks. “I’ve been thinking a lot about what I’d like to stumble upon, unexpectedly, along the way. And how to evoke a feeling of mystery and chance in the stumbling. Also, how to fall in love with a stranger. Also, what’s better: Heineken or PBR?”