Two decades ago, Barry Gifford was nearly broke and recovering from an illness that left him barely able to read when he woke up in a North Carolina hotel with the voices of a man and woman in his head.
The voices were so vivid that Gifford could have been eavesdropping on the couple's conversation in the next room, he said. But no, the voices came from his imagination, and the couple he dreamed up that night would famously become Sailor Ripley and Lula Pace Fortune, immortalized by Nicolas Cage and Laura Dern in the 1990 David Lynch film, "Wild at Heart."
Gifford, a Berkeley novelist and poet, would go on to write seven novels featuring Sailor and Lula, "the Romeo and Juliet of the South."
The violent satire featuring Sailor and Lula is a "true love story in seven novels," Gifford said recently at the Pacific Film Archive, located on the UC Berkeley campus. He was there to talk about his work, including the film "Perdita Durango," which the archive is showing in its uncut European version Saturday night.
The 1997 Spanish film, shot in English, was a surprise hit abroad but flopped here, where it was released only on video as "Dance with the Devil."
The film had been edited in part to tone down the sex and violence. But the cruelest cut, the one Gifford attributes to ruining the U.S. release, is of footage from the final scene of the 1954 Western "Vera Cruz" with Gregory Peck and Burt Lancaster. Because of a dispute over royalties, the video was released domestically without the scene, considered by film critics to be the movie's finest moment.
Saturday is a rare chance to see "Perdita Durango" as Gifford and director Alex de la Iglesia intended it to be.
In addition, Gifford will be at the screening and answer questions afterward.
The film was part three in the Sailor and Lula saga, "59 degrees and Raining: The Story of Perdita Durango."
The film archive described the film adaptation as a "singed saga of tainted love between carnivorous Ms. Durango and Romeo Doloarosa, a Santeria priest and all-around psychopath."
Gifford wanted to cast then-newcomer Jennifer Lopez as Perdita. "We could make her down and dirty," he said.
Brooklyn actress Rosie Perez, who got her start as a dancer, was cast instead.
Javier Bardem, however, was perfect for the part of Romeo, Gifford said.
At the time, Bardem was a rising star in Spain who was just learning English. During the lead-up to filming, he stayed at Gifford's Berkeley home, where the writer's cats curled up with the sleeping guest.
The actor provided the elusive "magic moment" in the film the minute he stepped on the set with "that ridiculous haircut," Gifford said of the mullet Bardem wore for the movie.
"There has to be something that's memorable, that gets people. Otherwise, why do it," said Gifford, who was once described as the "master of hip disenfranchisement."
The son of a liquor-store owner with a criminal record, Gifford was born in 1946 in a Chicago hotel. He grew up in Chicago and New Orleans surrounded by a colorful cast of show girls, politicians, gamblers and cons who would later show up in his writing.
He had written one screenplay before Lynch called him in the late 1980s to write the screenplay for "Wild at Heart."
Gifford said he turned Lynch down but gave the eccentric director of "Elephant Man" and "Eraserhead" the green light to write the screenplay himself.
"It took him six days," Gifford said.
—'Wild at Heart' changed everything," Gifford, dressed in a sweater and jeans, both black, told the film archive audience.
Gifford and Lynch went on to collaborate on the movie "Lost Highway," which screens before "Perdita Durango" on Saturday.
Over the years, Gifford has published a striking number of essays, novels, screenplays and poetry collections. He founded Black Lizard Press in Berkeley, which revived the hard-bitten crime fiction genre.
The Barry Gifford collection at Stanford University houses 48 boxes of his papers. Gifford said he keeps some control over what happens to his work on its way from paper to the screen, but very little.
Once the screenplay is released, he said, "Anything can happen and generally does.
What: Rare screening of 1997 film, followed by Q&A with screenwriter Barry Gifford.
When: 9:10 p.m. Saturday. That screening will be preceded by another David Lynch-Barry Gifford collaboration, "Lost Highway." at 6 p.m.
Where: Pacific Film Archive, 2575 Bancroft Way, Berkeley