“We think we understand the rules when we become adults but what we really experienced is a narrowing of the imagination.”
Browsing through the internet tonight, same as usual, nothing too sexy or exciting, and I click on one of the hundred thousand links I seem to click on that’s supplied by someone on tumblr: The Top 10 Best David Lynch moments.
I’ll say this for Lynch, he’s made a name for himself. And by that, I mean, he’s made his name a genre onto itself. Weird horror? Weird Americana? Esoterica existentialism? We could spend a decade defining it.
The other day I was actually talking with someone about cinema, about horror and sci fi directors, directors who step outside the norm a tad, and through the course of just bullshitting and casual riffing, I started comparing Lynch with Canada’s David Cronenberg. Another man who’s made his name into a genre all of it’s own. A man who’s every choice seems to be a weird one. And when he plays normal? It’s even weirder.
And I can think of no better example there than when he actually had a two episode acting stint in J. J. Abram’s Alias. Before that, he had several cameo roles in various movies, and weird ones too, of course, like Jason X, and The Fly, and Gus Van Sant’s To Die For.
The difference between these two directors, the difference than I can easily glean for you now, is that they’re both weird, but that with Cronenberg, I think he just lets his interests in body modification or transformation or infections of both the physical and psychological kind just run away with him. I love that wikipedia actually uses the term “venereal horror” to describe his personal brand of cinema.
But then there’s Lynch, who’s a weird guy, has weird tastes, likes to make weird art, and loves to cultivate his own weirdness. A lot of times, I think it’s just a part of his brand, his act, his personal style of show, but more times I get the impression of a man who walked off the reservation years ago, realized that he was leaving a certain kind of reality behind, probably smirked to himself, and kept going. His movies, his short films, his website and stunts are all just little polaroids that he shoots back to us from his journey.
Plus, I’m sure that even Morrissey thinks that David Lynch spends too much time on his hair.
I may be giving him too much credit there, but what’s the difference. Let’s talk about the major totems in his career…
Movies/TV shows of David Lynch’s that I have watched/enjoyed:
–Dune, the adaptation of the Frank Herbert “sci fi classic.”
–Twin Peaks, the TV show.
–Blue Velvet, or, well, most of it when I was a kid.
–Mulholland Drive, the failed TV that was resurrected into a film.
-About an hour and some change from Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, the movie follow up/prequel/general ephemera to the television show.
Twin Peaks the show was just 85 to 90% brilliant weird fun. A perfect television murder mystery before we were worried about semen stains and making lab work sexy meets the weirdness of small town America, and all of it recycled through David Lynch’s odd brain. There was a lot of elements to the show that were just weird for the sake of weirdness, but for the most part, I excuse it all because it never left the confines of the logic of the show. The logic of the show wasn’t necessarily easy to decipher, but once you get a legitimate idea of what’s going on with things like Bob, the arm, the doorknob, the talking backwards, the Black Lodge, and Laura Palmer in general, you just kind of get it. Also, one of the must frustratingly wonderful endings to a TV show ever.
Its’ the same for Mulholland Drive, which would’ve been murderously frustrating as a television show, but works perfectly as a film. It’s also hard to figure out at first, but give it some time, possibly a second viewing, and if needed, a friend to explain it to you, and you’ll get a tale of lost love and just brutal, puncturing sadness set against the glitz and flashy bizarrness of LA.
Dune is Dune. If you’ve seen it, you know what I’m talking about. If you enjoyed it, you were probably on a lot of drugs or just a really gross person. Or maybe you’re a hardcore Sting fan? I don’t hate the movie by any means, but I’ll happily say that the Sci Fi channel miniseries version of the book was vastly better.
And now we delve into the darker recesses of me with the films of David Lynch that I’ve never seen:
–Eraserhead, his first film.
–Wild At Heart, which I really should’ve seen by now, at least for Nic Cage, if nothing else.
–Lost Highway, which had a soundtrack that I loved, or kinda loved, back in the 90s.
–The Straight Story, a fairly straightforward story of a real life man that just seems that much more creepy because it was done by Lynch.
-And the rest of Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me.
Do you remember back when Bravo was a cable network that played real art, really culturally significant stuff? Classic movies and TV shows. Friday nights, I remember, would be foreign cinema and that’s where I’d see things like All About My Mother or Run Lola Run because, I guess I had no social life. I remember they used to play old Poirot movies all the time, mostly the Peter Ustinov ones, which were all pretty good.
Anyway, the point of me asking that is one summer they started playing episodes of Twin Peaks during the weekdays. This is where I first latched onto the show, and I remember that they played something like two episodes back to back starting at 9 AM. Now, if you really consider the weirdness/juicy soap opera factors in that show, then 9 AM is a really insidious time to air the show, leaving you creeped out through the rest of your youthful summertime abandon during the day, but hey, whatever.
But I loved the show. As I said, on one hand you had this bizarre police procedural gone crazy, and then on the other, you had a fantastical soap opera element as the show started to explore the facets of the various characters of the small town of Twin Peaks. And of course I was left hooked by the ending of the last episode. It was the ultimate cliffhanger, when your hero survives the trip to the Black Lodge that is so horrific that you can’t look away, only to discover that he may not be our hero after all…
Some actors that had an early start or appearance in their careers in Twin Peaks:
Lara Flynn Boyle.
And David Duchovny, in drag.
Anyway, so Bravo aired the follow up film, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me a week or two after the syndicated run of the show ended and I was so excited to watch it, knowing that it’d handle some of what really happened to Laura Palmer, the teen whose murder initiated the show in general along with tackling a lot of the back story and featuring appearances by people like Keifer Sutherland, Chris Isaak, and David Bowie. Of course. These are perfectly Lynch-ian actors, much like Kyle MacLachlan doesn’t seem like a human being himself, just a caricature of a human drawn by David Lynch to snicker at.
Anyway, I’ve seen more bits and pieces of the film here and there since then, but haven’t been able to good and proper finish watching since that night I first sat down to watch it (on TV, no less!) and encountered this scene…
…featuring “my mother’s sister’s girl.” Even as I embed that youtube clip for you, I’m not watching it. I hope it’s the right one. I can’t handle it, man. You may look at it and think it’s tame and laugh at me. You’re probably right to. But watching it back then, something about it creeped me out past my then limits. It crawled inside my skin and started doing things and I had to leave the room and I haven’t come back to that particular metaphorical room since.
Hope you don’t mind me rambling on about David Lynch here but it’s Friday night and if you’re reading this, well, then you’re probably as lost as I am. But I’m someone who has, I’d like to think, watched a lot of movies across the years. My tastes are massively pretentious, and I’ll be the first to admit it, but in dichotomy, they’re also extremely low bro, just barely scraping the floor of what a human can stand to watch. And going along with that, I’m a horror movie fan. Hardcore, for the most part. I don’t really like “gore” movies, but it’s not typically a matter of finding them unsettling, just uninteresting. But one of the few times I ever felt nearly sick to my stomach was during a viewing of the unrated cut of Miike’s Ichi The Killer inflicted upon me by Conrad Noir. That film is deliriously gross and there’s a fun campiness to it. But there’s also a scene where a character very slowly cuts out his own tongue and seems to enjoy doing it and I nearly had to tap out there.
I could compare that scene with a similar one in Oldboy where a character has to do something similar, but unlike Ichi The Killer, it makes sense for the story and it’s not done in a way that attacks the viewer. It’s part of the story, an act of desperation, and kind of makes sense, even though it is an unsettling notion in general. I’ll stop there because I know everytime I bring up the words “Asian” and “cinema” in the same sentence, Benjamin Light falls asleep.
My point is that there’s really gorey stuff that can get to you and there’s psychological horror like, for example, Irreversible. And there’s movies that dance drunkely on the line in between the two, like the entire Saw set. Speaking of which, can you believe they plan to make at least 8 of these movies? Jesus fucking Christ.
And then there’s the special David Lynch touch. There’s moments in his films that are gorey and there’s moments that are flashes of psychological horror. And then there’s something else, something beyond those two. To me, Polanski was a master of the rare art of taking the creepy parts of a film and making it feel like they were in the room with you, crawling up behind you with a sick glint of terror in their eye. Gore (nice first name, buddy) Verbinski’s remake of The Ring had flashes of that same vibe. There was gore there, and existential dread, but with David Lynch, there’s something more there, something scary. I almost want him to throw some tentacles and racism in his movies so that I could say that his film studio lives in Cthulhu’s butt, man.
Another example, from near the beginning of Mulholland Drive:
I had forgotten that Phil from Lost/Jimmy Barret from Mad Men was in that scene. And yet, he’s perfect in it. And the film is shot perfectly, with the camera just hovering around these characters in semi-tight close ups in the diner, lost in the dreamtime as it fluctuates into a nightmare. It’s a brilliant decision to make us feel the character’s shock and fear rather than drift into cliched screams and quick cuts, etc. And sometimes the most horrific part of a terrible thing is being told exactly how it’s going to go down before it does. It’s what makes the ending of The Blair Witch Project work despite itself.
“Every little detail is either feeding the mood or destroying the mood.” I love that quote, from the above discussion on his techniques. Lynch is obsessed with the aesthetics of any scene.
But that scene may not be indicative of how perfect of a David Lynch movie that Mulholland Drive is. The way it lures you in with it’s seemingly straightforward plot of a amnesiac girl on the run meeting up with the good-natured wannabe starlet moving to LA, a world where the real meets with the bizarre fantasies of the real, combined with the slightly amateurish way that Lynch sometimes does his films combined scene to scene with some masterful bits of directing and editing. Maybe the “No Hay Banda”/Club Silencio scenes show all of this a little better…
…which uses the spanish language a cappella version of Roy Orbison’s “Crying” perfectly, and beautiful performed by Rebekah del Rio, to give the two characters, Betty (Naomi Watts) and Rita (Laura Elena Harring), something magnificent to take in. In a lot of ways, the whole film plays out here in this scene, as the two women, newly lovers, watch the ridiculous elements on the stage before them, but our overcome by sadness from an event that they’re not aware has ever taken place. They’re oblivous to the fact that they’re merely daydreams of their real selves, whose relationship has ended in a violent tragedy. Just as the song keeps playing long after the performer’s dead body has been dragged from the stage, some dreams stick around long after one has woken and are poisoned by the harsh southern California sunlight and turned into nightmares.
For all his weirdness, and all his attempts at capturing and being the sole conquerer of the American weird film zeitgeist, David Lynch has never been and probably never will be more perfect than he was in Mulholland Drive.
And there’s a reason that this movie, despite it’s weirdness, launched Naomi Watts onto a career that ultimately could be called merely so so. It’s not the “so so” of it that’s important, it’s the launching. It’s not totally shocking to me that she would be the common denominator in this post, having worked with Lynch, Cronenberg, and was in The Ring. But she’s perfect in this Mulholland Drive, at one moment sunny as the weather and bursting with bright eyed optimism and at other times, dark and torn apart, nothing but raw hurting nerves as she cries and masturbates. It reminds me of myself whenever I write one of these diatribes for you people.
That said, I have Inland Empire sitting around on my shelf, just waiting to be watched. Anyone care to join me? Or to hold my hand in an attempt to make it all way through Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me? It’d be much appreciated.
But for now, I leave you in peace, with a final thought from David Lynch himself, about movies and iphones: