Lost in the Movies (formerly The Dancing Image): June 2014

Monday, June 30, 2014

It's a Strange World: A David Lynch retrospective, 1967 - 2013 (part two: the forest)


This is my fifth and final entry in David Lynch Month, an essay examining long-term changes in Lynch's work. You don't necessarily need to read "part one" first, particularly if you're already familiar with Lynch. There are spoilers for all of his films.

This week's "Question in a World of Blue" is: What does the term "Lynchian" mean to you? You can respond in the comments below or on your own blog (please tag this entry in your response).

David Lynch has been making films for almost half a century. Because it took him another ten years to release his first feature, and nearly another decade to achieve his full-on "Lynchian" breakthrough into the mainstream, we tend to forget he's been around for so long. But Lynch's work stretches from the avant-garde cinematic renaissance of the late sixties (with its reliance on celluloid and aesthetic discipline) to the digital free-for-all of the twenty-first century teens (unmoored and immersed in its own video hyperactivity). He has both shaped his times and been shaped by them, but he's also stood apart - a one-man band beating his own crazy clown drum, sometimes celebrated as a true and timeless American original, sometimes scorned as a self-indulgent sideshow to the larger world, societal and cinematic.

From my recent Lynch marathon, two distinct and somewhat paradoxical observations emerged: a sense of unpredictability alongside an awareness of trajectory. On the one hand, Lynch's body of work is more wildly diverse than is usually credited: yes, there is a special "Lynchian" mood, style, and sensibility, but within that world there is incredible flexibility, ranging from the gentle, G-rated sincerity of The Straight Story (1999) to the raw, hallucinatory terror of Inland Empire (2006). Not only does Lynch's oeuvre feature wild fluctuations in tone, look, and subject matter, these wild fluctuations often occur from one project to the next. This marathon reminded me that the wacky, light-hearted TV pilot On the Air (1992) premiered a mere month after the intensely dark and emotional Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992), while Lynch's tragic, stylish Mulholland Drive (2001) was shot around the time he recorded the gleefully juvenile Thank You Judge (2002).

Yet if Lynch can't be simplistically pigeonholed, he can - with caution and qualification - be placed. Over nearly fifty years his work, and the voice expressed in that work, has undergone gradual and long-lasting transformations: despite the variations film to film, strong patterns and an overall evolution emerge when looking at the big picture. This means not only recognizing links and echoes between far-flung films (say, the mirrored endings of Eraserhead (1977) and Fire Walk With Me) but also observing a tidal flow to the themes and styles presented onscreen. There is a chronological march in which claustrophobic panic gives way to rootless wandering, classical restraint dissolves into multilayered impressionism, and recognition of corruption from within slowly overtakes the quest against external evil. Just as in Lynch's films random experimentation and apparent non sequiturs coalesce into powerful, perhaps unintentionally resonant psychodramas, so several narrative arcs emerge when examining the totality of Lynch's expression.

Monday, June 23, 2014

The Eye of the Duck: A David Lynch retrospective, 1967 - 2013 (part one: the trees)


This is my fourth entry in David Lynch Month. It is a chronological overview of his career, including full reviews of every single feature and capsules on every available short.

This week's "Question in a World of Blue" is: Do you see particularly important turning points in David Lynch's career? You can respond in the comments below or on your own blog (please tag this entry in your response).

Over three days, I watched almost every single film Lynch has created since 1967, and as "film" I include not just features or shorts, but commercials, music videos, TV pilots, even the occasional promo tag. Next week I will examine the overall evolution of his career, in theme, storytelling, and visual style. Today I'm going to focus more on the nitty-gritty, the "trees" that make up the Lynchian "forest" (if you want to avoid spoilers, just read about the films you've seen - the only entry that contains a spoiler for a separate film is Inland Empire, which discusses the end of Eraserhead in its last paragraph). I will examine each of his works in turn, starting with Six Figures Getting Sick, a painting-in-motion installation he created as an art student in the late sixties, and concluding with Came Back Haunted, a Nine Inch Nails video so rapid-fire it contains a health disclaimer. Thus his filmmaking work begins and (for now) ends in the service of other arts - painting and music - but along the way he emerged as one of the greatest filmmakers of the twentieth century, his work appearing in cinemas, on television, and eventually streaming over the internet. He's bridged all motion-picture mediums and approaches, told stories and immersed himself in irrational imagery, accomplished himself as a humanist director of sensitive performance and a formalist photographer of abstract images.

Despite his surprising range, there is a distinctly "Lynchian" flavor to all of his films, which we'll discover as we move through them one by one. Each feature film is covered in five paragraphs (except for Blue Velvet, Fire Walk With Me, and Inland Empire, which get six, and Mulholland Drive, which gets ten), his seven TV episodes are covered in three, particularly distinctive short projects in two, and the rest of his work in single short paragraphs (often a couple commercials are discussed together). Here's what I couldn't see: a fictitious Anacin commercial (1967), the "Champions" episode of the Lynch-Frost American Chronicles (1990), a low budget video for his song "A Real Indication" (1993), HBO's Hotel Room sketch Blackout (1993), advertisements for Alka-Seltzer and American Cancer Society (both 1993), video documentary Lamp (2007), the Wild at Heart deleted-scenes "sidequel" (2008), playful greetings to the 2008 Hollyshorts awards and the 2010 Twin Peaks festival, a concert film for Duran Duran (2011), and probably dozens or even hundreds of short clips from DavidLynch.com, which aren't listed in online filmographies unless they also appeared on DVD (all I can verify missing are two episodes of his goofy Over Yonder web series, but there must be plenty more where that came from). (UPDATE: there were also many more Playstation commercials made in 2000, which have since been gathered here.) Even with those exclusions, I covered sixty-seven titles below. For a filmmaker with only ten features under his belt, Lynch has been shockingly prolific.

Feel free to browse for the projects that interest you (it may be best to bookmark the post and return for several visits) or follow the entire overview chronologically - this retrospective can be read either way. Indeed, one could say the same of many of his films...

Monday, June 16, 2014

Take This Baby and Deliver It to Death: a video tribute to David Lynch


This is my third entry in David Lynch Month. It is a video essay covering his early work.

This week's "Question in a World of Blue" is: Does Laura Palmer have special significance in David Lynch's body of work? You can respond in the comments below or on your own blog (please tag this entry in your response).

With a title inspired by a passage from The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer (by Jennifer Lynch), Take This Baby and Deliver It to Death focuses on David Lynch's first six features - through Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992) - as well as the TV show Twin Peaks (1991-92) and a few audio samples from later works. Allowing the interweaving of assembled footage to speak for itself, this non-narrated video essay emphasizes the complex, evolving portrayal of violence and abusive characters in Lynch's early work. Needless to say it contains both spoilers and graphic content, so proceed with caution. At 23 minutes, this is my longest video, but that's down from a 45-minute rough cut (not to mention a 4 1/2-hour assembly!) so the results are pretty tight. You can watch Take This Baby and Deliver It to Death as one continuous video on Vimeo below, or as three separate chapters on YouTube:

Monday, June 9, 2014

Gone Fishin': A collection of commentary on Twin Peaks


This is my second entry in David Lynch Month. It is a collection of quotes from news and magazine articles, scholarly essays, blog posts, and other literature (as well as audiovisual media) on "Twin Peaks", stretching from 1989 to the present.

This week's "Question in a World of Blue" is: Why did viewers and critics abandon "Twin Peaks" in 1990 and reject the 1992 film? You can respond in the comments below or on your own blog (please tag this entry in your response).

There are no spoilers until after a very prominent warning, and I would actually suggest reading up to that point if you're unfamiliar with the series. This could really build your interest.

INTRODUCTION
WHAT KILLED TWIN PEAKS?

It all started so promisingly. A wildly inventive mash-up of police procedural, soap opera, horror story, and wacky comedy, Twin Peaks (1990-91) followed FBI Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) as he investigated the murder of beloved teenager Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee), whose body washed up on shore in the two-hour premiere. Just as much as the ensemble cast, the town of Twin Peaks was a character, with its eccentric denizens, numerous intrigues and affairs, and spooky presence in the woods. It was a place viewers eagerly returned to each week - at least initially. The ABC series won rave reviews, a cult audience, and hundreds of imitators (everything from Lost to The Sopranos bears its imprint). For five or six months in 1990, it was a genuine phenomenon, sweeping magazine covers, TV shows, and the New York Times bestseller list. At the center of the media blitz was David Lynch (Mark Frost, the series co-creator, seldom gets equal credit despite having a greater hand in the show's practical development). Lynch, a cinematic surrealist, had hit the small screen at exactly the right moment in pop culture - or so it seemed. Yet within a year Twin Peaks was dead last in ratings; when it was finally cancelled, it was practically jeered off the air (at least by those still paying attention). How on earth did this happen?

Monday, June 2, 2014

Weird On Top: David Lynch Month on Lost in the Movies (including "My Journey into Lynchland" below)


This is my first entry in David Lynch Month. It combines a guide to the upcoming month, a memoir of my own Lynch journey, and 135 images from his films.

Each week I will pose a question to readers related to my latest post. This week's "Question in a World of Blue" is: How did you first discover the work of David Lynch? You can respond in the comments below or on your own blog (please tag this entry in your response).

This spring I've been completely immersed in the universe of David Lynch. It started in January when I read a book about Twin Peaks and my interest in the series was renewed. I started listening to Peaks soundtracks and podcasts all the time, devouring articles and essays on the subject, and re-watching the entire series. From there I broadened my scope to all of Lynch's work, initiating a marathon viewing of all his films and then returning to many of them yet again. The results have been unfolding for the past month (as Tony Dayoub and I corresponded on the film Fire Walk With Me), but will escalate in June. Every Monday I'll post a new, meaty post on David Lynch and his work.

First up will be "Gone Fishin'," a massive collection of quotes from news articles, TV reviews, and film essays on the Twin Peaks phenomenon. These are selections I gathered while doing my own research for the correspondence with Tony, and taken together these disparate sources tell a fascinating tale about one of the most innovative shows of all time, how its downfall came about, and why its deeper qualities took time to appreciate. This will post next week, Monday, June 9.

A week later, on June 16, I will unveil "Take This Baby and Deliver It to Death," my first video essay in a year and a half, a non-narrated impressionistic tribute to themes and motifs in Lynch's work, anchored around the endings of Eraserhead and Fire Walk With Me. It builds off the observations in the previous post, as well as my conversation with Tony about the fate of Laura Palmer and how this twist impacted not just Twin Peaks but Lynch's work as a whole.

June 23 brings the first part of my comprehensive Lynch retrospective, "The Eye of the Duck," which discusses everything in the director's canon - features, shorts, TV episodes, music videos, commercials - on an individual basis. Each title will be accompanied by a screen-cap; one of the most enjoyable parts of preparing this month was gathering images from the visual wealth of Lynch's filmography.

Finally, on the last day of June I will share the second part of my retrospective, "It's a Strange World," an essay examining the abrupt shifts, subtle reversals, and gradual evolutions in the Lynchian touch, ranging from narrative strategies and thematic concerns to visual motifs and directorial vision. This is the "forest" piece, while the previous week's essay will cover each "tree." While the depth and diversity of the director cannot be summed up in a single essay, there are several very strong narrative arcs encompassing his oeuvre, and they shed light both on his work as a whole and the individual films.

For now, by way of setting the stage, I want to offer my own personal musings on David Lynch and my journey of discovery with his work. When I discuss his films at the end of the month I will be analyzing, contextualizing, and connecting them, but I won't really be relating them to myself. So I will do this below, without any major spoilers (my upcoming posts are another story, but I'll note which works I'm spoiling beforehand). If you're unfamiliar with Lynch, but curious, the rest of this post is a good place to start.

Following the memoir is a smorgasbord (careful, Audrey) of 135 Lynch screen-caps - twelve from each feature film, three from each Lynch-directed Twin Peaks episode, and a sampling from his shorts (plus one image taken from a promotional show). Lynch's work is a treasure trove of haunting, disturbing, and beautiful images, but just as amazing as his killer eye is the breadth of his ability and technique.