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

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.




My Journey into Lynchland

As a precocious movie buff, I was aware of David Lynch but only as a blip on my cinematic radar. What I knew about his work - especially the harsh poster and images from Eraserhead - suggested a hard, formalist, grungy urban look that wasn't really my aesthetic at the time (meanwhile, descriptions of Blue Velvet's "suburban expose" didn't sound very original). I wouldn't have been allowed to see his movies at that tender age so perhaps it's a moot point, but Lynchian cinema was not a forbidden fruit I hungered for yet. I did see and like The Elephant Man as a child, but it did not lead to more.

During this very period, however, as I combed movie books and picked up names of directors and their films, Lynch's own work was undergoing a transformation. The cold industrial feel of Eraserhead and sharply contrasting classical images of Blue Velvet were giving way to a more openly impressionistic, romantic visual palette. If his films had always used images from dreams, now they were beginning to feel like dreams themselves. I don't remember hearing or seeing much about Lost Highway but I do remember catching a TV commercial for Mulholland Drive my senior year of high school. As mysterious images and melancholy music floated across my screen I thought, "Boy, does this look like something I want to see!"

For whatever reason (probably because it didn't play at local theaters long enough) I didn't see the film in 2001 - in fact, sadly, a retro screening of Mulholland Drive in L.A. a couple years ago remains the only time I've seen Lynch on the big screen. I would catch the movie a year after its release on DVD; it was one of those films, like Pulp Fiction or Donnie Darko, that seemingly every college movie buff had in their collection. I guess I knew the "twist" ahead of time, because I overheard someone explaining how the final third of the film relates to the rest. I always wonder if I would have interpreted this myself; regardless, I fell in love.

As, I suspect, with most Lynch fans of my generation, Mulholland Drive is the one that got me. I responded immediately to its sense of exploration - a feeling that something exciting, beautiful, and perhaps terrifying lay just around the corner. The short fragments that didn't quite add up or follow through only added to the sense of riches (later I would learn these were supposed to be subplots in an abandoned TV series); here was a movie that seemed to be dozens of movies in one, each snaking off into the distance. The final third, with its tragic weight and promise of "decoding" the rest of the film, was both intoxicating in its hints and liberating in its continuing mysteries.

Soon after my first exciting encounter with Lynch's surrealism, I borrowed a copy of Blue Velvet, only to be disappointed. This experience echoed my discovery of Hitchcock a few years earlier, taken with Spellbound and Vertigo before feeling frustrated by Rear Window and North by Northwest. In both cases, what caught me in the first films was the dreamlike atmosphere, the sense of depths we could only peer into, of psychologically-charged mystery with a touch of the supernatural. Mulholland Drive and Vertigo both had secrets to convey, and we leaned forward to catch them. By contrast, Rear Window and Blue Velvet weren't very hard to "figure out"; more damningly, their mood seemed to me less sensual, less magical. I responded to Dennis Hopper's energy but otherwise the film let me down.

That was it for a good five or six years. My first real foray into Lynch had been generally positive (I usually judge by high water marks) but I didn't go any further. Why? I've always been a cinephile fascinated by breadth more than depth, and this was particularly true when I was younger and still had so much on the horizon. Typically I would view at least a film or two from a major director, but rarely was I compelled to explore more - there was too much to see, and I relished sampling some of everything, dipping into all eras and genres to taste as much cinematic diversity as I could. Plus, within a year or two of seeing Mulholland Drive, my cinephilia cooled in favor of a passionate pursuit of music.

A couple years into Netflix, when my viewing habits had picked up, I finally decided to give Twin Peaks a spin (around the same time I saw Eraserhead, which both impressed and disgusted me). While never a big TV watcher, Lynch's popular but short-lived show sounded like it would be up my alley. I still counted Mulholland Drive as one of my favorite films and was fascinated by the themes and location of Twin Peaks. It even resembled an idea I'd tossed around years earlier, in which a teenage boy befriends a troubled girl in an isolated mountain town; in the end she disappears, presumed dead. When I was a little kid I was always haunted by an image or scene - inspired either by a dream or TV movie (it wasn't Twin Peaks) - in which a girl simply vanishes one day, leaving friends and schoolmates overwhelmed by their sense of loss.

Initially, the first episode of Twin Peaks didn't blow me away (at the time, the movie-length pilot was unavailable, so I had to start with the first hour-long installment). It seemed dated in not particularly charming ways, with brightly lit sets, melodramatic music, and some arch performances; I noted that Lynch did not direct the episode and wondered if he'd merely conceptualized the show and handed it off to others. There was one moment in the episode, however, that struck me to the marrow and made me shout so loud my roommate heard me: when Laura Palmer's mother, comforted by a friend in her grief, widens her eyes and gasps in horror...and we cut to a completely random shot of a long-haired man staring directly into the camera while crouching behind a bedframe. I hadn't been this frightened by anything since the Winkie's dumpster scene in Mulholland Drive and at that moment I knew the show would be worthwhile.

The next episode confirmed these suspicions with an alarmingly offbeat opening dinner, capped by the wonderful credit "directed by David Lynch." The episode was as visually inventive and rich with atmosphere as I could have hoped, and it concluded with a sequence of visionary impact as the lead investigator dreamed himself into a Red Room with a dancing dwarf, beautiful girl, and eerie shadows floating across the wall. I knew I would LOVE Twin Peaks, but also that I had to stop watching until I could get my hands on the pilot and start it right. The opportunity finally arrived a year later, and at that point I plowed through the entire series in a matter of weeks.

While I can remember the thrilling sense of discovery, I wish I could recall more of my precise reactions to plot twists and character moments (they've been crowded out by subsequent re-viewings and endless discussions). I do however very strongly remember the revelation of Laura's killer; my reaction has colored everything I've written or thought about the series since, and indeed has informed my view of Lynch's work in its entirety (I'll discuss this more specifically when the episode comes up in my retrospective piece). After finishing Twin Peaks, I rented the subsequent prequel movie, knowing very little except that it covered the days before Laura Palmer died and had been very unpopular. I wasn't prepared for the impact it would have on me.

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me elated and upset me. My reaction very much echoed Roger Ebert's infamous dismissal of Blue Velvet, except instead of dismissing it I felt compelled to both celebrate and question the movie. I immediately headed to this blog (then in its infancy), and rapidly wrote out a very mixed review of Fire Walk With Me. Even now, I think it's one of my strongest posts - it was probably the first response I wrote that really came from deep down. Within a day, I had realized that the power of the experience overwhelmed my objections to the film (which have softened with time) and I was willing to declare it a great movie and defend it from the vicious reviews it had received in 1992.

The next month or two would be spent in an obsession with Peaks and Lynch, reading all the material I could get my hands on and finally delving into his filmography for the first time. I rewatched Blue Velvet (admiring it more than before, I still didn't love it), was entranced by Lost Highway, and felt ambivalent about Inland Empire (I also viewed Wild at Heart but wasn't compelled to write about it). These viewing experiences stood apart from my regular run of movie-watching, enjoyable as that was - Lynch engaged me on a more fundamental, subconscious level. I blogged more about him than any other director in my first few months, including an episode guide to Twin Peaks. Re-starting the whole series a few weeks after finishing it, I meticulously wrote up each chapter in the hunt for Laura's killer (after the murderer was discovered, I leaped forward to the finale).

As all crazes do, this one eventually cooled, although the following spring I would view a few more Lynch items, including a couple documentaries and his short film collection (which, until this month, would remain my final Lynch review). In the coming years I would always be up to discuss Lynch's work, to occasionally pay tribute to him (especially Fire Walk With Me) as part of the cinematic pantheon, and to rewatch Mulholland Drive and, less frequently, Blue Velvet. Notably I would not return to Fire Walk With Me, much as I would sing its praises, for five years - my initial impression had been so powerful that I wanted to allow the experience to linger as a memory. Last fall while screen-capping favorites in my collection, I finally had a second viewing.

It was only a few months later that the lid came of my Lynchophilia - and no previous excursion into his work compares to the time, research, and mental energy I have devoted this spring. I will cover this more deeply in my introduction to next week's piece (an exhaustive collection of quotes about Twin Peaks) but once again it was Twin Peaks and Laura Palmer who reeled me back in to the world of this director.

So that's how I came to love Lynch, and a bit of why, but let me expand on that why for a moment before letting his images speak for themselves (they are indeed the most powerful explanations possible). Putting aside the question of what is and isn't a dream in his movies, few other filmmakers are as capable of making everything in their work dreamlike. As someone fascinated by dreams and myths, and the figures like Carl Jung who explore and relate them to the emotional undercurrents of our personal lives, I couldn't help but respond to Lynch. What is most important to me about his work is the ability to transcend divisions between "reality" and "myth," to recognize the power of magic and the uncanny, and use them not as an escape from life but as a way to face it more deeply.

I like that Lynch is at heart a conservative (his Reaganite political conservatism has waned over the years, but I'm talking about how he views the world on a more fundamental level). He's frightened by the darkness - which means both losing the flavor of life and overwhelming oneself with too much of it - and yet he plunges into the Wild Wood anyway, facing up to demons both outside and inside. I like that he is a mystic in an increasingly materialistic age (when even the magical realm of cinema has been thrust into a paradoxical and unsatisfying mix of drab faux-realism and computer-generated weightlessness). He is someone who not only believes in a spiritual realm somewhere "out there," but actually makes his own work a conduit to that experience. I like that he retains a sense of humor, that his work contains wickedly funny moments that catch you off-guard and thus make you laugh all the harder even if his art is deeply serious (his earnest affection for his characters, even in their corniest moment, is something else I like - all too rare in this age of snark).

Most of all, of course - because none of the other stuff would matter otherwise - I like that he is a great director. As someone who has struggled with craft and creativity over the years, I can't help but admire someone who intuitively knows exactly what works: how to place the camera, where to cut, how to draw the perfect performance out of an actor, what design elements to use (and often create himself) to pull the audience further into his strange world. Lynch is a meticulous craftsman, a man who took a half-decade to make Eraserhead, as much a matter of perfectionism as budget. This makes it all the more interesting that in his recent work, particularly the baffling yet alluring feature Inland Empire, he has chosen rough-hewn digital textures which allow him more freedom than discipline. That's one final thing I just love about Lynch: his continued experimentation, a willingness to go where the future of the movies lies, into the realm of personalized, online, boundless cinema that breaks out of its gilded celluloid cage and into the world, like Laura Dern at the end of Lynch's final movie, leaping into the light to personally embrace the viewer.

Here are the images. I hope you relish them as much as I do. And see you next week...

This visual tribute contains a major spoiler for Twin Peaks (stop at the picture of the guitar player to safely avoid) and a minor spoiler for Mulholland Drive (stop at the picture of the cowboy to safely avoid).





18 comments:

Erniesam said...

Hi LITM,

Thanks for referring me to your blog. Your description of your fascination with Lynch is truly captivating. I like how you describe your own hesitations towards the work of Lynch in the beginning. I can relate to that. I guess his work you need to learn to appreciate, although I certainly can imagine that it will not appeal to everyone.

It is apparent that you like Twin Peaks the series especially. At least that's what I'm reading in your post. Right now I'm in the proces of watching this series. I have seen episodes when it ran on tv when I was about 15 or so. It was a hype back than and I remember watching it and kinda liking it, but I didn't understand any of it. What I remember mostly about it was the musical theme, which became a hit back than also. I think the music is a major part of the series. Anyway, now I'm watching it consciously I definitely enjoy it. I must say that the first season I find truly captivating (atmosphere, characters, situations etc), while the second season seems to be more focussing on humor while the atmosphere and tension suffer from that. Still, I have about 5 episodes more to go.

My journey into Lynch is quite similar to yours exept I learned to appreciate Lynch through his feature films and not Twin Peaks. I know that in my youth I saw Eraserhead at least partially. For some reason I was initially practically only fascinated by classic cinema and I loved black and white movies. I still do, bu tthat's beside the point. I thought I would watch Eraserhead because it was in black and white. Little did I know what to expect. I guess I turned it off after 10 minutes or so.

Next Lynch movie I saw was Blue Velvet. I heard much appraise about it, so I watched it still not consciously being aware it was a Lynch movie. I did not get it. I thought the colours were wonderful, but the story just plain weird. So I didn't like it at all. Than followed Lost Highway. This movie I rented with a couple of friends and we thought we could relax with it. Well, you can guess what the outcome was: we thought this was absolute trash and we hated the fact that we actually had spent money on it. I've watched this movie several times more after that (after I knew more about Lynch), but I just did not get it and kept on hating it.

Than came Mulholland Drive. Like you this was the one that opened my eyes. I saw MD on dvd on a tv screen so I did not get the full experience. Still, it resonated with me immediately although I did not understand it. I thought I could make some sense of it, but I kept having questions about it. So I thought about it alot and finally I came up with an aswer with which I was satisfied. Than I watched Lost Highway again and this time I could make some sense out of it. I started to talk to friends about it and searched online for possible explanations. I took part in discussions and through trial and error it dawned on me: you have to look at these movies in a very specific way and you have to see practically everything as metaphorical. This way the movie finally made sense to me and what's more: I finally recognised the depth and pure cinematic approach within this movie that I find definitively unique. So I started working on MD again. Could this new approach also be applied to MD? After extensive analysis I discovered that it indeed could be. I discovered that I did not understand MD at all and that this movie is indeed very, very complex; not only in regard to the metaphorical nature but especially the intented complications of this nature. I absolutely fell in love with MD and my appreciation for LH was pretty great. I find LH a little less interesting, but I believe they are two entirely different films (especially in regard to experience). LH is a true horror movie and like Eraserhead it gives me an ugly feeling. The premisse and indeed the complications regarding the structure I find truly fascinating, while the sequence of Alice and Pete on the beach is hauntingly beautiful. So I realy, realy, realy like LH but it is not MD.

Erniesam said...

And so I revisited Blue VElvet again and slowly but surely my admiration for that movie rose, but certainly not to the extend as forementioned movies. Than the Straight Story. Love that movie: beautiful in it's simplicity and reality. Than Eraserhead. THis truly remains a baffling and unique experience to me, even after having seen it about 5 times. I find this realy to be unique and one of the most personal films of Lynch. It is a wonderful, absolutely wonderful movie. The only trouble with it is that it makes me sick.

And so Inland Empire crossed my path. That was about 4 years ago. The first time I saw it I literally turned the movie off about halfway through. I had so high hopes for it because of my love for MD and LH, but I could not get through it! I turned it off and I noticed that I did not had the inclination to watch the rest of it. Finally I did (about two weeks later) and I was baffled. I didn't understand anything. I didn't like the use of a digital camera, I didn't like Dern etc.

But as with any Lynch movie, I must have known this was just a good sign. To not understand the movie means you have to figure it out. If you have to figure it out means that the movie contains more than you just see and hear. The same process followed as with MD and now I believe that the story of IE is Lynch at it's most ingenious. It is just as complex as MD only in a different way. I find it very hard to explain, because Lynch works almost exclusively in metaphors and tells his stories with images and tons of references and clues. Above all I find his films to be about experiencing abstract things. Abstractions that cannot be experienced through other mediums in the same way. Or expressed in the same way. Now I believe IE to be the best thing Lynch has created after MD.

So what about Twin Peaks? I'm working on it and I find it to be a very enjoyable ride. I sense that you absolutely love this series and I can see why. Still, I'm inclined to put emphasis on Lynch feature films and I find it difficult to compare his films with the series, because I experiencing them very differently.

I appreciate your effort to put the spotlight on Lynch this month. The way you write about his work tells me you realy admire it. I like to get some sense of enthusiasm and genuine joy out of writings and yours certainly do that. I'm curious about the follow ups and if their will be a interesting discussion folowing it.

Great work!

Joel Bocko said...

Thanks, erniesam - great kickoff for the conversation!

Twin Peaks definitely remains central to my experience of Lynch, and it is the series which launched me beyond experiencing a few of his works to actively wanting to explore most (and eventually) all of it. But I'd hesitate to call it the (pardon the expression) linchpin.

Like you, I find it uneven and it's worth remembering too that Lynch only directed 6 of the 30 episodes, wrote a handful of others, and had virtually no hand in a good many others (primarily the ones you're slogging through now). I'd also distinguish the first and second halves of the second season - they are almost more distinct than the first and second season.

The moment up to the big revelation really escalates the darkness of the first season - I find it a generally deeper and more sobering experience than the playful balancing of tones in season one. After Laura's killer is exposed and that storyline is put to rest, it does become ridiculous - but in terms of continuity, it's almost like a third, new season at this point. In terms of plotting, in terms of tone, in terms of the creators' involvement (both Lynch and Frost were MIA for many of these episodes), basically in every way except scheduling it was a new entity. It only came back near the end when Frost and Lynch tried to save the sinking ship.

Also interestingly, the turn in Twin Peaks' fortune happened long before the show's quality declined - in fact, it coincided with a deeper, darker focus on Laura's murder. The ratings fell off immediately after the pilot (the show was not for everything, though its premise hooked in a lot of curious viewers) but had a steady, relatively strong audience of young, hip viewers and critics who recognized and celebrated its innovations.

But they began turning on the show around the second season kickoff. Next week's post, a collection of about 80 quotes from Twin Peaks media responses (half from during the show's run, half from the following 20 years) fleshes this out a lot more so I'll speak more on the topic then, but I suspect it Lynch's (and perhaps Frost's) desire to challenge the audience - even those who had already congratulated themselves on "getting" Twin Peaks' postmodern sophistication - that alienated even those who were proud of their ability to roll with the punches. More specifically, it was the direction he took Laura's murder in. But more on that next week.

Joel Bocko said...

As for myself, I find Twin Peaks - the show and the film (and to a lesser extent, Wild at Heart, which came out the same year as Peaks - what do you think of that one?) to be the key transitional works in Lynch's career. If this month has a theme beyond just celebrating Lynch's individual works, it's that. But because it's diluted by the demands of network TV and other collaborators' involvement (which I think adds as well as subtracts, but does tend to make it a less purely "Lynchian" experience) I'd hesitate to call if my favorite Lynch.

Usually that title would be taken by Mulholland Drive but lately I've been far more fascinated with Fire Walk With Me. Indeed, even back when Twin Peaks first captivated me, the prequel took me to a whole different level.

Like you, I'm more a movie than TV person so while I love the ongoing pleasures of serialization, I find the heights Lynch reaches in his cinematic work to be the most provocative experiences. From the first frame, Fire Walk With Me takes what was suggested in Twin Peaks and thrusts us into it. That's true not only of its story and themes (and content like sexuality and violence) but the general mood, the feeling of rootless wandering that characterizes Lynch so strongly. When I watched Fire Walk With Me again this spring, it was immediately after re-watching the series (and not watching many other movies during this period) and I was struck again by how...strange the film feels. Watching the show, it's testing you, playing with you, you have one foot in a world you understand and one you don't, but right away, as the FBI agents are flying out to Oregon in Fire Walk With Me I just felt, I'm off the reservation, I don't know where I am. And that's the third time I'd seen it, still feeling this way! It's the difference between a TV show and a movie, sure, but it's also the difference between Lynch and most other filmmakers (even many deeply eccentric and imaginative ones).

That to me is Lynch's truest touch - that unexplainable ability to take us somewhere we don't understand, yet which connects to us on a level of consciousness that isn't usually tapped. It's why I call him a spiritual filmmaker above.

It's funny, though, he's not quite an out-and-out avant-garde filmmaker. As you note, he cultivates the desire in viewers to "know", to "understand" what he's doing. With someone like Maya Deren, I can shut off my rational mind and go for the ride - I don't need to "interpret" the wild imagery and eerie mood she's cultivating. It's its own justification. But while Lynch also taps into that visceral, dreamlike sense he ALSO teases us with the promise of narrative intelligibility and thematic coherence. This is why he's so alluring and sometimes frustrating as a filmmaker. His films both have meaning and don't rely on it - they take us to their purpose in a roundabout way where we can never be sure if the destination or journey are the real point. Ultimately, both are, which is just so rare.

Joel Bocko said...

In closing, I'll cede the floor to Lynch himself. Last night I watched the documentary "Great Directors" on Netflix, and ended up tweeting a great quote from Lynch. It gets to the heart of what I'm talking about:

"I always say Fellini inspired me. I love being in Fellini's worlds. And Billy Wilder. And Stanley Kubrick. And Alfred Hitchcock. To revisit those certain films and go in that world is just, it's a world that didn't exist and now it exists. There are some people that are, I always say that they don't like so much abstraction. They don't like to feel lost. They like to know always always always what's going on. And when they don't feel that, they feel a little crazy. And they don't like that. Other people, and I'm one of them, I love to go into a world, be taken into a world, and get lost in there, and feel, think my way And have these experiences, that I know, I know that feeling but I don't know how to put it in words. I know that feeling and it's magical that this cinema brought it out. This is what I love."

Erniesam said...

As you mentioned indeed: films of Lynch require some understanding of what's going on in order to make sense of what follows or of the movie as a whole. Films by Deren or Brakhage do not require that only interpretations of the images and relations to them. Though I find Lynch films not necessarily narrative in nature (with some exeptions of course) there is always an overarching idea or theme that is being played out. Like experimental filmmakers Lynch largely tells his story or his idea in metaphors. I find the stories of his last three films quite simple when you have in fact grasped them. But the wonderful irony is, that these stories or portayal of an idea is not straightforward and you realy cannot be quite sure if you understand it correctly. Perhaps there is no way to "understand it correctly" and are multiple approaches possible. This to me is a major attraction of his movies: every time I see them I get doubts about what some symbols or images realy could mean and what the relationships are between shots and scenes. His movies aren't "complete" and it's like they continue to evolve in your mind.

I agree with you on Twin Peaks being a turning point for Lynch. Before this I don't believe Lynch has used paranormal ideas or the shifting and swapping of personaes before. To be honest; before Twin Peaks I find his movies rather straight forward (exept for the unique exxeption of Eraserhead of course). Since Twin Peaks Lynch has turned into a darker, more psychologically warranted road. Since Twin Peaks Lynch has worked with ideas of dreams, (un)consiousness and structure. All three films after FWWM deal with the inner world of the protagonist (the way I see it) while personaes constantly swap or morph into other ones.

The comparison between Twin Peaks and Lost Highway seems very obvious to me. Mind you, I haven't seen FWWM yet though now I've read your fascination with it I'm extremely anxious to see it. Here we see the swapping of personaes for the first time (although I imagine this could also be the case in FWWM). Above all: the structure of the film itself (playing in the mind of Fred)forms the basis for this principle throughout the movie (as well as in MD and IE). This embodiment of evil through the Mystery Man I find reminiscent of that of Bob. I must admit that I can see remnants of it in Blue Velvet too, where Hopper plays the ultimate evil lurking under the surface of this idyllic town, but here it isn't presented as a metaphor. There is of course a distinction between Bob and Mystery Man. I believe Bob is indeed a representation of real evil, meaning this evil realy does exist in and of itself, while Mystery Man is the embodiment of the rage Fred felt when he killed his wife. In any case, since Twin Peaks I find that Lynch has gone inwards into the pshyche of his protagonist. Eraserhead indeed depicts the anxieties and fears of Henry, but this is presented from outside and not from within.

Erniesam said...

When I stated that the stories of his last three films are in eseence quite simple I did not mean to sound obnoxious. What I meant was that the BASIC IDEA itself is simple, but in order to reach that subjective of telling this story one must go through some mind boggling cinematic experience. The way to get to this basic idea is a very, very complicated one and I don't think there's any other effective way of telling it (or experiencing it).

I believe that the experience of the films of Lynch is indeed part of the storytelling itself: only by experiencing it you get the full grasp of the idea he is trying to convey.

Joel Bocko said...

Well, we're REALLY in agreement on this idea - I find the transition from "outside" to "inside" evil to be one of the essential fulcrums of Lynch's career. It's amazing how not just his theme but his storytelling strategy, protagonist type, and visual style all shifted right around the same time.

Joel Bocko said...

Also this - "His movies aren't "complete" and it's like they continue to evolve in your mind" - is a great way of putting it. Especially when it comes to Inland Empire.

Bemis said...

The first Lynch movie I saw was Dune, after reading the book when I was 8 or 9. While it was a confusing adaptation for a young fan of the book, I was fascinated by it; this was when I was beginning to understand what a director did and how a director's authorship could be recognized from one movie to the next, and Lynch became one of the first names I sought out. I saw The Elephant Man soon after, then Twin Peaks when Bravo aired it late at night (on weekends and nights when I was allowed to stay up late, at least, so revisiting it on DVD years later made sense of a lot of things). I actually remember watching the few episodes of On the Air that were broadcast. I didn't see Fire Walk With Me until much later, for some reason. Renting Blue Velvet, when I was 13, affected me most strongly. The dark sexuality, the contrast between horror and broad comedy, its depiction of the universe as equal parts dark and light (with darkness often hiding in the lightest-seeming places) and, especially, the way it framed moviegoing as a nakedly voyeuristic activity transformed how I thought about movies, my relationship to them and what the medium was capable of expressing.

Joel Bocko said...

Thanks Andrew! I always wonder what it would have been like to see Twin Peaks as a kid. (I first saw on DVD, at 24.) Not when it first aired - God knows I would have been one traumatized 6-year-old after meeting Bob - but at like 10 or 11. Or even as a teenager. So many I the themes, moods, and styles appealed to me from a young age.

Dune is another interesting story. I didn't watch it until a couple months ago, as part of my Lynch retro (the only other film I discovered this way was The Straight Story). I'll admit it was my least favorite viewing although I enjoyed it a bit more on second viewing. Interesting that it was also your introduction to the "Lynch style" - my first impression was that it felt like an outlier but compared to other s/f blockbusters I can see it more especially in the design elements. It's interesting to me as well how - prior to Blue Velvet - what's "Lynchian" seems to fit in with the gothic/techno-surrealism of Cronenberg & Scott. Velvet REALLY changed the game in that regard, prone as I am to cite Twin Peaks (and even Wild at Heart in subtle ways) as his most transitional project. But Blue Velvet is what most revolutionized & established what people still think of as "Lynchian" today. Speaking of "what if"'s I also wonder what my impression of Blue Velvet would have been if I'd encountered it before Mulholland Drive instead of after. Following my initial disappointment, it always been a film that fascinates me but which I admire more than deeply love.

On another note, haven't seen the Jodorowsky Dune doc yet though I'm intrigued. Dali as emperor is already enough to sell me...

Erniesam said...

I finally watched Twin Peaks all the way through. The last epidode is an absolute winner, although I certainly do not like all of it. The situation around Donna's father and the end(?) of Ben Horne I did find pretty irritating. But the whole second season has got plenty of let downs: the story of James and this blonde woman, the "rivalry" between Andy and Jake (although at times quite funny), the super strength of Nadine and above all: Wyndom Earle! I liked Norma and Ed coming together again, Cooper getting in love again and the story around the Major.

But they could have done so much more with this. First of all there is no sense of dread or suspicion. I think it would have been better if a murder was being committed right at the start an that the suspicion would fall on indeed Bob or Wyndom Earle. They should have introduced Earle right from the start and kept his appearance a mystery right up to the end. We see Earle all the time acting kinda crazy but all the suspense around him is gone! They should have treated him the same as they did Bob in season 1: mysterious, dangerous, omnipresent etc. And this business with Leo? Come on that's just pathetic. It would have been way more effective if they let Leo come out of the coma and let him run away. Than he too would be a threat to be held in the back of the mind. It could have been realy great, but alas.

The final episode is indeed a real treat exept for some endings that I do not find realy pleasing. I get the need for cliffhangers, but hadn't they already the notion that this would be the final episode? Still, I absolutely love the ending with Cooper being taken over by Bob. Above all, the sequence in the Black Lodge is absolutely fantastic and probably one of the truly scariest things I've ever seen! The screaming of Laura is horrifying. She herself is indeed horrifying which I find truly captivating: the girl which everybody mourns and feels guilty about in someway has in fact becomne a demon. Fascinating.

Joel Bocko said...

I can still remember my disappointment when the second half of season 2 didn't go where I expected. I thought that we would go deeper into the mythology of the woods but for a good 5-10 episode run it's like the writers forget everything that had made the show so interesting or else resolved to do the opposite.

I like pretty much the same things as you - the Major's character & Cooper's romance with Annie (though knowing it was supposed to be Audrey dampens things a bit) - and agree that Windom should have been made more mysterious and threatening.

While the cliffhanger of the finale is rather depressing it also feels sadly right to me. Though you probably know this already, Fire Walk with Me doesn't offer any real closure on that front (Lynch had hoped to deal with Cooper's fate in subsequent unrealized sequels) but, without giving too much away, it does address some aspects of his condition and possibilities for him (the film is a prequel but recall that the Red Room exists outside conventional time and space). But the focus is mostly on Laura as it should be.

Erniesam said...

Yesterday I watched Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. It was a pretty special occasion for it was the last feature film of Lynch that I hadn't seen. Like with al of his films I think I need to watch it again. I have to say I am not very enthusiastic about it. As the imaging, structure and montage goes I find the movie pretty good, but it has many flaws.

The most obvious flaw is the fact that you know how it will end. Not just that Laura dies, but exactly HOW she dies. That to me is a crucial element that hampers the film. Furthermore, the movie is realy, realy depressing but how can it be otherwise when it concerns a girl fighting a demon and who finally decides rather to die than to be taken over? Donna is being played by another girl. I assume because of the nudity scene. While she acts okay this too I find not suitable when all the other characters are the real deal.

That said there were certainly some good points like the scene with David Bowie. Not that he himself is particularly good, but the idea of the concept: a meeting in the Black LOdge has been held and he is the messenger to bring the news that Laura will be the next victim. At least, that's what I gathered. I also liked the first segment with Isaak and Sutherland. When Isaak reaches out for the ring, does this mean he also is now in the Black Lodge?

There are some realy, realy creepy scenes in this concerning Bob, the scene with the flower guy and most of all concerning Leland Palmer. I thought the most interesting part of the movie was the relationship between Laura and her father. Especially the scene with the one armed man was pretty creepy. There are some scenes in the red room which are quite nice, but nothing, absolutely nothing can top episode 29.

To end on a positive note, I realy loved the ending. We have seen Laura in episode 29 presented as a demon, probably because Cooper entered the wrong door (there was a good and a bad entry wasn't there?). Here we see Laura is finally at peace. The angel she thought she had lost is now there to comfort her and to give her salvation. What's more, she is being comforted by (the good) Cooper also. Wonderful. All in all a good movie, but you know how it's going to end.

Joel Bocko said...

Ernie, glad you got to see Fire Walk With Me (and can now follow along with these conversations without concern for spoilers/misunderstandings).

It's a tough film to digest and I think a lot of people who like it now were ambivalent (or worse) on first viewing. Actually, I kind of fall into this category - I say "kind of" because I think I was more bowled over than you when I first saw it, but it also deeply troubled me.

Here's my initial review:
http://thedancingimage.blogspot.com/2008/08/twin-peaks-fire-walk-with-me_09.html

Where you come down on Fire Walk With Me in the long run probably depends a great deal on how you judge/respond to films. For me, power is more important than perfection so within a day or two I'd decided that the film's flaws couldn't prevent me from recognizing its greatness - after all, it had offered me the most overwhelming viewing experience I'd had all that year. That's the type of thing I couldn't overlook even though, in my case, I was not only put off by disturbed by the film's structural messiness and supernatural elements which seemed to insult the importance of Laura's story (I've changed my view on this somewhat over the years, as you can see in my conversation with Tony last month).

As for your specific points, here's my take on them:

1. Knowing the ending. I can honestly say this doesn't bother me at all - except, nominally, when it comes to the actual ending itself (and that's more down to how it's constructed as knowing what happens). In fact, I think part of the film's power relies on our knowledge of Laura's doom - it is a true tragedy in this sense (everyone going into plays like Oedipus Rex - even when they were first performed - certainly knew the story). It's about fleshing out the details, rather than putting them together to see where they will lead: an investigation into the why, rather than the what or even the how.

2. The movie is definitely depressing. Again, though, that's what it needs to be. And personally, I find it a particular type of depressing - not something that leaves me feeling grey and miserable, but deeply sad. It's a beautiful movie (Al Strobel, who played the one-armed man, has a great quote about Lynch's juxtaposition of beauty and horror), it's cathartic, and most of all it's empathetic. In the end, I think I'd rather have Lynch take me to that dark place, painful as it may be, than stay on the outskirts wondering what's going on underneath but not wanting to plunge deeper.

3. Moira Kelly. Like you, I was initially disappointed there was no Boyle (I've heard conflicting reports as to her absence, some citing nudity, others that she was already involved with 4 other films). But Kelly has grown on me. Yeah, the discontinuity can be distracting but because I already kind of take the film and show as two different entities (with a complicated dialectic between them) I can kind of overlook this. As for the contrasts of the performers, I've come to believe Kelly works better for the part as written. Boyle had a darker, more sexualized side and didn't seem as much the true innocent that Kelly does here. I think Donna and Laura would have seemed more like rivals vs. the kind of sweetly protective relationship the actors convey here. Which wouldn't have necessarily been a bad thing - Lynch would have made that work too and could have been equally compelling. But I think he rolls with the punches (I even kind of like that Isaak replaces an unusually disengaged MacLachlan because it sets the tone for what's coming even better - we're clearly no longer in Kansas anymore).

Joel Bocko said...

On a complete but intersting side note, Sheryl Lee and Moira Kelly had actually worked together before, in a TV movie about a father who manipulated his daughter and sister-in-law to murder his wife. Lee is the sister-in-law, abused since childhood by the guy (she always seems to get these sexually raw, emotionally vulnerable roles!) and Kelly is the 14-year-old daughter who is sent to juvie as a scapegoat. I found it on YouTube recently and the style is conventionally potboiler-ish in a lot of ways, but the actors both give good, dedicated performances (actually, Kelly's might be the more compelling). Also, when someone is murdered in the beginning, there is a close-up of a white horse on the bedroom rug!

Anyway, glad you got to see Ernie and came here to share your thoughts. It's definitely worth sitting with and perhaps returning to at some point in the future - ultimately, how you feel with it will be determined by what lingers: the frustrations/disappointments or the elements that impressed or moved you. For myself, I found very quickly that it was the latter and even included it in a top 100 favorites list a few years later. But I didn't watch it again for another 5 years!

This will also make next week's post much more interesting for you, as there's a ton of material in my round-up on the film (probably the majority of post-'92 quotes I selected reflect more on the movie than the series). It'll be a good opportunity for you to read multiple perspectives (some very positive, some very negative) and digest what you've seen.

Erniesam said...

I can see you are really passionate about this movie. The fact is: I realy would want to like the movie, but it hasn't grabbed me as much as other movies of Lynch. Well, to be honest only MD had grabbed me immediately the first time, while all the other movies of Lynch took some considerable time to digest. I believe that watching FWWM asecond and a third time my opinion of it may very well be more positive.

Mind you, I certainly didn't think it was a bad movie. In fact I thought it was quite interesting and good, but in the light of many other Lynch feature films it paled in comparison to me. There are lots of symbols and metaphors I did not get and perhaps when I do I will have another approach to this movie. As it stands now I find it an interesting movie with some exellent scenes.

Joel Bocko said...

Yeah, as you said before one of the interesting things about Lynch is how his works can take a while to digest. I felt similarly (for different reasons) about Blue Velvet & Inland Empire, while Mulholland Drive & Fire Walk With Me grabbed me right away. Lost Highway I had to restart 3 times before getting into for whatever reason.

Another thing to remember with Fire Walk With Me is that it wasn't intended to be a standalone film, but part of an ongoing franchise (probably somewhat naively on Lynch's part, given how the show ended). As such, some of the more cryptic elements would intended to set up Twin Peaks sequels: Chet Desmond's (not to mention Dale Cooper's) fate, Phillip Jeffries' experiences, and the identity of Judy (I have a new theory on that) all could have been explored in future films.

Not a huge fan of that approach, personally - I never liked when superhero movies ended with blatant franchise set-ups for exmaple - but it does make some more sense out of the movies' seeming non sequitors. Like Twin Peaks the show, and Mulholland Drive the film/show hybrid, Fire Walk With Me is another example of Lynch's "frustrated seriality," as one critic called it.