Lost in the Movies (formerly The Dancing Image): Lured in by Lynch & Rivette: a retrospective at Lincoln Center (+ status update for the coming weeks)

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Lured in by Lynch & Rivette: a retrospective at Lincoln Center (+ status update for the coming weeks)


Over the coming two weeks, I will be reviewing every double feature in the Lynch/Rivette retrospective at Lincoln Center. Reviews will be going up as soon as I am able to write them, alongside my usual Monday-Wednesday-Friday at 7am routine. To kick off the retrospective, I am sharing the intro & a link to an essay I wrote for Fandor Keyframe (where my videos will resume in the new year). By coincidence, Fandor's head video essayist, Kevin B. Lee, also produced a new video related to the retrospective which premiered tonight at Lincoln Center, alongside a talk by Dennis Lim, who programmed the series with Dan Sullivan, and Melissa Anderson.

In addition to my pieces on each Lynch/Rivette screening, the coming weeks will feature interviews with two authors of recent Lynch/Twin Peaks literature: Dennis Lim - who, in addition to programming the retrospective, also just published David Lynch: The Man From Another Place - and Andreas Halskov, whose new book TV Peaks covers the influence, innovation, and fan culture of Twin Peaks. And before I give way to the Fandor piece, I also want to point you to James Cooray Smith's thoughtful, nuanced article on the Star Wars prequels for the New Statesman (despite the provocative title, his perspective is more exploratory than polemical). Not only is it a great read, he very generously shouted out my Journey Through Twin Peaks videos!

Ok, on with the show...

• • •

David & Jacques Go Boating:
The Lynch/Rivette Dual Retrospective at Lincoln Center

by Joel Bocko

For thirteen days in December, the Film Society of Lincoln Center will trade its screening room for a rabbit hole. American auteur David Lynch and French filmmaker Jacques Rivette are the subjects of a fifteen-film retrospective marked by split narratives, double characters, and entangled locations. The surrealist directors are themselves defined by duality, with some viewers celebrating them as truthtellers while others dismiss (or appreciate) them as tricksters. Their films thrive on this uncertainty, projecting an aura of dreamlike mystery punctuated by playful interludes and violent epiphanies.

It isn’t hard to see why Dan Sullivan and Dennis Lim, author of the brand new Lynch book The Man From Another Place, programmed Lynch and Rivette side by side in a series of double features (although tickets are available for each film individually, the heart of the retrospective’s approach is in these pairings). The program notes feature many convergences between the cowboy and the Frenchman: “secrets, conspiracies, and paranoia; women in trouble; the supernatural manifesting itself within the everyday; the nature of performance and the stage as an arena for transformation; the uncanny sense of narrative as a puzzle without a solution, a force with a life of its own.”

Rivette evokes that uncanny sensation by mixing casual fly-on-the-wall photography with heightened theatricality, while Lynch prefers to decorate his cinematic canvases with subverted Hollywood fantasies. Both directors discover the bizarre in the everyday, but Rivette tends toward mesmeric daydream whereas Lynch creates more convulsive nightmares. Indeed, the Lynch/Rivette retrospective is defined by harmony and dissonance, with each similarity exposing a subtle difference. The dance orchestrated by Sullivan and Lim may be a tense tango rather than a smooth waltz.

Rivette has praised Lynch’s work, declaring Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992) “the craziest film in the history of cinema. I have no idea what happened, I have no idea what I saw, all I know is that I left the theater floating six feet above the ground.” Lynch’s thoughts on Rivette are unknown (perhaps he’s never been asked). Did Rivette’s Celine and Julie Go Boating (1974) influence Lynch’s Mulholland Drive (2001)? Or do great minds simply think alike? Perhaps these directors share the same wavelength but operate on different frequencies.

Unscrambling these signals, Sullivan and Lim have posed pairings both obvious and inventive, relying on character, chronology, theme, or something more intangible to concoct these double features. “I was particularly interested in performance in their films,” Lim has noted, “and the way both filmmakers work with narrative.”

FRIDAY, December 11
Rivette’s The Duchess of Langeais (2007), 137 minutes, at 3:30pm & 9:00pm
Lynch’s Blue Velvet (1986), 120 minutes, at 8:30pm (followed by reception for ticket-holders)

Narrative provides the glue for the opening selection, pairing Lynch’s groundbreaking Blue Velvet with Rivette’s late work The Duchess of Langeais (based on Balzac’s History of the Thirteen). The first exists in an all-American small town mixing fifties sunshine with eighties anxiety, while the second encloses itself in the ornate drawing rooms and boudoirs of Restoration France. Both center on enigmatic woman who bewitch a young man, Blue Velvet’s Dorothy (Isabella Rossellini) seducing Jeffrey (Kyle MacLachlan) through violence and sexuality, Balzac’s titular Duchess (Jeanne Balibar) preferring coquetry to fornication as she toys with a youthful general (Guillaume Depardieu).

Corruption and conspiracy (most notably via Dennis Hopper’s terrifying Frank Booth) characterize the communities surrounding these private psychodramas, social spheres determined to impose order in the wake of unrest. The tension in Rivette’s film may arise in the contradiction of the director’s own freewheeling sensibilities with Balzac’s royalist sympathies, whereas the tension in Lynch’s film arises from within himself. The much-protested, much-celebrated American subversive was also an avid supporter of Ronald Reagan at the time, fascinated in equal measure by picket fences and the dirt underneath.

SATURDAY, December 12
Rivette’s Joan the Maid: The Battles (1994), 160 minutes, at 2:00pm
Rivette’s Joan the Maid: The Prisons (1994), 176 minutes, at 5:30pm
Lynch’s Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992), 134 minutes, at 9:15pm

The next double feature (or, technically, triple feature) focuses on single characters: Joan of Arc (Sandrine Bonnaire), whom Rivette depicted in Joan the Maid: The Battles and Joan the Maid: The Prisons and Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee), whom Lynch invented as a murder victim on the mystery show Twin Peaks (1990-91) before finally granting her onscreen life in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. Gifted and damned young woman, inclined toward spiritual insight while tormented by powerful, worldly men, both were more familiar to audiences as myths than flesh-and-blood human beings.

In Joan the Maid and Fire Walk With Me, these heroines are resurrected through intense, committed performances by two brilliant actresses. Rather than relegating them to passive martyrdom, both Laura and Joan are characterized as defiant in the face of death, strong, resilient, and also deeply human. Laura’s spiritual victory may not be obvious as Joan’s, but it is there for those who want to look. Both Joan and Fire depict the fiery humanist heart concealed behind Lynch’s and Rivette’s playful public personas.

SUNDAY, December 13
Rivette’s L’Amour Fou (1969), 250 minutes, at 3:00pm
Lynch’s Wild at Heart (1990), 124 minutes, at 8:15pm

The first weekend of the series concludes with back-to-back romances characterized as much by violence as sex; their very titles proclaim that love leads to madness (or vice-versa). Rivette’s L’Amour Fou (1969), depicting the breakup/breakdown of a marriage between an actress (Bulle Ogier) and director (Jean-Pierre Kalfon), and Lynch’s Wild at Heart (1990), coupling Nicolas Cage and Laura Dern as tender-hearted fugitives from a bizarre criminal empire, are fueled by the passionate energy of two different freedom-loving zeitgeists, and both represent major turning points in their directors’ careers.

Shot during the social tumult unleashed by May ’68, Rivette’s four-hour intimate epic introduced improvisation-based narrative to his work, paving the way for the thirteen-hour experiment Out 1 (1971). Produced at the end of the Cold War, Lynch’s road movie ignited a new impressionistic style for the director, pushing him toward his increasingly avant-garde episodes of Twin Peaks. Acclaim greeted both films (Wild at Heart won the Palme d’Or at Cannes) but they remain controversial, alternately described as audacious or self-indulgent.

TUESDAY, December 15
Rivette’s Paris Belongs to Us (1961), 140 minutes, at 6:30pm
Lynch’s Eraserhead (1977), 89 minutes, at 9:15pm

The retrospective resumes, following a one-day break, with Lynch’s first feature Eraserhead (1979) and Rivette’s directorial debut Paris Belongs to Us (1961). Both breakthroughs took years to produce, held together only by the young directors’ visions and the passion of their collaborators despite long pauses and funding crises. Conveying apocalyptic energies through paranoid protagonists and hilarious (if unnerving) communication breakdowns, Eraserhead and Paris Belong to Us trace a similar path…and yet these may be the two most different films that the retrospective placed together.

No Lynch film exists more purely within an imaginary headspace than Eraserhead, confronting Henry (Jack Nance) with bizarre characters like his mutant baby, his animalistic in-laws, and the Lady and the Radiator. Few Rivette works are as explicit as Paris Belongs to Us about links to current or recent events, with Anne (Betty Schneider) uncovering the possibility of a worldwide fascist plot behind her friend’s apparent suicide. Eraserhead is solitary and fantastical, while Paris Belongs to Us is communitarian and worldly. This yin/yang dynamic clearly establishes where the Venn diagram of Lynch and Rivette aligns…and where it diverges.

FRIDAY, December 18
Lynch’s Lost Highway (1997), 134 minutes, at 6:30pm
Rivette’s Duelle (1976), 120 minutes, at 9:15pm

Following several solo screenings throughout the week (listed at the end of this article), the double features return with these two moody, mythic noirs. Fond of cryptic puzzles and pulpish allusions, Lynch’s Lost Highway(1997) and Rivette’s Duelle (1976) stretch their makers’ reality-bending tendencies beyond their previous limits and watch them snap. These brazenly supernatural stories defy physics while embracing an intuitive logic drawn from the collective unconscious.

Rivette’s low-fi sci-fi fantasy features a literal battle between goddesses of sun (Bulle Ogier) and moon (Juliet Berto). Lynch’s fever-dream juxtaposes a jealous husband-turned-innocent patsy (Bill Pullman, Balthazar Getty) and a meek wife-turned-femme fatale (Patricia Arquette) against the sunny suburbia of the Valley and the nightmarish darkness of Los Angeles. This match-up promises to be among the most invigorating double features on display this week, plunging us into metropolitan mindscapes that gleam with the cold, dazzling allure of Duelle’s diamond.

SATURDAY, December 19
Rivette’s Celine and Julie Go Boating (1974), 192 minutes, at 4:45pm
Lynch’s Mulholland Drive (2001), 147 minutes, at 9:00pm

MONDAY, December 21
Lynch’s Mulholland Drive (2001), 147 minutes, at 4:00pm
Rivette’s Celine and Julie Go Boating (1974), 192 minutes, at 7:00pm

Not only are Mulholland Drive and Celine and Julie Go Boating among the most closely-linked films of the two directors, they also became the signature creations of each. Mulholland’s Hollywood tone poem – the story of a naïve young actress (Naomi Watts) befriending a mysterious amnesiac (Laura Elena Harring) (or so it begins) – now ranks as the most acclaimed American film of the century. Celine and Julie – in which the title characters (Juliet Berto and Dominique Labourier) stumble across a haunted house/enchanted movie set/alternate-reality wormhole – remains Rivette’s most celebrated work by a long shot (even making an Entertainment Weekly all-time top 100 list).

Despite the dark themes of Mulholland Drive in particular, these are also among the most fun works in the Lynch-Rivette canon, mixing glamor, humor, and even action with a sense of endless possibility and experimentation. Each film unfolds in the cross-section of two very different narrative worlds, occasionally offering very alternate viewpoints of what appears to be the same fundamental story. In Mulholland Drive, these narratives occur back-to-back. Even more radically, Celine and Julie views them side-by-side. If you venture into Lynchland or Rivettropolis only once in December, this is probably the trip you will want to take.

SUNDAY, December 20
Lynch’s Inland Empire (2006), 180 minutes, at 5:00pm
Rivette’s Story of Marie and Julien (2003), 151 minutes, at 9:00pm

For the most adventurous spirits, however, the best is yet to come. The final double feature (aside from the Mulholland/Celine Monday repeat) joins two of the directors’ later works, proving that they did not become more timid with age. Shot when Rivette was in his seventies, Story of Marie and Julien, starring Emmanuelle Beart and Jerzy Radziwilowicz, ends the retrospective where it began, with an erotic love story involving intrigue and deception. This time, however, the romance unfolds not within a realistic historical context but against an increasingly supernatural, irrational backdrop.

Lynch’s hallucinatory video experiment Inland Empire moves with the logic of channel-or-web surfing, mixing the digital world of the twenty-first century with a fascination with cinema’s – and particularly Hollywood’s – past. Loosely organized around the experience of an actress (Laura Dern) whose reality becomes entangled with the part she is playing, Inland Empire remains Lynch’s most radical work. Inland Empire and Story of Marie and Julien jumble together psychic synchronicity, ghost stories, and a quantum-infused timestamp. They open up new doors for the directors, but they also look back upon long, storied careers, referencing and reflecting the early works of Lynch and Rivette.

No less than Celine and Julie, Betty and Rita, Sailor and Lula, or Marie and Julien, the duo of Lynch and Rivette are as exciting as they are dangerous. Lincoln Center will briefly serve as a portal into their overlapping wonderlands, but unlike the Lynch/Rivette characters – who access these dream worlds via hard candies, blue boxes, magical diamonds, or ominous rings – we require only ordinary tickets. I have mine, and will be reporting on the retrospective while it unfolds (on Lost in the Movies [http://thedancingimage.blogspot.com]). Will it be real, or some strange and twisted dream? There’s only one way to find out. See you on the other side.

Additional screenings
TUESDAY, December 15: Lynch’s Wild at Heart (1990), 124 minutes, at 4:00pm
WEDNESDAY, December 16: Lynch’s Blue Velvet (1986), 120 minutes, at 2:30pm
THURSDAY, December 17: Rivette’s L’Amour Fou (1969), 250 minutes, at 2:00pm
FRIDAY, December 18: Rivette’s Paris Belongs to Us (1961), 140 minutes, at 3:30pm
SUNDAY, December 20: Lynch’s Lost Highway (1997), 134 minutes, at 2:00pm
TUESDAY, December 22: Rivette’s Story of Marie and Julien (2003), 151 minutes, at 4:00pm

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