Lost in the Movies (formerly The Dancing Image): August 2019

Monday, August 19, 2019

Freedom from Formula: discussing David Lynch & Auteur TV with Martha Nochimson, author of Television Rewired

Five years ago, I spoke to author and David Lynch scholar Martha Nochimson about her two groundbreaking studies of the great director: The Passion of David Lynch explores his first few films through the lens of feminism and Jungian analysis while her follow-up David Lynch Swerves incorporates quantum physics and Vedic spirituality. Now she has returned to this fertile ground, with Twin Peaks and particularly David Lynch at the center of her new book Television Rewired. This study, subtitled "The Rise of the Auteur Series" does not just limit itself to Lynch and Peaks. Using his troubled ABC production from the nineties and his fully-flowered Showtime series from 2017 as bookends, Television Rewired devotes a chapter each to David Chase's The Sopranos, David Simon's The Wire, David Simon's and Eric Overmyer's Treme, Matt Weiner's Mad Men, and Lena Dunham's Girls. An introduciton called "The David Effect" discusses the genesis and evolution of the trend toward auteur TV while the penultimate chapter, "Backlash! Formula 2.0" focuses on innovative but still formulaic series such as Breaking Bad and The X-Files.

Struck by the way Lynch "modeled freedom," Nochimson builds on her previous work with both him and David Chase through new interviews with both those and other TV auteurs. She sees them as facing a challenge similar to Cooper in Part 3 of the new Twin Peaks limited series (while admiring the dozen poetic resonances of "The Return" she's abiding by producer Sabrina Sutherland's admonition to avoid that title). Unlike Cooper, however, Lynch, Chase, and others don't descend back into the confinement of the black box - they leap out into outer space, into the unknown...falling, or flying? Nochimson discussed this sequence extensively in a lively chat with Scott Ryan in The Red Room podcast a few months ago; for our part, we concentrated on questions about Judy and the presence of evil, the New Mexico girl and the possibility she's Sarah (an idea Nochimson loathes), whether there's a "there" there for poor Dougie, and if there's a relationship between Fire Walk With Me and season three. We also spend a little time on The Sopranos and Girls (I avoided reading about or discussing Mad Men and The Wire, shows I'm still in the process of watching) as well as discovering the stubborn divergence of how we perceive the David Lynch/Mark Frost collaboration - or lack thereof. And, after a ten-minute introduction of her premise, we open the back-and-forth with a particularly fruitful investigation of what TV formula means and how artists could, and perhaps should, relate to it.

I hope you enjoy listening to this lengthy, in-depth discussion as much I enjoyed participating in it (the video is primarily audio-only, but uses images to illustrate various sections if you want to jump around, leave and come back, or just have some visual stimulation as you listen to it unwind in one sitting). Nochimson's book is well worth reading not only for its insights but for the dialogue and reflection it opens up among readers.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Late summer update: a makeover and progress toward Journey Through Twin Peaks

I am currently in the midst of a massive, radical re-design of this site, the most ambitious such reboot since I founded this online hub in 2008. This will finally shift the focus away from a what's-latest blog template (although that approach will still be available for those who prefer it) and attempt to strike a balance between directing readers toward particular subject areas while also keeping Lost in the Movies' massive archive at their fingertips. Since this involves cataloging over a thousand entries visually rather than by text (I'm using movie posters as the "buttons" in most cases), in some cases slotting a single entry in a dozen or so different slots, the process is definitely taking a while. But I'm hopeful the new site can be ready by the end of August. And once it is, I can finally resume work on three video essays (two Side by Side analyses and a 3 1/2 Minute Review) which will be the only remaining obstacles between me and the new Journey Through Twin Peaks.

Back in the spring, I laid out my path to creating more videos and I've stuck to it pretty stubbornly. I decided to tackle the re-design before rather than after the Journey project, and I eventually relegated my Mark Frost readings (expanded to encompass his entire oeuvre) to a small patch each evening, a sidebar rather than a prerequisite to further work. Otherwise, though, I've accomplished my goals in a slow, steady, sure manner and it remains feasible - if not entirely likely - that I could land an early November premiere for the new video series. I can't commit to that, and an early 2020 launch seems more plausible but I can say that I'm on track to at least begin work on Journey Through Twin Peaks by Labor Day. My podcast episodes for September and October are long ago pre-recorded so I won't have to make choices about what work to focus on for another three months, but we'll cross that bridge when we get there.

I originally hoped to let both the re-design and the rollout of new video essays speak for themselves. However, as I'm still bogged down in (at the moment) a sprawling cross-linked directory web of podcast topics, other commitments came knocking - hence the need for this status update for patient and/or curious readers. A month ago, I recorded and published an extensive, nearly three-hour interview with Martha Nochimson, the David Lynch/television scholar whom I first spoke to in 2014. I uploaded a preview onto YouTube and saved the interview for patrons at that time but, as promised, I'm now making the full conversation available: it's uploading as I type this and will be cross-linked on this site tomorrow. I also have a Twin Peaks Unwrapped appearance kicking around in the backlog - my guess is that Ben and Bryon will drop it this week but no promises. It involves a return to their wacky "Lynch Madness" format, this time for season one episodes - and with two additional surprise guests! I also plan to post a simple notice when I introduce the new site re-design in the next few weeks or even days (fingers crossed). Enjoy the old format while and if you can, because it won't be around much longer.

See you then!

Friday, August 2, 2019

Veronica Mars - "Years, Continents, Bloodshed" (season 4, episode 8)

Welcome to my viewing diary for Veronica Mars. Each day, I am covering every episode (and the film) including the brand new Hulu revival. I am watching this series for the first time, so there will be NO spoilers.

Story (premiered on July 19, 2019/written by Rob Thomas; directed by Scott Winant): The Mars family has a not-terribly-difficult decision to make, although initially they are loathe to make it. Penn insists that they work for him - after all, what have they got to lose? If he's guilty, great, they help keep him in jail. If he's innocent, they earn some money while catching the real killer. Sensing that they're being manipulated, Veronica and Keith reluctantly agree but insist on taking the investigation where they want it to go. This leads them back to the Pi Sigma fraternity, where Keith marvels at Veronica's ruthlessness, forcing the weepy Blake Long (Spencer Ward) to admit what happened during Spring Break 2015. Drunk and in the midst of hazing rituals, the bros lashed out at a hapless pizza delivery man, dunking him in the violent waves until he apparently drowned, his body washed away. When one of group expressed remorse, his tent was burned down during the night; since then they've adhered to a vow of silence although Blake suspects his own friends set the fire. Veronica has her own interpretation: the pizza guy didn't really die. He came back to kill one of his tormentors (ironically the one who felt bad), and three years later he's been avenging himself on the broader swathe of spring breakers. Matty, now edging her way into working full-time with Mars Investigations, learns that the pizza shop can't find the paper ticket from that fateful night's delivery, but Penn maintains that such an incident never happened to him. And then, a breakthrough...

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Veronica Mars - "Gods of War" (season 4, episode 7)

Welcome to my viewing diary for Veronica Mars. Each day, I am covering every episode (and the film) including the brand new Hulu revival. I am watching this series for the first time, so there will be NO spoilers.

Story (premiered on July 19, 2019/written by Diane Ruggiero-Wright, Heather V. Regnier; directed by Amanda Marsalis): "What's a murderhead?" asks poor Wallace, as Veronica explains that actually they're going to attend a later screening of their planned movie in order to catch up with the latest conspiracy theories about the Neptune bombings. (Man, I hope he gets a quality scene in the finale, as Veronica's best buddy has really been given the shaft this season.) Nonetheless, Wallace takes Veronica's last-minute, admittedly self-serving change of plan in stride. Nicole, on the other hand, is appalled when she learns how Veronica has been using her - minutes after chuckling that whatever Veronica's done, she's done worse, Nicole flatly informs Veronica that actually, planting a bug in her office is something she can't top. She also emphatically denies responsibility for any of the bombings, although I suspect she'll eventually be pinned on the beheading and Veronica will forego the quarter-million and look the other way. Fortunately (or unfortunately), Veronica has professional duties to take her mind off personal problems. It looks increasingly likely that while Big Dick engineered the Sea Sprite and Perry explosions, Penn orchestrated the follow-up. The smoking gun, so to speak, is that nail - it only wound up in Penn's back because it was part of a painting on the lobby wall but it was incorporated into all of the subsequent bombs presumably because Penn assumed it was built into the first device.

Then again, as Keith observes, Penn shared that knowledge with the rest of his crew so it could've been any of them. That concept is forgotten as the Mars chase down Penn in his lovers' cabin in the woods and engage in a shootout with Alonzo and Dodie, who have decided they'll let the professionals lead them to the killer and then take out all three in one fell swoop. Keith, once again wounded by foggy cognition, leave his ammunition in the car and beats himself up afterwards: realizing that his condition nearly killed his daughter, he emphatically declares that he's "done." Fortunately, both are saved by the PCHers who show up on a fleet of motorcycles just as the Mexican hitmen are about to finish the job, and insist that El Despiadado's enforcers be escorted back to Neptune. Penn is taken back to the police station, where Leo says goodbye (and apologizes for taking things a bit too far with Veronica). With Cliff at his side, Penn declares his innocence and insists that the Mars - no hard feelings! - take up his case and find the real culprit. After all, there's another bomb set within twenty-four hours and the most important thing they can all do is figure out who's planting it and how to stop them.

My Response: