If you’re reading this you’re one of us. You see the patterns that no one else does. You find the answers to questions too bewildering for others to comprehend. But the deeper you dig, the more confusing things get. And then there are the shady characters who keep weaving through your journey. It’s a conspiracy, but you’re the only one who can see it! That path can lead only to madness. Or a movie. We all love a good conspiracy thriller, but we are mesmerized by a conspiracy plot where the answers one seeks may not exist in the material realm.
Under the Silver Lake, the latest film to explore a mystery that seems to defy the logic of science and reason, has been pushed back from its original June release date to December. Ostensibly it’s to give filmmaker David Robert Mitchell time to recut the movie. But could there be another, more sinister reason behind this delay? What exactly aren’t they telling us? Just who is really pulling the strings here?
Film critics and Seattle film mavens Robert Horton, Richard T. Jameson, Kathleen Murphy and Bruce Reid discuss Wonder Woman, David Lynch’s return to the Pacific Northwest Gothic of Twin Peaks, and home video releases of two classics: Nicholas Ray’s They Live By Night and Sam Peckinpah’s The Ballad of Cable Hogue.
These discussions are held in the screening room of Scarecrow Video on the second Friday of every month and are free to attend. The Seattle Channel records and presents many of these a few weeks later on the Seattle Channel.
David Lynch, the once boyish maverick of such dark, demanding, and confounding films as Blue Velvet and Lost Highway (not to mention the gentle, G-rated slice of slightly askew Americana, The Straight Story), is 60 now. You can see his age in has face and his graying hair (still wildly brushed as if trying to escape his head), but his output is, if anything, even greater now. He’s producing short films for his website, painting, even marketing his own signature coffee.
And he’s still making films the only way he knows how: his way. He made heady and dreamy three hour drama Inland Empire, shot totally on digital video (his first feature made in that format), with such Hollywood pros as Laura Dern and Jeremy Irons, yet financed and produced completely outside of Hollywood.
“It’s mostly common sense making films,” he insists. “You don’t need a studio. You need some money and you need ideas and then you go make your film.” He even bypassed the studio system to distribute the film independently. “There are many, many, many great theaters available to people and that’s the place where people see films,” he explains. “So if you can get your film into a theater, that’s all you need. And now you can make your own DVDs. If you have a conduit to stores, you put them down that conduit. Again, it’s a lot of common sense.”
Lynch came to Seattle in January 2007 to appear at a special preview screening of Inland Empire and talk at Town Hall on Transcendental Meditation and granted a few select interviews. Dressed in his trademark neat white shirt and simple black suit, he sat back for the interview with a cup of coffee within reach and an occasional cigarette between his fingers. Soft-spoken and pleasant, calm and confident, answering most questions with simple and succinct answers, he comes off as a gentle but eccentric elementary school teacher patiently trying to explain filmmaking and the creative process as if it were nothing more than basic addition and subtraction.
You wrote in your book, “Catching the Big Fish,” that you spent a lot of time in the woods while you were growing up. Is that where the settings and atmosphere of Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks came from?
Wood is an influence, but it wasn’t… I always pictured Blue Velvet as having lumber around it, but it was shot in North Carolina. But there’s a lot of lumber around in North Carolina, too, so it worked out. But I pictured it more as a Northwestern kind of town. Then when Twin Peaks came out, yeah, there’s things, but I wrote it with Mark Frost, he’s not from the Northwest. There’s always things about our childhood that ideas come from. So it was an influence for sure. The woods. Wood and woods.
Blue Velvet captured something I’d never seen any other movie do at that time. It presented what should be a simple and peaceful rural community and revealed this dark layer underneath the surface, not simply a criminal underworld but a moral underworld. And I had lived for a year in La Grande, Oregon, which Blue Velvet‘s Lumberton evoked perfectly for me.
There’s a dark layer underneath every community. Looking back, people made a big deal about Blue Velvet showing the surface and then something under the surface. Since then, if you see TV and newspapers, more and more has been revealed that was hiding there all along. I say the sickness is being revealed and people are dealing with it, which I guess is a good thing. So it’s not just La Grande, or it’s not just in Twin Peaks or Lumberton, it’s everywhere.
David Lynch, the once boyish maverick of underground visions and the nightmares under the façade of normalcy, turned 65 this week. A little older, a little grayer but still making films the only way he knows how: on his own terms. I had the good fortune to interview Lynch a few years ago, when he financed, produced and distributed Inland Empire outside the studio system. “It’s mostly common sense making films,” he explained. “If you can get your film into a theater, that’s all you need. And now you can make your own DVDs. If you have a conduit to stores, you put them down that conduit. Again, it’s a lot of common sense.”
I’ll chime in by picking out five more of my favorite Lynch films (plus his paradigm-changing TV series as a bonus) from thirty years of filmmaking: his strangest, most visionary and most perversely beautiful journeys through the curdled brick road of his mind. And all available on home video, in some cases in DVD releases produced by Lynch himself.
Eraserhead (1977) (Absurda)
“In heaven, everything is fine,” but in Eraserhead nothing is fine. It’s grim, disturbed, mutated, claustrophobic, a world that appears to be unraveling—or, more accurately, decaying—before our eyes. Jack Nance stars as the doughy, dim husband who escapes his grimy, droning life by watching the icky mutant cabaret that plays under his radiator. That’s as clear a description of the plot you’re bound to get. This is an existence where dinner squirms to get away as it’s being carved up and the newborn offspring of a dumbstruck couple is a freaky chicken baby that mewls and cries until it drives the maternal impulses right out of its horrified mother. Lynch shot the film over the course of a year with a loyal cast and crew that, at times, lived with Lynch on the very set of the film. There was nothing like it when it emerged in 1977 and became the quintessential midnight movie experience. See today, it is pure, primordial Lynch: a nightmare world of industrial slums and alienated folk, set to a soundtrack of noise that gets under your skin, your nails and your skull. Robert Cumbow came as close to anyone in capturing the experience in a review he wrote in 1978: “This is what madness might be like, he makes you think, this oppressive absurdity, now funny, now scary, now just plain weird, but making a kind of sense that has nothing at all to do with reason.”
It’s fitting that Lynch’s first feature, which he produced independently, is also the first DVD that he produced through his own label, Absurda. He personally supervised the transfer and the digital master and he participated in the documentary featurette “Stories,” which is centered around Lynch discussing the making of the film. For most directors this wouldn’t be anything special, but Lynch had quite conspicuously made himself absent from the supplements of studio-produced DVDs of his work in the past. This was the first time he recorded an interview specifically for the home video release of one of his films. It apparently was painless enough, for it wasn’t his last.
[Editor’s Note: The House Next Door is currently reissuing a series of articles developed at 24LiesASecond, a now-defunct platform for provocative criticism with an underdog bite. Author Robert C. Cumbow is a member of the Parallax View collective and his essays are being published simultaneously on Parallax View. The essay below was first published on 16/11/2006, under the editorial guidance of James M. Moran (editor-in-chief) and Peet Gelderblom (founding editor).]
The spice extends life. The spice expands consciousness. The spice is vital to space travel. The Spacing Guild and its Navigators, whom the spice has mutated over four thousand years, use the orange spice gas, which gives them the ability to fold space; that is, to travel to any part of the known universe without moving.
—Princess Irulan, in David Lynch‘sDune
That’s what David Lynch’s Dune does: It gets us from place to place and from beginning to end without ever seeming to move—at least in the way that a more conventional science-fiction action thriller is expected to move. The unkindest viewers and critics have called it boring.
Even the film’s action sequences sit in the memory more as tableaux than as moving images. “My movies are film-paintings,” Lynch said, in a 1984 interview during post-production on Dune. What strikes us even as we watch the film, and comes back most in our recalling of it, is the composition more than the dynamic—posture more than gesture:
Paul with his hand in the box, his imagination conspiring with the mental powers of the Bene Gesserit to objectify a pain that exists only in the suggestible mind
Paul’s mentors, Gurney Halleck, Thufir Hawat, and Wellington Yueh, introduced to us as a human triptych
Feyd Rautha in his futuristic g-string, posing as if for a beefcake photo
Alia, in a transport of ecstasy, holding aloft her crysknife as the Fremen overrun the imperial forces, a nightmarish composition by Lynch out of Bosch, all darkness, and a fully-formed witch who should be no more than a little girl, lit by fires and explosions, wrapped in Bene Gesserit robe and headpiece, with an expression on her face of triumph in slaughter that no little girl ever wore
This emphasis on the static over the kinetic is not so remarkable in an artist who, after all, began his career in—and remains committed to—the compositional rigors of painting, collage, and sculpture. But to see how it relates to folding space, we must further illuminate this concept of traveling without moving.