Ahead of 10 or so days off from blogging I wanted to get all the films in my recently purchased David Lynch boxed set watched so I could post this. I had intended to watch all the extras too – short films, interviews and documentaries – but only managed to watch one in the form of Lynch One which is a documentary as oddly put together as one of Lynch’s celebrated films.
Lynch One gives a good flavour of how odd Lynch is as a human being and includes some interesting behind-the-scenes stuff on the making of the his experimental and supposedly last feature film Inland Empire (2010) starring Lynch’s ‘tidbit’ Laura Dern. Footage was gathered over two years and documents Lynch’s other creative interests such as sculpture, painting, varnishing woodwork and dipping suits in paint. No really. He also smokes a whole ton of cigarettes and swears some. It’s very much in the visual and aural style of one of his films and is as immersive, compulsive and fragmented.
The boxed set sadly lacks Mulholland Drive (2002) which blew me away when I watched it for the first time, perhaps because the films all seem to be Universal films and this film was a Studio Canal production (like Inland Empire which I have yet to see), but does include Eraserhead (which I had not seen), Dune (which I had seen at least four times already), Blue Velvet (not seen), Wild at Heart (possibly already seen but forgotten), Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (seen once and totally forgotten – thankfully) and last but not least Lost Highway (not seen). So it’s certainly a Lynch-fest and no mistake.
Eraserhead (1977) – remastered by Lynch himself is a disturbing black and white nightmare of violent and sexual imagery with a dash of black humour. Lynch’s use of abstract sound to match equally odd imagery is there from the get-go as is his penchant for oddly staged corridors and rooms and quirky camera angles. The film is more a work of art than it is a conventional narrative movie and it’s obvious that the actors were given strict directions on how to deliver their lines since there’s hardly any realistic acting going on. It’s the kind of film that wouldn’t be out of place in an art gallery ‘video installation’ but I watched it more as a curiosity than a fulfilling movie.
Dune (1984) – is perhaps the most mainstream of this set of films and is based on Frank Herbert’s epic 1965 sci-fi novel, Lynch’s movie is a classic in the genre and the style has been copied by the likes of Riddick and more recently Jupiter Ascending. I first watched the film when I was seventeen after I had read the novel. I pity anyone who watches the film without reading the book; I don’t see how it would make much sense.
Jack Nance (Mr Eraserhead himself) has a bit part in Dune and seems to pop up in all Lynch’s films at some point. The special effects are of the time (i.e. not great) but the worms and the personal shield effects actually aren’t too shabby. It’s also one of the only films I’ve ever seen that has voice-overs expressing people’s thoughts which is an interesting technique but also a little distracting when two characters are in a room together as you’re expecting spoken dialogue.
Blue Velvet (1986) – feels very much like a precursor to Twin Peaks and features a young college kid Jeffrey (Kyle Machlachlan) on a voyage of discovery into the seedy and violent underbelly of the town of Lumberton. Dennis Hopper is brilliant as the deranged gang leader Frank. Isabella Rossallina plays Dorothy a club singer and fraught damsel in distress who likes her sex rough and will do whatever Frank wants to get her son back. Laura Dern stars as a police detective’s daughter and one of two love interests for Jeffrey – the other being the older lady Dorothy. All sorts of shit kicks off when Frank discovers Dorothy has befriended do-gooder Jeffrey.
Jack Nance has another bit part (he’s Paul one of Frank’s buddies) as does Quantum Leap’s Dean Stockwell. Some of the wording from Hopper’s dialogue was used by Pop Will Eat Itself in the lyrics for the song ‘Pretty Pretty’ which is on the album The Looks or the Lifestyle featuring another track called ‘Harry Dean Stanton’.
Wild at Heart (1990) – features a pretty standard ‘wack-job’ performance from Nicolas Cage and a surprisingly sassy turn from Laura Dern – who I only really knew from a pretty mumsy character in Jurassic Park. The story is a sort of Bonnie and Clyde road trip motel-hopping love story spotted with The Wizard of Oz references and featuring a creepy star turn from Willem Dafoe as Bobby Peru a Vietnam veteran turned small-time crook who meets a deservedly awful end.
The aforementioned Harry Dean Stanton, one of my favourite actors, has a small part to play, as does Isabella Rossallina again. Twin Peaks’s Sheryl Lee also appears briefly. I think it’s great when directors reuse the same cast members and Lynch seems to be a great proponent of this. Jack Nance appears briefly as 00 Spool (although to be totally honest it’s now a few days down the line and I can’t remember exactly who the character is – perhaps one of the odd chaps hanging about playing cards at the motel where the lovers meet Peru).
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992) – shows us the last week of Laura Palmer’s life leading up to season one of the original TV show. I’m glad I forgot what happened in the film as it basically gives away the identity of Laura Palmer’s killer (or does it..? I guess it could still be open to some interpretation) It briefly stars Lynch himself, Chris Isaak, Kyle Machlachlan, and gives Sheryl Lee and Ray Wise plenty of screen time. I’m not that blown away by the latter two’s performances if I’m totally honest, but that’s maybe because other cast members were so great.
Harry Dean Stanton has a great role as a put-upon trailer park caretaker and Chris Isaak is not at all shoddy as FBI special agent Chester Desmond – who is mysteriously disappeared quite early in the film to make room for Machlachlan’s coffee loving special agent Cooper. I think the film does really well in dove-tailing into the TV show and also providing a solution to the mystery. That said, I haven’t watched any of the second season of the original Twin Peaks show and so I might feel differently about the film when I do. I’m not sure why I never saw it when it was originally aired – perhaps it clashed with another programme. Anyway, I have it on disc now, I just haven’t got around to watching it.
Jack Nance sadly had his scenes deleted from this film so isn’t seen.
Lost Highway (1997) – is pretty confusing and I probably need to watch it again to make total sense of it – there’s a looping timeline as well as some super-odd ‘body swapping’ involved. As usual with Lynch it’s pretty violent and has more nudity and sex scenes than any of the other films. At it’s core (with the odd meta-physical stuff stripped away) it is a fucked up story of murder, clandestine affairs and porn.
It stars Bill Pullman as a saxophonist imprisoned after murdering his wife (Patricia Arquette who struggles to keep her clothes on throughout the film). He bizarrely morphs into a young car mechanic and picks up his life. The movie features the last film appearances of Robert Blake, Richard Pryor and Jack Nance this time playing one of the car mechanics who likes to listen to crazy saxophone jazz on the radio. The film also contains a brief cameo (blink and you might miss it) from Marilyn Manson.
Lynch seems to be obsessed about a lot of things – corridors, darkness, fire, curtains – and numbers which feature with marked emphasis in most of his films. I’m sure there are some conspiracy theories around the numbers to rival the same theories regarding the numbers in The X Files but I’ll let you dig them out.
Watching all these films back to back over a short period of time has been a treat and by doing so you get a real sense of what Lynch is into. While some of his films defy traditional storytelling dynamics its not necessarily a bad thing. Indeed, when Wild at Heart seems to deliver a character arc it actually feels a bit disappointing that something a bit more offbeat didn’t happen at the end of the film (sure the ‘good witch’ appears which is weird but the finale is still the hero getting his reward just like a hundred other movies).
I haven’t watched any of the new Twin Peaks show because I want to get the old series finished beforehand. I might see if I can pick up Mulholland Drive and some of his other stuff to watch later in the year. So much good stuff to watch, so little time at hand…
Image adapted from a photo by Billy Williams on Unsplash