Thursday, June 16, 2011

David Lynch & I: Through the Years

The following is my contribution to The LAMBs In the Director's Chair #17: David Lynch.

What is that sound?  That buzzing sound?  No wait, it is more of a humming sound.  What is that?  Where is it coming from?  Is it getting louder?  Do you hear it too?  Wait, now it sounds like talking.  Is that talking?  Is that someone's voice?  What language is that?  Can you hear that?  It is almost as if a record is playing in reverse.  What is that?  What the hell is that?  Now the lights are flickering.  The humming is back.  And that backward voice.  The lights are off.  Now on again.  Those red curtains.  What is behind them?  What is that?  Do you see this?  Hear that?  What is it?  My God, what is that!?  Make it stop.  That noise.  It won't go away.  I can't make it stop.  Stop it!  Stop it!!  Please stop it!!!

The above might be what it would be like if one were to suddenly find themselves trapped inside the head of David Lynch.  To some, this could be the reaction of actually watching one of his films.  The term acquired taste may have been invented just for the man.  I personally needed no acquirement, no acclimation - I was sold hook, line and sinker as they say the moment I first saw Blue Velvet on a rented VHS tape back in the summer of 1987.  I wasn't lucky enough to see it in its initial release (not really sure why, just missed it I suppose) but even just seeing it on that small TV screen (probably 24 inches and surely not widescreen at the time) was enough to turn this still budding twenty-year-old cinephile into a stone cold David Lynch fan.  And this was just the beginning - or was it?

Actually my first taste of Lynch came about two and a half years earlier - I just didn't know it yet.  After purchasing my first VCR (who remembers those?) in the summer of 1984, with the hard-earned money this then-seventeen year old made at his job gallivanting around a now defunct home improvement store, I went on the wild movie-watching spree that would turn this youthful moviegoer into a true blue cinephile spoken of earlier.  Among the first spree of VHS tapes rented at Movie Merchants (who remembers them?) was a film called The Elephant Man.  The film was strangely in black and white when most things of the period were in colour (at least my still burgeoning cinephiliac mind thought it strange at the time).  I didn't really know who David Lynch was yet - my knowledge of arthouse cinema at the time was limited to a few films each by Kurosawa, Bergman and Fellini - and to be honest, this was a different Lynch than in Blue Velvet.  This was a more user-friendly Lynch.  Still quite good, but I still didn't know my Lynch from my Cronenberg at the time.

Having not yet seen Lynch's auspicious debut Eraserhead (that is coming later though) and never having seen his audacious mega-flop Dune (still to this date that statement holds true) Blue Velvet was really my only known knowledge of the man known as David Lynch when in the spring of 1990 I caught the first episode of a new TV show called Twin Peaks.  Lo and behold its creator and director was none other guessed it (you're so smart) David Lynch.  Well not to sound to full of hyperbolic vim and vigor, but this show changed the way I looked at cinema.  There was something deeper going on in there and Lynch helped me see it by showing secretive glimpses and seductive glances of the strange things behind the proverbial velvet curtains.  Lynch took the stirrings he had first scrambled together in Blue Velvet (that weird underground lair that is Lynchian cinema - that lair that you look away from in psychosexualized terror but you wish to delve deeper into, no matter the inherent dangers to your body and psyche) and let loose the beast.   To put it bluntly, this show was fucked up - and perhaps too was Mr. Lynch.

Next would come something just as bizarre (though perhaps in a different manner).  Next would come Lynch's batshitcrazy homage to The Wizard of Oz - and never a more fucked-up homage was had.   It happened in the Fall of 1990, while working at the Eric Twin Movie Theater (again, who remembers them?).   I like to imagine it was an unseasonably chilly day in early September when Wild at Heart showed up at our little two-screen cinema (it probably wasn't but revisionist history is my favourite subject).  One thing is for sure though - I was blown the fuck away.  I think I may have watched the film about five times that first week we had it.  It may seem blasphemous to many but I think (at least at the time) I liked Wild at Heart even more than Blue Velvet.  So much so that I actually got into a verbal altercation with the film critic of our local paper, The Harrisburg Patriot-News.  The late great Sharon Johnson (she was actually a fine film critic and someone I had much respect for during her decade-long stint at the paper) and I had words over this latest Lynch film - and in the theater lobby at that.  Okay, perhaps I am being revisionist again, for it was but a mild debate we had - her in the anti chamber and me on the pro side.  Revisionist history or not, I would say that I won.

After this it was time to head back to that freaky little town in the wilds of the northwest and watch Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me.  Probably more fucked up than the TV show from whence it spewed and probably even more incomprehensible - especially for those unfortunate few who had never seen the show.  As for me and my not-so-humble opinion, it was yet another triumph for all things Lynch.  After this though, it would be a while until I saw another Lynch.  Lost Highway came in 1997 but I wasn't there to see it.  Let's just say I had a year or two there where my life was filled with drugs and alcohol and not much else.  It was in this rather low period of my life that Lost Highway came and went without even a notice.  Then there was Lynch's Disney-produced G-rated drama The Straight Story.  I had been clean and sober for over a year at this point (and happily married to my lovely wife) so it wasn't that that kept me away.  But still I stayed away (along with the aforementioned Dune, the only holes in my Lynchian knowledge as of this writing) and thus would not see it.

And then came a film that would outdo Blue Velvet, Twin Peaks and Wild at Heart - all put together.  Shortly after the opening of the only arthouse cinema in Harrisburg Pa (and the one very same one my lovely wife and I now run together) a little film called Mulholland Dr. opened - and it was good.   In fact it was spectacular and would eventually top my list of the best films of the decade.  I saw it twice that week and would buy it on DVD the day it was released.  Talk about a mental mindfuck.  In fact I really have no words other than awed speechlessness.  It was the film that put Lynch over the top for me.  It was the film that made me fall for Naomi Watts - her performance in this is one of the best performances ever put on film.  God I sound like a gushing school girl.  This was also the beginning of my going back and rewatching those Lynch's I had already seen and finally watching those I had not.  This is the period that I caught up with both Lost Highway and Eraserhead.  Lost Highway was on DVD and was perfectly placed into my Lynchian universe, but Eraserhead was more than that.

It was at Midtown Cinema (still a few months away from my wife and I taking over the reigns) and it was at midnight - appropriately enough.  In conjunction with the Artsfest Film Festival (stupid name I know) Midtown Cinema would hold a special midnight screening of a cult film.  This time around it was Eraserhead - on glorious 35mm.  There I sat in the second row seeing for the first time the film (at least feature-wise) that started it all - and on fucking 35mm at that!  Can I call this a transplendent moment?  I don't care if I can, I am going to.  It was a transplendent moment indeed.  And this is a scene that would be repeated in  a way the following year once my wife and I did finally take over those aforementioned reigns, but I am jumping ahead in the story.  First there are Lynch's short films and weird little video thingees that make for very interesting chatter, though none of these thingees (good word for them) can reach the heights of the man's feature work.  His animated Dumbland, his bizarre (funny word to use I suppose) Rabbits and his great comic strip The Angriest Dog in the World being foremost among these.

The time is now December 28, 2006.  The place is the IFC Center in the West Village of Manhattan.  I have actually jumped back in time to before the aforementioned Eraserhead screening, but since when does linear movement matter when talking about David Lynch.  The film in question is (as of right now) the most current Lynch feature, INLAND EMPIRE.  And yes, the ALL CAPS is necessary.  Perhaps the director's most bizarre film yet (and ain't that a bold ass statement!) it is a sister film to Mulholland Dr. in many ways - and not just the cast.  Lynch would do introductions for his film at certain venues but unfortunately mine was not one of them - at least not on the day I was there.  He refused to take any questions on what his films meant though.  If someone were to ask what did this mean or what did that symbolize, the auteur would simply start talking about cheese or coffee or anything else.   Incidentally one can buy Lynch's brand of coffee at IFC Center now.

We can now cut to the summer of 2010 and once again to the midnight screenings of the Artsfest Film Festival (yeah, still a dumb name but I suppose a sponsor is a sponsor after all).  This time around it would be Blue Velvet.  See kids, this is how things come full circle.  But now it was even a greater thrill because now I was the one that would build the 35mm print to play at midnight.  Now it would be me that would caress the shiny edges of that celluloid film.  Now it would be me that licked that very same shiny celluloid film.  Wait, did I just say that?  Oh well.  Yeah, that's right, I licked it - ya gotta problem with that!?  Okay, perhaps my cinephilia has wandered onto dangerous ground by this point but I am not ashamed.  Still, I sat there (again in the second row) and watched that glorious 35mm print go through that  nearly forty year old projector (anyone want to buy us some new ones?) and play that movie up there on the screen - everyone totally unaware that they are now watching a film that I licked.  Kinky, huh?

Well that is about it (SO FAR!!) for my life with David Lynch.  I would like to leave you with one final image of the greatness of David Lynch.  It is in the form of aYoutube video and it is the director's thoughts on streaming movies on your phone.  I am sure anyone who cares has already seen this particular video, but it is so fucking fantastic you need to see it again - so here it is.


MP said...

Wow! Great paper Kevyn! I also enjoy a lot of Lynch's films and they all talked to me in a weird way. Even the most bizarre like INLAND EMPIRE have this ugly still beautiful aura of love about cinema.
I have seen the films you didn't dared to see, Dune and The Straight Story. I kind of enjoyed Dune because I read the novels before (which by the way are mindfuck sci-fi) and I think that even with the Dino De Laurentis megaproduction it still is a Lynch film that deserves to be seen. There are Lynchian elements and characters here and there. As for the Disney Staight Story, it's funny to see Disney and Lynch together on the same poster (I don't know what uncle Walt would have said about that?)... Still, the film as simple and easy as it is as this Lynch effect on the viewer. But it,s far from being my favorite of all his films... Blue Velvet (I don't know what I would do to see this in a 35 MM, liked by you...) is my number one of his films closely followed by Mulholland Dr.
Once again excellent post and I like how self involved you are with Lynch's filmography!
Is Lynch working on something? because it's been five years since his last release!

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