Thursday, October 29, 2009

Directors of the Decade: David Lynch

Robert here, continuing my series of the directors that shaped the past 10 years (Enjoy the first two installments on Scorsese and Bahrani) . The most important directors of the past 10 years aren’t always the most prolific, though this series will require a director to have released at least 2 films. Not to mention some of those featured here may be love ‘em or hate ‘em choices. Something tells me, this weeks entry is one such man: David Lynch.

Number of Films: Two.
Modern Masterpieces: I’m going to go ahead and suggest that both Mulholland Dr. and Inland Empire qualify.
Total Disasters: Though you may feel that both Mulholland Drive and Inland Empire fall here.
Better than you remember: And if you do think that, may I suggest you place them here.
Awards: Nominated for a Best Director Oscar for Mulholland Drive. Won Best Director in Cannes for that same film.
Box Office: Mulholland Drive grosses over 7 mil, easily topping Inland Empire. That’s what lesbians get you.
Critical Consensus: Mulholland Drive receives high praise (some suggesting it’s his best). Inland Empire confuses the bejesus out of people, gets mostly good notices.
Favorite Actor: Justin Theroux stars in both films and the remaining principle cast of Mulholland Drive returns for Inland Empire to do the voices in a rabbit sitcom (taken from his short film Rabbits).

Let’s talk about:

Dreams. I’ve long believed that the “it’s all a dream” gimmick isn’t necessarily cinematic suicide as long as you stick to one important rule… if your story is “all a dream” please don’t tell the audience. Just leave it be. Films mired in dream-logic have an unfortunate tendency to break down and explain everything to the audience almost as if they don’t trust the viewer to accept a world not based in logic-logic (I’m looking at you Vanilla Sky). Such films give up standing as art, or even entertainment in favor of being a puzzle, a riddle, a trick, the main point of which is solving the shallow mystery. It does a great disservice to the story and to the viewer.

Are David Lynch’s movies dreams? We don’t know precisely because he avoids any artificial third act reveal. Lynch’s movies may be dreams and they may be puzzles, but it’s clear that he doesn’t see them that way. He’s not interested in presenting the audience with a trick. Odd as it may seem, he’s interested in presenting them with a truth.

Lynch... and Beatles

Even if Lynch’s movies aren’t dreams, it’s obvious that the man himself is a believer in the genuine honesty of dream-logic. Dream-logic is unhindered by restrictions of consistency or reality. And since restrictions and hindrances only get in the way of truth, dream logic can more quickly lead the way to honesty. Though Lynch's goal isn’t intellectual honesty (even though most people spend their time watching a Lynch straining their brains) as much as it is emotional honesty. David Lynch doesn’t want you to think. David Lynch wants you to feel. Unlike most directors, he seems to believe that the medium of film has more in common with music than literature. He’s relived himself of the burden of clear narrative (so necessary for literature) and instead focused on the type of moods that few things other than a piece of music can give. When watching a David Lynch film, ignore the frustrations perplexing you and simply sit back, allowing it to envelop your being... like a dream.

All of this is worth noting, since Lynch’s two films this decade are among the most abstract in his filmography and his current career trajectory points inevitably in the same direction. After riding high in the 80’s (except for Dune which I contend has a charm all its own) and owning the cult TV market in the early 90’s, Lynch was at something of a crossroads heading into our current decade. Coming off an uneven Lost Highway (which now feels mostly like a warm up for his films of the aughts) and an uncharacteristic (though brilliant, if I may say) The Straight Story, Lynch probably wasn’t hoping for a soundly rejected TV pilot. But after a little re-tooling, Mulholland Drive became a phenom (scoring a Globe nomination for Best Motion Picture Drama) that was labeled by more than a few critics as his “masterpiece.” His follow up, Inland Empire, pitched as the story of “a woman in trouble” seemed like it would be more of the same. But it was anything but. Inland Empire is most likely not to be the last film made by Lynch, but it brings his career beautifully full circle. His most experimental (and terrifying) since Eraserhead, Inland Empire is rooted deeply in the subconscious, low-budget, unlike-anything-you’ve-seen-before territory of his first film, except with the added bonus of everything he’s learned in the thirty years between.

Heading into the future, Lynch seems content to play the American eccentric in a way that’s self-aware without being disingenuous. And he’s continually adding to the definition of who he is, extending his identity beyond cinema to include: coffee proprietor, transcendental meditation advocate, annual event host (in Fairfield, Iowa naturally), internet meme star, singer/songwriter/collaborator, and, of course, weatherman.


Edward L. said...

Thanks for an excellent write-up about the great Mr. Lynch. I'm firmly in the love-him category - though I am also one of the throng that was baffled by Inland Empire (though not in a bad way!). I thought your take on his dream logic was great, with the allusions to music as well. And Mulholland Drive is one of my favourite films of the '00s.

Cal said...

I love Inland Empire, so thankyou for mentioning that in the masterpiece bracket! :-)

His Oscar nomination for Mulholland Drive is one of those like Teshigahara, Pontecuervo etc. For one of the films that go down in history years later.


beautiful write up Robert.

i love that you pointed out hollywood's usual hedging with dream logic.

i can't say that I love INLAND EMPIRE in the way that I love Mulhollland Drive -- it wasn't just the lesbians -- but i appreciate it.

one thign i don't get. I agree with you that LOST HIGHWAY functioned as warmup but what of STRAIGHT STORY? That's still one of my favorite Lynch movies and I'm always kind of hoping he'll make something else vaguely like it. Just so there's a PARALELL STORY in his career, too.

Robert said...

I love The Straight Story, but how to explain it within Lynch's filmography? It's actually much more Lynchian than it at first seems. Perhaps it's his last linear hurrah!

Cory Rivard said...

Great piece!
He also has great taste in music. You should all check out his favorite band, 'Au Revoir Simone'. The music follows the same eerie, moody, and atmospheric tendencies as his films do.

Glenn said...

Lynch is a master, no doubt. He can do more with visuals, sound and getting actors tongues around tricky dialogue than most directors. I do consider Mulholland to be his magnum opus - I can't say "masterpiece" since he has many - and the oft-maligned INLAND is one of the best horror movies of the decade if for nothing but that scene with THE FACE!