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Taking the Lynch Meme Challenge: Canonizing David Lynch

Posted by Charles Reece, October 6, 2009 11:33pm | Post a Comment
No, I haven't given up on talking Inglourious Basterds to death; I'm almost finished, cross my heart. It's just that Dave Fiore distracted me with thinking about how I'd rank Lynch's feature films (The Grandmother and The Alphabet are probably my favorite shorts). Nothing will pull me into a conversation faster than my favorite living director. One thing I've noticed about my enjoyment of his films is that over time it's negatively correlated with my initial reaction: the less I liked them on first viewing, the more I like them with each re-viewing, and vice versa. Another is that I prefer the ratio-narrative Lynch to the one who lets his dreams/"ideas" take him wherever (granted, many, including Fiore, don't much agree that my preferred Lynch even exists). So, in order of my enjoyment/rewatchability/hours of mental masturbation afforded:

I. Lost Highway (1997)

lynch lost highway poster

Well, actually, it's the first half and finale with Bill Pullman's Fred Madison that place the film on top. For sure, LH contains some of Lynch's weakest moments: Balthazar Getty's Pete Dayton ("you liked it, hunh?"), music chosen by Trent Reznor (Bowie's "Lost Highway" over Payne's -- really?), and a menacing cameo by Marilyn Manson and Twiggy (about as spooky as W.A.S.P. in Ghoulies 2). Nevertheless, most of Lynch's major themes receive their fullest and most direct expression here: Vertig-inous duality (Renee vs. Alice), repression and oneiric escapism (the hallways, Fred's fugue state as a release from his impotence and murderous deed), and the demands of the always elusive Real (the intrusive mirror, phone calls, video tapes and, of course, Robert Blake's Virgil, the white-faced Mystery Man). Some poor casting and music supervision can't ultimately diminish Lynch and co-writer Barry Gifford's perfect construct.

II. Mulholland Dr. (2001)

lynch mulholland dr. poster

Fiore, myself and many others nerded out on the dvd a few years ago and I blogged about my favorite lachrymal scene here (no one makes me cry bucketfuls like Lynch), so I'll just repeat my basic refrain that the most amazing aspect to MD is the way it creates real emotion while fully acknowledging the artifice involved. Lynch is the master of melodrama, and this is his definitive melodramatic statement.

III. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992)

lynch twin peaks fire walk with me poster italian

For my money, FWWM contains the scariest shit I've ever seen in film (particularly the first act with Chris Isaak and Keifer Sutherland). This is horror as it should be: ubiquitous and wide-angled. Poor Laura Palmer is trapped out in the open. There's no escape from the droning horror of everyday objects, neighbors and family. Ends with a message of Heideggerian hope: only God can save us. Well, ain't that kind of depressing.

IV. The Straight Story (1999)

lynch straight story poster

I get teary-eyed merely thinking about Alvin Straight reuniting with his brother or sharing his war memories with another veteran in a bar. LH splits, FWWM goes in a circle and SS escapes these entrapments by connecting with others via a straight line. Clearly, Lynch has a multivalent view of humanity.

V. Blue Velvet (1986)

lynch blue velvet poster

Pick the scab until it bleeds. HIs most surrealistic film. America never looked the same after BV: pop culture, suburbs, teenagers, and fire engines all were revealed to have a great deal of depth. Was there much point in discussing high versus low art after '86?

VI. Eraserhead (1977)

lynch eraserhead poster

An accurate portrayal of having kids, but other than that I don't see why many consider this a horror picture. To me, it's like trying to focus on some simple task while on your favorite hallucinogen, but you can't stop laughing.

VII. Inland Empire (2006)

lynch inland empire poster

Created modularly as inspiration came to him, and it feels modular, never having any real connective tissue to the various segments. This is Lynch pulling his fish from the transcendental pool of Ideas. Anyone who wants to see him as a pure intuitionist will probably find this one a definitive text (along with E and the shorts). Contrariwise, IE makes a good argument for the role of cognition in the films at the top of this list: it ambles on too long, many scenes are repetitious (within the film and of previous films), and none of the really great moments (GRACE!) have the impact of those contained in his more structured works. I'd say he's got the TM blues.

VIII. Wild at Heart (1990)

lynch wild at heart poster

Probably the greatest of Lynch's films when you're 18, but less so as you get older. That is to say, it's his most quotable.

IX. Elephant Man (1980)

lynch elephant man poster

A dialectic of social structure and the individual embodied in the gnarled form of a mutant outcast. Purely as a film, independent of auteurist thinking, this ranks higher than both IE and WAH, but since it's his Rebecca, I'm less likely to go back to it when wanting to watch a Lynch film. A great biopic, making it one of, what, three?

X. Dune (1984)

lynch dune poster

If you ever wondered why Kubrick didn't have his Starchild shooting lasers from its eyes, Dune provides the answer. After 8 or so attempts at watching this in one setting, I've finally stopped trying. I can't imagine a worse fit than a director who hates explaining anything with science fiction's most prominent example of technobabble. Bad enough that one doesn't even notice Sting's acting.

Oh, and as per the rules, 5 of my favorite non-Lynch films: Touch of Evil, Juliet of The Spirits, Playtime, Deadman and Rear Window.

Relevant Tags

Cinema Criticism (32), Dvd Criticism (26), David Lynch (22)