(On Cable TV, October 2017) My rule of thumb for David Lynch is that the more conventional his movies get, the better I like them. (The Straight Story and The Elephant Man would suggest that some sentimentality also helps, but Dune doesn’t really fit in that pattern.) In any case, The Elephant Man is only grotesque on the surface, as a horribly deformed man (John Hurt, justifiably unrecognizable) is taken in by a benevolent doctor (a very young Anthony Hopkins, looking unusually dashing with a black beard), revealing his sensitive nature to Victorian-era London even as some people can’t see past appearances. There is a strong sympathy here for the marginal protagonist of the story, and it’s that sympathy that carries through the movie even as the lead character gets kidnapped, abused, insulted and wounded. It ends beautifully (if tragically), which wasn’t a given considering the dour nature of the humans in the story. The Elephant Man isn’t perfect: there’s quite a bit of manipulation in hiding the protagonist’s true nature for a long time before the end of the first act, and it’s best not to dig too deep in the real events that inspired the film. On the other hand, it’s a more effective Lynch film because it is grounded more strongly in reality, which doesn’t preclude some pointed questions about human nature and motives. The re-creation of Victorian London is evocative, and the direction has its moments of interest. While I’m not going to pretend that I liked the film more than I did, it does come as an antidote to my recent viewing of Eraserhead, and I couldn’t be more grateful.
(On Cable TV, October 2017) It is with some satisfaction that I report that really disliked Eraserhead. After all, that’s exactly what I was expecting: I don’t do surrealism and I generally don’t like (or get) much of writer/director David Lynch’s work, so why would this one be any different? The movie itself doesn’t care all that much about whether people like it—advancing at its own glacial pace through nightmarish body-horror thankfully filmed in black-and-white, Eraserhead is a bad dream put on-screen, with minimal plot and maximal non-sequiturs. The themes of parenting anxiety are clear enough, but I can’t be bothered to decode the rest when I care so little about the result. I’m satisfied that, having seen it, I can remove it from my list of films to see and that’s about it.
(On Cable TV, January 2017) I have resigned myself to the fact that David Lynch and I will never enjoy a harmonious filmmaker/moviegoer relationship. Case in point: Blue Velvet, often acclaimed as one of his most representative films and almost a bona fide classic thirty years later. For all of my good intentions and Blue Velvet’s overall accessibility compared to other Lynch films, I found myself watching the film in a fairly detached manner, unwilling to try to make too much sense of it given the quicksand trap examples established by his other movies. I’ve never been particularly eager to play the mind games of Lynch’s movies, and found that my best viewing mode for them is purely contemplative, not expecting the plot to make sense. Even in that state, though, I have to admit that Dennis Hopper’s performance is ferociously good: His character, all id and swagger, thunders on-screen and has his way with characters like a tornado. We can only, like the film’s protagonist, watch in awe and hope that he doesn’t notice us. Blue Velvet has, at its core, a long sustained sequence of abuse and voyeurism that can’t easily be forgotten. It’s by far the standout segment in a film dealing with crime and violence in a small town. Kyle MacLachlan is fine as the viewpoint character and Laura Dern does have a few good moments (in-between this and Wild at Heart—perhaps my less-disliked Lynch film—, a substantial part of her best filmography owes much to Lynch) but it’s Isabella Rossellini who earns her acting acclaim in this film as Hopper’s souffre-douleur. It makes, in typically Lynchian sense, for a big surreal ball of moviemaking, although I note with some comfort that there is a level of superficial understanding here that’s not necessarily possible in other more enigmatic Lynch films. When I say that Blue Velvet ranks highly among Lynch’s best films, keep in mind that I’m grading on a curve.
(On TV, October 2016) I’m not a big fan of David Lynch’s film, and even my tepid linking for Wild at Heart shows why. In some ways one of the tamest, most accessible films in Lynch’s oeuvre, Wild at Heart often feels like a wild melodrama pushed to eleven, with graphic sex and violence far exceeding anything that could be considered reasonable. Nicolas Cage is in classic exuberant form as a small-time criminal eloping with his love and gradually being drawn back into a life of violence. Meanwhile, Laura Dern shows more of herself than ever before (repeatedly) as a young woman escaping from the clutches of her mother via a road trip with no clear end goal. Sex and crime figure heavily in the result, cranking the exploitation factor of the film but not exactly helping it being taken seriously. Wild at Heart now feels like a low-octane Natural Born Killers at time, like a softcore thriller at others. It is rarely boring, though but even though I feel as if the R-rated material should help raise my opinion of the film, Lynch’s gleefully obtuse direction doesn’t help. Wild at Heart is far tamer than some of his more outrageous film—still, I can’t help that providing just a bit more guidance to viewers would not be such a bad thing. And that, in a nutshell, is pretty much my reaction to Lynch’s oeuvre: would it kill him to be just a bit more understandable?
(On DVD, September 2016) I’m not really surprised to find out that I dislike Lost Highway (I’m generally cold on David Lynch’s filmography), but I am surprised to realize how much I disliked it. Part of it, admittedly has to do with the terrible DVD version of the film. Seemingly recorded from a VHS tape, it has wavy lines, a 3:4 aspect ratio, no subtitles and a muddy picture quality. (Any thought that it was intentional is quickly dispelled by looking at the film’s Wikipedia page: the 2003 DVD version that I saw is almost universally reviled.) But trying to blame the DVD for the bad movie-watching experience is nonsense: the film itself is deliberately enigmatic, presenting the same roles being played by different characters, plays with dream logic, showcases bizarre imagery and doesn’t really give much through to its narrative. There is, to be charitable, a way to make sense of this, delving deep into trauma response, identity dissociation and debilitating guilt. But at this moment, I’m not interested in playing games, hunting sub-textual clues, piecing together the answer or basically doing anything but watching a story. So I flip over the table and declare defeat: I don’t like Lost Highway and I have no intention to revisiting it anytime soon. That DVD is going away, and good riddance.