OK, OK, I’m finally convinced – happy now? Some of this trailer – a marked improvement from the other glimpses – had me giggling like a teenager;
I still have some severe reservations about Loki though, he was a fucking terrible wet drip of a villain in Thor, but this might just be terrific and dumb, stupid-ass fun, and that’s enough for me. Plus Scarlett of course….it’s gonna be an epic summer.
Well, they’re certainly ramping up the viral marketing on this one;
Official site here. Hmm, I really can’t take Mike from Neighbours seriously on this one, he’s a good actor and everything but he seems to lack the gravitas of this ‘titan’ of future entrepreneurship – now this is a speech. In other news the Oscars was all a bit dull and predictable wasn’t it? I don’t think I missed much there, either in the case of speeches or shock winners, I got my usual slightly above average 16 out of 24, maybe one day I’ll break that streak. I’m busy on my Mulholland Drive review but it won’t be published this side of next week, I’m off to Madrid for the weekend on Friday morning so things will be quiet around here for a few days…..and I’ve just been looking at films shot in the capital so I hope I don’t get peckish for some of those sweet & tasty looking morsels….
Presented without commentary, a damn fine lagomorphic soap opera;
I’m not normally one for posting full movies (for obvious reasons) but in the interests of comprehensive coverage here is Hotel Room, a HBO piece that Lynch partially directed back in 1993. I’d never seen it before and as a marker between Fire Walk With Me and Lost Highway it’s worth a watch….plus its got Harry Dean Stanton and Lynch regular Freddie Jones in the first section, the delectable Deborah Kara Unger in the second section, and Crispin Glover in the fantastic final section – that’s 30 minutes of Lynch directing Glover – how can you say no?
Now we’re in the home stretch gentle reader and it’s time to put together a review for a film I’ve been waiting to tackle for five years – the masterpiece that is Mulholland Drive….
Let’s step outside the Lynchiverse for a quick and well deserved breather, as I have to wish a very happy birthday to 2000AD who turns 35 today. Man, I loved this comic as a kid and fair play to it still running three and a half decades later, quite why no British producers haven’t mined its stories and iconic characters for low-budget, cheap thrill (shock) fare is still a distressing mystery to me. You’d think the producers of the new Dredd film would have rushed out a trailer to exploit the modicum of interest amongst the fan-boy community but no, another sign of how clueless that film is going to be – it looks terrible. Still, this is a fun blast from the past;
In other news here is a list of 85 must see movies that Scorsese referenced in a long chat / interview with Fast Company magazine, here is a fun little video, have you read film critic The Hulk yet and if not why not? You don’t want to make him angry now do you? Since The Raid just got its UK premiere at Glasgow’s Frightfest here is the Americanized trailer;
Compare and contrast eh? Of course it’s the Oscars tonight so I’ve updated my predictions that you can revisit here, I thought I might fold and continue my tradition of a very late night viewing but alas I now have a series of meetings on Monday so I can’t afford to take the day off. I want to go on the record as stating that The Artist will probably sweep much of the awards and good luck to it, I await with eager fascination the avalanche of silent movie projects that won’t follow in its wake. I’m mostly keeping the same choices in most categories as it would be far more interesting if things spread out a little but here we are, sticking to my guns on Moneyball for best picture is probably madness but you never know…. I’m still seething that Gary was overlooked at the stupid Bafta’s in favour of Jean Dujardin - I mean he was fine and everything but his performance just wasn’t in the same league as Oldman’s measured, internal portrayal - if he (Dujardin) does win I hope he mouths his speech in silence as that could be amusing. Here is an illuminating breakdown of the demographics of the secretive Academy, it’s a unsurprising litany of a bygone century, thus it’s not difficult to see why the likes of Dances With Wolves or Driving Miss Daisy can receive such undeserved kudos….finally, speaking of Dredd, what the fuck is this;
As we approached the end of the 20th century US cinema took a decidedly schizophrenic turn. Fractured personalities, hidden worlds, alternate realities and a destabilization of universal truths propagated the popular culture with cinema leading the charge, upon reflection (heh) it was a minor renaissance of celluloid uncertainty that captured both awards and box office receipts in an appropriately mutilated manner. Consider this list of the most influential and admired films of the period – The Matrix, otnemeM, Fight Club, The Usual Suspects, A Beautiful Mind*, The Truman Show, eXistenz, Donnie Darko, Being John Malkovich, The Others, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, The Game, The Sixth Sense, Dark City, A Scanner Darkly, Eyes Wide Shut - granted it’s a wide net that stretches over a decade and I’m sure there are many, many others, but these modern, urban films are specifically populated with phantasms and illusions, a pre and post millennial panorama where paranoiacs finally got the proof they were looking for that someone’s definitely out to get them, with a neat sideline in narrative surprises, visual acuity and innovation, and a foreboding unease for the century ahead. Such psychological playgrounds are the stock in trade of David Lynch and he seemed to react to these incursions into his intangible territory with an initial pincer movement, firstly to make the most singular, direct and unobtrusive film of his career with The Straight Story in 1999 but two years before that he plunged us deeper into the rabbit hole, toying with the established preconditions of narrative tropes and diabetic (or should that be diabolic?) character densities during his second collaboration with Barry Gifford, Lost Highway is more a patchwork noir than Wild At Heart was a roaring road movie, with its parade of mysterious femme fatale, jaded and world-weary lawmen, Bel Air industrialists and sordid San Fernando valley pimps, it’s the first of a loose trilogy that map a truly remarkable late phase of his career which still yearns for a final, encircling chapter.
The City of the Angels, crucially the location of all of Lynch’s subsequent films, and intense jazz saxophonist Fred Madison (Bill Pullman) is being creeped out by a series of anonymous video tapes, detailing an unidentified stalker filming his home – Haneke of course lifted this premise wholesale for his 2005 film Caché. Fred seems enamoured with the odd and off-kilter, both through the creepy minimalism of his home decor and chiefly through his choice of wife, the distant and eerie, raven bobbed Betty Page simulacra Renee (Patricia Arquette) who produces one of the most gently strange performances of the decade. The tapes intensify as the footage penetrates the house, and then something imperceptibly slips, and Renee (who also bears more than a passing resemblance of a sedated Vampira, another link to Hollywood female folklore) is found brutally dismembered, apparently at the hand of our confused and blood spattered anti-hero. Incarcerated and sentenced to death a blazing transformation occurs as Fred transmutes to the usual Lynchian crescendo of blazing lights and throbbing score into apprentice hoodlum Pete Dayton (Balthazar Getty), much to the authorities befuddled bemusement. Released under secret observation to his parents care (including Gary Busey, he always gets a laugh) Pete resumes his grease monkey job and resumes his mechanical favours for local kingpin Mr Eddy (the brutal cult fave Robert Loggia), seemingly with no memory of the nights events that led to his mysterious teleportation. A more Chandleresque plot then untwines as Pete falls for the most dangerous blonde since Stanwyck retired her sunglasses (check out the hairstyles), as Renee seems to inexplicably return to the corporeal world as the blonde quaffed Alice Wakefield, the coolly provocative girlfriend of Mr. Eddy, and a plot to extricate her from his clutches is mooted following an inevitable and unavoidable seduction. But what the fuck happened to Jeff? Are Alice and Renee related or the same spirit? And just who the fuck is that Mystery Man and what the fuck is he filming?
The first thing to say that this was a French print of the movie which caused some muffled grumbling when this supposed imposition was announced, as the BFI audience would have to endure the unimaginable agony of watching a movie with gallic subtitles – naturally this didn’t in the least distract from the nefarious thrills on offer and I forgot they were there after the first few minutes, such was the films overwhelming, oppressive power. I recently (and mildly) criticised Wild At Heart for being too loose and unstructured for my palette, for being a fun but surface collection of vignettes without any overarching rhyme or reason but Lost Highway sublimely emits echoes and reverberations that ricochet throughout the film, like some sort of deranged psychological echo chamber, mustering undefined queries and questions as the parallel plot strands chaotically collide in the film’s final conjectural conclusion. Any attempt at a solid, unimpeachable analysis is a hopeless task and that for me is the films ultimate triumph, like the next two movies in the trilogy you make of this tale what you will, as armchair detectives there are certainly enough clues and hints to construct your own mental picture of what you believe is happening and what has occurred, a conscious design that polymorphs the film into more of a feeling than a story, an atmosphere versus fable, images, sound, pacing and mood forging a memorable, uncomfortable, puzzling yet rewarding cinematic experience. I happen to ‘read’ it as the last desperate convulsions of a sweltering brain awaiting several thousand white-hot volts of searing electricity in the death chamber, anticipating a plunge into a gibbering, Gehenna tainted ether but that’s just me. Here’s Lost Highway’s sense of suburban romance;
There are two revelations that this Lynch marathon has revealed to me so far, the first being just how much fucking permeates Lynch’s films – and I use that word in its animalistic, uncontrollably driven with physical desire sense of the word rather than its vulgar, ugly permeation - it’s hardly surprising given how closely sex and fantasy, unconscious drives and bubbling motives drive the human condition which Lynch consistently taps, Zizek calls it as a metaphor of suburban ennui which I guess is one of many potentially lucid, rich and risqué observations. The second was the volume of references, allusions and celebrations of Hollywood as the dark belly of an intangible, ghostly, literal ‘Tinseltown’, the likes of Tarantino and his ilk can be groan inducingly obvious with their bludgeoning innuendos but Lynch submerges these celebrations in the unconscious depths of his films, like a cultural iceberg the surface only displays a fraction of the swirling genre influences, iconography and character tropes that are assimilated, perverted and transformed throughout his work. Case in point is the climax of Lost Highway, where Fred/Pete is sexually, mentally and narratively driven to a remote cabin that is precariously perched on sticks by the shore – a perilous structure that is awaiting to be engulfed by the nectarine waters of the id - a cognitive phantom that is inevitably consumed in an ego ignited conflagration which is a clear allusion to the spastic climax of Kiss Me Deadly, one of the all time great noirs which from its title alone you can thrust a comma into the premise and alter all potential preconceptions of the movie. Whereas 1955′s concerns was the catastrophic unleashing of a howling radioactive exterior, the Pandora’s box of a potential hot / cold war nuclear annihilation, by 1997 this exterior threat was internalized and swamped with interior terror, the seething unease of provincial psychosis.
One break from the norm was Lynch’s unusual choice of soundtrack, his usual sonic scribe Badalamenti was involved but Lynch also enlisted Trent Reznor to compose some nervous soundscapes to complement the initial creeping terror of the film, also successful for me was the Bowie opening piece, a Lou Reed track, and the Manson montage presented below (I’m not a Manson fan but that track works brilliantly in the film), less effective is the crashing Rammstein vortex of dreary doom metal and the now clichéd (Spoilers / Nudity!) Song To The Siren sequence but to be fair that may well be the first time that track was deployed and I can’t decouple myself from its subsequent, horrific movie insertions - I used to quite like that track. I’m not going to link to much background material as the clock is ticking and I have a mildly connected, exciting B-Movie documentary to view (and subsequently review, yup I got a screener) but here is the (sadly missed) David Foster Wallace article that I’ve not read yet, by reputation its a great piece but I didn’t want to prejudice my thoughts. Finally, hey maybe Fred evaded the Feds at the end of the movie and made it back to Hollyweird, suffered another disintegrating transformation and found him/herself cruising Mullholland Drive…
*Hey, it won the fucking Oscar OK so someone liked it….
Well this has slipped quietly under my radar, always a nice surprise to see something new from one of the dark princes of New York film-making;
I’m a passing fan of Ferrara, I always enjoy seeing Willem Dafoe who’s consistently watchable, and an End Of The World tale usually goes down well in the Menagerie household – out in March in the US, will hopefully get picked up in Europe soon after. Just that trailer puts me in mind of this which is worth seeking out as a decent movie that hangs the human experience on an eroding precipice….what would you do?
BFI David Lynch Season – Flotsam and Jetsum (four), The Elephant Man (1980) & The Straight Story (1999)
Well, here’s compelling evidence that I’m nothing if not a dedicated completest. As I’m filling in the gaps in Lynch’s oeuvre with small screen revisits I though it might be useful to touch briefly on the projects I’ve missed on the big screen, if only to complement and hopefully compound some of the observations I’ve made over the past few weeks. It has been quite a fascinating and illuminating ride, to consecutively careen through a favourite film-makers entire body of work and assess how they have arrived at this particular phase of their career, but a proper examination of that will have to wait for my Mulholland Drive and revisited Inland Empire review, as I have made the executive decision to re-review a film that has already been covered on the menagerie – another first. So, here’s a few trailing thoughts on the two movies that I missed, spoilers will abound from the start so if you haven’t seen these movies then you know what to do;
The Elephant Man - Born in smoke and fire John Merrick (John Hurt, encased in one of the most complex prosthetics in film history), christened by his carnival barker overseer Mr. Bytes (Lynch favourite Freddie Jones) as The Elephant Man is rescued from penniless squalor by the kindly Dr. (Anthony Hopkins) , a kindly and Christian physician who is simultaneously fascinated and repulsed by Merrick’s disfigured and diseased congenital appearance. Producer Mel Brooks – yes, that Mel Brooks – was allegedly halfway through a screening of Eraserhead when he turned to his producing partner Jonathan Sanger and muttered ‘We’ve got our guy’, the duo being impressed by the haunting photography and imagery, and Lynch’s adept skill with models and monsters, all of which seemed easily transferable to their Victorian melodrama. Implacably shot by the great British cinematographer Freddie Francis with a fine cast of British thespians the film was nominated for ten Academy Awards and Lynch was suddenly in the stratosphere. Anthony Hopkins has never been better and this is probably his greatest screen role, as the emotional cipher of the audience who weep along with him at the creatures monstrous visage, and John Hurt generates a tsunami of sympathy from beneath the layers of make-up. A heart-breaking, humanist hymn to sympathy and nobility, for a filmmaker pigeonholed as the weird, freaky guy critics and commentators always seem to overlook the central, moral crusades that are lodged in Lynch’s movies, with a heartbreaking final coda scored to Adagio for Strings (before Oliver Stone nicked the idea for Platoon six years later) this is a film you will never forget. Whilst we’re on the subject of warm, tear inducing endings;
The Straight Story - This is simply a perfectly discrete, modest gem of a movie, it really is. Lynch supposedly heard of elderly Alvin Straight’s strange plan to visit his long estranged brother by employment of a John Deere tractor following some ‘aww shucks’ local media coverage, and his long-term partner Mary Sweeney was so enamoured with the story that she swiftly put a script together without any input from Lynch, the first time in his career that he didn’t have a hand in this essential element of pre-production. Shot chronologically amongst the same Iowa cornfields that the real Alvin Straight traversed The Straight Story earned Richard Farnsworth, a venerable stunt-man turned actor whose career stretches back to the Marx Brothers a well deserved Oscar nomination (still to date the oldest nominee in the Academy’s history fact fans), he lost to Spacey for American Beauty and sadly committed suicide a few months later due to the pain he was suffering as part of a terminal bone cancer condition. With its flippant play on words in the film’s title Lynch is perhaps letting us know that this will be his most conventional project, but the genuine affection for the highways and bi-ways of small town America are there in his skillfully mastered montages , and those hulking, bellowing 18 wheel rigs that roar past Alvin are not so far from the industrial belching of Eraserhead. The homespun platitudes that Alvin dispenses to the waifs and strays he meets during his odyssey could err on the side of twee sentimentality but Lynch pitches it just right, with a resigned yet wondrous look at life, all echoed by Angelo Badalamenti’s lilting score. It’s a film with a languid pace, parsed down dialogue and longish takes which build a steady momentum, a gentle drama until that simple yet magical finale. And to play us out, a blast from the past;
Grab yourself a cup of joe, heat up a wedge of that sweet, sweet cherry pie and smell those Pseudo-tsuga – we’re back in Twin Peaks. David Lynch’s hugely influential collaboration with writer/producer Mark Frost was a cultural bolt of lightning that screamed into the staid and formulaic TV landscape of the early nineties, a groundbreaking serial with its invasion of the surreal, the innovative and the macabre into the living rooms of millions of confused and beguiled Americans. Playing for an all too brief two seasons the programme followed the investigation of the murder of Laura Palmer, the high school sweetheart of a sleepy Washington town whose holier than thou, saintly demeanour wasn’t quite what it seemed. With its occult combination of small town Americana, horrific metaphors on the family unit and the potential for evil lurking behind those white picket fences the phenomenon got itself onto the cover of Time and rocketed Lynch’s profile beyond the chattering circles of cinema fans, and its influence on subsequently acclaimed series such as The X Files, Buffy, Eerie Indiana, The League Of Gentlemen, Carnivale, Six Feet Under, The Sopranos, Homicide, Northern Exposure*, Lost, Big Love, True Blood and other landmark small screen narratives is undisputed. After the second season ratings began to ebb, reputedly due to increasing executive meddling, the forced revelation of the mysterious killer behind Laura’s death and the introduction of increasingly absurd plotlines and schemes the programme was cancelled after a legendarily destructive finale, allegedly designed by Lynch and Frost to deliberately scupper the series and prevent any resurrection of their cherished creation. But Lynch couldn’t let it go and felt there was a still a story in this universe that he was compelled to tell, to return to the scene of the crime with what on reflection must be one of the first examples of the much maligned prequel, to chart the final days and hours of the doomed Laura, much to critics and audiences confusion who understandably wanted a resolution to the series clustered and challenging small screen crescendo. The first screening at Cannes prompted a hostile reaction of boos and disgusted walkouts – nothing new there – but the intervening years have seen the film achieve something of a critical re-appraisal as part of the directors body of work, and many Lynch acolytes (myself included) now include the film amongst the highest echelons of his work alongside Blue Velvet and Mulholland Drive, personally speaking this was certainly up there amongst the three most anticipated films for a menagerie big screen revision. So let’s get started with the proviso that spoilers will abound, both for the TV series and movie, both are over twenty years old but here we are…
Assuming that the audience knows the back-story - there are no scene setting montages or explanatory dialogue here – Lynch plunges straight into the action with two FBI agents assigned to investigate the murder of Teresa Banks, a doomed young woman whose links with Laura are suggested with an identical autopsy revelation, a LSD suggesting microdot inserted under the fingernail that sports a cryptic letter. Special Agent Chester Desmond (Chris Isaak, plausibly wooden) leads the duo as a stoic and no-nonsense lead officer, accompanied by the squinting, possibly aspergers attuned Agent Stanley (a squinting Kiefer Sutherland) who embark on this mysterious quest, their mission instigated with this memorable example of codes, glyphs and secrets. After circumnavigating the obstructions of the local officials the team trace Teresa’s trailer park domicile and things start to turn strange. Cut to the drowsy lumbertown of Twin Peaks, a dreamy Washington state town where an amber light still means slow down rather than hit the gas. Enter Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee), the belle of the local high school, the pretty young cheerleader, head of her class, the girl next door and prom queen certainty. Unfortunately for Laura we happen to be in the Lynchiverse so it’s all a facade, and in fact she’s a coke snorting, whiskey gulping neurotic strumpet who happens to be banging just about everyone in town to feed her myriad addictions and has taken to hooking on the side, although you can’t really blame her for this behaviour as she also happens to be frequently raped by a homicidal demon who has possessed her father Leland Palmer (Ray Wise). Where the TV series opened with the discovery of her plastic entombed corpse floating down the river like some industrial sarcophagus, in Fire Walk With Me Lynch takes us back to the strange premonitions and twisted days leading up to her murder, her twin relationships with the wet biker James (James Hurley) and bad boy Bobbi Briggs (Dana Ashbrook) and her suspicions that her life is sliding into an abyss that she can see no way out of….
Conventional wisdom dictates that when you have a beloved series with a cult like fan base, any movie spin-off would take the narrative further and answer a few questions left hanging at the finale. In Fire Walk With Me Lynch performs the exact opposite, showing us different approaches and reveals to facts that have already been established, preferring to strengthen the uncanny mythology that the series built around the mysterious Black Lodge and White Lodge hidden out in the woods, around the relationship between the shivering Bob and the one-armed man, and the numerous eccentrics and criminals who orbit this supernatural fresco. We know that Laura dies and we know who killed her, but this sympathetic woman paralysed in a asphyxiating web spun by her father’s possession and serial abuse is a suffocating experience, with flashes of surreal humor to lighten the fragments of terrifying, strobe lit, screeching horror. The lack of a significant career for Sheryl Lee is as mysterious as this film and the series eerie whispers, she is a remarkable, charismatic presence who flits between distressed innocence and sultry temptation, I remember being a bit perturbed when she popped up in Winters Bone as it took me a few seconds to place her. Kyle MacLachlan, along with some of his acting companions were reluctant to revisit their roles for fear of typecasting but Lynch persuaded him to step into Agent Coopers shoes one more time on the proviso that his role be significantly reduced, but he still appears in one of the films most memorable sequences;
One of Bowie’s more successful, albeit brusque acting performances if you ask me. Potentially ahead of the curve with unconscious commentary on an increasingly surveiled society (although I doubt that was the intention in 1992, although it is revisited in his next film Lost Highway but we’ll come back to that in the next review) Lynch is mining our subconscious fears and desires through eidolic symbolism, fabricated through his magnificent combinations of droning sound, porous images and hazy iconography. Again we are treading paths dark and twisted, the perverted and unholy sealed behind a perspex shield of rationality, inexorably scratching at the contours of our reality and sometimes finding purchase. I love the idea of the FBI as some sect of buddhist samurai with firearms, crisply pressed white shirts and crew cuts, these paladins battling these Cimmerian influences on behalf of some undefined, eternal power of love, or should that be transcendental love? The figures of the spooky Mrs. Tremond (Francis Bay) and her intense grandson obviously hark back to his first film The Grandmother, and Lynch’s fixation on head trauma also arises in a horrendously botched drug deal out in the spectral, flickering woods. It was in Twin Peaks that Lynch lifted the reverse cranking utilised by Jean Cocteau in the likes of Orphee to signal other dimensions, not to mention an obvious influence of dual psychologies, of portals and apertures leading to alternate realities and limbo like dominions, it’s one of the most successful techniques he has utilised to support and enhance his world view and world building activities, no-one to my mind has employed such a simple procedure to generate such unsettling power. He certainly has something about women in peril as it dominates all his subsequent works, from the doppelgänger Patricia Arquette in Lost Highway needing to evade her criminal pimps, from Betty’s tarnished career in Mulhollland Drive, or whatever the fuck is supposed to be happening to Laura Dern in INLAND EMPIRE he seems to have a penchant for framing females as saintly angels or fallen whores, it’s no wonder that some critics have issues with this but I think they’re not entirely justified, he’s more interested in simple, direct dualities on which to hang his movies, like the church scene in Blue Velvet this is another heartfelt, ‘pure’ moment which can either succeed or fail, depending on the audiences predilections;
The final movement of the film, the crimson draped waiting room between our earthly pursuits and ecclesiastical bliss that is presented here in full spoiler sympathy is quite the big screen experience, and so far this is the most enjoyable and memorable viewing that I have experienced during the whole season. I was privileged enough to see the original foreign market VHS tape with the incongruous and memorable tacked on ending that was specifically shot for the international market, I will never forgot seeing this for the first time, my first exposure to Lynch (I’d certainly seen Dune and possibly The Elephant Man before this but of course didn’t recognise them as ‘Lynch’ works) and it always nostalgically reminds me of the years that have slipped away, in the most tender and affectionate way possible. Using my incredible deductive powers I have unearthed this mammoth fan edit of the whole sorry Palmer scandal, here is a funny documentary where a few notorious characters get to air their views, here is the background to that oft imitated and rave appropriated soundtrack and here are some browser crashing, behind the scene photos from the shoot and here is some fun, that site is certainly more effective than the sadly overlooked computer game. Finally, its taken me a week of searching and putting this together (and for some reason this has been a real struggle, only tonight have I really grasped my muse and powered through 3/4 of this) but I finally fucking found it, here is the extraordinary, depraved Red Room sequence which is amongst the best movements that Lynch has ever committed to screen, and beware as this music video might just make you crazy;
*Yes I know they started at the same time but that series clearly adopted some of Twin Peaks mannerisms and designs as its run continued. I’m not criticising as I fucking loved Northern Exposure, I’m just saying…..and I’ve just committed myself to seeing Inland Empire again to conclude this mammoth undertaking, god help my eternal soul….
Well, well, well, another weekend, another double bill. I’m genuinely surprised at how much I enjoyed Casablanca on the big screen, I’m shelving any review until next month though as the focus has to remain on Lynch. As for Lost Highway, well I wasn’t planning on sleeping tonight anyway, so I’d best get cracking on the next review. In the meantime here’s an amusing little advert that’s been doing the rounds;
Speaking of the horrific, read this. Terrifying stuff.
Keeping with the double bill tradition of this month I’ve just devised a cunning duo, on the one hand my intention to be as completest as possible with the Lynch season means that despite my prior protests I shall be getting lost, and the BFI are also screening an unimpeachable classic during the month which I also wanted to catch;
Quite how this is going to mesh with this should be……devilish;
Back to back, now that’s a Saturday night…..in other news I’ve secured a new writing gig for these reprobates once I get round to it, I’m thinking of starting with some capsule reviews of material as I really don’t have the time to devote anything more detailed at the moment - ’real’ world career opportunities have also just gone crazy but that’s another (boring) story – so we shall see, I’m also conscious of continuing to submit material to my Canadian colleagues as this is around the corner. Anyway, the Menagerie’s tendrils now reach Hollywood proper as that’s where the battleship guys are based, their long running, award nominated podcast is highly regarded amongst the community so check it out….
We’re roughly half way through the season so let’s keep the momentum going with a post a day, although some sterling work has been conducted on the next review (if I do so say so myself) let’s break things up with some incidental material – it’s interview time. Whilst the picture quality makes me angry let’s begin with Wossy;
This is amusing as a pure nostalgic wonder down memory lane, who remembers Moviewatch? Well, not many according to that thin article. Anyway, Shane Meadows should be ashamed of himself (he’s filming a Stone Roses reunion documentary by the way according to this months S&S) but Fry seems enamoured;
Enough of the tabloid quality coverage, let’s get serious with this moody overview which has some atmospheric insights;
Some technical stuff where fellow director Mike Figgis delves into David’s process and technique;
Some more recent explanations behind his shift to digital;
….and of course the fantastic Scene By Scene, one of the best and most insightful excavations into that troubled mind;
Finally, in preparation for the next review I wanted to post this as I can’t successfully weave it into that already densely plotted overview, it’s not the actual footage from the movie as links are secured behind passwords due to nudity, just enjoy the music and consider this the soundtrack to the next review which should be up on Friday as I’m fucking the fuck, taking a day off;
‘Wild At Heart is a road picture, a love story, a psychological drama and a violent comedy’ said David Lynch in 2005, I can probably percolate that down to six words – it’s a bit of a mess. Nevertheless that is one of the more memorable descriptions offered by Lynch for his Palme d’Or winning return to the big screen four years after the critical smash of Blue Velvet, it’s a clear admission that he likes to throw together some disparate elements, alternative genres and characters to see what strange hybrid his surreal machinations can produce. Wild At Heart shoots for the cardiac pulsing centre of that great American institution of the Road Movie, enveloping as it does the country’s history of independence, exploration, violence and liberty, with a striking and sultry blend of sex and rage, turbulence and flame. It’s an adaption of the first of Barry Gifford’s Sailor and Lula novels (which has now stretched out to its seventh instalment), and although this initially wasn’t on my season schedule I made a special effort to fit this movie in, I have vivid, searing memories of seeing the film at a midnight screening back during its initial run some twenty-two years ago and like any impressionable movie freak I found its lunatic blend of extreme violence, bizarre characters and raging romance a heady, intoxicating brew, my revisit of the movie in the rather more sedate environs of the NFT1 screen was a somewhat more sober affair as I don’t feel that this film has aged particularly well. It has its moments to be sure and in certain places Lynch demonstrates some flashes of brilliance, but what I once saw as a deranged miasma now seems more an incoherent folly, with a trajectory and arc that never really barks with any emotional or physical bite.
Meet Sailor Ripley (Cage, channelling The King like never before), a snake-skin jacket sporting keen libertarian / low-key hood and his star-crossed lover Lula Fortune (Laura Dern in her second collaboration with Dave), a sparky, scandalous, sexy blonde with a romantic soul and a body for sin. These two lovers are crazy for each other but there is one obstacle in the way, Lula’s domineering and rather manipulative mother Marieta (Diane Ladd, Laura Dern’s real life mom fact fans), a Southern Belle who married into crime, a poisonous witch who will stop at nothing to destroy this sizzling romance between her precious daughter and disgusting red-neck trash. Paroled soon time after killing a young hood set upon him by Marieta who he brutally killed with his bare hands, Sailor is met by Lula at the prison gates. Vowing to never again be apart they embark on a whistle-stop tour of a steamy, phosphorescent America, with the tenacious private investigator Johnnie Faragut (Harry Dean Stanton) hot on their tail. Marieta is taking no chances though and she also engages the services of the ruthless crime boss Marcelles Santos and his eerie compatriot Mr. Reindeer to sic a group of unusual assassins on to Sailor, as Marieta has to extinguish the life of this chivalrous interloper, who may have witnessed a terrible crime some years before that has noxious implications for the Fortune family…
Whilst it was a pleasure to be able to absorb a scratchy, slightly distressed print that screened at the BFI which seemed appropriate for the renegade nature of the film, I was slightly disappointed with this southern fried, smoky and smouldering road movie which is outstanding in terms of Lynch’s parade of the unusual and bizarre, but taken holistically the plot and structure of the film seems arbitrary and unsteady. Where Blue Velvet feels like a perfectly constructed, clockwork nightmare Wild At Heart is more of an exercise in throwing nonsense at the wall and seeing what sticks, in its early scenes time ellipses and flashbacks converge in a rather muddled and confusing way, with no real purpose of revealing any major surprises or developments as the escapade zooms along. Now normally I would attribute these designs to an intentional effect to bewilder the audience but this doesn’t come across that way, quite apart from not being justified through the film’s subject matter or texture it simply comes off as slightly deficient storytelling from a script that is more scattershot than an epileptic chain-gun operator. Cage’s lampooning, Elvis schtick whilst amusing wears thin at times, much better is Dern’s gum-chewing, gee-schucks pantomime southern debutante turned bad-girl barbie doll. It’s a film of moments, a transitory piece that blazes off into the distance like an irritant hitch-hiker in a rear view mirror, and the films gallery of grotesques are memorably delicious such as the duck man (can’t find a link, alas), the snarling Bobby Peru, the homicidal Juano Durango and who can forget poor cousin Dell? Perhaps the quintessential and most memorable nightmare moment sees the delectable Sherilyn Fenn as a disoriented, fatally wounded car crash victim, it really stands out as a chilling moment as we hear the shrieking, trauma induced, irrelevant concerns of the poor creature;
The road movie is a fine tradition in cinema and its history maps against a fine fleet of American and European talent, Spielberg got sweet in The Sugarland Express, Malick serenades with Badlands, Scorsese got feminine with Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, Wim Wenders took his Teutonic, outsiders eye to Paris Texas, Monte Hellman got Nichiren with Two Lane Blacktop, or there’s Easy Rider or Detour or well I could go on, I think you get the point. The inclusion of some magical alignment with The Wizard Of Oz as a major seam of references and source of visual iconography makes some sense from a thematic, clairvoyant journey fraught with peril kinda way, with a wicked witch snapping at your heels, but to what end? Maybe nothing and I’m expecting too much of Lynch, and maybe where some can reveal in the lunatic randomness and just let the film wash over them, I was just a little more indifferent to the random streams as perhaps in my advancing years more order and discipline feels more meritorious as time marches inexorably on. So, certainly recommended as a fun movie with some points of amusement, Lynch’s return to the road movie genre almost ten years later was much more successful in my book than this chaotic yet entertaining, sweltering yarn but first Diane we’ve got a small detour to make to another sleepy little town with the not entirely wholesome sounding name of Twin Peaks…..
It’s a strange world gentle reader and it’s about to get a little stranger, it’s 1986 and as the irradiated detritus from the Chernobyl disaster infected Northern Europe a similarly radioactive event was contaminating cinema screens worldwide, as we alight upon the first masterpiece of Lynch’s career – I just thought I’d be up front about that. After the painful critical evisceration of Dune a wounded Lynch retreated to his lair and decided he needed to go back to his roots and make a smaller, more personal and manageable film, without the distractions that an interfering studio, costly SFX and adjacent marketing concerns which had partially diluted his creative essence and drive. He had signed a two picture production deal with Dino De Laurentiss whom in a rare moment of executive support stood true to his word and honoured the contract, a risky move as the script for Blue Velvet had been floating around Hollywood and had not been picked up due to the concerns of the potentially offensive violence and strong sexual content, not to mention it not exactly being viewed as a promising commercial prospect. Lynch had long been toying with two or three separate embryonic ideas or feelings, of a man finding a severed ear out in the woods, of the title and haunting track Blue Velvet and the voyeuristic possibilities of secretly accessing a woman’s apartment and watching her in the night – no-one ever claimed these film director types were normal – and so cameras finally started running in early 1986. Finally Lynch had managed to wield the triumvirate of feelings together into a single noirish script, a coruscating mystery film which now stands as one of the core films of the eighties, a psycho-sexual nightmare that is a journey to a Norman Mailer facade with a Charley Manson core, a sensuous and savage fairy tale take on the American dream. The music rises, a curtain of rich, mazarine velvet drapes the opening titles, and we dissolve to a cerulean sky as the crooning begins;
It’s the red, white and blue, we’re in Lumberton, a small, sleepy mid-western town. Deploying his most blatant directorial avatar we are introduced to Jeffrey Beaumont(Kyle MacLachlan), a young man who is listlessly throwing some stones at a distant target on the outskirts of town as he wanders to visit his father in hospital whom he has suffered a debilitating stroke. Retracing his steps after the visit Jeffrey searches for further ammunition to repeat his efforts and unearths a shocking discovery – a severed human ear discarded amongst the brush. A dutiful citizen Jeffrey takes the ear to his local police station and meets Detective Williams (George Dickerson), the father of his school mate Sandy (Laura Dern), and his inquisitive nature compels him to strike up a relationship with her and enlist her aid in solving this gruesome mystery. A local singer, Dorothy Vallens (a smouldering Isabella Rossellini) has become involved with some local thugs who have kidnapped her husband and son, a plot that Jeffrey voyeuristically discovers when he sneaks into her apartment one evening when she’s supposed to be at work. Enter Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper in a career defining performance), the rabid, terrifying local villain whose crew are behind the kidnapping, he’s squeezing Dorothy for violent, disgusting sexual favours which is distressingly illustrated in one of the most uncomfortable scenes of the era. After Frank leaves Dorothy discovers Jeffrey and embarks on a dark and troubled, intimate relationship with her clandestine admirer, and he is plunged into a noirish miasma of danger and secretive delights, a pilgrimage that will shatter his idealism as it reveals the lurking horrors of the adult world.
No less an authority than J.G. Ballard cited Blue Velvet as the greatest film of the decade and it’s a persuasive assertion, as a nightmare vision of Regan’s America that is rotten and twisted at its nucleus behind those immaculately maintained lawns and salutary patterned drapes. The sexual content retains its horror and is difficult to watch, but it never feels exploitative or unqualified, as Jeffrey’s naive innocence and simplistic worldview are ruthlessly demolished by his sortie into the smoky realms of sexual temptation. MacLachlan is the prefect foil for Lynch’s quixotic gleam, his chirpy small town inquisitiveness masking a unconsious desire for seduction and adventure, it’s a troubling thought but does it never cross his mind that having relations with an obviously distressed woman who is being sexually abused by a degenerate criminal might not be the right thing to do? Or does he accept this but is unable to resist? In her first film role Rossellini seethes like a Crinaeae temptress, a custodian of the carnal waters of wanton allurement, it’s an extraordinarily brave performance for its neurotic nudity and emotional vulnerability. We’ll come back to ferocious Frank but Laura Dern also excels as the serene, frequently clad in white Sandy, Jeffrey’s auricomous co-conspirator, her barbie doll innocence also tested by her peek behind the curtain.
The way that Jeffrey moves into this hidden, sepulchral and wicked world evokes a Grimms fairy tale unearthing of a terrible secret in the dark, dark woods, and the moody photography of Lynch’s regular DP Frederick Elmes has a faded, trance like quality punctuated by a dilution of his usual design preferences, there is no clanking industrial machinery but a much softer emphasis on tables and lamps, on furniture and make-up, on costume and set decoration to blend the contours of the symbolic into the subconscious – all those Edward Hopper inspired bedrooms, lounges, and nightclubs all contain an eerie, empty, artificial dread. There has been critical speculation that perhaps Detective Williams – and note again that he is Sandy’s father – is actually the lynchpin (heh) of the drugs trade sideplot which is not satisfactorily resolved in the film, even as the film closes you’re not sure of all the relations between the players, or indeed what fate may have in store for Jeffrey (he probably grew up to become Patrick Bateman) and Sandy as the equilibrium is falsely restored with a (SPOILERS) obviously mechanical symbol. Blue Velvet has its moments that have entered the cinematic lexicon, whether it’s the sultry nightclub reveal, an angry choice of ales, or the Candy Coloured Clown;
The arrival of Frank on-screen cued a round of nervous laughter and some audibly sharp intakes of breath, he is quite simply a palpable, elemental force in the film, absolutely terrifying in less than a half-dozen scenes, never mind being someone you’d be scared to meet in a dark alley this is a guy you wouldn’t want living in the same country as you. His language is akin to a petulant toddler from the kindergarten of Mephistopheles, his barking of the word ‘fuck’ as a noun not a verb hinting at a mentally diseased and corrupted spirit, I think it was Hopper who suggested the use of the gas mask and it’s a wonderful stroke, never explained or rationalised, just another tweak that hints at a narcotic fugue that permeates the film. The legend goes that Hopper called Lynch having read the script in the midst of a swiftly descending career where he couldn’t get hired due to his legendarily difficult and opiate blasted persona, explaining that he simply had to cast him as ‘David, I AM Frank’…..
This dangerous dream is supplicanted with viewings of Lynch’s later work, before the formal experimentation with form and structure dominated his process, as Blue Velvet is actually rather straightforward from a plot point of view. It’s the wealth of symbolism and visual codes embroidered throughout the film that give it its memorable power and haunting atmosphere, the psycho-analysts had a field day with Blue Velvet, noting the dual nature of the saintly ego-figure of Sandy mirroring the super-ego of diabolic Dorothy, with Frank as the howling id of Jeffrey’s psychology. It’s one of the essential components of the so-called ’Into The Night’ sub-genre of the eighties, that strange, nocturnal species of film where hapless protagonists embark on an illicit adventure and emerge from their experience changed or transformed, I’m talking about Something Wild, After Hours, Risky Business, Into The Night and House Of Games, where our voyagers are looking for illicit thrills, usually with some promise of a sexual encounter, coupled with a discombobulated suburban disquiet. The recent Blu-Ray release saw an excavation of a number of deleted scenes which might pique your interest, I want to close however with a scene that caused some laughter that is undeserved and I think has been misread as some sort of satire of American teenage purity. It is presented without irony, I feel that this is Lynch being absolutely serious and earnest (and this is why he can be so remarkable and unique), it contains the films entire fable-like premise and is in retrospect one of the central moments of the picture, a psalm to the purity of love over the forces of darkness in this poisoned valentine to the illusionary, transparent, American dream;
Another great double bill at the BFI, although the former was a little disappointing the second was quite an experience, with a great atmosphere in the sold out auditorium. Eerie, scratchy prints and I also spied a certain Danny Leigh looking quite amused. A short reminder;
I’m three reviews behind now – next week should be hectic….and this is, well it’s something;
The 1980’s was another fruitful period for Science Fiction cinema. The seismic ripples emanating from the relatively recent phenomenon of Star Wars was still echoing around the soundstages and executive boardrooms of Hollywood, and producers were desperately seeking material and product that could emulate the publics apparent thirst for pan-galactic thrills, interstellar adventure, and mystical elderly types hanging around with fey farmboys. Despite the comic book, pulpy, republic serial origins of this frantic search some cerebral fare managed to replicate themselves on-screen, many of them now considered amongst the best that the genre has ever produced, a phalanx of invaders whom demonstrated that SF is chiefly a cinema of ideas rather than just blasters, exotic xenomorphs and heroic dogfights, principal amongst them the likes of Blade Runner, Brazil, Videodrome, Aliens, Akira, The Fly, and Mac And Me*, movies whose astronomical shadows still lurk heavily on the genre. On the more visceral, more playful end of the spectrum we also saw the likes of Predator, Robocop, Mad Max 2, Lifeforce, Back To The Future and a whole quartet of Star Trek pictures, action and adventure movies teleported into a technological trapping whose light satirical concerns all have their acolytes and all seem on the verge of remakes or reimaginings, the latter of course successfully repackaged with a second 3D installment expected next year. Take just one year of the decade, for our purposes the Orwellian 1984, and the roll-call reads like a VHS aficionado’s bucket list including Night of The Comet, Ghostbusters, Ice Pirates, Bronx Warriors, The Last Starfighter, Starman, The Terminator, Dreamscape, Repo Man, Buckaroo Banzai and 2010: The Year That Peter Hyams Last Made A Reasonably Good Film – even by today’s porcine standards that’s quite a list of beloved genre fare. The other major release of the year was Dune, David Lynch’s much maligned big-budget space opera which attempted that most difficult of balancing acts, of holding the big ideas and scientific queries (in this case an alignment with a strange sense of legendary spiritualism), alongside the spectacle, SFX driven heroics and merchandising tie-ins, I for one remember spending my hard-earned pocket-money on populating a panini sticker album which I think I still have lurking around somewhere. The then colossally budgeted $40 million project was a commercial and critical disaster yet has built something of a cult following in the intervening years, widely regarded as the sole turkey in Lynch’s Curriculum Vitae I kinda like the film for all its obvious flaws, and the prospect of revisiting the film on the big screen as part of the BFI’s comprehensive retrospective was a must.
It is the year 10,191 and the intergalactic civilisation has fragmented into a myriad of aristocratic power blocs, factions and clans, locked in a constant struggle of diplomacy, assassination, treachery and guile these groups battle in a cycle of Machiavellian schemes to seize power and treasure in a far flung environment which resembles the courtly intrigues of medieval Europe, of the Islamic intransigence to the ‘holy’ crusades and the political maneuvers of shogunate era Japan. The ruling Emperor Padishah Shaddam IV (José Ferrer) is playing a cunning political game, pitting two sworn enemies against each other in order to consolidate and enhance his position of power. House Harkonnen, lead by the vicious and degenerate sadist Baron Vladimar (Kenneth McMillan) and his two henchmen Hefud (Jack Nance) and Feyed (Sting, in a widely condemned performance) are poised to deliver a surprise attack on House Atreides, ruled by the noble Duke Leto (Jurgen Prochnow) once they return to the desert planet of Arakis to reclaim their territory from the wicked Harkonnen usurpers. The planet is strategically essential to the wider Empire as it is the only known source of the spice Melange, an extremely rare component that enables the secretive and egregious space guild to ‘fold’ space and enable intergalactic travel. House Atredies is crippled during the ambush due to the vengeance fuelled treachery of a clandestine fifth columnist, forcing Leto’s son and heir Paul Atredies (Kyle MacLachlan) and his mother Jessica (Francesca Annis) to flee into the inhospitable wastelands of the planet, doomed to perish at the hands of dehydration or the humongous sand worms that have an unspecified relation to the extraordinarily precious, cobalt hued incense. But there is a shard of hope as the indigenous people of Dune, the mysterious Fremen speak of a messianic prophecy that a saviour will arise and overthrow their oppressors, and usher in a new generation of peace and posterity throughout the galaxy. With further support from the likes of Virgina Madsen, Richard Jordan, Patrick Stewart and the Lynchian cadre of Dean Stockwell and Brad Dourif this lavish, perceptible film is an ambitious translation of a densely weaved clerical future, not completely successful but certainly unforgettable….
Like its brethren Dune has become one of the cult films of the decade due to that occult conflagration of base components, the visually accomplished and startlingly original locked into a desperate battle with some horrendous dialogue and shockingly misjudged storytelling, a dangerously compressed version of a mammoth odyssey which has flashes of brilliance amongst its confused and disjoined narrative non sequiturs. The vicissitudes of concertinaing an 400 page novel into a 137 minute film have seriously blighted the film, and the post-production imposition of an explanatory voiceover are terrible distractions, pandering in the basest sense to an audience supposedly unable to complacently and decadently wallow in a sensationally arranged, optical feast. The majestic and all-powerful Emperor José Ferrer is less a commanding intergalactic tyrant as he is a refugee from a Ferrero Rocher advert, a performance problem that is compounded by the grave error of miscasting MacLachlan as the resourceful, charismatic, furiously driven redeemer Paul Atreides, he’s more of a curious, slightly pensive weed who stumbles across his transcendental destiny through a series of truncated, unearned tasks . It’s also a little unfair but some of the SFX work has not dated well, with matte lines unconvincingly shimmering at certain points and the miniature designs are not wholly convincing, the sandworm ride for example is particularly grimace inducing on the big screen. But what a world this is, a brilliantly realised, arcane future macrocosm with some tremendous costume, set and production design, all overseen by industry legend Anthony Masters who sharpened his teeth on big, bold SF projects like 2001: A Space Odyssey some fifteen years before. This world building and ecosystem is populated with a genuine sense of an adcanced society, with the Bene Gesserit telepathic witches and post human Mentat computerised consigliere texturing a genuinely palpable and intriguing terrain. Personal favourites are the emissary visit from the navigators guild (linked above) which has a real sense of an alien threat from a mysterious, impenetrable organisation and the wretched villany of the nefarious Harkonen clan is grotesquely crafted through some inspired moments of cartoon cruelty;
Like any cult film worth its Melange the film exists in various cuts and versions, although the reputed four-hour version has been debunked (yes their was a four hour assembly cut but this was always intended to reduced) there is a slightly longer version of the film with an extended prologue and additional snippets and sequences as you can see here and here and here and here, I also love the opening which feels particularly Lynichan - I’m not sure why but I love that odd fade of Princess Irulan and her subsequent rematerialisation, all imprinted against an infinite starscape that is occasionally replicated in his subsequent films. This expanded cut doesn’t particularly address the films shortfalls, but it does flesh out some of the wider material that was filmed with more pungent details of the society and story. In fact like other epics the making of the film and its journey to the screen can be as fascinating as the final text, as Dune wriggled from the galactic imagination of Herbert through the phantasmagoric genius of Alejandro Jodorowsky and his insane plans to cast Salvador Dalí, Orson Welles, Gloria Swanson, David Carradine, Geraldine Chaplin, Alain Delon, Hervé Villechaize and Mick Jagger in his frankly bonkers sounding translation of the novel. It has to be one of the great unmade cinema projects ever, up their with Kubrick’s Napoleon, David Lean’s Nostromo or Steven Seagal’s Gengis Khan, for potential opulent insanity. After Jodorosky has been banished by Dino De Laurentiis Ridley Scott and Dan’O Bannon flirted with the project, before Lynch picked up the pieces following his industry recognition in the form of eight Oscar nominations for The Elephant Man at the 1981 ceremony.
So what does Mr. Lynch bring to the party? Well, as a director whom has always taken a strong lead on the production design and visual elements of his films he can muster some kudos for the films arresting style (he was involved in the design of all the items during the lengthy pre-production process), in fact if he had his way he would have gone into full S&M waters with some of the costumes, but the imposition of PG rating scuppered those plans. As I mentioned the casting of Lynchian regulars such as Freddie Jones, Dean Stockwell and Brad Dourif give a supplicant, inhospitable background of character actors and faces to texture the universe, and the references of dreaming, of finding your destiny through transcendental methods are also apparent, most memorably during the water of life sequence. Lynch has distanced himself from the film, citing it as too diluted, too interfered with to be considered a film he wanted the credit for and he has refused repeated requests from Universal to go back and produce a directors cut, such is his ire at the final product. Is it Lynch’s turkey, his worst film? Maybe, but it’s certainly more successful than the horrendous SF channel translations of the last decade and there is still talk of a long-awaited, shield thwarting stab at the novel, I think the film does have a corrosive sense of the uncanny, of a world behind the immediately physical, and whatever its failings it is a puzzling curio that reaps deeper rewards with each viewing;
*I think I’ve got that confused with another extraterrestrial orientated movie where some funny looking fellas visit earth and make friends with some kids. I can’t for the life of me remember the damn thing’s name though, can anyone help me out and phone home? I’ll be right here….
Actung, for you Tommy ze war is not over;
Well, this will either be throughly terrible in a good way or throughly terrible in a bad way, I’m not sure a Sarah Palin clone is gonna generate many laughs but this sneak look has its moments. I predict an inevitable morass of serious complaint of the inappropriate nature of mocking the Nazi’s horrendous legacy, whilst the normal people with a sense of humor will get on with having some fun.
In a feeble attempt to keep the momentum going before the next review, here is some material that I couldn’t quite collapse into the last episode;
Fret not, the next review is almost finished and it will receive a final polish tomorrow, alas I’ve just written myself into a corner that requires a lot of links - there is more interesting material to come. Here is one of the shorts that I neglected from the introductory post – for my sins I’m attempting a comprehensive overview for this season;
I’ve also got slightly sidetracked by developing some side posts which should complement the season’s activity, this is a project that is getting out of hand and I’m almost up against another full weekend of material at the BFI – good times. Here is a flavour of some of the documentaries there are out there, just watched this behind the scenes piece that was made during the filming of Inland Empire;
In other news I’ve just finished the first season of Boardwalk Empire and it is fantastic – if HBO could bleed this into a James Ellroy mega adaptation I will be a very happy bunny, Buscemi is excellent and the disfigured sniper is a terrific character. More soon….
A quick break from the alternate world of dancing dwarfs, howling monstrosities and eagle-scout inquisitiveness, lets take a look at something a trifle more wholesome and old fashioned – rampant teenage butchery;
This notorious little slasher, also known as Night Crew: The Final Checkout (heh) is primarily known for two things, firstly it was deemed one of the most gruesome psycho flicks of the eighties and had an unprecedented five minutes of footage excised by the draconian BBFC. Secondly and much more interestingly is the crop of gleeful schlockmeisters behind and in front of the camera, this was produced by the entertaining Minnesota crew including a youthful Sam Raimi and his brother Ted, director Scott Spielgel (Sam’s writing partner), producer Lawrence Bender (who went on to produce some fairly popular films) and yes even Bruce gets a look in with a final scene cameo. It’s got that inventive, crash zoom, improvised, cheeky sense of deranged humor that Raimi and co. brought to the Evil Dead movies, and is famous in gorehound circles for this (Warning – NSFW) gnarly piece of SFX that really got the censors squeamish hackles up. It’s just had a un-cut DVD release here in the UK, so if you’re looking for 88 minutes of stupid, claret drenched whimsy then you can’t go wrong.
Picture the scene gentle reader – a storm-swept, wintry night, with the hail and rain lashing at the flimsy, sodden windows. One hour beyond the witching hour and in a lightless living room the VHS player whirls into stuttering activity and a grainy image materializes, a floating head emerging out of the pitiless darkness to the sounds of a throbbing industrial score, and a trauma inducing title expands across the screen – Eraserhead. Yes, I think it is fair to say that my first viewing of this midnight movie masterpiece was quite a memorable affair, I was barely into my teens when I finally got my anxious little claws on a VHS copy of this bizarre looking film, one of those difficult to source movies in those pre-internet days, a movie which had been remorselessly haunting the various movie magazines and horror anthology books of my mis-spent youth. Ninety minutes later with the storm still raging I imagine my hair was standing on end in a manner not dissimilar to our heroes memorable coiffure, I knew I’d seen something, something which exceeded my nervously preconceived notions of this supposed ‘nightmare made tangible’ movie, which at that point in my movie-watching adolescence was probably one of the strangest and more avant-garde films I’d devoured. It’s worth noting that this was before Twin Peaks arrived in the UK, and probably just after Blue Velvet had secured its notoriety, as budding acidophiles across the world noticed the shockwaves that that film had caused and resolved to check out the prior work of David Lynch after the crippling legacy of Dune, but that’s a story for another post now isn’t it? Eraserhead has screened a couple of times in London over the past ten years but the screenings have never been convenient with my activities and schedule, with the inception of the BFI’s David Lynch season however I had no excuses not to return to this bona-fide cult classic, this monochrome mirage, and in the upmarket environs of Screen One it was still quite the hair raising experience……
Poor old Henry (Jack Nance, in the first of his career long memorable collaborations with Lynch), not only is he on vacation in some unspecified, decaying, smoke belching, decrepit city he’s also got his highly strung girlfriend Nancy X (Charlotte Stewart) pregnant. Things get worse when the baby arrives, cued by Nancy’s chilling line – ‘they’re still not sure it is a baby‘ – as we are witness to some plucked chicken, bandage swathed, chitinous and horrendous ‘thing’ which requires constant attention, a teratoid presence whose homogeneous gurgling is enough to make one plead for a padded cell. Things aren’t all bad though as Henry daydreams about the man from another planet who likes to manoeuvre some unwieldy levers which exhale dizzying bursts of sparks to the sound of metallic distress, or the lady in the radiator who is, erm, the lady who lives in the radiator and likes to perform dainty little ditties about Heaven as she sidesteps to crush flagellate, gelatinous creatures which rain down from the sky. Henry’s head is also turned by his igneous, vampish neighbor who is known as the ‘beautiful girl across the hall’ who may be interested in a secret tryst with our vertically coiffured cynosure, if only Henry can keep his mewling progeny from spoiling the mood. It’s a disjointed, dolorous tangle of events and imagery scored to the rumbling clanks and clunks of a city in distress, a dominion where strangely behaved inhabitants squat on the precipice between normalcy and insanity – witness this charming dinner party;
Eraserhead was shot over a lengthy five years with Lynch and his juvenile crew scrabbling for film stock and equipment during its long gestation period, it’s no small achievement that such a fiscally hobbled project retains such a consistent visual aesthetic, and on a purely technical level the film firmly sequestered Lynch as a tenacious craftsman who could work visionary wonders with limited resources and assistance. It’s real success is the crepuscular atmosphere and sheer uniqueness of the film, it is quite unlike anything else released in 1977 with its formalist rejection of either a strong central narrative or plot augmented succession, preferring to delve straight into the subconscious with a parade of images and moments that leave quite an impression. It’s a film that strives much more for a feeling, an aura which it induces through the nightmare imagery and discordant soundtrack, and a hesitation to formally signal any shift in viewpoint as we plummet into Henry’s fevered and feverish imagination. The narrative is intangible and blends at the edges, in a curious way it’s this form and technique that Lynch has more recently returned to in both Mullholland Drive and Inland Empire, with more a proficient detonation of timeframes of cause and effect, more akin to a kaleidoscopic story blasted to smithereens which has to be reconstructed with the skill and imagination of a Swiss watch assemblyman. The iris isolation of details in the frame through lighting blocks or changes in temperature is a directorial flourish that has continued throughout his career, along with his fascination with fire and industry, distortion and derangement, if as Shakespeare speculated all the worlds a stage then in Lynch’s world that amphitheatre is bathed in an electric blue sheen whilst a mysterious, sultry termagant howls beautifully for the glory of transcendent love.
One wonders what goes through Jennifer Lynch’s head when she reads about her fathers feature debut, given that Lynch is on record as explaining that it was the birth of his first child and the anxious terror of being responsible for the upkeep, safety and health of this mewling collection of cells that served as a central inspiration for his breakthrough project. That seems to be a central springboard of Lynch’s artistic process, in that one rather formless and independent idea serves as the catalyst for connected ideas and inspiration, with individual units integrating into a complex whole. It’s fascinating that the film reached an audience through the midnight movie crowd, those strange drunks and drug addicts, night birds and anomalies who flocked to nocturnal screenings across America in the period, consuming product and material that actively promoted audience participation in the likes of The Rocky Horror Picture Show or EL Topo or the early gross-fests of John Waters such as Pink Flamingos or Polyester, Eraserhead is a much more introspective experience, a nebulous, free-floating and formless nightmare which seems apostate to the grind-house campaign, as the film is clearly an introverted and personal experience with individual viewers having to make their own rhyme or reason from the seemingly disassociated events, and as such it’s just another strange chapter in the strange career of this strange man. A delirious, sexual collision of sound and image, filtered through the underground stylistics of Stan Brakhage and fuelled with a surrealist pedigree of early Bunuel and the otherworldly Jean Cocteau Eraserhead is pure, unadulterated nightmare fuel, a pneumatic experience that once seen is never forgotten, as in heaven everything is indeed fine;
Special bonus points for the comments section – give me one, just one link between this film and John Carpenter – that’s a real movie buff question. And yes I’m aware of the news, I’ll believe it when I see it….
Well now this is cathartic, in a state of euphoric bliss after a superb David Lynch double bill at the BFI I emerge into the wintry night to see our beautiful capital city drenched with snow. Ducking through some impromptu snow ball fights I alight at Waterloo station, soon to learn that this magical substance from the skies which we have known was going to arrive at least 48 hours ago has effectively paralysed the entire FUCKING TRANSPORT NETWORK. That’s the UNDERGROUND network. It makes me mad;
Managed to get a cab though, and I must confess that the £25 ride home was quite dreamy. Still, the above was fun, with excellent deployment of the Wilhelm scream as well……and this means tomorrow I will be staying home, and paying my fellow Limehouse denizens to bring me food, and I shall write and probably watch some more Boardwalk Empire which is terrific. I’ve had worse weekends….
After almost three and a half hours of Lynchian weirdness I was subjected to some awfully strange dreams on Wednesday night, unconsciously exhausted I found myself mysteriously wandering around a parched, sun drenched Middle East furtively divining for water – maybe a combination of elements such as this and a recent viewing of this had infected my subconscious*, an ominous sign as I embarked on my most ambitious project yet at the Menagarie. Whilst not necessarily emulating the man’s greatest works let’s begin at the beginning with a trio of short films from the mindscape of David Lynch, one of the most catalytically distinctive American directors of recent years, a polymath whose heteroclite career veers from screens big and small, from music to opera, from nightclubs to painting he is being honoured with a comprehensive BFI retrospective throughout the month of February in the gloomy screening rooms of London’s South Bank. Firstly in the interests of transparency I am an enormous fan of ‘Jimmy Stewart from Mars’, his four decades of work are firmly situated in the top-tier of my personal pantheon, with a fascinating career to date in which he has carved out an almost unique position as the premiere photographer of delicious dreams and our limitless imaginations, of our subconscious drives and supernatural speculations. As much as I would have loved to have spent every day revisiting his work I had the draw the line somewhere, so I have selected a programme of films that I have not yet seen on the big screen, unfortunately this means that the likes of Wild At Heart and Lost Highway will not be on the agenda, the latter a real shame as I particularly wanted to revisit it if only to witness this classic moment again, but you never know what I might try to add to the roster so we’ll see how my stamina and schedule develops over the coming weeks. I will be filling in the gaps on the small screen however to keep the intellectual momentum going, therefore tonight I shall be revisiting The Elephant Man before tomorrow’s double bill. There is also a couple of events to break things up in terms of my coverage, as such I’m minded to kick things off with a context setting report on the season introduction and some brief coverage on the three short films which screened before Lynch’s nebulous debut, I think we can all agree that Eraserhead is worthy of its own, separate diagnosis? Excellent…..
The season opened with an hour-long discussion with academic Anthony Todd, author of this recent publication and as a senior Film Studies lecturer at the London College Of Communication he was an ideal delegate to begin proceedings. The aim of this context setting was two-fold, firstly to briefly touch upon the first phase of Lynch’s career, from the trio of shorts up until the critical darling Blue Velvet, and secondly (and perhaps more importantly) to examine the production and aesthetical frameworks into which the likes of Eraserhead could deliver its mutant nativity. It was a rather dry but convincing cantor through the first chapter of Lynch’s career, with Todd mapping two simultaneous shifts in the cultural and infrastructural developments of the film business, firstly the shift of the truly underground, non-narrative, avant-garde cinema toward the mainstream through the likes of Andy Warhol’s patronage in the late Sixties, causing the likes of Newsweek and The Village Voice to support, celebrate and promulgate articles on the Midnight Movie phenomenon that really came of age in the grindhouse abatoirs of the Seventies. In tandem with this shift of the visual culture was the storming of the means of production by the new brats, the movie-savy, art house admiring, genre championing likes of De Palma and Coppola, Scorsese and Schrader whose movies dominated the early Seventies cultural palette with an invigorating attraction to more psychological driven, more sexual tenebrous and narratively challenging fare. Thus the avant-garde surfaces to the mainstream from below, and the Hollywood hierarchy descends to embrace the experimental, and it’s in this Venn diagram overlap that filmakers like Lynch connected with an audience that were hungry for new and faintly taboo movie experiences. Further discussions of the first four films also emerged but I’ll keep those details clandestine until the actual reviews, he did however make the point that it wasn’t until Blue Velvet that any mention of ‘A David Lynch Film’ was present in the marketing or promotional drives during this first decade of operations, and such a sobriquet only appears to have been attached retrospectively to the first four features, a point illustrated with screenings of the first few trailers which emphasised the unique aspects of the films – a SF behemoth, a Victorian humanist melodrama, a suburban nightmare, a radical incubus – in order to extract the film-goers from their hard-earned cash. All in all this was a skim across the surface, but an accomplished prologue for the screenings to come;
The Grandmother - The darkness begins. I’d seen this before back on late night TV many moons ago and it demonstrably has a bewitching power, as some of its miscreant qualities – the barking parents, the powder bone faces, the droning, industrial soundtrack – came rushing back at me from a smoldering cauldron of memories. At a brutally long 34 minutes this does begin to drag, it could easily have been sliced in two and still retained its power, but nevertheless it emerges as the embryonic work of a major future talent. Key echoes of his later work are seen here with the pallid, chalk faced figures (Lost Highway), the almost Gilliamesque animation interludes (Mullholland Drive), the compassionate elderly figure (Twin Peaks, Blue Velvet), a protean directorial avatar in the shape of the faintly neglected boy (see also Jeffrey in Blue Velvet, Dale Cooper in Twin Peaks) and most importantly the seething, clanking, mechanical soundtrack which has remained one of Lynch’s core aesthetic drivers.
The Amputee - This was a first, I hadn’t seen this before and at a more compact 4 minutes this was a slightly more copacetic experience. An amputee woman muses over her relationships as a male nurse (Lynch) tends to her seeping wounds, seen through the veil of a distancing and flickering VHS manteau one is reminded of the Log Lady’s incomprehensible musings. After some digging around I’ve discovered that the actress playing the amputee actually was the fucking Log Lady - so that’s nice. Lynch shot this during a break of the five year shoot of Eraserhead, it’s a glimpse of the macabre that struck when budding cinematographer Frederick Elmes was offered the chance to test some new video cameras for the AFI. Faintly distressing but also humourous, this raised some nervous laughter.
The Alphabet - Another short, erm, short which consecutively speaks for itself, I like to think of it as David’s version of Sesame Street via Francis Bacon and a smattering of Samara. So to close this first installment of our phantasmagorical campaign here is some more context setting material, to celebrate the season Time Out have drafted a fantastic resume of the angelic and demonic denizens of his films that you can argue or agree with here, (although the lack of Audrey Horne in that list is a shocking oversight) it contains some terrific leads concerning little known examples of his work such as Industrial Symphony No. 1: The Dream of the Broken Hearted, Premonition Following an Evil Deed and On the Air which even I had never heard of before. Given the importance of sound in his work I’ve just had the damn fine idea of closing each individual review with a musical piece to complement the visuals and wordplay, and I’m also minded to throw in a few cinematic references and inspirations to Lynch’s work as contrary to some opinions he’s not necessarily a throughly unique talent, like all great artists he has clearly been affected and inspired by his fellow hypnagogics as we can see here;
An eye-watering experience I think you’ll agree. Now, onto the mind rubbers….
*A superb, moving and harrowing film by the way which should have got last years best foreign film Oscar – highly recommended.
Christopher Lee. Michael Gough. Barbara Steele. Boris Karloff – see them all for the first time in the same sanity trembling, Wicker-esque, Satanic ballet of haunted effigies, phantasmic dreams and hideous dread from beyond the id;
Stilted acting. Poor, incongruous editing. Lurid, polychromatic lighting. Reverb inflected Erinyes shrieking for vengeance. Occultists practicing their ungodly voodoo to the tremulous impacts of screeching crash zooms. Impudent sorcery wielded amongst flimsy gravestones. A pseudo Hammer, post-Sixties, barbiturate soaked facade. High camp and low thrills, terrific, deceitful, convivial fun. All things considered this was a sensible primer, as my Lynch season starts here tomorrow night….