Posted by: ckckred | February 20, 2014

A Discussion of David Lynch

david-lynch

Last Friday I saw The Elephant Man, which means that I have now seen all of David Lynch’s films.  David Lynch is a decisive figure, with people calling him a genius and master of modern day surrealism with others criticizing his work for being overly opaque.  You can consider me part of the former group; I think Lynch is one of the best filmmakers there is whose enchanting style only a few select directors can match.

Lynch has taken extensive cues from many directors, perhaps the major pinpoints being Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick, and Billy Wilder.  Like Hitchcock, Lynch shares an interest at looking the seedy contents of ordinary everyday life (Blue Velvet isn’t too far off from Psycho).  Like Kubrick, Lynch likes to slowly unnerve and horrify his audience with almost supernatural beings (Twin Peaks is reminiscent of The Shining and Mulholland Dr. is similar to Eyes Wide Shut).  And like Wilder, Lynch loves movies, so much so that his films idealize the motion picture industry (INLAND EMPIRE and Mulholland Dr. could be considered dark remakes of Sunset Boulevard).

But Lynch’s direction is unlike any other.  His movies are a combination of drama, comedy, and horror, testing and terrifying viewers with slick and disturbing imagery.  Even if you don’t like the content of Lynch’s style, there’s no denying he is a master innovator.

Below is my ranking of Lynch’s filmography:

10. Dune

9. Wild at Heart

8. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me

7. The Straight Story

6. The Elephant Man

5. Lost Highway

4. INLAND EMPIRE

3. Eraserhead

2. Blue Velvet

1. Mulholland Dr.

Now to explain my choices.  I wrote a very dismissive review of Dune back in 2012, one that was perhaps too overly harsh.  There are some interesting elements in the picture that feel like precursors to Blue Velvet (mostly due to the similarity between the protagonists of the pictures, both played by Kyle MacLachlan), but it’s still a failure.  On the positive side, however, it made Lynch focus more on independent cinema where he could extensively control his own visions, meaning we might not have had Mulholland Dr. or Blue Velvet if Lynch stayed in the mainstream.

Wild at Heart is next.  While it’s a good film altogether, it’s rather lackluster and pales next to Blue Velvet, which it shares in comic tone.  I was a bit unsure of the moral direction of Wild at Heart (at times moves in a seemingly unknown direction) but there’s much to admire with an excellent cast.

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me may be the most polarizing picture Lynch has done, with even the most devoted fans of the TV series maligning its presence.  I see it differently, as an enlightening picture that focuses on the spiritual aspect of Twin Peaks as a whole.  Sure it was unnecessary and doesn’t work completely well as it attempts to explain the show’s mythology too explicitly (Lynch works best with more ambiguity), but it’s an ambitious and unfairly hated experiment.

The Straight Story and The Elephant Man are both the most ordinary pictures Lynch has made, yet don’t suffer from Lynch being out of water.  The Straight Story focuses on the redemption of its hero Alvin Straight, who sets off on an odyssey to find his dying brother.  Lynchian elements are present, like the use of a few oddball characters, yet is linear and direct in its course (it’s also the only movie he didn’t write), making it sweet and beautiful while never overdosing in sentiment.  The Elephant Man also is rather conventional (though it bares shades of Eraserhead), though an eloquently told and uplifting story of John Merrick, though the art direction and makeup could come have come out of Eraserhead.

Lost Highway is certainly among the most cerebral of Lynch’s work, a sort of head-spun nightmare and the first in Lynch’s trilogy of mistaken identity, highlighted by David Bowie’s “Deranged,” which both open and closes the picture.  It’s a mind-blowing picture that while I didn’t understand everything that was going on, I couldn’t help but be amazed.

INLAND EMPIRE is Lynch’s biggest, most epic, and ambitious work to date that’s the hardest to pinpoint.  It’s a labyrinth of a picture that twists and turns its narrative.  You never know where you are, but that’s the entire point and the reason why I love it so much.

Eraserhead is best described as a psychological horror of maturity.  It’s protagonist Henry (Jack Nance), lives in industrial city where his visions and nightmares haunt and possess him, through his unholy and deformed child.  Stanley Kubrick told Lynch he loved the movie and it served as an influence for The Shining, a sure symbol of Eraserhead’s legacy.

Blue Velvet is Lynch’s most iconic picture and probably the movie that solidified his career.  It’s a satire of a Regan-Disneyish view of America of what wanders behind the smiling suburban curtains.  Blue Velvet had maintained its shock over all these years and surely will grow in stature in the future.

mulholland-drive

For myself, though, Mulholland Dr. is Lynch’s best movie.  Originally conceived and planned as a TV show, Lynch salvaged the remains and edited the footage with a conclusive ending to make Mulholland Dr.  That process might make the picture sound like a jumbled jigsaw puzzle, but Mulholland Dr. is the most powerful and structured piece Lynch has done.  I’m convinced that the first three-fourths of the movie is a fantasy dreamed up by protagonist Betty, with the final thirty minutes acting as an epilogue telling the truth.  It’s maddening but engaging in a way no one else could accomplish.

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Responses

  1. Fabulous post my man. Just fabulous. As you know, I’m a massive David Lynch fan too. Can’t argue with your list too much here but I was a big admirer of Wild at Heart and Fire Walk with Me. I’d have them much higher. As for the the top two; I find it very difficult to separate Blue Velvet and Mulholland Dr but there’s no doubt that those are his finest films. Great to see Lost Highway get some love too.

  2. He is a great master of surreal and bizarro world. Eraserhead is my top 1… that one is just amazing. Great list though.

  3. I’d put The Straight Story and The Elephant a bit higher but that’s just me. Your list is pretty much how I would put it.

  4. Sweet tribute. Lynch is innovative and I appreciate his artistic approach to films. Are you interested in his music? I would like to hear ‘The Big Dream’.
    I love David Bowie and haven’t seen Lost Highway. Something tells me I would get a kick out of the challenge of wrapping my head around what I’m seeing.

    • “Cold Wind Blowing” and the remix of “We Rolled Together” from that album are some of my favorite music pieces he’s done. Somehow, everytime I listen to “We Rolled Together”, a train goes by thirty feet away from me.

      • HA No doubt Lynch’s doing. Glad to hear you like it. I just listened to your song–cool!

  5. Great post. I haven’t seen too many of Lynch’s movies, but I intend to change that at some point. And you’ve now given me the order in which I should do it. 🙂

  6. I still haven’t seen Dune or The Straight Story, but I’ve caught all the rest. I really need to check out Blue Velvet again. It didn’t do that much for me, which is odd since I’m a big Lynch fan. I’d drop in the pilot of Twin Peaks here and rank them this way:

    1. Mulholland Drive, 2. Twin Peaks pilot, 3. Wild at Heart, 4. Inland Empire, 5. Eraserhead, 6. The Elephant Man, 7. Lost Highway, 8. Blue Velvet, 9. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me

    The thing about Lynch is that even Fire Walk with Me has plenty of moments that I enjoy. It just falls short of the others. There are none that I hate, and he always is doing something interesting.

  7. An amazing article. I especially love you point about how Lynch’s direction is partly influenced by Kubrick and Hitchcock.

  8. Excellent write up. Long admirer of Lynch also even if I usually find myself appreciating his movies on subsequent viewings rather than the first. He needs to do something new.

  9. Favorite Director of all time. Couldn’t get into INLAND EMPIRE but maybe I wasn’t in the right mood as I love literally every single one of his other films. The documentary on him is also quite interesting.

  10. Nice post! Lynch is a very interesting director to say the least. I have only seen five of his films so far and would rank them as follows: 5. Lost Highway, 4. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, 3. Blue Velvet, 2. Eraserhead, and 1. Mulholland Drive. I agree with you on most of them, only I didn’t like Lost Highway very much. I feel like I might like it more after a second watch, now that I’ve read some more about it. That’s the thing about Lynch though, even if I watch the movie and think it’s completely weird and nonsensical, somebody always has an interesting explanation that makes me rethink what I’ve seen.
    Twin Peaks (the show) has to be my favorite thing he’s done though, even though it’s not a film. I think that show benefits a little bit from being toned down for network television sometimes. Instead of being completely out there, it’s just enough out there. I can’t really put it in the ranking of films, but if I did I would put it at number one.

  11. Great list and post. Reminds me that I have seen nowhere near enough of his films.

  12. Great great piece man. One of my favourite directors plain and simple. As for your list, I’d put Wild at Heart higher up, but it’s hard to argue with much of your ordering.

  13. Excellent post – he really is a fine and distinctive director. I’d have the same top two as you – hard really to say which one of the two I prefer – but they are both brilliant films.

  14. Great article on a polarising director.


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