29 Jan 2014

The films of David Lynch (part II)

"In a sense all film is entering into someone else’s dreams. Film exists because we can go and have experiences that would be pretty dangerous or strange for us in real life. We can go into a room and walk into a dream." — David Lynch

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992)

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me is a prologue to the television series Twin Peaks (1990–91), created by Lynch and Mark Frost. The film revolves around the investigation into the murder of Teresa Banks (Pamela Gidley) and the last seven days in the life of Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee). It was booed at its premiere at Cannes, and I can't understand why, but hey, it has happened to others film that I love too. It is true that it features complex plot twists and confusing references (Lynch's surrealist elements) but all that it's part of a bigger picture. This was the second film I watched from Lynch, and I don't agree with all the criticism towards it 'cause I loved it. I was quite young when I saw it so I didn't understand everything in its full content, but what it mattered to me, it's what I felt while watching it. I was totally mesmerized with the dreamy-nightmare atmosphere, the character of Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee does an amazing job going through a wide range of emotions) and all the twisted story. This film shows the terrible sad story behind her murder, behind what it is supposed to be a normal American family. 

I learned that just beneath the surface there's another world, and still different worlds as you dig deeper. I knew it as a kid, but I couldn't find the proof. It was just a kind of feeling. There is goodness in blue skies and flowers, but another force--a wild pain and decay--also accompanies everything.” — David Lynch

The thing I like the most from this film (besides the great cast, including a cameo by David Bowie) it's the ending. The perfect way of ending this story and, for me, one of the most poignant scenes in film history. Spoiler: I think I haven't cried as much with any film, than with that scene and one from Mulholland Drive. It's Laura's liberation, with Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) by her side, the angel, and the beautiful music by Angelo Badalamenti. Followed by the brutality of the previous scene, Lynch makes us find peace with Laura in the Red Room. Her tears of joy are the most beautiful expression of that feeling.  

Here are some words from Lynch about the film: 
"At the Cannes Film Festival I've always been asked the same question: Why did you make Twin Peaks - Fire Walk With Me? Isn't that just a repetition of the television series? A self-plagiarism? I want to reply two things on that: First of all is this film my cherry pie present to the fans of the show – however one that's wrapped in barbed wire. Moreover I happened to be in love with the characters of the show. I wanted to say goodbye to them symbolically. I realized instinctively that Laura Palmer's story wasn't yet told entirely. As a washed up corpse she was the inner motivation of the show. I wanted to resurrect her, see her live, talk and move. 
 (Sheryl Lee and Lynch on set)
Twin Peaks is a very mysterious place. It puts me into a state of dreams. Into dark dreams. I like the streets, the buildings, the small town atmosphere and the nearby woods. I already wanted to shoot Blue Velvet in this area where we eventually placed Twin Peaks. Back then it failed due to the objection of my producer Dino de Laurentiis.

Twin Peaks - Fire Walk With Me deciphers some of the secrets of the show but not all secrets. Some mysteries remain. I don't like movies that answer all questions. The last reel should roll in the mind of the audience. That's why I generally refuse to give interpretations of some elements or motifs in my films. Everyone wants to know what the Red Room in Twin Peaks stands for that appears again in the movie. Even I don't know what it exactly means. I can still remember well when I've had this idea but I don't know why. From a rational point of view I can see that I used a similar pattern as the one in the attic before in "Eraserhead". However, everything else was just a matter of inspiration: the red curtains, the stylized design, the dancing dwarf. Even if I wanted to I wouldn't be able to explain their meaning because intuition is irrational. The difference between reality and imagination wasn't ever clear to me at all. I will most likely be very surprised when I find out one day what the difference is all about.
The whole Twin Peaks series wouldn't have been possible without the trust in the power of subconsciousness. I show in my movies thoughts and situations that preoccupy my mind. And I'm mainly interested in the dark side of life, the unknown, the frightening. That leads automatically to the controversy about violence. I'm tired of the perpetual arguing about the alleged brutality in my films. Violence exists in our world and you can't simply ignore it. You have to show it, especially if you want to tell powerful stories as I want to. Those who only want to tell about the joys of being and the art of picking cherries shouldn't start making films at all. Because good people are boring. Only the bad guys have style. 
(Michael J. Anderson and Lynch on set)
That's why Twin Peaks - Fire Walk With Me is first of all addressed to an audience with a sense of macabre humor and grotesque surrealism. It's not necessary to know all episodes of the show to understand the movie. Certainly it would be an advantage, but the story is set up in a way that you slip in easily even without any previous knowledge. Because Twin Peaks is everywhere. It's not a place. It's a condition.— David Lynch

Lost Highway (1997)

"Dick Laurent is dead."


"There's a beguiling and magnetic mood. There's so much darkness, and there's so much room to dream. There are mysteries and there are people in trouble, and uneasiness." — David Lynch on Lost Highway

Yes, the film starts and ends with Bowie, who could ask for more? Lost Highway is my favorite Lynch film almost tied with Mulholland Dr. I can't explain why exactly, 'cause they're there on top with Fire walk with me and Blue Velvet, but there's something specially hypnotizing about them. I watched it twice in one week (same happened with Mulholland) with some friends 'cause it was so mind-blowing that we needed to re-watch it to see all the details, and also 'cause it's an extraordinary visual and musical experience. Lynch filmed it putting the music on the background for the actors, letting them feel the songs and move following the rhythm that's why every scene looks perfectly orchestrated. Besides, the soundtrack is impressive. It was produced by Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails), and includes original music from the film recorded by Reznor, Angelo Badalamenti and Barry Adamson, as well as songs by Bowie, Lou Reed, The Smashing Pumpkins,  Antonio Carlos Jobim, Marilyn Manson (who also does a cameo), Rammstein,  and the beautiful version of Song to the Siren from This Mortal Coil. One of the best moments for me has to be the one with This Magic Moment performed by Lou Reed. Patricia Arquette is awesome as Alice, the perfect femme fatale with her blonde shimmering hair:

I can't tell you much about the story 'cause it's quite thrilling and insane and you have to watch it for yourself. Lynch uses, as always, a combination of neo-noir elements, horror, and mystery. Also this is quite psychological, like most of his career, 'cause it revolves around a mental condition called "psychogenic fugue". The film used it in a more fantastic way, but the people that experiments it feels "sudden, unexpected travel from home or work, with the inability to recall some or all of one's past. Confusion about personal identity or assumption of a new identity The onset of dissociative fugue is usually related to traumatic, stressful, or overwhelming life events."

(Lynch and Patricia Arquette at the Sundance Film Festival,  Utah, 1997 by Susan Meiselas)

The cast is really amazing, Patricia Arquette as I've just said, owns the film playing two characters: Renee Madison/Alice Wakefield, one with dark hair and the other with blonde hair. Lynch had used that before in Twin Peaks, with Sheryl Lee playing both Laura Palmer and her cousin Maddy Ferguson, and it looks like a nod to Hitchcock's Vertigo (1958) where Kim Novak plays two female characters. The male main characters are perfectly portrayed by Balthazar Getty and Bill Pullman, besides Robert Loggia and Robert Blake are awesome on their little roles.

Film critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert gave the film "two thumbs down" — though Lynch used this to his advantage by claiming it was "two good reasons to go and see Lost Highway." This 'two thumbs down' was used in newspaper ads. But despite receiving mixed reviews upon release, the film has developed a cult following.

" The beauty of an abstract film is it's open to interpretation." — David Lynch

The Straight Story (1999)

"I want to sit with him and look up at the stars, like we used to, so long ago."

"Lyle: Did you ride that thing all the way out here to see me?
Alvin: I did, Lyle."

The Straight Story is a road-movie drama based on the true story of Alvin Straight's 1994 journey across Iowa and Wisconsin on a lawnmower. Alvin (Richard Farnsworth) is an elderly World War II veteran who lives with his daughter Rose (Sissy Spacek), a kind woman with a mental disability. When he hears that his estranged brother Lyle (Harry Dean Stanton) has suffered a stroke, Alvin makes up his mind to go visit him and hopefully make amends before he dies. But because Alvin's legs and eyes are too impaired for him to receive a driving license, he hitches a trailer to his recently purchased thirty year-old John Deere 110 Lawn tractor and sets off on the 240-mile (390 km) journey from Laurens, Iowa to Mount Zion, Wisconsin.

"Tenderness can be as abstract as insanity". — David Lynch

The most famous thing about The Straight Story is that it is rated G and presented by Walt Disney Pictures. After doing Lost Highway no one could believe Lynch was doing this, but as I've told you talking about The Elephant Man, Lynch is also capable of doing brilliant realistic films, and The Straight Story proves it, being one of the most beautiful road-movies I've ever seen. This one was described by critics as sweet, simple, and sentimental; authentic and buccolic. It was a critical success and garnered audience acclaim. Reviewers praised the intensity of the character performances, particularly the realistic dialogue (which Roger Ebert compared to the works of Hemingway). It received a nomination for the Palme d'Or at the 1999 Cannes Film Festival and Farnsworth received a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Actor

(David Lynch on set of The Straight Story)

"I cried so much during The Straight Story - and doing The Elephant Man. Some of my reviews made me cry as well! But sometimes I just sit in the editing room and weep. Emotion is a thing that cinema can really communicate." — David Lynch

Mulholland Drive (2001)

"No hay banda! It's all a tape. Il n'est pas de orquestra. It is... an illusion!"

"It'll be just like in the movies. Pretending to be somebody else."

What can I say about this masterpiece? Even film critic Roger Ebert, who didn't like all Lynch's previous films, gave it 4 stars out of 4. Because this film is that perfect. Here is what he said about it, and I think it sums up pretty much my feelings towards this film:

"David Lynch has been working toward "Mulholland Drive" all of his career. The movie is a surrealist dreamscape in the form of a Hollywood film noir, and the less sense it makes, the more we can't stop watching it. This is a movie to surrender yourself to. If you require logic, see something else. "Mulholland Drive" works directly on the emotions, like music. Individual scenes play well by themselves, as they do in dreams, but they don't connect in a way that makes sense--again, like dreams. The way you know the movie is over is that it ends. And then you tell a friend, "I saw the weirdest movie last night." Just like you tell them you had the weirdest dream." — Roger Ebert

Besides all the dream-like experience, I think there is an important plot in here. This film talks about the fraud behind Hollywood. It shows us how a young girl thinks she can go there and triumph, and how her hopes get frustrated by the industry game, showing you how producers own films and not directors, how there is always money before artistic choices. It is also a film about unrequited love, frustration, fears, and all the feelings that Lynch shows us through the eyes of its stars. Laura Elena Harring is sultry and gorgeous as Rita, but Naomi Watts owns the film. She plays two different characters (you know how much Lynch likes to do that) and her performance is a master class of acting. There is a scene with Chad Everett where she has to prove Betty's acting skills and she does it so well that it makes you shiver, same as when she finds herself alone and desperate at her home at the ending. And the way she consumes while watching Rita with someone else. Shame on the Academy for not giving Watts an award for this, 'cause she deserved every award, hers is a lifetime performance. Justin Theroux, who Lynch would cast again on Inland Empire, is also great as filmmaker Adam Kesher. He's funny and bright, but also has a naive look about him, kind of what happened with MacLachlan.

(Naomi Watts and Lynch on set)

"What we don’t like is a mystery that’s solved completely. It’s a letdown. It always seems less than what we imagined when the mystery was present. The last scene in `Blow Up’ is so perfect because you leave the theater still dreaming. Or the end of `Chinatown,’ where the guy says `Forget it, Jake, it’s Chinatown.’ It explains so much but it only gives you a dream of a bigger mystery. Like life. For me, I want to solve certain things but leave some room to dream." — David Lynch

I won't tell you much about the story 'cause like with Lost Highway, this is something you have to watch for yourselves, but it's a great mystery surrealist film that catches your attention from the first minute. There has been a lot of discussion and analysis about it, but I think everybody will get its own conclusion. The music, as always on Lynch's career, is beyond perfect. The main theme by Badalamenti gives me the thrills and the song by Rebekah Del Rio, "Llorando", that plays in Club Silencio is one of the most poignant scenes I've ever seen, so moving and beautiful:

Mulholland Drive earned Lynch the Prix de la mise en scène (Best Director Award) at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival, as well as an Oscar nomination for Best Director.

(Naomi Watts, Laura Harring and Lynch at Cannes)

Inland Empire (2006) 

Inland Empire is the last film he's made. I didn't like it as much as other Lynch films, but it's quite an experience and it has some brilliant scenes, including a powerful ending, and it looks like a tribute he  to his whole career, and a depiction of Hollywood and Los Angeles' dark side and decay. That's why I think any Lynch fan will find it quite interesting. Besides, it was an experiment for Lynch. He shot it with a Sony PD-150 digicam, you can see the texture of digital video on it, and the first pieces of the film were digital shorts he made for his Web site.

Film critic Jim Emerson talked about the influences and similarities of this film on his review, and I couldn't agree more with him:

"Inland Empire presents itself as a Hollywood movie (and a movie about Hollywood) in the guise of an avant-garde mega-meta art movie. When people say "Inland Empire" is Lynch's "Sunset Boulevard," Lynch's "Persona," or Lynch's "8 1/2," they're quite right, but it also explicitly invokes connections to Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining," Jean-Luc Godard's "Pierrot le Fou," Bunuel and Dali's "Un Chien Andalou," Maya Deren's LA-experimental "Meshes of the Afternoon" (a Lynch favorite), and others." — Jim Emerson
(Maya Deren on Meshes of the Afternoon)

I can feel a lot of Meshes of the Afternoon in some scenes of this film. If you haven't watched it yet, you have to do it. It's an amazing short film by Maya Deren — she stars on it and it's directed by her and her husband, Alexander Hammid —, one of the most important American experimental filmmakers and entrepreneurial promoters of the avant-garde in the 1940s and 1950s:

Inland Empire's story follows, as many of Lynch's stories "a woman in trouble." This woman is Nikki Grace, an actress portrayed by Laura Dern. When Dern worked with Lynch in Wild at Heart, also as the main character, they became good friends.

(Dern and Lynch on set)

And like in previous Lynch's films we have here a bold and powerful performance by an actress. Dern is the center of the plot and we follow her into the nightmare bizarre world her life turns into as a serious of strange events take place. The rest of the cast is also perfect: Justin TherouxHarry Dean StantonJeremy IronsJulia OrmondDiane Ladd, and very brief appearances by Nastassja Kinski, William H. Macy, and Laura Harring among others.

(Jeremy Irons and Lynch on set)

The soundtrack from Inland Empire is one of my favorites. It features Nina Simone and Etta James, beautiful classic music by Krzysztof Penderecki and the National Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Beck's catchy "Black Tambourine" in one of the best scenes, and some songs composed by Lynch, like the moving and beautiful "Polish Poem" sung by Chrysta Bell or "Ghost Of Love" featuring Lynch vocals:

"In Hollywood, more often than not, they’re making more kind of traditional films, stories that are understood by people. And the entire story is understood. And they become worried if even for one small moment something happens that is not understood by everyone. But what’s so fantastic is to get down into areas where things are abstract and where things are felt, or understood in an intuitive way that, you can’t, you know, put a microphone to somebody at the theatre and say ‘Did you understand that?’ but they come out with a strange, fantastic feeling and they can carry that, and it opens some little door or something that’s magical and that’s the power that film has." — David Lynch

"Lately I feel films are more and more like music. Music deals with abstractions and, like film, it involves time. It has many different movements, it has much contrast. And through music you learn that, in order to get a particular beautiful feeling, you have to have started far back, arranging certain things in a certain way. You can’t just cut to it." — David Lynch