David Lynch has become a new obsession of mine. Once upon a time I had watched Mulholland Drive, his surrealist neo-noir mystery film, thinking it would be exactly something I would love…but I hated it. I was confused, left trying to piece together the strange array of information I had been given that seemed to lead me nowhere.
As I’ve mentioned in posts before, I love films that push me to think and question about what the film is trying to say. When I first watched Mulholland Drive, I felt that it was saying nothing and purposely confusing me in the process. I thought that perhaps it was a film people watched and bragged about, pretending they understood it’s genius when really, they didn’t understand at all.
Recently, I came across some of Lynch’s artwork on Tumblr. I was incredibly inspired and in awe of his art, and I decided to look into more of his work.
Firstly, I watched his 1986 mystery/neo-noir thriller, Blue Velvet. By the name alone, the whole film oozes style, including the beautiful movie poster, featuring the beautiful Isabella Rossellini and the handsome Kyle MacLachlan against a rich blue velvet background.
“I’m in the middle of a mystery and it’s all secret.”– Jeffery Beaumont, Blue Velvet.
Blue Velvet was the very beginning of my conversion to being a David Lynch fan. It oozes style, yet still has that Lynchian feel of strangeness and uncertainty that you just don’t get in other films.
Seen as one of his best films, and ranked as one of the ‘100 Greatest Films’ by Entertainment Weekly in 1999, Blue Velvet also helped Rossellini branch out into more serious and dramatic work and be taken seriously as an actress rather than just a model.
Blue Velvet is about what really goes on behind closed doors, (or perhaps closed wardrobes…if you’ve seen the film you’ll know what I’m talking about,) underworlds, criminals, sexual violence and drug abuse. But it’s definitely not your average drama about crime in a small town, both written and directed by David Lynch, it’s elements of surrealism and self-aware dialogue really makes this film unique and worthy of its status.
After my success with Blue Velvet, I read about a film called Inland Empire Lynch had also written and directed. Another mystery film, this time about an actress who begins to take her new role maybe a bit too seriously, again featuring elements of surrealism and strange nightmarish scenes, I really wanted to watch this film. And I did…well, only 20 minutes of it. Not to say I was bored or uninterested, it’s just that with a running time of over 3 hours, I got distracted. I have a hard time finishing things, okay! But the film did introduce me to something else of Lynch’s, his short film/online web series, Rabbits.
‘In a nameless city deluged by a continuous rain…three rabbits live with a fearful mystery.”- Tagline for Rabbits.
Rabbits was made in 2002, and began as a series of short surrealist, avant-garde horror(ish), comedy(ish) films written and directed by, of course, Lynch.
Part of Rabbits was included in Inland Empire, and it intrigued and scared me so much I naturally had to investigate more.
So what the hell is Rabbits? Well, I’m not quite sure, other than the basics. The film is set in one single room, with three people (Scott Coffey, Laura Harring and Naomi Watts) wearing rabbit costumes with human clothes over the top. They speak in strange monotone voices, saying strange things that make no sense, occasionally interrupted by a loud laugh track.
The main aspect of Rabbit’s that intrigued me was just how creepy and unsettling I found it to be. It’s fascinating to me how we know exactly what to create to unsettle people and make them uneasy, but if you really think about it, why do I find people dressed as Rabbits so scary? It’s not like rabbits, in general, are something I’m scared of, but of course, that’s what makes it so brilliant. Lynch creates something scary and strange but it’s hard to explain why exactly it’s scary and strange. It has a laugh track when things aren’t funny, the dialogue is strange and the movements from the rabbits are slow and stiff. All of these elements prove to make something incredibly off-putting, but why?
Have you ever heard of the ‘Uncanny Valley’ theory? It basically proposes the idea that when things look and act like humans, but not quite in the same way as we do, it creates a feeling of ‘revulsion‘ or uneasiness in humans. In a way I suppose this is what makes Rabbits so strange because the rabbits act like humans, one of them irons, the other reads a newspaper. They speak in English, in their own disjointed and cryptic way, and they live in a house. They stand tall like humans do, but of course, they are not human. I can’t exactly put my finger on why Rabbits scares me so much, but it does, and I love it.
So, my Lynch obsession was now almost in full force. I had been spending many nights just researching him, his films, and the meanings behind them. I watched some of his short films online, Darkened Room being my favourite but by far not the weirdest.
I had still not watched Eraserhead, a surrealist black and white horror film made in 1977, his first feature length film, but I was spending most of my time watching and reading countless interviews with Lynch and becoming more and more inspired.
So let’s go back to Mulholland Drive. I read an interview for Vulture.com with Lynch on the meaning of Eraserhead, he talks about how he enjoys when people have different ideas and theories about his films, saying ‘each viewer gets a different thing from every film’ and talks about how many people have had different interpretations about not just Eraserhead, but many of his films, but none have them have matched his interpretation.
This interview, and many of the others I was reading and watching, really opened my eyes to not only Lynch and his work but cinema in general. I thought back to Mulholland Drive and how I felt it had no meaning and was just hard to understand for the sake of being hard to understand…but this time I realised that was exactly the point. There were no real answers about the film, the beauty of it, the mystery of it being it was a mystery that couldn’t be solved. It was a mystery that people could spend time thinking about and developing their own theories, never being wrong but never right either. Mulholland Drive could be anything I wanted it to be. And so I watched it again.
On the second watch, I really enjoyed Mulholland Drive. I liked the characters of Betty and ‘Rita’, and once again, Lynch’s notoriety for creating strange and surrealist works gave the film an extra dimension. Even the most ‘normal’ of dialogue made me feel uneasy because of course, this is a Lynch film, and nothing in a Lynch film could be normal. In a way, Lynch has created another way of writing to make audiences uneasy and perhaps even scared. In some respects he makes the audience do the work, makes us look deeper into things that may just be normal dialogue in search of something else.
Even the music in his films is unique and recognisable to him. The strange, almost underwater elevator music that I swear I’ve noticed in everything of his I’ve watched is effective in creating uneasiness all alone. You can even hear it in the short film advert he directed for Dior, Lady Blue Shanghai.
And so a new obsession has begun. But not just an obsession, a real love, a new found admiration for the weird and wonderful David Lynch. I’m currently watching the critical success that was Twin Peaks, the 90’s series written by Lynch and Mark Frost, also directed by Lynch too. Naturally, I’m loving that too.
Finally, I admire Lynch because everything he makes is his. He writes and directs his films, features actors that he’s used before and clearly liked, creating his own universe in his collection of films that is unmistakably his, and only his.
He has created a genre for himself, and I’m really glad I gave him a second chance.
His writing, directing, artwork and himself as a person will continue to be an inspiration for me and my writing for years to come.
And here’s hoping maybe one day I’ll be able to sit through Inland Empire…
Check out Mr Lynch’s website here!