If my earlier post on Eraserhead didn’t give it a way, I’m a big David Lynch fan. In fact he’s my favourite director. And so, to kick off this new series of pieces on who and what I draw my influence from as an aspiring filmmaker, I figured that Lynch would be the best place to start.
Surrealism has fascinated me for a while now, from Artaud to Dali, and I always wondered how it could be used in film, how someone could create the dreamlike and nightmarish on screen. After all, creating something surreal is a totally different challenge when comparing it on film and in a painting.
And then of course, through a friend, I stumbled on Eraserhead, my introduction to the surreal. However, as the majority of that has been covered here , I won’t dwell on Eraserhead, I’ll talk about some of his other works instead.
Inland Empire stands on a level with Eraserhead in terms of the heights of surrealism that Lynch can reach. Of course, surrealism is chiefly based around the unconscious, the dreamlike, and through Inland Empire, Lynch explores this in great depth in his labyrinthine three hour feature.
It is about, as the poster suggests, “a woman in trouble”, but explores so much more than that. From it’s moments of nightmarish horror, to bizarre non sequiturs that feature anything from prostitutes to rabbits, Lynch dives straight into the unconscious and roots himself there for at least half of the film.
Surrealism is a difficult thing to write about, both in terms of this piece, and in terms of the script, but, simply put, there is something about it, and the artistic freedom that it can entail, that I find enticing and inspiring. After all, the unconscious is rather vast, and is clearly full of ideas that range from the fascinating (the structure and style of Mulholland Drive), the bizarre (the rabbits shown above, from Inland Empire) and the terrifying (the baby from Eraserhead or, simply but, that face in Inland Empire. Anyone who’s seen the film will no doubt remember it.
Subversion of idyllic settings
Above is the opening shot of Lynch’s cult classic, Blue Velvet. With it’s roses, perfect blue sky and white picket fence, it is a truly idyllic town.
Nothing sinister could possibly be lurking here, right?
Where Lynch succeeds is by showing these locations, with their roses and fences and such, is by subverting it entirely. After all, in Blue Velvet, the sweet little setting is the home of Frank Booth, one of the most unhinged villains in modern cinema.
He does the same in the iconic TV series Twin Peaks, and it’s darker film prequel, Fire Walk With Me. The town of Twin Peaks may be full of eccentrics, but it seems harmless enough. However, the town is hiding several dirty little secrets.
And of course, that is where the wonder of both Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks lies – by slowly peeking through the curtains of these homes, before the truth becomes revealed. And this is what I find inspiring, not only his use of idyllic towns, which are always wonderfully shot, but, more so, how he subverts them, for the twisted sexual relationship between Dorothy and Frank in Blue Velvet, to the opening frames of Twin Peaks which, after presenting a slow credit sequence to soft music, presents us with the body of a young girl and raises the famous question of who killed Laura Palmer.
This subversion doesn’t only have to be done in suburbia, he subverts and destroys Hollywood dreams in Mulholland Drive, and attacks fatherhood in Eraserhead. Perhaps the best thing about this kind of subversion is that in can be done in so many different locations, and with countless different themes.
After all, “it’s a strange world Sandy”.
Along with legendary recluse Terrence Malick, Lynch is among my favourite directors in terms of his visual style, from the body horror of the Lady in the Radiator in Eraserhead, to the closeups used liberally throughout Inland Empire, to almost the entirety of Mulholland Drive. Take for instance the image above, used in the opening moments of the film. It is a signpost in the dark. That’s all. But in it’s isolation, there is something about it, something mysterious and enticing. Lynch does this a lot in Mulholland Drive to great effect, and it’s one of the things that struck me when I first watched the film a couple of years ago.
A lot of Lynch’s shots are simple, from the signpost above to the Club Silencio, which is wonderfully minimalist before it descends into the nightmarish. After all, “there is no band”.
The images throughout his body of work, and particularly (for me at least) in Mulholland Drive work excellently, they create a sense of mystique, there is something a little ‘off’ about them. Or, they can simply be images that provoke a reaction, most likely of fear or wonder.
Take the Lady in the Radiator from Eraserhead as an example, who stands alone on a stage (having seen Muholland Drive before rewatching it I can’t help but be reminded of Silencio) singing “In Heaven”. From her isolation, to the strange deformity around her face, she will immediately evoke a reaction. To say the least, when I first saw the film, I was taken aback, there was just something about it, although I can’t articulate it perfectly, that perhaps sums up how Lynch can use so much, from isolation, to that ‘off center’ feeling, to enhance his style of cinema.
There’s a lot more that Lynch did to influence me as a filmmaker, and I wish I could articulate the rest of it, but, in that true Lynchian fashion, it is simply there in the back of my mind, and I’m sure something will come of it eventually.