Thursday, January 22, 2015

Revisiting: Little Gems of Focus

I recently revisted David Foster Wallace's book of essays A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments to re-read the essay he wrote called David Lynch Keeps His Head, about hanging out on the set of David Lynch's Lost Highway. It was such a pleasure to revisit it after having watched Twin Peaks. DFW, was a self-admitted Lynch freak, and this article is thoughtful, funny and pithy. He talks about more than just Lost Highway though -- pretty much his thoughts on Lynch's work in general. This essay was originally in an issue of Premiere in 1996. I also noticed it gets quoted a lot in other articles I stumble on, usually in reference to helping define what "Lynchian" actually means as an adjective (and I'm paraphrasing DFW here): macabre but mundane irony, a deconstruction of a weird 'irony of the banal.' One example he gives is in reference to serial killers: Dahmer storing body parts in the fridge next to chocolate milk, that's pretty Lynchian, but Ted Bundy, well, not so much.

Things I loved in the essay: 
-Lynch's work is not quite art film (as a viewer, DFW explains, with art films you pay to get in and have to do then do some intellectual work, essentially paying to have to work). But Lynch's films aren't quite commercial films either (as a viewer for commericall films, you pay once to get in but have an unspoken assumed contract with the filmmaker that the fee you paid to get in is the only "price" you pay; you don't have to do any work.) DFW speculates that Lynch belongs to a third class of filmmaking that is more about just getting "inside your head," (p. 171) or as British critic Paul Taylor says, Lynch's movies are "to be experienced rather than explained" (p. 170).  I agree with this. I think about many of the dream sequences in Twin Peaks and the argument I have heard many people make, that what is really being communicated is a mood. Or something. Something that comes to mind in regard to this point is that I saw the Chicago premier of the documentary film about Lynch's 16 city speaking tour entitled Meditation, Creativity, Peace. In it, a student told him that while watching Inland Empire that once they dimmed down their conscious mind always trying to make sense of the movie, that they felt like they intuitively understood it more, and Lynch agreed that that is the best way to understand his films. I have a hunch that other people who work with him would agree. In fact, off the top of my head I'm like 77% sure I read a quote from Twin Peaks co-creator Mark Frost (from Reflections: An Oral History of Twin Peaks by Brad Dukes), where Mark Frost said something to the effect that Lynch is the master of communicating a mood. However, I should point out that DFW does say on page 161 of this essay "Lynch seems to run into trouble only when his movies seem to the viewer to want to have a point -- i.e. when they set the viewer up to expect some kind of coherent connection between plot elements and then fail to deliver any such point." I have a hunch that that may have been a criticism of both Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive, but it probably depends on the person.

-this quote, which appropriately (and you will see why this is appropriate once you read this quote) can be used about art in general: "Art, after all, is supposed to be a kind of communication, and "personal expression" is cinematically interesting only to the extent that what's expressed finds and strikes chords within the viewer. The difference between experiencing art that succeeds as communication and art that doesn't is rather like the difference between being sexually intimate with a person and watching that person masturbate. In terms of literature, richly communicative Expressionism is epitomized by Kafka, bad and onanistic Expressionism by the average Graduate Writing Program avant-garde story." (p. 199) YESSSSSSSSSS. Like good art says something universal. Bad art is so specific to that person that it's uninterestingly embarrassing. Quirky is OK, but there has to be something universal being communicated in spite of it.

-the fact that Balthazar Getty is sort of a douche, illustrated with examples

I loved all the little crystalized gems of insight David Foster Wallace had about how to perceive Lynch's oeuvre, things that I realized I kind of had been chewing on in the back of my head too, and it was nice to see it honed into well-articulated crystals of logic and wit.

And the snarky stuff was good too, because being snarky can sometimes really just be a slightly higher IQ version of gossiping. Which, I, um, well, looooooooved.

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