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Monday, February 16, 2009

On Films and The David Lynch Conundrum

I love watching films. That is no secret. All types of them. Black & White or Eastman Colour, Drama, Thriller, War, Comedy or Science-fiction, Fantasy, Horror. If you have a DVD which has films I have yet to see, do kindly lend it to me and before you start missing your loved possession it will be back with you in one piece. 350 films in the last 8 months bear ample testimony to such an intense addiction. And in these 8 months I admit to have been acquainted with some of the best in world cinema - Directors, both cryptic and lucid, passive and profound, elegant and outre. There were moments when Masters were rediscovered in new light, as with Satyajit Ray and Akira Kurosawa; New perspectives formed and sensibilities heightened. Moments when the coy symbolism of a Bergman was overwhelmed in an avalanche of bold sensuality of an Almodovar or the tactile plangency of a Majidi eased with the cerebral comedy of Woody Allen. Cinema can be more than just entertainment and its full potency in shaping minds and thoughts can only be realised when you open your senses to their full import and impact. I am no film critic or expert but I have always eagerly taken up a review if a film has touched with its matter or message and it is with this feeble conviction that I will now ask any of you film-lovers this question:

" Do you get David Lynch at all ?"

I have till date seen only four of his directorial works and the experience has been marked with feelings of surprise, bewilderment, shock and sympathy.
Let me attempt to elucidate on my statement with the films in context.

Blue Velvet - A film which revolves around a 'severed ear' had all the ingredients of turning into a riveting thriller but Lynch instead delved into the small-town underworld story with characters both perverse and peculiar - one of Lynch's trademarks. Dennis Hopper as the vicious psychopath and Isabella Rossellini as the distressed nymphomaniac are more than credible in their roles and are instrumental in making the film a cult-classic that it is believed to be. Generous amounts of nudity might have also played its part.

Wild at Heart - Reckless brash boy flees with daughter of evil-witch-mother who sends a pack of oddball assassins to kill him and bring her back. Sex and violence are the highlights of the film along with some great performances by Nicolas Cage, Diane Ladd (Oscar nominee for Best Supporting Actress, rightly) and Willem Dafoe. Some scenes like the 'flies hovering over vomit' are outright revolting. Fails me how it won the exalted Palm d'Or (1990) and paved the way for Tarantino who lept into the French Riviera film-fest with Pulp Fiction (1994).

The Elephant Man -
Like me if you have watched the above two films before watching this one you will be left wondering if the same man was behind its making. The story of a man with congenital deformity is pictured with such masterful finesse that one will find it difficult to keep the emotions in check.
The scene where John Merrick is first taken to Dr. Treves's house is a veritable tear-jerker. The apathy of human society towards its ill-fated, the irony of sympathy being a fashionable trend for the rich and the travesty of hunger and destitution has all been weaved into such a heart-rending fabric on celluloid that it easily becomes a must-watch for any film aficionado. Shot entirely in B&W with stellar performances from John Hurt and Anthony Hopkins this film will rarely fail if ever in injecting fresh perspective to the plight of the people who suffer because of no crime of their own and how a little sensitivity from us can make their misery more bearable if not light. I do not have enough words of commendation for David Lynch for making such a wonderful film.

Mulholland Dr. - The last of the four that I watched only last afternoon and the one which aggravated my confusion over the sort of film-maker Mr. Lynch actually is. The film-plot starts with a imminent murder stalled by a car accident which yields a beautiful amnesiac girl (Laura Harring) searching for her lost identity. Girl meets another girl, falls in love with her and 'the bizarre' makes its first appearance as we find that all this was just a dream. In reality the 'other girl' ( Naomi Watts) is a bit-actress doing bit-roles whose partner is in love with the director whom she loves secretly. In between lesbianism and adultery the issues of identity, murder ( first scene, remember?) and mafia are lost most clumsily. If you still think the plot is a bit too confusing watch the film to be taught a whole new lesson in 'Confusion'. Sub-plots emerge and vanish like vapor and the wobbling narrative fiddles with flashbacks and character-swaps with utmost disregard for human comprehension and logic. Lynch plays around with the assortment of characters like a puppeteer least bothered about his audience. A film, like anything that defies comprehension, that must be seen at least once, if not watched with any expectation whatsoever.

A director to have left visible impressions on the style of men like Tim Burton and Quintin Tarantino, I can only guess as to what others in my place would do when faced with the proposition of picking up a David Lynch film in future but, from my limited experience with his works I have no shame in admitting that I will be confronted with a most unusual confusion - The sort of dilemma that brings back a disgruntled reader to an author who has both entertained and annoyed, touched and bruised, cheered and charred his reader with his art.
And maybe, just maybe he will come up with an Elephant Man again.

Here's to Good Cinema !
Here's to mavericks of the art!

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Amazing Greys said...

I (unfortunately) haven't watched any of these. i got to watch the uncut version of Dune thanks to a friend, but i'm not really into sci-fi of that era.

What's In A Name ? said...

naah, still to see that one. But none of the four I mentioned are sci-fi and that's why they ask too much from my "suspension of disbelief". But 'The Elephant Man' you should watch. Also, considering you love/admire/worship Tarkovsky you might find the maverick in Lynch fascinating. I believe you will find him to be a Hollywood-ised Tarkovsky of sorts sans of course the sepia-saturated-colour switch.

P.S - I can't believe you have not seen any of these! Really! Considering the film-buff you are I thought you would have pretty much covered 700 or more in that time-period. I feel a tad proud now. :)

Hatturi Hanzo said...

I dare say that Mr.Lynch is one of my very favorite directors. And I do get some of his works. At least the ones that you mentioned except Mulholland Dr. That may require a few more viewings. If you really want to explore his weird works, do watch "eraserhead" and "inland empire" and "lost highway". Oh, and "the elephant man" is a must watch for people who appreciate good acting. John Hurt was phenomenal.

The Quirky Indian said...

I have only watched Mulholland Drive and Twin Peaks.....Twin Peaks left me completely baffled. I should try watching the other ones you have mentioned.

You average over a film a day....that is impressive.


Quirky Indian

What's In A Name ? said...

# H.H - I learn Lynch took 5 years to complete his first film i.e 'Eraserhead' and it is one of his most baffling works. Now that I am reasonably acclimatized to his freak-streak I might enjoy watching them.
Thanks for dropping by.

# Q.I - Twin Peaks, that's another in the list. :) And you make it a point to watch 'The Elephant Man'. It's a good film.
And yes sometimes I go overboard and watch 4 in a day. I'm that jobless.

Hatturi Hanzo said...

ehehe! somehow i forgot to mention "the grandmother". it's Lynch's short film about a boy who plants some seeds that grow into a grandmother :D you should give it a try too :)

Mystic Margarita said...

Hi! Dropped in here from Great Bong's. I would say in answer to your question about 'getting' Lynch is that his films do need an acquired taste to be appreciated. Other than Elephant Man which has a fairly comprehensible plot and a linear story-telling format, his Blue Velvet and Mulholland drive are fragmented and surreal to say the least. I watched Wild at Heart way back and can't recall the details, but I do find that BV and MD make use of similar themes and imagery. And the leitmotif of the unreal and the surreal within the apparently ordinary and mundane are common to both these films, too.

What's In A Name ? said...

# H.H - Have got hold of Lynch's 'Eraserhead' and 'Dunes'. Let me cope with them first. :D

# M.M - 'Acquired Taste', yes, I understand but should surrealism over-ride requisites of general comprehension, I wonder. Make fantasies and sci-fi-s if you want to explore the gamut of the unreal. Why botch a perfectly moving plot to drive home your point of "differentness" ??