I had a dream about you last night.
Lost Highway (1997)
Funny how secrets travel,
I’d start to believe if I were to bleed
Thin skies, the man chains his hands held high
Cruise me blond
Cruise me babe
A blond belief beyond beyond beyond
Perhaps my favourite recurring image in all of David Lynch’s movies is this of the highway at night. Especially the opening of Lost Highway with the David Bowie song blaring away. Cinematic mystery at it’s most perfect.
No matter who you are, if you love movies and take your love of movies seriously one of the first names you come across is David Lynch. He’s a living legend and the absolute epitome of alternate cinema (Let’s not use the word experimental). His films are experiences that can only be achieved in this medium and he’s one of the very few people who push the possibility of movies to the absolute brink of reality and perception. I can remember seeing all of David Lynch’s movies for the first time so vividly. I’ve had a huge emotional response to all of his films in one way or another. However, I’ve never been one of those people who set out to understand why David Lynch does what he does or why his movies are told in a certain way or what the movies actually mean, for me it’s always been about the sheer experience.
As I said in an earlier post, out of nowhere today I suddenly found myself thinking about Mulholland Dr. Just walking into town and my brain jumped to Camilla Rhodes singing “I’ve Told Ev’ry Little Star”. I love that scene, the close ups on Camilla singing and looking over to Adam Kesher then him noticing Betty. The music, the cuts, the looks on their faces….it’s just sublime. Then I started thinking about The Cowboy. Then to the man behind Winkies, to the blue box and the red lamp, Aunt Ruth and the jitterbug. All day long I was playing the movie back in my head and ended up listening to the soundtrack on the way home. Now, this has happened to me a lot with David Lynch movies. Perhaps more so than any other filmmaker. They have a way of living deep in my subconscious for a while then suddenly pounce on my consciousness when they see fit. I treasure it when it happens because it’s so rare to be totally seduced by a movie and fall under it’s spell without actually watching it. The memories of scenes and the impression of it is enough to recall it’s magic.
So I started thinking, what is it about David Lynch movies that I love so much? What makes them get burnt into my mind so vividly? After a little ponder session, I broke it down into six pieces:
Nobody, and I mean NOBODY knows how to use sound in a movie like David Lynch. The low, ominious rumblings and jarring screeches or stings are all part and parcel of a David Lynch movie. From the grinding industry sounds of Eraserhead to the backwards netherworld of the Black Lodge in Twin Peaks, the sounds of these movies are just as memorable and effective as the visuals. Not only does he know the power of sound but he also knows the power of silence. One of my favourite uses of sound in any Lynch movie is in Lost Highway when you meet the Mystery Man for the first time and he approaches Fred during the party. As he walks towards the camera, suddenly all sound of the party drowns out leaving us with a void of silence that is only punctuated by his voice and Fred’s. Then as he walks away the party sounds fade back in. It’s so fucking subtle but the key to why that scene is so unsettling. I also love the sound of BOB in Twin Peaks when he (SPOILER) murders Maddy. The way the sound intercuts between Leland doing it and the slowed down, booming noise of BOB howling…terrifying.
Now I don’t mean camera movement here, I mean the way his actors move. The way they turn or the way they walk. There’s something dreamlike about all of Lynch’s movies (no shit) and I’ve noticed a lot of the atmosphere and tension he builds is all down to the way the characters move or the way they don’t move. The example I’ve chose here is the way the man sits in the diner in Mulholland Dr. Now, this again is one of my all time favourite Lynch scenes. It’s just classic and chilling. But why? If you notice, the guy telling the story is almost freeze frame still. Un-naturally still. He’s like a statue with his rigid shoulders. But this paired with the way the camera floats around over the other guys shoulder, floats with uncertainty, floats with fear and the way the light shines through the windows, like a mist - it just makes it so conflicting and odd….it’s so so great. Think also about the scene in Eraserhead as Henry sits at Mary X’s house with her family…dead still. The scene in the first episode of Twin Peaks season two after Cooper has been shot and the quirky little hotel attendant keeps walking in and out - it’s just off centre and bizarre but hilarious at the same time. Hilarious in a way we don’t understand. Next time you watch a Lynch movie pay attention to how the characters move in their environment, there’s a genuine rhythm to it, a slow haunting beat in the footsteps. It’s like a dance.
Lynch knows how to edit. He knows how to juxtapose the hell out of his scenes to make them more effective. If you’ve seen a Lynch movie, you just know how bizarre and unusual the pacing and structure of his movies are. But the moments I love are when he goes mental. The sequence I always think about is Jeffrey’s dream in Blue Velvet. The slowed down scream of Frank Booth, the open road rushing beneath the lens and the small candle flickering in the blackness. The way these images cut together is incredible. You could also look at any of the crazy sequences in Fire Walk With Me too.
Performances in David Lynch movies are so unusual. They’re often one of the great joys of his films for me, just watching how outrageous the characters are and how far he pushes his actors. The performances are either abstract and heightened or subdued and underplayed. There’s no single greatest performance, they’re all so crazy and great best example in my opinion is Grace Zabriskie as Sarah Palmer in Twin Peaks, specifically the pilot. The way she screams into the phone upon hearing about her daughter’s death, she just screams and screams. It’s ridiculous and almost laughable but for some reason the rawness and shock of her performance in that scene always made me feel sick to my stomach and completely distraught. It just captures the whole essence of that emotion so so perfectly. It’s devastating. I also really love Laura Dern’s performance in INLAND EMPIRE, specifically in the police interrogation scene. She should have won an Oscar, jaw-dropping.
Just go and listen to the soundtracks. They speak for themselves. Angelo Badalamenti is Lynch’s greatest collaborator.
Just look at that glorious thing.
So to conclude, I love David Lynch because he’s original and completely unique. I don’t think he’s human, I think he’s an alien. He’s too brilliant to be one of us. There are so few movies than can compete with the likes of Eraserhead, Blue Velvet, Fire Walk With Me, Lost Highway, Mulholland Dr. and INLAND EMPIRE in terms of vision and capturing the pure joy of cinema. They’re dreams that work on the logic of nightmares, movies that are executed like music and a collage of emotions captured with the care and skill of a painter. He’s one of a kind and I love him.