Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Carte Noir

So, I think it could be indisputably claimed that David Lynch is an odd product of America. His films have never really done well in the Unites States, and yet is one of our most renowned auteurs. His films have always considered the line between narrative Hollywood cinema and experimental film. Some might deem him a Surrealist, but Surrealism was a movement. For that moniker, Lynch is 70 years too late. And I'm none too sure he would agree with that claim to begin with. Last night I attended the AFI fest Centerpiece Screening of his latest offering Inland Empire with equal measure of hope and caution.

Before I begin discussing the film, for those of you who do not know, Lynch runs his own subscription only website, www.davidlynch.com. Those who pay their dues may then have access to a plethora of miscellany which Lynch generously heaps onto the well designed site. This may come in the form of a Festival video diary. There is apparently a daily forecast and blog. There is also original material which Lynch airs on the site. For the past few years, I have taken notice of a few particular broadcasts: Rabbits, a sitcom featuring lifesize talking rabbits voiced by Mulholland Drive alumns Naomi Watts, Laura Elena Harring with Scott Coffey, a short featuring Jordan Ladd in a room which never seemed to materialize into anything. Both were shot on mini DV. One must consider the initial reasoning for such a transferal of media being dictated not only by economic restraints, but by a consideration of quality. No matter how high of bandwidth you have, you will never get film quality streams off of a website. When Lynch announced that he would be shooting his next feature on DV, I wondered how much of these prior endeavors would work their way into this new narrative.

It's all there, for better or worse. There are moments when watching Inland Empire when it would seem a freshman had picked up a video camera and decided to do his best Lynch. Is this association due to the fact that we are watching positively shoddy video transfers emulate the majestic filmic images typical to Lynchian cinema, and therefore victim to our medium bias? Or perhaps because the picture is a whopping three hours and, for the first time ever, Lynch was allowed to throw in everything and the kitchen sink. Fortunately, he reemerges, and we recall just why Lynch is such a maestro. Though, ultimately, my qualm with the picture is his refusal to balance that dance he does so beautifully.

In a typical film by David Lynch, we have our cohesive narrative. It's seldom overtly complicated. Boy meets girl. Girl in trouble. That sort of thing. Between this simplistic narrative, we are treated to a descent into whatever peculiar world is percolating in Lynch's mind, knowing full well that, however mentally bruised or shaken, we will rejoin the cogent, in a simpler world where we may (in vain, perhaps) attempt to make sense of this strangeness. The film becomes a balance between a traditional film structure and a more free form one. This is what makes Blue Velvet a masterpiece; the painfully straight narrative meets its bizarre and violent consequence in a balanced sway of narrative approach. In Inland Empire, Lynch eventually foregoes the typical story (actress cast in potentially curse film) to indulge in the revelry which he has so long wished to serve as whole. It cannot however, and the attempt here to follow (not logically, mind you - I'm no fool to non-narrative cinema) the film's flow is near impossible - not because it confuses, but after a certain point, without any sort of figure with which to anchor what has previously been established as our base (the actress) anything is possible, therefore nothing means anything.

I won't attempt to discuss plot here. Let's just say there's the aforementioned one, something involving Polish prostitutes, a displaced woman in the Inland Empire (perhaps?) and, as Lynch so eloquently put it when asked what this film was to be about, "a woman in trouble." A whole slew of Lynch regulars will keep the Lyncheads happy. I know I certainly chuckled when the first recognizable face was that of Miss Grace Zabriskie (a.k.a. Laura Palmer's plaintive mother), who's even kookier than usual. Laura Dern, Harry Dean Stanton, Laura Elena Harring (sort of), Justin Theroux, (a deliciously trashy) Diane Ladd, William H. Macy, (an unseen) Naomi Watts and an unrecognizable Nastassjia Kinski round out the rest of the varied cast.

Watching (and at times, enduring) the film, I began to wonder whether Lynch has made a crossover with his internet endeavors. I kept considering how the film would play out as a youtube serial. A Twinpeaks.com of sorts. It fluctuates so violently from one moment to the next that chaptering, like that of a book, seems crucial (of course, Lynch famously hates DVD chapters). A break, a deserved respite. Which is not to say the it does not eventually reward. The moment that we are given some semblance of sturdy ground, the past 2 hours swirl in our head like an odd liquor. Things, even here are not as they seem, but with his requisite breathy-voiced angelic song which closes the film, we are treated to a profound realization. 'Goddamnit,' I thought. 'It does make sense. It's about an hour too long, but it makes sense.'


Blogger Patrick said...

I saw the film at the NYFF and loved it. I definitely understand the issues you had with the film, I think the first hour or so was paced too slowly, but from then on it's pretty much all Lynch greatness. I really need to see it again to better see how the pieces put together.

If nothing else, the film is notable for being so out there and challenging.

11:23 PM  
Blogger beingboring said...

I don't think that merely because a film is abstract and challenging that it deserves cred. I feel as though it must be done successfully. I think that, ultimately, Inland Empire is a success, yet the amount of induglence which plays out on the screen is just too great. I don't yeild to the "Lynch greatness" that you mention here because, what has always thrilled me about Lynch is his ability to mix that world with the hyper-normal world.

8:45 PM  
Blogger Patrick said...

I would agree it's extremely self indulgent, but for me, that only really hurt the film in the first hour or so, when things were just very slowly paced and awkwardly presented for no particular reason. Once she crosses into the film reality, it's still a bit excessive at times, but each of those scenes has enough interesting stuff going on that I was always entertained.

In the case of this film, from scene to scene, most of the goings on were fairly normal. The early stuff was reminiscent of Lost Highway, with its slow brooding domestic jealousy, and even after they go through the transformation, most of the scenes are anchored in something recognizable. I think the major change that Lynch has made with this film is to erase the walls between fantasy and reality. There is no anchor here, a base against we can judge the rest. Rather, it's all subjective, and that can mean that it's all meaningless.

Even though I loved the movie, I do think it could easily stand to lose 15 minutes and possibly more.

11:03 PM  
Blogger Kamikaze Camel said...

That review was almost was confusing as I anticipate the film to be. And that's why I loved it.

2:30 AM  

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