Dear Reader. This is an unusually long article. I purposely did so to really try to blend these great directors' political motives for doing what they do. I didn't mean for it to be so long, it is enough for three or four articles, but I implore your patience reading this important piece. Thank you.
THE COMMONALITIES OF QUENTIN TARANTINO, COEN BROTHERS, AND DAVID LYNCH
WHY THEIR CRAFT WORKS SO WELL
Look at any top 10, top 50, top 100 film directors of all time, and two names appear on the top ten lists regularly - Quentin Tarantino and the Coens. These rankings usually rate the top working directors, but I would add, if does indeed get back to directing film, David Lynch to that list. Who always appears in the top 50 to top 100 directors of all time.
Tarantino, Lynch, Joel and Ethan Coen, Mcdonagh (7 Psychopaths)
Eraser Head (1977) , Reservoir Dogs (1992), Raising Arizona (1987)?
Tease: If you are a movie addict, what do these three films have in common? Think about that for a moment. First, revisit the films, revisit the directors, form an opinion.
Politically speaking, and what I am attempting to further in these short pieces, is that people need other people, not in the Barbra Steisand way "People Who Need People..." but as politicians, large scale and small state, local, and most importantly PERSONAL, need each other. Maybe a married couple needs to feed off each other's kindness, or, conversely, maybe a married couple needs to feed off each other's insanity to survive. Whatever the case may be, politically speaking, people need each other - in the form of a confidante, an ally, a friend, or, again, more realistically, an enemy. What good is the concept of Heaven without the concept of Hell? What good is the concept of Goodness without the concept of Evil? This dichotomy has existed for ages. When the "bad guy" is gone, humans don't seem to have it in their character to just live a peaceful life. That would be a really great thing. Don't you think? It doesn't work that way. Face it. The bogeyman does exist.
On a large scale, the United States has been involved in conflicts on US soil and overseas since the formation of our nation, and even before. Remember how it used to be. No real conflicts ALL OF THE TIME. Maybe an uprising now and then. Now, every corner of the globe is experiencing some sort of battle - just doesn't seem that people want peace - doesn't seem people want to relax. Even now in Denmark - people killing people...... I know. On a purely human scale, we all like each other. On a larger political scale, we don't.
JOKE: HOW DO YOU TURN A PACIFIST INTO A CONSERVATIVE? PUNCH HIM IN THE MOUTH. HA.
Why do we continue to elect officials to all levels of government with whom we feel we are satisfied and then, at the first sign of problematic behavior, we "love" to turn on that person, send them packing, write scandalous things about their scandalous lives, only to turn around several months or years later and "forgive" that person for his/her wrongs. This is what humans do - set up the straw man for failure only to feel the "fuzziness" of forgiveness.
And why is the divorce rate so high? Divorce, to me, is hugely political. Probably the most political statement made outside of "real" politics. "Why did your marriage end?" "Our quid pro quo wasn't quiding anymore."
Again, lots of quid pro quo's in a marriage. If not, the marriage fades. Time has proven this.
One merely has to look at the politics of sport, Penn State, and Joe Paterno to understand this system. Prior to 2010 was a god. Joe Paterno's fall from grace caused by his came because of what happened with Jerry Sandusky, his close friend, confidante, and next in line (at that time) to be the next Penn State head coach, was "ruined." Of course, among the millions of detractors, Paterno still had his faithful - his family, his friends - who fought to uphold his reputation. Nothing wrong with that. Your villain is my hero. Your enemy is my friend. Yadda, yadda, yadda.
The NCAA stripped Penn State of money, recruits, scholarships, and made them pay huge fines. Penn State took down JoPa's statue out of humiliation; yet, several students and supporters continued to fight for Paterno's legacy. Now, in 2015, Paterno and Penn State's wins have returned to the record books, Penn State has received its share of the Big Ten Football conference bowl money, and talks are in place whether or not to return the Paterno statue to its original place outside of Beaver Stadium. Penn State has become Penn State again. All political, all human. That's the real life drama we love to play out in life.
Again, that's what we like to see - we love, we hate, we argue, we break up, we get back together - because we are human and that's the politics of being human.
Take the following example. I won't spend much web space on these examples, but they happen all of the time. We know they do.
THE FOLLOWING APPEARED AND WRITTEN BY JENNIFER STEINHAUER IN THE NEW YORK TIMES ON JANUARY 14, 2015
"To be clear, late-night votes might be a bit of a problem for Joseph Morrissey, the newly sworn-in Virginia House delegate who must report to his jail cell about 7:30 each evening.
"But Mr. Morrissey — embroiled in a scandal involving sexual relations with a minor — appears undaunted. After resigning his seat in disgrace last month, Mr. Morrissey, a former Democrat, ran in the special election as an Independent, handily beating challengers from both parties. He won nearly 43 percent of the vote on Tuesday, in a largely minority district that twists through various counties near Richmond.
"He was sworn in late Wednesday morning, shortly before the State Legislature began its 2015 session."
This example most probably didn't even make you flinch.
That's POLITICS: Humans love to hate and then love to forgive. It's just the way it is. People are political. They compromise. They need either to be in control or controlled. That's the way society is.
Movies mirror public life. One of my favorite movies is the 1961 John Huston hit The Misfits starring Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe, Eli Wallach, and Montgomery Clift. Great movie. Even greater, the message. Newly divorced, extremely sensitive young woman looking for love. Clarke Gable, aging cowboy who rounds up wild stallions in the mountains and desserts to sell for dog food. Eli Wallach, ace WWII fighter pilot who flies a plane to rustle up the horses for Gable. And rodeo star, drifter Montgomery Clift who is looking for excitement wherever he can find it. The plot is superb. The final scene in the movie - not many wild horses running around at the time, Gable and Wallach, with the help of Clift, capture four horses. They figure they'll make roughly $25 per horse. A horrified Monroe is driven to madness over the fact that she is a participant and even falling in love with Gable, a killer, in her eyes. At the end of the movie, Gable has a major fight on his hands while trying to subdue a female mustang. He fights, the horse fights back, and it continues until Gable wins. Ties the horse to the bumper of the truck, and then, after realizing his life is fading away, and his chosen profession is both unethical and unprofitable, (and also unseemly in the eyes of Monroe) cuts the horse loose. Actually, if you follow the script closely, Gable knew in his mind that his horse rustling days were over. The final act of kindness is to release the horses - which Gable wants to do personally. Political.
This same attitude spills over into our lives and the movies we've come to love. Why else would the above mentioned movies -Eraserhead, Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction (admit it, you were a bit saddened when Vincent - Travolta - is killed by Butch - you root for the very bad guy to survive, and Vincent Vega is certainly likeable, although, again, he is a psychopathic, drug addicted hitman), Kill Bill, Inglourious Basterds, The Hateful Eight, Fargo, The Big Lebowski, No Country for Old Men, Inside Llewyn Davis, Blue Velvet, Wild at Heart, Mulhulland Drive, Twin Peaks: The TV Series, The Elephant Man, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me. (Again, when Marcellus Wallace and Butch Coolidge are trying to kill one another in Pulp Fiction, who are you rooting for to win the fight? Actually, psychologically, and politically, you want neither to die because they are part of your plot. Eventually, you want Zed, the crooked cop with the motorcycle, er, I mean "chopper," the sex slave gimp, and Maynard, pawn shop owner to die. Why? Because you don't have any personal stake in their characters. They are depoliticized for you because you have come to appreciate the roles that Marcellus (Ving Rhames) and Butch (Bruce Willis) have in the plot. Their personalities are personally underdeveloped (they are just scum) by Tarentino because they are so evil, they cannot be "saved."
Marsellus and Butch have to live to make the experience more appreciative. The fact that, after being sodomized by the sheriff, Butch kills Zed and the gimp and wounds the sheriff. A grateful Marcellus releases Butch from a debt, and the both move on. (Boxer Butch is supposed to take a fall in a championship fight in the fourth round, but doesn't, causing Marsellus to lose a ton of money). While Butch is trying to get out of dodge as fast as he can without getting killed, he runs into "literally" Marsellus walking home with cups of coffee on an LA street. Marsellus and Butch have a gun battle in the middle of the street, chasing each other - Butch and Marsellus both hurt after the car accident. They wind up in a fight that spills over into Maynards pawn shop. Butch has the upper hand. He is going to shoot Marsellus, but Maynard hits him over the head and knocks him out. Next scene. Marsellus and Butch are hogtied with balls strapped to their mouths. Turns out that Maynard and Zed are sodomizing freaks.
Favorite scene with dialogue.
BUTCH GETS FREE WHILE ZED AND MAYNARD ARE SODOMIZING MARCELLUS. HE RUNS TO LEAVE, BUT FEELS A BIT OF SADNESS THAT HE IS GOING TO LEAVE MARSELLUS BACK WITH THE EVIL-DOERS. HE PICKS UP A SAMURAI SWORD FROM BEHIND THE PAWN SHOP COUNTER AND GOES BACK INTO THE ROOM, FIRST KILLING THE GIMP. THEN, HE BREAKS INTO THE ROOM WHERE ZED AND MAYNARD ARE TORTURING MARCELLUS.
ZED IS BLASTED IN THE GROIN. DOWN HE GOES, SCREAMING IN AGONY.
MARSELLUS, LOOKING DOWN AT HIS WHIMPERING RAPIST, EJECTS THE USED SHOTGUN SHELL.
BUTCH LOWERS THE SWORD AND HANGS BACK. NOT A WORD. UNTIL
BUTCH: YOU OKAY?
MARSELLUS: NAW MAN. I'M PRETTY FUCKIN' FAR FROM OKAY! LONG PAUSE.
BUTCH: WHAT NOW?
MARSELLUS: WHAT NOW? WELL LET ME TELL YOU WHAT NOW. I'M GONNA CALL A COUPLE PIPE-HITTIN' NIGGERS, WHO'LL GO TO WORK ON HOMES HERE WITH A PAIR OF PLIERS AND A BLOW TORCH. (TO ZED) HEAR ME TALKIN' HILLBILLY BOY?! I AIN'T THROUGH WITH YOU BY A DAMN SIGHT. I'M GONNA GIT MEDIEVAL ON YOUR ASS.
BUTCH: I MEANT WHAT NOW, BETWEEN ME AND YOU?
MARSELLUS: OH, THAT WHAT NOW? WELL, LET ME TELL YA WHAT NOW BETWEEN ME AN' YOU. THERE IS NO ME AN' YOU. NOT NO MORE.
BUTCH: SO WE'RE COOL?
MARSELLUS: YEAH MAN, WE'RE COOL. ONE THING I ASK – TWO THINGS I ASK: DON'T TELL NOBODY ABOUT THIS. THIS SHIT'S BETWEEN ME AND YOU AND THE SOON-TO-BE-LIVIN'- THE-REST-OF-HIS-SHORT-ASS-LIFE-IN- AGONIZING-PAIN, MR. RAPIST HERE. IT AIN'T NOBODY ELSE'S BUSINESS. TWO: LEAVE TOWN. TONIGHT. RIGHT NOW. AND WHEN YOU'RE GONE, STAY GONE. YOU'VE LOST YOUR LOS ANGELES PRIVILEGES. DEAL?
That's just POLITICS OF THE CRIMINAL WORLD.
While watching Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight recently, I was taken in by the dialogue between Batman and The Joker at the end of the movie. Batman needs to kill The Joker, to rid the world of EVIL, but can't (just as Lucius Fox can't break the law by spying on phone calls of everyone in Gotham, even if the end result is to catch the Joker. "I'll do it this time. But consider this my resignation" Fox tells Batman).
Even in the scene in The Dark Knight when the innocents in one ferry cannot bring themselves to blow up the prisoners and convicts in the other ferry, we see that cathartic moment when one of the convicts takes the bomb from the guard and throws the bomb detonation device out the window because even he cannot come too terms with killing innocent people.
And, we somehow feel good that the convicts on the ferry live to see another day. Because, really, it's not about them. Batman, in this episode, is THE Dark Knight, causing devastation in his quest to get The Joker (Heath Ledger) falling out of favor with the people of Gotham because he cannot stop The Joker and seems to cause more harm than good. As audience members, we enjoy seeing Batman shown in a very different light - an outlaw and not a hero. This is good, also, because everyone, even the best of everyone, has a "dark" side. That makes viewers feel good about themselves. That's politics. We need to feel that we are in control. And yes, if that means painting a less than sympathetic picture of Batman, for at least one episode, it does us a lot of good emotionally.
The Joker and Batman have this discussion
THE JOKER: OH, YOU. YOU JUST COULDN'T LET ME GO, COULD YOU? THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS WHEN AN UNSTOPPABLE FORCE MEETS AN IMMOVABLE OBJECT. YOU TRULY ARE INCORRUPTIBLE, AREN'T YOU? YOU WON'T KILL ME OUT OF SOME MISPLACED SENSE OF SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS. AND I WON'T KILL YOU BECAUSE YOU'RE JUST TOO MUCH FUN. I THINK YOU AND I ARE DESTINED TO DO THIS FOREVER.
Batman: You'll be in a padded cell forever.
The Joker: Maybe we can share one. You know, they'll be doubling up, the rate this city's inhabitants are losing their minds.
BATMAN: THIS CITY JUST SHOWED YOU THAT IT'S FULL OF PEOPLE READY TO BELIEVE IN GOOD.
THE JOKER: UNTIL THEIR SPIRIT BREAKS COMPLETELY. UNTIL THEY GET A GOOD LOOK AT THE REAL HARVEY DENT, AND ALL THE HEROIC THINGS HE'S DONE. YOU DIDN'T THINK I'D RISK LOSING THE BATTLE FOR GOTHAM'S SOUL IN A FISTFIGHT WITH YOU? NO. YOU NEED AN ACE IN THE HOLE. MINE'S HARVEY.
Batman: What did you do?
THE JOKER: I TOOK GOTHAM'S WHITE KNIGHT AND I BROUGHT HIM DOWN TO OUR LEVEL. IT WASN'T HARD. YOU SEE, MADNESS, AS YOU KNOW, IS LIKE GRAVITY. ALL IT TAKES IS A LITTLE PUSH!
[the Joker laughs hysterically as Batman races off and the cops come to take the Joker into custody]
The great directors, and particularly the ones I have listed above, Tarantino, Coens, and Lynch, Nolan use the form of good versus evil in a cathartic manner. I wasn't able to get to this particular movie, but I never laughed so hard while watching Seven Psychopaths directed by Martin McDonaugh - who definitely "gets it."
We see pure evil. At times, we like pure evil. Just as in the Shakespearean tragedy or the Greek or Roman tragedies, the audience is looking for a way out of their own issues, their own miserable lives. And, when the hero dies or becomes more human (more human resembling the way we, the audience lives, with flaws and all) we appreciate that. The same on a different scale can be scene at the credit roll of American Sniper. When the movie ends, one could literally hear a pin drop in the theater. It was that cathartic of a moment for the movie goers - a chance to get all of their sadness out - to rid themselves of the poison they have been living with for years.
In No Country for Old Men, the "bad guy" Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) - point, you probably didn't know his name was Anton throughout the movie - survives in the end). Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) dies; innocent Moss' wife Carla Jean (Kelly Macdonald) dies; Chief Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) retires because he can't keep up with the violence anymore. Most of the other characters, including Woody Harrelson, who has a small cameo in the film, die. But Chigurh gets away at the end. He hobbles away into the night with a severely broken leg. What does that mean? Are we actually rooting for his survival? What hopes do we succumb to when he doesn't die. In a "typical" drama, he would be killed - but that's not the case.
The scene where Michael Madsen (Mr. White) in Reservoir Dogs is truly a work of art. (See video above). Madsen, a pure villain, goes into this dance to "Stuck in the Middle With You" before he tries to burn a police officer alive. It's comic. But it's not comic. Madsen is a mad man. We like that. (Please see graphic scene above). We hope that someone stops Madsen, which happens.
In the final scene of Reservoir Dogs, everyone is dead. However, if you look at the very violent clip I presented to you earlier, you have to feel that Michael Madsen) Mr. Blonde, is in some way cool. He cuts off the ear of the captured cop, and he is about to set him on fire, alive. The "hero" of the story, Mr. Orange (Freddie Newandyke) dies at the end of the show, shot in the head, no less, than an extremely sensitive Larry Dimmick (aka Mr. White - Harvey Keitel). In Reservoir Dogs, although Keitel plays a gangster who has no issues killing anyone, including the police, takes on a sympathetic role, and at the end of the story, when the police finally arrive, he is killed, as he subsequently kills Freddie when he learns Freddie is an undercover cop.
The politics in this movie are reversed. We feel for the villains. Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi) is a very stupid thief. He is probably the most irritating criminal of all the criminals in the movie. Yet, there is a sympatico we feel watching Mr. Pink maneuver through the mishaps of the busted robbery. He "wants" to believe, but he is so tainted that he has trouble believing anything after the shoot out. He becomes extremely irate when given the name MR. PINK. He doesn't want to be Pink.
He is nervous, he is scared, he is afraid; however, he killed police officers, civilians, and is a bank robber. How, and more importantly why, do we even care about him. The entire crew, led by Joe Cabbot (Lawrence Tierney), create a soft spot in our hearts.
These are villains. Pure and simply. Yet we like them. Why wouldn't Tarantino want to play a role in his movies - they are so likeable.
And, speaking of Keitel and Tarantino, look at their roles in Pulp Fiction. Tarantino plays a pussy-whipped husband who is afraid to ruin his wife's anniversary gift bed sheets to help Keitel, Jules, and Vincent clean up poor Marvin's brains from the back of the car. However, do we sorry for dead Floyd? No, not really. Why? He has no role in the movie expect to advance the comical actions of Keitel, Travolta, Jackson, and Tarantino. Do we feel sorry dead Brett (Frank Whaley) and the "flock of seagulls" character that Jules kills? No, we "like" Vincent and Jules, actually, we respect them. They are killers; yet, they have dignity. We also like Jules quoting "fake" scripture. (Movie notes: that really isn't scripture he is quoting - he and Tarantino made that up just for the movie. Sounds pretty good, though).
And, sticking with Pulp Fiction, we like Lance (Eric Stoltz) who is a low level drug dealer. He is scum; yet, he is a kind of good scum. We love Mia (Uma Thurman) drug addicted wife of Marsellus. We want her to live, we cheer, even when Mr. Blonde is ready to do extreme physical violence to the trapped police officer, dancing around to the song Stuck in the Middle with You is funny. Madsen is a despicable character; yet, in this scene, it's pretty funny - his dancing.
The point is, in Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs, we "like" the bad guys. Why? Because we get to be bad through their characters on the screen. We empathize with them. That is why Tarantino is so darn good. Even the bible verse screaming Jules is a fun character. We get to know them. We see sides of their characters that others don't see. Even Honey Bunny (Amanda Plummer) and Ringo (Tim Roth) - robbing the diner - show us that although they are career thieves and carry guns, the don't want to kill anybody:
PUMPKIN: WE KEEP ON, ONE OF THESE GOOK MOTHERFUCKERS GONNA MAKE US KILL ‘IM.
HONEY BUNNY: I’M NOT GONNA KILL ANYBODY.
PUMPKIN: I DON’T WANNA KILL ANYBODY EITHER.
That's what I mean by political. Tarantino, Coen, and Lynch force us to like the evil in their films. Again, my theory is that none of us in the audience has the capability to do what the bad guys do in any of the films. That's why we like it. We can feel cathartic, but to an extent that makes the director really genius. Who could every love Steve Buscemi (Mr. Pink) except for maybe his mother.
Hence, they are likeable thieves, and honestly, knowing they don't want anyone dead, we kind of overlook the fact that they are miscreants. How lucky they really were to have Jules and Vincent in the diner when their robbery goes down. We are relieved that they are not killed, and they kill no one. In fact, Jules asks for his wallet back and lets Ringo keep the money.
They have a collective conscience, as warped as it might be. And then, knowing that Jules and Vincent are thinking about retiring, we have a soft spot in our hearts for them.
This point is clarified in the final scene of Gran Torino (Clint Eastwood) reading of the will of Walt Kawolski (Eastwood), the one true possession he left was his immaculate 1972 Gran Torino, whom he wills to "Toad." His family is shocked. His granddaughter expected the car from Kowalski. The problem is that his immediate family shows no outwardly love for the man. They treat him as if he is a major inconvenience. The political structure of his close family is very much dysfunctional. No scratch my back and I'll scratch yours.
DAVID LYNCH - NOT YOUR ORDINARY FILMMAKER
WHAT MAKES IT DIFFICULT (OR MAYBE EASIER, IN A WAY, TO WRITE ABOUT LYNCH'S MOVIES) IS THAT HE RARELY COMMENTS AT ALL ON HIS CRAFT. THERE'S JUST TOO MUCH THERE TO DISCUSS, AND, LIKE MANY GREAT WRITERS, LYNCH BELIEVES THAT IT IS UP TO THE AUDIENCE TO FIGURE OUT THE MEANING BEHIND HIS MOVIES THAN TO JUST COME OUT AND EXPLAIN THEM TO US. THAT, TO LYNCH, WOULD BE INSULTING.
Forget the G rating – this road movie is as weird as David Lynch gets
By CHARLES TAYLOR, Salon Magazine, October 15, 1999
"There's a lot of weird people everywhere now," says a character in David Lynch's "The Straight Story." It's a good joke because for Lynch there's nothing weirder or more wondrous than ordinary people. In "Blue Velvet," when Jeffrey Beaumont exclaimed, "It's a strange world," he was as bedazzled as he was confused. You could practically hear Lynch responding to his hero's observation by saying, "Yeah. Isn't that neat?"
There have been other American filmmakers, Preston Sturges and Jonathan Demme among them, who've recognized the quirks and eccentricities of normal folk. But in "Blue Velvet" and in the best episodes of "Twin Peaks," in the muddled and criminally neglected "Fire Walk With Me" and now in "The Straight Story," no director has been so buzzingly alert to the emotional lives of those people or to the beauty of the world they inhabit as David Lynch. In the phony, condescending "American Beauty," Sam Mendes pretends to look beneath the surface of suburbia and comes up with only clichés about suburbia's stifling conformity, all of it offered up with unconcealed contempt for his characters and setting. David Lynch starts with clichés – a picture-postcard view of a small American downtown, conversations conducted in "Gee whiz!" or "Well, whaddya know about that!" exclamations – and comes up with the unarticulated longings, joys and sorrows those clichés struggle to contain."
REVIEWS | THE STRAIGHT STORY PAGE | DAVID LYNCH MAIN PAGE
© MIKE HARTMANN
VOICE IN DISTANCE: LAURA, LAURA, LAURA, LAURA....
MIKE: IN THE DARKNESS, FUTURE PASSED, THE MAGICIAN LONGS TO SEE...ONE CHANCE OPTS BETWEEN TWO WORLDS...FIRE, WALK WITH ME. WE LIVED AMONG THE PEOPLE, YOU CAN, SAY, CONVENIENCE STORE. WE LIVED ABOVE IT. I MEAN IT LIKE IT IS. THE SOUNDS... I TOO HAVE BEEN TOUCHED BY THE DEVILISH ONE, TATTOO ON THE LEFT SHOULDER. OH, WHEN I SAW THE FACE OF GOD, I WAS CHANGED. TOOK THE ENTIRE ARM OFF. MY NAME'S MIKE - HIS NAME IS BOB
BOB: MIKE, MIKE. CAN YOU HEAR ME. TOUCH YOU WITH MY DEATH BAG. YOU MAY THINK I'VE GONE INSANE. BUT I PROMISE I WILL KILL AGAIN.
COOPER STARES AT THE DWARF, STARES AT LAURA, STARES BACK AT THE DWARF.
DWARF: LET'S ROCK
COOPER LOCKS EYES WITH LAURA - CAN'T LOOK AWAY FROM HER. LAURA TOUCHES HER NOSE.
DWARF (TO COOPER AS LAURA LOOKS ON): I'VE GOT GOOD NEWS. THE GUM YOU LIKE IS GOING TO COME BACK IN STYLE
COOPER AND DWARF LOOK AT LAURA.
DWARF: SHE'S MY COUSIN. BUT DOESN'T SHE LOOK EXACTLY LIKE LAURA PALMER?
COOPER: BUT, IT, IT IS LAURA PALMER. ARE YOU LAURA PALMER?
LAURA: I FEEL LIKE I KNOW HER BUT SOMETIMES MY ARMS BEND BACK.
DWARF: SHE'S FILLED WITH SECRETS. WHERE WE'RE FROM, THE BIRDS SING A PRETTY SONG AND THERE'S ALWAYS MUSIC IN THE AIR.
JAZZ MUSIC STARTS TO PLAY LOW. DWARF BECOMES MESMERIZED WITH TUNE. ALMOST HYPNOTIZED. STROBE LIGHTS FLASH. DWARF GETS UP AND STARTS DANCING IN RHYTHM TO THE BEAT. HAUNTING SAXAPHONE.
LAURA STANDS UP SLOWLY AND WALKS TOWARD COOPER. SHE BENDS DOWN AND KISSES COOPER ON THE LIPS.
AS DWARF CONTINUES TO DANCE, LAURA WHISPERS SOMETHING IN COOPER'S EAR.
COOPER WAKES UP DISTURBED.
Precisely. Lynch is all about the dream. The importance of the dream - being able to decide what is real and what is not real. Lynch develops Cooper in such a way that politically, Cooper, the outsider, sees events through an entirely different lens. He knows, but he doesn't know how much he knows and what exactly it is that he knows. He is forced to work through his own dreams, his own passions, his own desires to get to the bottom of Laura Palmer's murder. I don't feel that you can understand Lynch unless you understand the dream.
In The Straight Story, Alvin (Richard Farnsworth) has a dream to visit his brother who is ill. Of course, in this G-rated movie, Lynch doesn't employ the same techniques that he employs in other films, but the dream is the essence of the story.
I've been asked to comment on Lynch's The Straight Story because on the surface it looks so much unlike a Lynch directed movie that I've often asked people who saw the movie if they paid attention to the director. The answer usually is "no," and when I talk to them about David Lynch's direction of this strange but true movie, they seem a bit put back - those Lynch fans who only know him for his movies like Blue Velvet, Twin Peaks, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, Wild at Heart, Mulhulland Drive, and many more out of the ordinary movies that usually don't last too long in circulation at mainstream movie theaters. (Eraserhead can only be purchased through a video store - not a video rental - or online through some obscure website). That's how out-of-the-ordinary David Lynch is. However, if you consider Taylor's remarks in this quote taken from Mike Hartman's blog, is there really anything weirder than a man travelling cross country on his lawn mower? Think of that, honestly. A special place of weirdness must be attached to this film.
What if you were driving down a highway you usually drive only to see an old man driving along the bank of that highway on a John Deere tractor, not a huge, hay-hauling or hay-bailing tractor. A small lawn tractor. What would you say? I know most would say "that looks really weird. Where is that guy going on his tractor?"
Precisely the point. Precisely David Lynch. A long excursion on a tractor by a man wishing, no, dreaming - accomplishing a dream - to be with his ailing brother. This is really no different than a strange looking man with eraser head hair and his girlfriend giving birth to a malformed, alien baby. When you see the baby that appears in Eraserhead, you say, "why that looks really weird. There's a baby that looks like an alien."
And, I would say that an old man riding down the highway on a lawn tractor seems a bit more out of place in today's society than what homecoming queen Laura Palmer and her sadistic, incestuous father were "into" in the film and television series Twin Peaks and Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me.
It's difficult to say in this day and age that incest and homecoming queens gone astray are MUCH MORE PREVALENT in the news than a man driving a lawn tractor instead of a car. I Googled "father raping child" and found 82,200,000 results in .48 seconds. I Googled "man drives lawn tractor down highway" I received 4,690,000 results. I am not a mathematician, so allow me to go to my calculator and figure this one out. That's exactly 77,510,000 more hits on the incest than on a man driving a tractor on the birm of a highway.
So, to being with, judging Lynch's weirdness on directing a G-rated movie about a man on a tractor IS much weirder than writing and directing a movie about a man who has incest with his daughter.
Lynch doesn't like to talk about his works. He wants his audience to "get it" through hard work and revisiting his stories. When I taught English both at the high school and university levels, my favorite saying always was that we didn't have the author sitting with us telling us what her poem, short story, play, or novel "means." Hence, we are on our own attempting to analyze the work by internalizing it and actually spend time on self analysis of the work. It took me years of off and aeon studying Mulhulland Drive until I realized that the entire story was a dream. Yes, Betty was indeed in Los Angeles/Hollywood to become a star. The old people with her kind of laugh off her dream and wish her luck. In the scene where she was supposedly having an "affair" with Rita (Laura Harring). Her sexual desires romantically for Rita are pure fantasies/dreams - there is a pretty graphic scene that demonstrates this.
Lynch tells his truth, or maybe "the" truth in his movies. He mixes no punches; yet, he forces you to figure out his world and the way he views his world. If you were to break down any of Lynch's movies, particularly one like Mulhulland Drive and realize this is nothing more than a dream sequence of a Hollywood wannabe, you can see the truth behind it. Don't want to get into the details in this post, but scene where Betty is masturbating thinking of Rita shows us that Rita and Betty don't have a real relationship. To further this, when director Adam publically that he and Camilla are to be married, Betty is full of jealous rage. The scene appears to portray that Adam is being cruel to Betty. But the fact is, Betty and Camilla have no relationship in real life - it's all in Betty's mind.
This scene breaks Betty's confidence and causes her downward spiral that eventually leads to her death. Camilla, at the party, looks at Betty as if Betty is not even there. Of course, the analysis of this movie is that Betty has invented the Camilla/Betty love story. No one is being mean. They are not publically trying to humiliate Betty. But because Betty is delusional/A DREAMER, she sees this engagement as a major slight toward her being and her on a roller coaster ride to the ending. She tumbles then through a world of fantasy and reality.
The real scenes, the Hollywood audition she has with Jimmy Katz (Chad Everett) and the passionate kiss her gives her that nearly knocks her out is made to show how truly fake Los Angeles and Hollywood is. Betty has a kind of "casting couch" scene that disgusts her; yet, she plays along with the game. That is as close to intimacy that Betty gets in the movie which sort of turn. Betty has to deal with the "longing" she feels of being close to somebody, and the "voice of passion" kiss. Looks real. Is really fake. The exact ideals which bring Betty to her eventual suicide at the end of the movie.
In the beginning of Mulhulland Drive, Betty Elms (Naomi Watts) is deboarding a place in LA, and an old couple asks her where she is going and that "she is seeking stardom." The odd looking old couple just look at Betty and each other and start laughing. Betty doesn't realize what they are laughing at, and as the cab she is in drives under the WELCOME TO LOS ANGELES, THE CITY OF DREAMS - we are given right away the first clue that this isn't really going to be a story about what actually happened, rather it is all a dream - no different a plot sequence than The Wizard of Oz. At the end of the Wizard of Oz, Dorothy wakes up and recants her dream, and the elderly couple and the farm workers have a good laugh at her dream which she insists is true. Same thing? Different setting.
In a 2011 story in Flavorwire entitled "65 Things You Didn't Know About David Lynch"
several aspects of Lynch's ambition and character come out, along with some pretty fascinating stories about his movies.
HERE ARE JUST A FEW OF THESE "FUN FACTS"
- In a meeting with NBC executives to raise money for 1980’s The Elephant Man, Mel Brooks was questioned about the director. “Who is this David Lynch?” Brooks responded, “That just shows what a fucking idiot you are!”
- He refuses to disclose how the baby for Eraserhead was created and what it’s made out of. When asked about it, his responses include, “It was born nearby” and “Maybe it was found.” In general, he says, “Talking about how certain things happened in a film, to me, takes a lot away from the film.”
- During a lull in the filming of Eraserhead, Lynch’s father and younger brother sat him down and told him it was time to get a job in order to support his wife and daughter.
- Woody Allen cited Blue Velvet as his favorite film of 1986.
- Eraserhead was Stanley Kubrick's favorite movie (that says a lot about Lynch in itself.
- During the making of Eraserhead, he dissected a cat to help give him ideas for textures for the film.
- The first half of Mulhulland Drive was written as a television pilot; however, the story became so complex that the network executives wanted nothing to do with it - their loss.
- Lynch has been practicing Transcendental Meditation for the past 38 years. He says TM lifted away the anger he felt. (What, David Lynch angry. I don't think so).
- Lynch directed a short teaser video for Michael Jackson’s 1993 short films collection, Dangerous
- He claims to have eaten lunch at Bob’s Big Boy in Los Angeles nearly every day for eight years straight, from 1976 to 1984. He would have a chocolate shake and several cups of coffee with lots of sugar. The ensuing rush gave him lots of ideas. He calls it “granulated happiness.”
- George Lucas asked Lynch to direct Return of the Jedi. Lynch passed, telling him, “You should direct this. It’s your thing! It’s not my thing.” Instead, he directed Dune.
- When Roy Orbison first saw the way his song “In Dreams” was used in Blue Velvet, he didn’t like it, but after being convinced to see the film a second time, he began to appreciate it.
- Hesitant because of Dennis Hopper’s troubled/insane reputation, he initially passed on the actor to play Frank Booth in Blue Velvet. (Can one imagine Dennis Hopper turning down any insane character role. That's all he plays).
- Scripts are generally a page per minute of onscreen action, but the script for Eraserhead (which is 89 minutes long) is only 21 pages.
- For part of the 5-year-long Eraserhead shoot, Lynch supported himself with a paper route, delivering the Wall Street Journal. The shoot was entirely at night, and Lynch would sometimes have to stop filming to go do his route.
- In his review of Blue Velvet, author J.G. Ballard said the film was “like The Wizard of Oz reshot with a script by Franz Kafka and décor by Francis Bacon.”
- Lynch wrote all the lyrics to every song but one on singer Julee Cruise’s first two albums, released in 1989 and 1993, respectively. Her singing was featured in Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks.
- Lynch always buttons the top button of his shirt, because he feels too vulnerable with the top button open.
- Lynch has a finished script for a film adaptation of Franz Kafka’sThe Metamorphosis. He says, “Unfortunately, it’s expensive and it won’t make any money.” In Lynch’s script, the story is set in 1950s America.
- Actor Jack Nance appeared in five of Lynch’s feature films, a short film, and Twin Peaks. He died in 1996 at the age of 53, the day after getting into an argument with strangers while intoxicated and being punched in the face outside a donut shop
In "Welcome to Twin Peaks," David Johnson's article "Henry's Window Is The Key to Eraserhead" November 25, 2014, he states that Lynch himself states that "to this date, no one has come up with his interpretation of Eraserhead." That might be true, but much speculation about Lynch and his style indicate, to me at least, that Lynch has a deep fascination with the unknown, the untouchable, the unexplainable - all relating back, I think, to the reason he took on The Straight Story. It has much to do about Lynch attempting to explain the unexplainable. Why would a beautiful prom queen end up dead, covered in plastic, and cast out like a piece of garbage? Why would a beautiful prom queen get herself "mixed up" with a band of drug dealers and rapists? Why does he portray a biker as one of the good guys and an a upstanding community leader have an incenstuous relationship with this daughter? And why would the captain of the football team be such a "bad see?." These questions and many more seem really obvious to me.
In Eraserhead, Lynch's dream sequences play a part of his films show people for who or what they really are. Henry is forced to marry Missus X because of an untowardly act that his girlfriend and he committed, resulting in, according to society, an aborhant creature. Not that what Henry did was wrong, but the way society views pregnancy out of wedlock. And, what happens to the "baby/creature" the two created: its mother leaves it and its father kills it. According to Johnson, referenced above, "confronts his fears, destroys it, and (tries) to embrace bliss." Like Johnson, I believe that Henry is killing the part of himself that disgusts him, the part of him that is made up of fear. The self-loathing he has for his life and the way he sort of was directed to it appears in all of Lynch's works. Like Johnson, I have always seen the need to run away from an analysis of Eraserhead, for to understand it forces one to understand himself or herself.
In order to understand even a bit of the mysterious Mulhulland Drive, one has to understand the importance of a dream. This is demonstrated in all of the Lynch's works, including The Straight Story, there always remains the "why" in each film. We know the answer, and Lynch knows we know the answer - why we are, say, "entertained," by his films. We are not as entertained as we are drawn to his messages - we are mesmerized, hypnotized like Cooper in a dream. Lynch fills his movies with dream sequences and flashbacks that throw subtle hints at his meanings.
In Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, Laura's father, Leland Palmer, is characterized as a hideous looking villain, a monster, a throw away who comes in the middle of the night to rape Laura.
The four faces of Leland - the loving father, the confused father who lost his daughter, the psychotic, and the evil, Bob
LELAND THE BUSINESSMAN/FATHER/FRIENDLY GUY TO A MAN WHO IS LOSING CONTROL OF HIS TIDY LIFE TO HIM ACTUALLY LOSING HIS MIND TO FINALLY BOB, THE INCESTUOUS RAPIST WHO IS AT THE BOTTOM OF HIS DAUGHTER'S DEATH.
WHAT I HAVE FELT ALL ALONG IS THAT LYNCH IS A MASTER OF THE "OTHER SIDE" OF HUMAN BEINGS, THE MONSTERS HUMAN BEINGS ARE AND CAN BECOME IN ORDER TO RELEASE THEM FROM THE PAIN THEY SUFFER IN THEIR REAL LIVES.
I feel strongly that we attempt to make way too much of Lynch's messages when they are critically "standing right in front of us." For example, tomes have been written about the opening scene in Blue Velvet - when the old man's ear falls off. See the following:
In "Art and Culture/In Pictures: Magnificent Film Obsession: The Ear in Blue Velvet" (June 2011), the article states the following:
ROBERT DE NIRO'S "YOU TALKIN' TO ME?" SCENE IN TAXI DRIVER, THE EAR IN BLUE VELVET AND FEDERICO FELLINI'S LEGENDARY CASTING SESSIONS ARE THREE EXAMPLES OF ICONIC MOMENTS IN THE HISTORY OF CINEMA. THE OBSESSIVE PRACTICE OF EACH OF THESE ELEMENTS IS, WITH OTHERS, IS THE SUBJECT OF A NEW EXHIBITION, PERSOL MAGNIFICENT OBSESSIONS.
The ear scene was one of the starting points of the film for Lynch: "I don't know why it had to be an ear. Except it needed to be an opening of a part of the body, a hole into something else.... The ear sits on the head and goes right into the mind so it felt perfect". The ear is symbolic: it is what leads Jeffrey into danger; just as Jeffrey's troubles begin, the audience is treated to a nightmarish sequence in which the camera zooms into the canal of the severed, decomposing ear. Notably, the camera does not reemerge from the ear canal until the end of the film. When Jeffrey finally comes through his hellish ordeal unscathed, the ear canal shot is replayed, only in reverse, zooming out through Jeffrey's own ear as he relaxes in his yard on a summer day. Lynch was so obsessed by the prosthetic ear, that it also made an appearance in an episode of Twin Peaks. Shown out of context in the exhibition, it is even more sinister. Lynch was determined that the ear would be a character in itself and requested that make-up artist Jeff Goodwin made it using silicone rather than latex. The hair on the ear is in fact Lynch's, procured after a haircut during filming."
As Lynch says, "I don't know why it had to be an ear. Except it needed to be an opening of part of the body, a whole into something else...." explains it all. I know that I spent hours upon hours attempting to really understand Mulhulland Drive and what Lynch was portraying, and then, one day, the movie happened to be on television and it hit me almost automatically. This is a dream sequence about a young girl who so desperately wants to be wanted, to be a star, to be needed, and has come to a place that doesn't accept anyone and spits them out like yesterday's news (sorry about that). Lynch portrays characters, scenes, actors, and reactions the way we as an audience might see them it we actually were confronted by the horrors he shows. As in the study of film referenced above, "Lynch concentrates on the following aspects in his films:
- "How does establishing traditional genre elements (hero/villain construction, mystery plot line, love interest in crisis, etc.) and then leaving those very details in a sketchy, unclear hue serve Lynch’s style so powerfully
- While it is easy to link the national firestorm of controversy associated with BLUE VELVET to the film’s near destruction of the myth of small town America and to the film’s sadomasochistic preoccupations, what are the film’s less obvious cinematic (directorial) intentions that get so deeply under our skin?
- How has Lynch’s surrealist eye infused the visual construction and the aural dimensions of the film so effectively?"
Lynch is a truth teller and a myth breaker to the ultimate degree. Look at his films. Look at the disgusting behavior. Look at the way people treat other people. Is it really any stranger than a man driving a tractor to see his sick brother? I don't think so. Isn't that politics at its best. Seeing things we don't want to see. Running from those that scare us. The following example explains the way Lynch uncomfortably treats humans and shows us humans we would rather not see.
"Severely outraged film critic Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times went on attack mode and slammed BLUE VELVET as a “painful and wounding…sophomoric satire” and then ripped that the film was “one of the sickest movies ever made.” (Until the end of his life, Ebert never deviated from his original opinion of BLUE VELVET.) After making the film, actress Isabella Rossellini (Dorothy Vallens) was dropped by her ICM Agents for lending her talents to a “pornographic” film. As her Catholic nun educators publicly prayed for her soul, snide film critic Rex Reed warned the actress personally that “...your mother (actress Ingrid Bergman) would turn in her grave if she saw the part you played in BLUE VELVET.” With no one brave enough to distribute the film, wealthy Italian producer Dino De Laurentiis created his own distribution company to put the film out in a limited fashion. But angry audiences shook their heads upon leaving the theatres and word spread that the film was insulting to small town Americans, sexually explicit, extremely violent and audiences stayed away. By year’s end, the Actor’s Branch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences gave actor Dennis Hopper (BLUE VELVET’s Frank Booth) the only acting Oscar nomination of his career…for the film HOOSIERS - the other conventionally acted and almost forgotten film Hopper made in 1986 – instead of BLUE VELVET, as they desperately tried to avoid associating themselves with further BLUE VELVET controversy." (Movies on the Big Screen as they Weren't Meant to Be Seen - Seminars for Filmmakers at
But, when we see in both the television series Twin Peaks and Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, Special Agent Cooper (Kyle McLachlan) who is as straight as an arrow, tight to the vest, exceptional FBI agent has fantasies about what is taking place in the town of Twin Peaks and has fantasies about Laura Palmer (non-sexual), he represents the curious and uninitiated side to our own id's and ego's. He is drawn to the strange world that is Twin Peaks. His love of having a simple piece of pie satisfies his basic needs, Laura Palmer gives him a does of true reality. It's almost politically too much for Agent Cooper to handle, and he stays in Twin Peaks until the crime is solved, even though it means the loss of his own identity - as seen is his own fantasies. The dream sequence above is what Lynch wants you to understand, not the day to day world of the characters in the story. They are just strange - the log lady, the one armed man. These are distractions put into Lynch's world to throw us off. If you were actively participating in Twin Peaks the television series, ALL of the discussion regarding who killed Laura Palmer focused on motorcycle driving Bobby (Dana Ashbrook). And why not, he is NOT part of the status quo of the town of Twin Peaks. He is a rebel. I listened to hours of discussion blaming Bobby for the murder just because he is different. However, Bobby is a sensitive, overly protective, caring person. Exactly the opposite normalcy calls for.
Lynch paints for the viewer an example of the rudimentary "goodness" in Agent Cooper. He is reason, he is normalcy. We see the strange world (the world that Lynch sees) through his eyes, as we do when he secretly and unintentionally gets involved in Frank Booth's (Dennis Hopper) sordid life. Jeffrey Beaumont (MacLachlan) stumbles upon the insane world of Booth and is slowly, as in the movie, drawn into these lives. Booth, like Agent Cooper, fantasizes the world of dreams. The only difference between movies such as Blue Velvet and Mulhulland Drive and Eraserhead is that in Eraserhead, WE are involved in the action. WE have no one to interpret for us. In "real" life, we either turn away from this sordidness, or we jump in head first. To Lynch, no observer is allowed. Either the observer is not present (Eraserhead) or is present and is naively "eager" to come face to face with our dream world - an extremely different world than we expect. Eraserhead is a quiet movie, with no narrator. All of Lynch's other films have many narrators - either through dreams, misjudged characterizations, and "chatter" from the masses.
In Eraserhead, this is particularly why the "baby" is seemingly alien in nature. (I do not mean to say that the baby is from outer space - but the baby is definitely a creature from a different world. The baby doesn't have what would normally be a regular handicap or deformity. The "baby" has to be a baby that Henry can actually kill because of the lack of future this creature would endure. That's not a message Lynch would say is true, but the truth is that Henry's baby cannot live. Lynch would say that. Lynch does that.
Finally, when watching Eraserhead, Henry's window is covered partially over with bricks. In the final scenes, when Henry sees the attack on the street, the bricks are gone - that's easy - the non bricked window is Henry's ability to finally "see." Pretty obvious symbol - just as the dying, growing plant in Henry's room and the attractive seductress who lives across the hall from Henry. Again, we spend so much time on missing the obvious that we cannot concentrate on the message. That's Lynch's trick. The next time you see a Lynch directed film, try to battle through the distractions.
JESSICA WHITE, IN HER ESSAY ENTITLED "INDUSTRIALISM AND THE FUTILITY OF MAN IN ERASERHEAD" I FEEL SAYS WHAT I HAVE BEEN ADVANCING REGARDING DAVID LYNCH AND HIS WORKS.
"Industrialism and the Futility of Man in Eraserhead Jessica White This paper was written for Dr. Brevik’s David Lynch course. In the 1977 cult classic Eraserhead, director David Lynch uses a series of stylistic techniques, characters, and plot to convey the futility of man in a world that has become mechanized and industrialized. J.D. Lafrance comments that “Eraserhead is an urban nightmare set in an industrial wasteland ‘reminiscent of the paintings of the Swiss surrealist H.R. Giger,’ whose works contain images of decaying biological matter and people trapped in machinery, becoming one with industry, much like Lynch’s film with its bleak landscapes of buildings and factories with no signs of nature present” (Lafrance). Early in the film we see the main character Henry Spencer walking through this dreary landscape crossing over a train track between what look like polluted factory buildings. Henry crosses over murky puddles of waste from the nearby factories and mounds of dirt. The train track itself could be a representation of the Industrial Revolution, a period in which the use of steam locomotives for the transport of textiles and other goods became extremely important for the development of the country. In the film, the sound of a train’s screeching wheels and constant clacking against tracks can be heard at various times; especially in the home of Henry’s wife Mary, who appears to live directly next to a train depot. The sounds resonate in the background along with other mechanical music such as the clanking of gears and grinds. Lynch may have chosen to shoot Eraserhead in black and white to emphasize the darkness and bleakness of this industrial town. There is rarely anything shown that is a pure white which could be a way of showing the effects of pollution that has been caused by factory production. The use of gray hues leaves the audience with the impression of smoke or smog, possible remnants of a nearby factory or train. The use of these colors also adds to the overall tone of the film which is one of hopelessness and despair. The majority of the scenes are actually shot at night to emphasize this tone through an absence of sunlight."
I couldn't agree more.
Imagine having the worst nightmare you've ever had and then waking up and finding out that the nightmare is real. I am sure Lynch would say "welcome to my world of dreams."
I think this says it all.
NEXT TIME: OSCAR WINNING BIRDMAD
FOLLOWED BY: SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS REVIEW