Film Review: David Lynch Season @ Chapter Arts Centre

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David Lynch: The Art Life
Directors: Jon Nguyen, Rick Barnes & Olivia Neergaard-Holm
15, 88 mins

Mulholland Drive
Dir: David Lynch
15, 141 mins

The Straight Story
Dir: David Lynch
U, 107 mins

Can we all just stop and appreciate the fact that Twin Peaks is back on our TVs? Now the brilliant mind behind the show, David Lynch has the camera turned on him in a documentary about his life and his lesser known, yet still remarkable art pieces. We in Cardiff, were lucky enough to get screenings of David Lynch: The Art Life, along with Mulholland Drive and The Straight Story at Chapter Arts Centre. We were truly blessed.

Lynch loves illusions. There’s no doubt about that. Whether its Blue Velvet, Erasier Head or Inland Empire, the nightmare scenarios evoked here kick you in gut for their unrelenting uneasiness and vivid trance like symbolism. His art work consisting of slimy/infantile paintings and sculptures however are dark and dirty. It seem to hark back to Francis Bacon, found object artists and the crude expressionism seem in decades prior. It’s queasy stuff, with blood and guys galore, child like messages and a genuine pang of masochism. You simply can’t take your eyes off them.

Only Lynch frequents the screen here and like his film work, he still leaves us with many questions and concerns. In one telling moment his recounting of a story is so hard to bring up, he utters “I can’t tell this story…” What exactly happened? Another scenario saw a naked women with a bloodied mouth haunting his street. Was she real? Or was it a dream? We may never know.

His charming naivety shines eternally, an example when he comes out with remarks like “I realised I could make a moving picture…with sound”, as if to say he had never considered the idea of film making. He smokes like a factory, his wrinkles tell tales beyond tales and his grand grey quiff are all reason to love this nervous, yet brilliant director. Well, perhaps not for the chain smoking then.

It’s easy to see where his inspiration for characters and stories come from. Reality is stranger then fiction, yet the mind of Lynch helps give us real moments in the cinema. We are so aware we are viewing one of his films we can rarely snap out of it. The documentary may focus on the visual art work he has created, but the leads into behind the scenes of his first feature Eraser Head. The rest is history.

There are some vibrant documentary tropes here, such as the camera work and sound design (the latter would be very important considering the subject). Some topical doc themes emerge: a moth hovering by a window, numerous shots of rain falling and when Lynch climbs up some stairs, his hand is in focus for a moment as the camera lingers on the stairway. Three directors may sound excessive, yet the collaboration hurls together monumental insights, even if they are fragmented and distorted from this great mind.

Recently voted the greatest work of the 21st Century, Mulholland Drive is the definition of love it or hate it. Although how a film from 2001 needs much restoring leaves questions raised, but the fact it’s found it’s way back into cinemas is a joy for film fanatics.

Arguably Lynch’s best cinematic creation (which was originally intended as a TV show), Mulholland Drive is a heady, intense and beyond baffling experience. It’s sting against Hollywood leaves no prisoners. The brutal nature of the industry is pinpointed with harsh dreamlike tableaux which reach a fever pitch in it’s final act, where logic is lost and established structures and dynamics are executed. We’re all left doubting what we have witnessed, trying to find meaning in the mix up of character roles and their place within its world. If there is any point in fishing for meaning in the murky pool of the film’s deep subconscious, it would probably make the film of less value. The joy is in the mystery and Lynch has pointed out that “words” put simply, are the films enemy.

Our cinema was sold out for the screening, so people clearly still want to try and find what happens during this two hour and twenty minutes enigma. I won’t go into too much detail…but Naomi Watts is Betty, a plucky Canadian actress keen to make her mark on Hollywood. She encounters Laura Harring, playing Rita who has been in a car accident and can’t exactly recall who she is (her applied name was taken from a film poster Gilda). Through a labyrinth of illusions, they try to find out who Rita really is, as Justin Theroux’s director Adam comes to the conclusion he does not have total control over his next film project (this phrase “This is the girl” is pushed upon Adam on numerous occasions).

The name Camilla is also mentioned, as is another actress -the girl in question- all adding to the trippy nature and how we are frequently deceived on many levels here. Sound work is outstanding and menacing here by Mr Lynch and the music of Angelo Badilementi adds to the mystery mood of the film, with deep synths and he also is great in his menacing acting role as one of the stony faced Modigliani brothers. The scene involving him and an espresso simply has to be seen to be believed.

We still fall in madly love with the mystery though. Most conclude one part of the film has be a dream, or even a drug hallucination. Could parallel worlds even come to play? Or even the famous doppelgangers we see in Twin Peaks (this is suppossed to be the same worlds as the TV show)? I like to keep guessing without any real concrete belief in any firm definitions. That’s what keeps the film’s flame burning.

A firm recommendation, but open minds are essential.

On a more tranquil note, The Straight Story is a moving and surprising venture for Lynch. Made prior to Mulholland Drive, this odd road movie tells of the true story of Alvin Straight, who ventured to see his ill brother three states over by riding a three mile an hour lawn over to get to him. Nobody thinks he can do it. His rugged determination and stubborn mentality are what keeps him going. But does he make it in time?

This is not in anyway watered down Lynch, but rather a meditative and stupendous journey of the soul, with a real family orientated message. This is a good sort of soppy movie, with some familiar Lynchian elements: electrical storms and starlight are predominant themes whilst some striking camera work and occasional sound design all add up to what we expect from him, though just through a much more approachable style.

Alvin is played by Richard Farnsworth, actor and stuntman who here delivers his final, unspeakably powerful and wise performance which lead to an Oscar nom. Having been diagnosed with cancer shortly after, he choose to tragically shoot himself. He is best remembered for his acting here and rightfully so. As his daughter, Sissy Spacek gives a considerate performance as charming and oh so loveable Rose. Her speech impediment predominates as does the love for her father and also her own children she had taken away because of a house fire not caused by her. It’s pure tragedy to see her lingering by her window at night, seeing a ball roll down the road, then a boy eager to grab it, shifts between the frail lamp light. Why should she suffer for something she did not cause?

There are many splendid ensemble actors here. Those who encounter Alvin on his way are most memorable: the pregnant girl who ran away from home, the lady who simply can’t stop running over deer to her dismay, the bickering engineer twins (played by the Farley Brothers) who over charge Alvin who sees through their antics and a considerate priest who lets him camp by the cemetery.

Each and every one of these people treat Alvin with a lot of respect and dignity, even if they do question his source of transport. Another scene set in a bar when another fella joins him for a drink as they relive war stories is also harrowing. The song in the background also appears to evaporate into the air and time stops as these veterans relive some truly horrific past events. Badilementi’s score here is exquisite country ballads on acoustic guitar and gentle, warming synths that lull you like a toasty blanket.

Anyone concerned that Lynch’s films are not for them should check out The Straight Story. It has a beautiful message which is best said from Alvin himself:

There’s no one who knows your life better than a brother that’s near your age. 

A brilliant mini season of Lynch’s work. More please!

Terrifying & transfixing. 

David Lynch: The Art Life Rating: ★★★★

Mulholland Drive Rating: ★★★★★

The Straight Story Rating: ★★★★★

Twin Peaks continues on Sky Atlantic, Monday mornings at 2am & Tuesday nights at 9pm, also on Now TV.

Weeping Tudor Productions present Dia:Log:Record – The Hidden Twin Peaks at madeinroath this October. To herald the return of Twin Peaks, come join The Log Lady, Special Agent Dale Cooper & Laura Palmer as they tell all in their own remarkable words. Come dress as your favourite Twin Peaks character. Prizes for best dressed! Date & location TBC.

Photo Credit: A V Club


Archive: In Dreams: David Lynch Revisited @ Colston Hall

Review: Twin Peaks – The Missing Pieces

Review: Wrapped in Plastic – A Twin Peaks Happening @ The Big Top


Film Review: Mirror Mirror Series – Blue Velvet @ Chapter 


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