Sunday, 27 November 2011

David Lynch - From Eraserhead to Dior

One of the themes I have noticed in my recent blog postings is looking at people who's work I greatly admired in the 80s and taking a look at what they are doing now. And so to David Lynch, probably one of the most original and important American filmmakers in recent decades.

Like most people I first heard of David Lynch sometime in the early 80s when his film "Eraserhead" was being talked about and I think Channel 4 showed it late one night. It was a nightmarish trip through a surreal and bizarre black and white world and was unlike anything I had ever seen. The film was released in 1977 with Lynch spending almost a decade making it on a tiny budget. The film's imagery and style become famous. I found watching it both disturbing and compelling and even at times charming though some have likened viewing the film to being slowly tortured.

Big Hollywood films soon followed. Lynch directed "The Elephant Man" in 1980 and it became one of his most successful mainstream films. He then went on to direct the sci-fi epic "Dune" in 1984 but it was not regarded as a success and then he moved away from large budget Hollywood films and returned to making smaller, personal films. From this time came, perhaps his most famous film "Blue Velvet" in 1986. Both bizarre and unsettling like "EraserHead", it had a much more conventional style and narrative that mainstream audiences could accept. Set in smalltown American, teenager Kyle MacLachlan discovers a severed human ear and becomes embroiled in a dark and disturbing world of unhinged criminals that exists alongside the idyllic American way of life that epitomises the rest of the town.

"Blue Velvet" was an arthouse hit around the world and Lynch followed it with "Wild At Heart" in 1990. An intense, violent and exhilerating road movie with Nicholas Cage and Laura Dern which was one of his most successful films and brought his name into the mainstream again. The TV series "Twin Peaks" gave Lynch his biggest audiences as it was a worldwide hit. First aired in 1990, there was two series and a spin-off film "Twin Peaks - Fire Walk WIth Me" (1992). The series was a huge success around the world and was listed by Time magazine in its list of best TV shows of all time.

Lynch returned to making small off-beat feature films and in the 90s directed films such as "Lost Highway" (1997) and "The Straight Story" (1999). However it was the release of "Mulholland Drive" in 2001 that for me, marked a true return to form for David Lynch. The feature film was originally a TV series that got cancelled so from this wreckage, Lynch produced a beguiling and haunting thriller set in Los Angeles that felt like a cross between "Blue Velvet" and "Twin Peaks". It got nominated for an Oscar for best director for the film and is perhaps his last mainstream success.

Lynch, like many other filmmakers became very interested in new digital video cameras which became available from the late 1990s onwards and which filmmakers around the world were using to create microbudget features films which could not have been made otherwise. Lynch was impressed by this new technology and started shooting films on digital video. In 2007 he proclaimed ""Film is like a dinosaur in a tar pit. People might be sick to hear that because they love film, just like they loved magnetic tape." In the previous year, he directed the feature "Inland Empire" on digital video. The film was one of his most surreal and unsettling with many scenes reminding me of his very first feature "EraserHead". The filmed starred his long term collaborator Laura Dern and though not a mainstream success (nor intended to be one) it did well on the festival and arthouse circuit and the DVD was probably bought by most David Lynch fans such as me, around the world.

To date, "Inland Empire" has been David Lynch's last feature film. I hope there will be more but in the meantime, he has been busy making many experimental short pieces which leads me onto the last David Lynch film I saw and which like most of his work, I found oddly compelling and intriguing. David Lynch was commissioned by fashion house Dior to make a short film for the Internet featuring one of their handbags. He cast Oscar winning French actress Marion Cotillard in the lead and shot in the ultra-modern setting of Shanghai's skyscrapers. The result is pure Lynch, stylish, strangely beautiful, hypnoptic but all permeated with a deep sense of unease. Enjoy "Lady Blue Shanghai".

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