Greetings, Glancers! It’s been a while since my last TTT post, and as it’s October why not resume things with a director who is more than a little familiar with the darker side of life. David Lynch, for most people, is synonymous with weird – his films often dividing critics and fans due to their uncompromising dedication to non-linear, non-traditional storytelling. Some call it art, others call it shit, but most agree that his work will continue to spark debate.
Lynch’s movies have so far garnered over 10 Oscar nominations, but have yet to gain a single win, though his movies frequently appear on many ‘Best Movies Of The Year/Decade/Ever’ lists and generally feature notable or iconic performances or scenes, along with famous scores and unforgettable imagery. He has, at the time of writing, made 10 movies which is handy for today’s list as I can rank them all in order from my least favourite to my absolute favourite. As always, the numbers aren’t set in stone and may change slightly depending on my mood. Lets not wait 25 years for this gum to come back in style!
I wanted to start out by saying that this is possibly Lynch’s most divisive film… but i truth the same could be said for most films on the list. It’s one I looked forward, but one which I ultimately didn’t get. I haven’t read the source material and don’t have any sort of affinity or relationship with the story, but I loved the idea of Lynch tackling a fantasy epic – his attempt at a blockbuster. To be honest it’s a bit of a shambles and I struggled to get through it. I’m willing to give it another go as it has been years since I saw it, and many people don’t appreciate Lynch’s films upon first viewing – though in most cases it’s love at first sight for me. Dune has since gone on to be named as one of the worst movies of all time, and Lynch has pretty much distanced himself entirely from it, after saying that the Studio and Producers didn’t give him the control he needed.
Lynch’s most recent feature is now 10 years old, and given the Director’s return to TV we may not see another movie from him. Hopefully that’s not the case. Inland Empire say Lynch going fully digital for the first time, but returning to old hallmarks such as the fish out of water, ambition crushing and cursing, seedy underbellies, dopplegangers, shadows, and tantalizing mysteries with creepy tangents. Laura Dern is superb as an actress who gets a part in big movie, but who life begins to unravel and seemingly merge with the plot of the movie. It’s possibly Lynch’s most dense and confusing work given that Lynch himself admitted that the writing and shooting process went almost hand in hand, rather than having a script ready before shooting. The loose structure is similar to Mulholland Drive in that the first part is mostly linear, while the second half collapses upon itself with multiple scenes tumbling over each other. The film gets more impenetrable as it progresses, but Dern’s performance gets stronger and more intense along the way, proving to be an anchor in the storm. It’s not advised to start your Lynch viewing with this one, but it’s essential nonetheless.
The Straight Story
What Lynch would amusingly call his ‘most experimental movie’, the ironically titled The Straight Story is of course Lynch’s most accessible work. Telling the true story of Alvin Straight, a WWII veteran who travels across North America on a lawnmower to visit his brother. Naturally the idea is going to put some people off watching the movie, but those people would be missing out on one of the most touching US movies of the decade a true story of heroism and the triumph of the human spirit. As you would expect, there are lots of vignettes and interesting characters met along the way, each offering something important about the human condition. With an Oscar nominated performance by Richard Farnsworth and support by Harry Dean Stanton and Sissy Spacek, this is a gentle introduction to Lynch – some of his humour and treatment of character, but in no way prepares you for his more well known work.
The Elephant Man
Lynch’s most successful feature, The Elephant Man was nominated for 8 Oscars, but somehow didn’t win anything. His other biographical tale, it recounts the life of Joseph Merrick, a man born with a horrendous deformity which meant he spent a large part of his life in a freak show. John Hurt gives possibly his best performance in the title role, alongside Anthony Hopkins, Anne Bancroft, and John Gielgud. As you would expect, the film is both tragic and hopeful, powerful and affecting, beautifully shot and with several standout moments of dialogue or incisiveness.
This is where it all began, and it would be difficult to argue against this being still Lynch’s most confusing and disturbing feature. I remember being haunted by the poster from an early age, before I knew anything about Lynch, just knowing that it would be an odd and frightening experience if I ever saw the film. Mostly financed by Lynch and his friends, the film took several years to make, and several years after release until it found its audience. None of this will be surprising to anyone who has seen the movie – what most people read as a fear of parenthood, fatherhood, isolation, commitment, family. Jack Nance stars as a young man who is left to look after his ‘child’ – a writing, lizard like creature which seems to exist just to scream and feel pain. As time passes he experiences unnerving visions and.. that’s about it really. It has to be seen to be believed, and once seen you will never forget it. It’s one of the few films which makes me genuinely uneasy and I can’t imagine anyone wanting to sit through it more than a couple of times. Why so high on my list then? Nance is brilliant as always, and the sheer creativity and audacity on show is alarming – it’s precisely because it is so difficult to watch that it is so good – it’s a calamitous nightmare, a shrieking cloud of imagery which comes closer to generating and understanding personal fear better than a hundred horror movies or books on the subject. Critical consensus on the movie is generally positive, but what is interesting is that critics are divided over whether this is his best work, to the point that nothing he made later comes close, or that his later work is much more refined and mature to the point that Eraserhead is a mere early experiment. Watch it and decide for yourself.
Famous, not least for bringing Dennis Hopper back into the limelight for good reasons, Blue Velvet is another critically acclaimed high point for Lynch – a bizarre stripping back of suburbia’s skin and an investigation of the flesh which writhes underneath. Lynch had already made a failed blockbuster with Dune, and a hit biographical drama with The Elephant Man, so wanted to make something more personal with story, character, and setting elements which were more familiar to him. What comes out is an extremely dark mystery, blending noir elements with moody jazz tones and a twisted vision of America filled with secrets and savagery. Hopper gives an extraordinary performance, the young Laura Dern and Kyle Maclachlan hold their own, and Isabella Rossellini is the most manic femme fatale you’re ever likely to see.
I think Lost Highway has had a bad rap – at release it was largely dismissed. As a mystery, it is more impenetrable than Blue Velvet, there is less of an emotional connection with the audience, but I find it the more interesting film. With Lost Highway Lynch presents another warped vision of America, almost as if two separate but connected worlds which exist on both sides of a highway begin to blur and drip into one another. Where Lost Highway ‘fails’ is in it doesn’t feature a big, iconic performance. The trio of Arquette, Pullman, and Getty are very good, each evoking a bewildered, dreamy state as they struggle to understand the mystery they find themselves in. We also get notable performances from Robert Blake, Robert Loggia, and Richard Pryor – each terrifying in their own way. The story allows for many interpretations and nightmarish moments, and each viewing only serves to unlock more rooms and questions.
I was late to the Mulholland Drive party. In fact, it was the last movie on this list I saw. I’m not sure why I’d held off for so long – unless the movie is something which really leaps out to me as something I desperately need to see, I wait for it to come to me via TV or streaming sites. Naturally I loved the film from first sight – the moody tones and textures, the assortment of scenes and characters all colliding with the central plot and offering tantalizing glimpses into something bigger. If you’re already reading this then you probably know that the film was originally supposed to be a pilot for a new TV show – hence the additional characters and plots which seem to go nowhere. Lynch is able however to weave it all together by allowing the film to disintegrate – time and space become liquid or air, and events merge together. There are memorable moments and a terrific cast – the Llorando theatre scene is a personal favourite and both Naomi Watts and Laura Harding are excellent – Lynch always seems to know how to get powerful performances from his female leads.
Fire Walk With Me
Speaking of female leads and powerful performances – do you remember when Sheryl Lee won the best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of Laura Palmer in Fire Walk With Me? No? Well, that’s because it never happened. It it will go down in history as one of the biggest shambles of the Academy’s history that wasn’t even nominated. Do these people even watch movies? There are various reasons for this – the most notable being that the film received a critical mauling in the US upon release, and many people were upset that the movie was so drastically different in tone from the TV show. Make no mistake, Fire Walk With Me is a horror movie; one of the most emotionally draining, stunningly shot, well performed horror movies of all time, but a horror movie nonetheless. Lynch gets full reign and rather than wrapping up the many cliffhangers from the show he simply explores the last week of Laura Palmer’s life and delves deeper into the dark heart of Twin Peaks than the show ever did. Make sure you have seen the show before you watch the movie though, but if you like the show be prepared to have the rug pulled from under you – there are few, if any, quirky laughs to be found here.
Wild At Heart
While we’re on the topic of Oscar omissions I always found it odd that Wild At Heart was so abandoned. I mean, Diane Ladd got a Supporting Nomination, but what about Cage, Dern, and the writing team? I’m going to be ruthless and say that Wild At Heart is Lynch’s least essential film, but easily his most entertaining and mainstream. Sure there is weirdness, but nothing that would ever put the laziest viewer off. This is Lynch doing Tarantino before that was even a thing. This is a love, sex, and violence fueled, foul-mouthed road trip of mayhem with a manic assortment of comic book characters who leap off the screen with abandon, creating a gripping, thrill ride of laughter and drama the likes of which you’ll rarely see again.It isn’t his most essential, it isn’t his best, but it’s a hell of a lot of fun and it’s one which is so easy to return to again and again.
Think I’ve got any of the above completely wrong? Let us know in the comments what your favorite Lynch films are, and if you think he has another classic up his sleeve!