Posted: 02/18/2007

 

Dynamic:01 – The Best of davidlynch.com

(2007)

by Jon Bastian



“Never meet your hero, because he might disappoint you.” — Faith Hill


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The explosion of YouTube and other online video sites has taught us two things. One, anybody with a camcorder can instantly become a director and expose their works to the world. Two, and more importantly, not everybody with a camcorder should become a director and expose their works to the world.

This lesson isn’t limited to amateurs trying to lip-sync, or who never bothered to learn the concept of pacing, composition or lighting. People who should know better have also committed the sin of putting everything online. Witness Ken Russell, who has spent the last few years running around his estate in England making digital movies with friends. I’ve had the misfortune to try to watch his “Fall of the Louse of Usher.” Say what you will about the studios. Sometimes they’re useful for stopping a trainwreck, even if they do so for the wrong reasons.

Dynamic:01 – The Best of davidlynch.com fares somewhat better than Russell and other YouTubers, but not much better. In fact, what would make this collection of seven shorts (of highly variable quality) of even vague interest to Lynch fans are the bits that aren’t Lynch shorts at all, but which are Lynch himself. Otherwise, welcome to the self-indulgence express.

There are two exceptions among the main body of shorts. The first is “Boat,” a short film that began as footage of Lynch taking a wooden powerboat, Little Indian, out on a lake. As explained in his intro to the film, the addition of a narrative voiceover changed the entire complexion of the project, and it does. As Lynch takes the boat out by day, with the simple explanation that he’s going to try to go fast enough to sail right into night, a young woman offers her spoken counterpoint; she wakes up, disoriented, in a place that’s very bright. The sailing images, with their blown-out lighting and compelling shots of rushing water, build along with the narrative, and we are taken on a journey with that boat. As a simple story, this piece works, and it’s no surprise that it is going to be released as a short film on its own later this year.

The other is “Out Yonder – Neighbor Boy,” the only completed film in what Lynch describes in his intro as the “Be’s Bein’” series. A minimalist comedy in which Lynch and a young friend (I’m not sure, but I’m wondering if it’s his son Austin) sit on a porch, abusing the hell out of the grammatical construct “it be’s bein’…” as their outsized neighbor boy approaches as an ominous shadow, demanding milk. It’s weird and pointless but fun, and although it goes on a wee bit too long, the ending somewhat makes the point that the misuse of “be” is not a 20th Century Urban invention, but a 19th Century White Rural invention.

The rest of the short films, though, really don’t cut it unless you’re an uber-Lynch nerd. Although I thought I was, I found myself thinking “what is this crap?” more often than not.

Case in point: “The Darkened Room” starts out with promise, as a Japanese woman in Tokyo tells us non-sequitur facts about bananas, her English at first subtitled because it’s not the best. Then, she practices a bit and the subtitles go away. She introduces us to her friend in the other room, who sits on a couch crying, and this shot is a Lynch classic—locked-down camera, wide angle shot of the entire room, subject way off in the corner.

But then—another character enters, the dialogue begins, and I had to wonder, “Was this some sophomore film student trying to do a bad homage to Lynch, or what?” But no, I think it was Lynch doing a bad parody of himself. He’s managed to pull off threatening much more quickly (the Cowboy in Mulholland Drive) and weird much more interestingly (any random five minutes of Lost Highway). Here, perhaps it’s the acting. Perhaps not. But the piece goes on way too long, the acting is bad and it builds to nothing.

In “Lamp,” a weird thing happens. The creator of so much modern film surrealism turns into the nerdy but harmless art teacher we all had in middle school. And I mean that literally. Here, Lynch (who was a painter and visual artist before becoming a filmmaker) walks us through part of the process of creating a floor-lamp partly designed to look like a palm tree. And that’s it. No dancing midgets, no severed ears. Just a middle-aged guy explaining how to work with FixAll—and the importance of having a really clean shop, “everything in its place, a place for everything.” It goes on for way, way too long, and Lynch takes the whole project very seriously, which makes me wonder: Who did he think his audience was for this piece, other than people who subscribed to his website to watch? Or was he planning to sell this to some UHF art school channel?

Unfortunately, I don’t think “Lamp” is an extended Dada joke.

The remaining three shorts are harmless, if not hard to watch. “Industrial Soundscape” is minimalism en extremis—a nearly static, but not quite, animation, which repeats the same series of movements over and over again to the same four-beat rhythm, an occasional threat of melody almost sneaking in over it. And that’s it. I’ll save you the trouble—it runs almost 10 minutes, and nothing really happens. A good thing to toss on in the background if you’re at home with a bunch of friends who are either very stoned or tripping. Otherwise, put on some Philip Glass, paint a wall, then watch it dry. I’d add that there is some value only if you’re a musician or performance artist, interested in how visual conventions can warp the perception of rhythm—that is, while the 1-2-3-4 of the beat are presented visually right to left, the western convention of left to right takes over, and this, not the music itself, is what sets the downbeat for us. But it shouldn’t have taken ten minutes to point that out. (To be fair, this piece would work very well as a looped video installation in a museum.)

“Bug Crawls” is just that, although it’s mercifully short and somewhat humorous – an animation with a bug crossing the screen in one direction and a blimp crossing in the other, and an unexpected ending. It gave me flashbacks to all those Czechoslovakian cartoons that they used to show on the international festival of animation on PBS, hosted by Miss Jean Marsh.

“Intervalometer Experiments” is potentially interesting for a painter or cinematographer, but strictly as an academic study. Lynch presents three different fixed shots taken using an intervalometer, which is a device used to take time-lapse images with a motion camera by shooting frames per minute or per hour, instead of per second. However, while the idea behind this technique is supposed to speed up the inordinately slow—i.e., watch flowers bloom and wilt in seconds—only the second of Lynch’s set ups, a nearly featureless concrete staircase, does show any such movement. The first and last of this sequence don’t, and, ironically, I found myself watching what was supposed to be fast motion video in fast forward just to see anything happen.

But, as I noted above, there is one gem in this collection, and that’s a series of davidlynch.com member questions, answered by the director himself. Here, at least, we get the artist in his own words, answering to the camera directly. (At several points, it also looks like he’s smoking a joint and not a cigarette, which could explain a lot of this entire enterprise.) Still, at least here, Lynch gives us artistic insight, including comments on his favorite musical theme from all his movies, writing a script, what it was like working with Marilyn Manson, an interesting experience with Roy Orbison, and so on.

By the way, in answering the question on writing a script, Lynch reveals himself to be really, really old skool. Wow. Who knew? Does anybody really work with index cards anymore?

Verdict? The only people I could recommend this DVD to are diehard, rabid Lynch fans. Except, I’m reminded of Faith Hill’s advice, “Never meet your hero, because he might disappoint you.” Meeting one of my heroes here has been a great disappointment. Judging him from his works, Lynch is amazing. Judging him from this work and himself, he’s just an old guy with a budget. Not a super genius, not mysterious. In fact, if he showed up in any of the various artistic groups with which I’m involved, I think he’d be the guy that everyone tries to treat nicely, gives bland but encouraging comments to, but doesn’t take seriously at all, and never expects to see anything really good from him. In short, this collection paints a genius as a hack. Which Lynch isn’t, not by a longshot. But you’d never know it here.

Which brings me back to my original point. The advent of internet video has led to quite a lot of everything being tossed up willy-nilly just because it can be. As this release proves, about eighty percent of it shouldn’t be, whether the creator is a 15-year-old kid in his mom’s basement with a webcam, or an acclaimed director with an entire crew. If you’re not really a Lynch fan, there’s nothing for you here. If you are a Lynch fan—don’t abuse your illusions, and steer clear.

Jon Bastian is a playwright and writer living in Los Angeles.



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