Posts Tagged With: david lynch

The Straight Story: The David Lynch Version

(Note: today’s video is at the bottom. It just made more sense that way.)

I’ve loved The Straight Story for years.

I love its warmth and simplicity. I love the message of family that overcomes the odds and the bitter swallowing of pride in the face of disaster. I love the ambiguities in the narrative: unresolved conversations and a backstory that’s never quite explained properly. I love the performance of Richard Farnsworth, who pours understated emotion into every line of dialogue. I love the way it’s shot – the rolling flatness of the Iowa cornfields giving way to the lush, hilly greenery of Mount Zion as Alvin Straight concludes his journey. I love the occasional flashes of ridiculous humour – the deer in the field, Dorothy asking “What’s the number for 911?” as she and Bud try and lift Alvin off the floor. Most of all I love the quietness of the whole thing – the slow crawl around the side of the house after the opening credits, the silence broken by a solitary thump, and the wordless final tableau as the two brothers sit in tearful contemplation on Lyle’s porch, and we’re treated to one final shot of that brilliant star-swept sky.

But…well, it’s not very Lynch, is it?

Look, there are no dwarves. There are no mysterious figures dressed in black. There are no scenes where the protagonist encounters a confused amnesiac at the side of the road, covered in someone else’s blood. There’s not even any jazz, for crying out loud. Instead you get two hours of soft focus shots of rural America. I’m actually OK with that. Our church house group watched it for a film study recently (my suggestion) and we had an animated discussion the following week about forgiveness, family and the nature of redemption. That scene where Alvin pulls up into the conveniently placed (and perfectly sized) barn at the side of the road just in time to avoid getting soaked? That’s one of the strongest examples I’ve seen of the work of God in the world as witnessed in a supposedly secular film.

straight_storm

Actually, The Straight Story is layered. There are theories that Alvin is dead, for example, by the time the film concludes: that the entire trip is a hallucinatory manifestation of a dying man’s penance, the priest he meets near the film’s conclusion granting him the last rites before his heart stops (symbolised by the John Deere’s motor failure a hundred yards from Lyle’s house). The tractor driver he encounters is the ferryman of the underworld, ushering him into a tranquil afterlife where he is reunited with his brother (who, of course, is also dead).

I’m not sure whether that’s really what Lynch meant to do, but he’s called The Straight Story “my most experimental movie”, so who knows? On the other hand everything Lynch does plays with the formula – allegory, unreliable narrators, questionable performances from David Bowie – and just about the only thing you can predict about him is that he’ll never do anything predictable. So maybe the experimental aspect is that it isn’t experimental at all. Theories about the fate of Rose’s children aside (“someone” was looking after them the night of the fire…could that someone have been Alvin himself?) perhaps this really is just a film about an old man who drives 240 miles on his lawnmower and meets some lovely people along the way.

Still. If you’ve seen Wild At Heart, it’s a bit jarring. There’s no death, no violence, nothing to upset anyone but the most stringent fundamentalists (The CAP Movie Ministry, the internet’s self-serving source of ‘Christian’ film reviews, docks it points for “terror of runaway lawn mower down a hill with the rider”). Even Twin Peaks, accessible by design, had its moments of darkness. The worst we have to contend with here is Alvin losing his hat, in just about the closest the movie gets to an action sequence.

There are exceptions. The Olsen twins feel like watered down versions of Lynch standards, the sort of scam artists you’d expect to see in a hick version of Lost Highway. The woman who can’t avoid the deer is downright anomalous – a scene that simply doesn’t fit the narrative, although there is a glimmer of recognition in Alvin’s wistful stare as she drives into the distance – almost as if he recognises a part of himself in that angry commuter. It’s the most Lynch-like scene in a film that is distinctly non-Lynch. There is nothing like this.

(I really wouldn’t worry. Nobody gets this scene. Nobody.)

Anyway: I’d been thinking for a while that The Straight Story really would benefit from a bit of a revamp. Because what better choice for a psychological thriller than a film that doesn’t contain a single sinister undertone? So I downloaded a few stings from horror trailers and mixed them in with a re-pitched Johnny Cash song and the Silent Hill soundtrack (that’s the original PlayStation version, not that godawful film they did a few years back). Nothing says ‘uncomfortable dissonance’ like a bit of Akira Yamaoka, particularly when it’s accompanied by images of Richard Farnsworth apparently losing his mind.

And I confess I’m quite pleased with the end result. There are no dwarves, but you can’t have everything.

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The Mulholland Drive / Doctor Who Connection

I can still remember where I was when I saw Mulholland Drive. It was an evening showing at the local theatre – Lynch movies got limited release, at least in my hometown – and it was a one-night-only performance. I went with a friend from the office who loved David Lynch almost as much as I did. Earlier that day, we’d been giggling about the stupidity of the over-zealous Capalert – a Christian film review service who deducted family suitability points from The Straight Story (one of the gentlest, kindest films you’ll ever encounter) on the grounds of ‘terror of runaway lawn mower down a hill with the rider’. Some people simply have too much free time – and that’s me saying that.

Twin Peaks aside, I’ve always been something of a maverick when it comes to my admiration of Lynch. Blue Velvet, for example, bores me to tears. I get it, for sure, but I find Rossellini embarrassing to watch, and MacLachlan’s Heineken affirmations quite horrendous. Conversely, I am quite the fan of Dune. Everybody loves The Elephant Man, and I think we can all at least agree that Eraserhead is a masterpiece, can’t we?

But Mulholland Drive. It always felt like the film that Lost Highway wanted to be and didn’t quite manage. Lynch’s 1997 tour-de-force is a brooding, violent piece of work, in which Bill Pullman murders his wife and wakes up as Balthazar Getty (which, if Getty’s rumoured on-set behaviour is anything to go by, is something of a trade-down). Without wanting to give anything away, Mulholland Drive is based around similar themes of betrayal and revenge and identity, but it feels far more coherent and satisfying, with some electric performances from the leads. Doesn’t mean I understand it, though. There’s two hours of slow-paced, occasionally surreal film noir, and then [MONUMENTAL SPOILER], which turns the entire film on its head.

“What the hell was that?” I remember saying when we left the cinema. “What just happened? What did we just watch?”

“Don’t mess with it, man,” came the reply from Jon. “It’s Lynch.”

I kind of have to be in the mood for Mulholland Drive, even when I know how it ends. That probably explains why I only got around to watching it for the second time just the other week, despite the fact that it was purchased a decade ago as part of a box set I picked up in HMV. But on this particular Saturday I was feeling dark and freakish, so Em and I got the boys in bed as early as we could, and made a night of it.

And all I could think about was Doctor Who.

I mean, the connections – such as they exist – are (probably) entirely coincidental. I doubt that Dave’s a fan, for one thing – I suspect he’s more of a Prisoner buff.  There is one interesting link to Classic Who and one link to New Who, specifically an episode that wouldn’t air until ten years after Lynch’s movie hit the art cinemas. But anyway. Let’s start with the slightly more obscure material. In the first instance, you have the grinning old lady.

Mul_Old Lady

Said old lady appears in the final act, in a nightmarish closing sequence, but even in this early appearance it’s clear that she’s not all that she seems. Which sort of happened in this episode.

3x01-Smith-and-Jones-doctor-who-18623166-1600-900

Marginally less tenuous (but not much) is the link between the Club Silencio’s Master of Ceremonies and a classic Who character.

Mulholland

Jago_&_Litefoot

Oh, perhaps it’s the moustache.

But these are mere trivialities. The meat is to be found further in. First there’s the monster behind the diner. One of the most enigmatic of all characters, with a multitude of possible origins and meanings. But as it turns out, there’s a far simpler explanation.

Master-Monster

So now you know. Most conclusive of all, however, is the mysterious box that is suddenly found inside Betty’s handbag halfway through Rebekah Del Rio’s spellbinding performance of ‘Crying’. Never mind the fact that it’s blue, and far bigger on the inside. We’ve seen it elsewhere.

Cube

Haven’t we?

As Jon would say, “Don’t mess with it, man. It’s Lynch.”

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