Director David Lynch, “The Czar of the Bizarre,” hasn’t been working on a new, full-length film, but he’s still been busy delivering on his artistic promise to produce that which is Lynchian.
By Maraithe Thomas
She was a veritable dream. Her eyes a hypnotic, sparkling blue; hair flaxen; smile wide and white, framed by the pinkest lips. She was, in short, a babe of the highest order. She was also very nearly decapitated while filming a recent commercial for David Lynch’s new brand of coffee.
Yes, it’s David Lynch’s coffee (officially, David Lynch Signature Cup Coffee), and the girl is a Barbie doll, subjected for a dreamy four minutes to the whims and grasp of Lynch himself. The video is, among other things, completely mesmerizing. Much like with the most memorable scenes from Lynch’s oeuvre, it’s nearly impossible to look away.
Lynch, a notoriously inveterate coffee addict, clutches the doll tensely by the neck, the shot a continuous extreme closeup of her pristine face. Often, as Lynch’s grasp tightens, her head comes close to the point of popping off. Dreamy music induces a kind of happy, drugged-up drowsiness in the viewer, and apparently, in Lynch as well. Lynch provides both voices in the ensuing dialogue: “What’s goin’ on?” she (read: he) asks, languidly. “Just, you know,” Lynch responds, “workin’ on some stuff.”
Indeed. “Workin’ on some stuff” is exactly what Lynch has been doing lately, but the “stuff” does not involve feature filmmaking. In fact, since the release of his latest feature Inland Empire in 2006, he’s dabbled in almost every other art form. This includes but is not limited to, music and music videos, painting, furniture design, photography, video art, and amateur meteorology. And while Lynch is not a newcomer to many of these undertakings—painting is a well-documented and longtime passion of his—this newfound range of hobbies is notable for its multifariousness and its, well, Lynchiness.
As the auteur’s colorful corpus expands to include projects quite decidedly fixed on this side of the fourth wall, many of his extracurricular endeavors remain intrinsically informed by the fictional world of film (i.e. his plans to open a real-life Club Silencio, modeled after the similarly-named club in 2001’s Mulholland Drive—except in Paris ).
However, many of Lynch’s side projects have been noted for their outright conventionality. The reaction on blogs and other sites is often laced with incredulity. Why, they say, is David Lynch, the “Czar of Bizarre,” making a commercial that isn’t totally weird? Or why is he making a concert video for Duran Duran? I mean, Duran Duran? It’s clear to see why one would ask why Lynch is doing these offbeat projects (his answer likely wouldn’t go much further than, Why not?) but to do so is delightfully, paradoxically ironic: Lynch is being offbeat by doing things that are not offbeat.
And there’s plenty of precedent for him doing so. In the 90s, he produced a commercial for a home pregnancy test, the introduction to Michael Jackson’s short films collection, and two Alka-Seltzer commercials. But he was making films then. He isn’t now.
Instead, he appears to be taking advantage of, or at least dabbling in, new digital media and media sharing. He tweets. He posts videos right on his Vimeo account. He self-releases singles from his new album.
Why not make a 20-second weather video from my studio every day for a year? Lynch presumably asked himself that in 2009 when he decided to give, from what looks like a basement, a daily briefing of the weather in Los Angeles. The production value on the videos is suspiciously low (besides looking extremely rough in classic, home video kind of way, the audio was not synced up in a series of videos during a week a June), and each has a formulaic structure: “Good morning, it’s November 4, 2009, and it’s a Wednesday. Here in LA, beautiful, blue skies, with a few little clouds, golden sunshine, birds flying, pretty brisk breeze this morning. 68 degrees Fahrenheit, 20 Celsius.” The account amassed over 130,000 views before he abandoned the project, like so many others, during his whirlwind of pseudo-artistic activity.
@DAVID_LYNCH: Dear Twitter Friends, I’m going to make 2 gray-violet shapes for long arms this weekend. What are you all going to do? Have a great weekend.
A casual follower of this enigmatic director may think he’s been lying dormant the last few years. Not so! His latest project was unleashed upon the Internet just last week via a Vimeo/Twitter double-punch. In the 51-second clip “How Things Have Been Going,” the director offers not-quite-so abstruse thoughts with regard to the Washington debt deal antics/catastrophe/embarrassment of last week. This isn’t Lynch’s high cinema, though. It’s a still shot of the U.S. Capitol shrouded in dark smog with the sound of a dump truck backing up as soundtrack. That’s it. The image eventually slowly fades to black. It’s simplicity over subtlety. He conflates the debt deal with garbage, and, perhaps for the first time, his audience agreed overwhelmingly, understanding his message right away. It would be an understatement to say not everything of his has been so clear-cut.
His longest, arguably most substantial directorial effort since his last film, looks more like video art than a professionally produced piece. The 16-minute short was commissioned by Dior last year and stars Marion Cotillard. “Lady Blue Shanghai,” embraces the digital aesthetic seen in Inland Empire, which was his first film shot entirely on standard definition digital video. The video is satisfying, and not only because of Ms. Cotillard’s presence but also for its adherence to the director’s usual tricks. There are glowing (Dior) bags, time travel (“I feel like I’ve been here before . . .”), disorienting camera work, and an unsettling score.
Different projects? Yes, but both fit into Lynch’s greater stylistic territory, auteur ambiance, what have you. They’re “Lynchian.” What is “Lynchian”?: The term (otherwise dangerously close to a vague, critical cop-out) was most enjoyably defined in a 1996 essay on Lynch by David Foster Wallace, which he expounded upon on the Charlie Rose Show the following year:
“. . . a regular domestic murder is not Lynchian. But if the man—if the police come to the scene and see the man standing over the body and the woman—let’s see, the woman’s ’50s bouffant is undisturbed and the man and the cops have this conversation about the fact that the man killed the woman because she persistently refused to buy, say, for instance, Jif peanut butter rather than Skippy, and how very, very important that is, and if the cops found themselves somehow agreeing that there were major differences between the brands and that a wife who didn’t recognize those differences was deficient in her wifely duties, that would be Lynchian.”
So while Lynch hasn’t been working on a new, full-length film, he’s still been busy delivering on his artistic promise to produce that which is Lynchian. These small, sporadic projects dole out a concentrated dose of the director at his most classic: i.e. unusual blended with campy, normal-plus, just slightly, suggestively “off.” The creation of such sensation is what Lynch’s M. O. has always been, and though it appears he’s straying from his norm, he’s sticking to the Lynchian ideal, though the appearance and delivery has evolved.
And it’s not that the response hasn’t been positive—fans are generally thrilled to have a little extra Lynch in their lives; just a small addition of something odd and unsettling in a perhaps otherwise normal day. Or “Lynchian” isn’t just for films. It’s a way of life. It’s the Internet-infused cult of David Lynch.
@DAVID_LYNCH: Last weekend I told you I was going to work on lavender shapes for long arms. I have a confession to make. I did not finish my work.
Lynch has long been interested in music, having helped compose bits of music for Wild at Heart, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, and Mulholland Drive with longtime collaborator Angelo Badalamenti. But in late 2010, he released two electronica singles, “Good Day Today” and “I Know.” The former is such an excruciatingly awful electronic, auto-tuned mess, one commenter on music streaming site SoundCloud summed up the sound in one succinct, Crystal Castles-Twin Peaks reference: “Bob killed Alice Glass. She’s in the Red Room now . . .”
In a December interview with Pitchfork about his new music, Lynch talked about the possibility of a new film: “Yeah, I’m thinking about film. I don’t have a film ready to go, but I’m catching ideas for the next thing. That’s why it’s important to listen to lots of different genres because you never know when something will get born out of it.” This is Lynch as a renaissance filmmaker, perhaps the most eclectic of any other director currently working, and it’s never been clearer than now, when he’s chosen to share it and has an outlet to do so.
It’s fitting that at the point in his career when Lynch diversifies, grasps here, there, and artistically evolves, the film industry is doing so concomitantly. The “Lynch experience” may be what offbeat auteurism looks like in the hyper-technical, Internet-fragmented era of the 21st century. Fans may not have to wait two or three years for the next full-length film with nothing in between. If directors would be working on these little projects in the interim anyway (which seems likely, they’re creative types after all, and no one likes to be contained to one medium), they now have an outlet to release them, glean feedback, and give fans a peek into the creative process. Don’t we know a little more about Lynch the man from these projects (which is kind of like knowing a little less)?
Who knows, tomorrow he could put out a three-hour video of himself playing a harp on top of a trash heap. We don’t know what’s next, and isn’t that wonderful? It certainly enriches his more “official” work, and for now, it doesn’t matter that it’s been five years since his last movie because the day-to-day Lynch, true to the current that runs through all his work, keeps fans and followers (on Twitter and otherwise), entertained. It’s the strangeness of David Lynch, and his creative process, injected into everyday life. What could be more Lynchian?
@DAVID_LYNCH: Dear Twitter Friends, I’m proud to share with you the fact that I finished my lavender shapes over the weekend. How did it go for you all?