Parkett No. 28, 1990
(Why) Is David Lynch Important?


A PARKETT INQUIRY

The editors wish to thank Jean-Pierre Bordaz and Miriam Wiesel for their editorial contributions to the inquiry from France and Germany.

JEAN-CHRISTOPHE AMMANN is the director of the Museum of Modern Art in Frankfurt am Main.


The first time I saw Blue Velvet, it threw me off. It fascinated me, but it also seemed contrived. The extreme closeups reminded me of commercials, and the erotically perverted plot was like an educational guide to the perils and aberrations of sex. It took a second viewing, however, to realize that David Lynch had created a masterpiece; there is ample evidence for a metalevel that runs  through the entire film. Lynch has succeeded in presenting this second reality, this meta-level, as reality by transparently superimposing the two levels. His meta-filmic treatment is even more apparent in Wild at Heart.This is a movie about a movie in which all the great themes that once drew the crowds suddenly shift to the level of quotation with extreme finesse and not, as in some of Godard's films, with a wagging finger. The film language in Wild at Heart is self-referential, supple, and so startling that sometimes one's own feelings even come as a surprise.

Blue Velvet consists of many disturbing strands, all on one theme, that run counter to each other: Wild at Heart pursues one single strand with prototypical sequences on many different themes. The film is strangely elusive; the densely interwoven dual code makes it both absent and present at once. I think that the loss of innovative language - one of the great challenges of our times - can be more easily parried in film than in the fine arts. The loss of innovative language goes handin-hand with the fade-out of eroticism. Eroticism appears only on a metalevel, if at all, and of course, no longer as a personally defined emotional experience. Even so, films are more receptive, more accessible, to things that have become virtually impossible in art. Operating from a meta-standpoint entails selection on the one hand, and self-observing, agonizing censorship on the other. The flow has been replaced by what Levi-Strauss calls "bricolage". David Lynch's ability to sustain the flow despite bricolage is a great achievement and underscores the potential of film as film. His discourse about eroticism is itself erotic.

David Lynch is undoubtedly an artist, a great artist. I think his objectives in film are similar to Jeff Koons's strategy in the fine arts. This makes me extremely curious about the film Koons is planning to make, Made in Heaven. The few stills I saw of it were explicitly pornographic - a very interesting point, because Jeff Koons certainly had no intention of making a pornographic film. His objective was to explore the parameters that would allow so-called pornographic (hardcore) elements to appear as delightful and self-evident sequences. If he succeeds, he would indeed be the first film-maker to resolve this paradox. I can imagine that his quasi-naivete is capable of producing a kind of ritualized naivete of hair-raising credibility, in which infinite love not only allows but positively fosters the voyeuristic and pornographic act. The film would function like a fairytale.

The success of Blue Velvet and Wild at Heart indicates that we are dealing with a new generation and a very different approach to images, demonstrated, for instance, by the fact that interest in commercials as such has eclipsed the products they advertise. Go to the movies and listen to the boos and laughter when a commercial tries to take the audience for a ride. David Lynch consistently and systematically exploits a duality of code and still manages to make alluring, thrilling films.


ROBERT ROSENBLUM is an art historian and critic who teaches at New York University.

I was recently reminded that not long ago, and probably still under the spell of Twin Peaks, I commented during a dinner party at Alex Katz's that his NIGHT PAINTINGS looked "very David Lynch." That I, or anybody else, would reach for the name of this unforgettable, eerie movie director in order to describe a painting is a sure sign that David Lynch has mapped out a personal territory cutting so deeply into the public experience that we recognize it as existing far outside the world of his films. It's a tribute that could be paid as well to his great ancestor, Alfred Hitchcock, who once inspired me to compare an odd painting by Gustave Caillebotte - a domestic interior of 1880 that shows a standing woman, back to us, peering out the window to a hotel room across the street while her husband, reading, apparently ignores her - to a still from a Hitchcock thriller, where the pinpointing of the most prosaic moment could suddenly be fraught with a sinister potential. Of course, Hitchcock's unveiling of the dark and scary side of Americana may now seem quaint and archaic, if still indelibly powerful, when compared to Lynch's disclosure of the grotesque underside of grass-roots American surfaces. That may be the one reason why we begin to reach for his name to update our responses to the strange vibrations many recent paintings set into motion. So it is that Katz's NIGHT PAINTINGS may look placid and uneventful on the face of things, but after our exposure to Lynch's films, the record of one lit window in the upper storey of an apartment house stared at in the middle of the night may be enough to set into motion the most stealthy scenario. And couldn't we find Lynch directing a painting by Eric Fischl in which the placid, hygienic faces of American teenagers unexpectedly register subliminal earthquakes of warped sexual appetites? It's clear that apart from his own achievement as a filmmaker, Lynch has become the most useful oi household words to describe, among other things, how creepy a place as American as cherry pie can be.


SHARON WILLIS teaches comparative literature, French, women's studies, and film at the University of Rochester. She is currently working   on Public Fantasies: Sexual and Social Difference in Contemporary Popular Cinema.

If David Lynch is important, it is because his work reads the collective social fantasies of our dominant culture. Its premium on the perverse, coupled with its emphasis on style, helps to disguise social anxieties about race and gender as private fantasies, and therefore as something for which no spectator feels responsible. Why, we might ask, does the recent Wild at Heart open with a white man's extraordinarily brutal murder of a black man? And why was the race of this murdered character consistently overlooked in the enormous critical attention the film received? Wild at Heart is composed of effects - shock effects and "weird" effects - and these are taken as the director's personal signature. In the film's spectacular pyrotechnics, every shock of horrific physical violence is cushioned by the explicit obtrusiveness of "style," and by the irony and slightly "sick" jokes so characteristic of Lynch's work. Irony, on one level, and technology, on another, regulate the affective shocks we undergo. Since most of the shock of these violent images has to do with their verisimilitude, we are lured by a structure of disavowal: "I know this isn't real, but nevertheless..." We are seduced by the manufacture of perfect illusions. But in the verisimilitude of brains spilled on the floor in the opening scene is another disavowal. This sequence reminds us of race, racial conflict, and white people's anxiety and rage, but only to deflect our attention through the lure of technical wizardry. The pleasure of such images, then, has to do with our fascination with "real" effects, and their ability to cancel out any reference to the social world from which they nevertheless borrow their charge of danger and anxiety. Lynch's films seduce us not because they stage fantasies, but because they emphasize the technical staging of fantasy, rather than its content or context.



LAURIE SIMMONS is an artist who lives in New York.

The first five minutes of Blue  Velvet have everything l'm drawn to in David Lynch's work. Take something comforting, familiar, essentially American, and turn up the controls, the visual volume. It's overheated technicolor and every frame would make an exquisite still. Every detail is picture-perfect and it reeks of danger and failure.


JEAN-PIERRE BORDAZ is an art critic and curator at the Musee d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris.


All Lynch's films contain references to cinematic and artistic history, and Wild at Heart is no exception. On each occasion, Lynch adapts his treatment to the type of strangeness or monstrosity he is portraying.Thus Eraserhead recreates the disturbing atmosphere of a Murnau film while some of the scenes evoke the compositions of Mayakovsky or the tragic undertones of the shadow world in which Boltanski encloses his little figures. Lynch's images have become increasingly frightening and interiorized, but they never conform to the generic codes of horror or fantasy. They are never formalized, fixed within a set style. At the beginning of Wild at Hcart the protagonists are seen in a hyper- realistic small southern town. We become voyeurs. Lynch has voided the film of narrative, or rather the story he tells is minimal, almost without a beginning or an end. Its expressive force derives solely from a prior existence which manifests itself through dreams and recurring images. Its free aesthetic only comes into its own when shaped by the meanderings of thought and the limits of figuration. There is always an element of distance in Lynch's dealings with art, and it is no doubt in his images of violence and monstrosity that he comes closest to other powerful works of American cinema and art.

In each scene of Wild at Heart, Lynch reintroduces the elements of the American landscape - the sad grand plains of the mid-West, the minimalist geometry of endless roads, frontiers and signs, the sordid motels - in their original, unadulterated form. In the act of love bodies bend and merge with a gymnastic suppleness recalling Bellmer's doll. Daily life, with all its violence and brutality (Genet), is what bonds these marginals. It is as if present-day America, a land both strong and ailing, had found in Lynch its exorcist, an exorcist and romantic.

DANIELA SALVIONI is the director of Stein Gladstone, New York.


After a steady diet of "arty" European films (all of Godard, Tavernier, Fassbinder), David Lynch's Eraserhead (1977) seemed to come out of left field. More than any other movie it signalled that there was something worthwhile beyond high modern film, which at that same time did not devolve into John Water's campiness. If its plot is not uncommon to science fiction movies - odd-looking beings having surprisingly normal problems - Lynch's dark undertones made it resonate downtown as punk with a human face. Blue Velvet (1986) is much its inverse; here, ordinary characters are set in extreme albeit not entirely inconceivable, situations. Wild at Heart (1990) falls somewhere in between with exaggerated, highly stylized characters acting out a banal plot. In each case, however Lynch displays a clear affinity with Fellini in underscoring the strangeness of life, though his is a far more Gothic surrealism - but, then, he is an American.



ROBERT FISCHER is a cultural critic who lives and works in Zurich.


Lynch's films interest me because they present a very precise documentation of what is happening to the moving image under the influence of new visual communication technologies and in a transfigured social and urban context. To begin with, the inhabitants of postindustrial society live in a global suburb that no longer has any real social, economic, or cultic centers; television is the unifying element. Since their rise in the United States 35 years ago (in Europe they date from the '60s), the suburbs have developed a culture of their own based on shopping malls and television, which have generated the motifs that characterize global suburbia's music (heavy metal), literature (Stephen King or Heroic Comics), and films (horror, blood, and gore). Young people born and raised in anonymous bedroom suburbs have reverted to regressive cultural models: figures from a fictional pre- history (Conan), a parallel history (The ExorcistJ or a posthistory (Star Wars). The collective subconscious in the global suburb has already produced mythological neocreations (Freddy Kruger, Leatherface, and inchoate figures that have of course to be exorcised). In this lawless violent - quite literally psychotic - world, only the fittest (Schwarzenegger, Stallone) or possibly the cleverest (Clint Eastwood or Harrison Ford as IndianaJones) survive. This brief survey of culture in the global suburb suffices to bring out the motifs upon which Lynch bases his fictions. Formally, he also exploits all the sloganizing, gimmicky, effective, distorted, overstated and brutal visual signals that typify television, comics, rock stars, showbiz, commercials, soaps, sit-coms, and game shows. His work is not couched in the visual vocabulary of traditional film philology but rather in clip-aesthetics, which, I think, constitutes the real revolution of the '80s in visual communication: MTV started broadcasting on August l, 1980. To me, Wild at Heart, Blue Velvet, or Eraserheda  are feature- length clip films of the global suburb. Subject matter, narrative structure, and formal design express cultural values that are no longer subject to the laws of high culture as defined by bourgeois, postindustrial urban society. If the intellectual and the cultural flaneurs in historical centers approach Lynch's films with mixed feelings, it may well be because they are simply ignorant of the global suburb and its culture, or, indeed, actively ignore it.



BEAT  STREULI is a Düsseldorf-based artist who presently lives in New York.


Apart from Lynch's complex bag of tricks for movie buffs, Wild at Heart is simply a film of shimmering beauty; an ode to love and sex, and - with a certain remove - to the sybaritic pleasures of smoking which have finally come into their own again. Now love and cigarettes both qualify as things in life for which you will sometimes go to extraordinary lengths to get if you don't have them. But once you have them, they rarely live up to expectations - in fact, they are primary causes of suffering, heartburn, and even death. This is exactly what Lynch demonstrates in cinemascopic breadth, at the same time creating one of the most compelling contemporary hymns to the power of love (and the joy of smoking...) Opposites - love and death, wishful thinking and reality - attract and define each other to the point of implosion. The endlessly flaunted ideals of happiness, beauty, and success are nothing but unobtainable cliches; Wild at Heart is pure cliche, a fairytale like Dick Tracy, but without the detachment of caricature. Unable to remain aloof, we are forced to make a sudden paradoxical leap into a realm where true feelings seem possible and essential. Burning desire, longing for longing as painfully real sensations in an anesthetized world, faith in the power of wishes even in the face of opposing fact: the (not exclusively) American dream, in which, amazingly enough, wishing sometimes still works, is just another cliche but at the same time its light casts a strange glimmer over the whole disaster in such a way that not everything seems lost anymore.



LYNNE COOKE is a writer and curator currently working on the forthcoming Carnegie International to be held in Pittsburgh in the fall of l991.


As legendary and historical settings are replaced with regional environs, David Lynch seems to have found his paradigmatic site. Smothered by the gargantuan scope of the subject in Dune and, conversely, almost hemmed in by the niceties of Victorian tableaux drama in The Elephant Man, Lynch's vision expands assuredly when it turns to small-town America. Wild at Heart, Twin Peak, Blue Velvet: in eachcase a classic genre provides the vehicle for an unexpectedly rich and haunting reconstruction via a fascinated savouring of the intimate details and peculiarities of homespun America. Far more than simply revelling in the craziness, perversion and disturbance below its conventional surfaces, Lynch examines it by way of a fresher metaphor. In his world, nature provides no point or restitution, release, or resurrection. Nor is it accorded the equally familiar role of hostile wilderness. Human incursions into the landscape result in a symbiotic relationship, an interdependence in which each feeds off the other to their mutual disadvantage as much as to their advantage. Thus it is literally on the fringes - at the mill which is the site of carnage rather than of productive work, on the river bank where Laura's body is washed up, in an abandoned field where the severed ear is espied, on the edges of the desert where the highway disgorges its unwanted transients - that the abcess or carbuncle is typically located. This crossover area between the outposts of human habitation and the vestigial remnants of nature is always fraught, and generally a scene of destruction. By focussing on the hinterland over the metropolis or the remote wilderness, Lynch is able to pose the problems in terms of an ecology, an ecology that has as much to do with the health of the mind as with that of the planet. And, since in any viable ecosystem predators and parasites have their necessary place, anyone who seeks to understand its workings must explore these dependencies and interrelationships dispassionately. If ethical judgments have no function here, how is the place where a pathology manifests itself determined? And what are the most appropriate terms to use in accounting for it?


JEFF   KOONS is an artist and lives in New York.


I respect David Lynch very much because he knows how to wear rose colored glasses well. But your question: "Why is David Lynch Important?" brings to mind one of my own personal philosophies, that is "Jeff Koons doesn't believe in sophisticated or important people."


RENLUM is an artist and lives in Vancouver.

Respecting children is important. Violence in America is important. AIDS is important. Walking on the moon is important. The Amazon rainforest is important Japan is important. Civil unrest in the Soviet Union is important. Shelter is important. The Holocaust is important. George Bush is important. The difference between rich and poor nations is important. The atomic bomb is important. Electricity is important. Culture is important. Finding a penny is unimportant. The National Hockey League Quarterfinals is unimportant. The Mensa Society is unimportant. Male baldness is unimportant. A fish-knife is unimportant. Artificial turf is unimportant. The American videocassette recorder industry is unimportant. Anastasia Chaikovsky is unimportant The abdication of King Edward VIII is unimportant. Food coloring is unimportant. Worrying for the sake of worrying is unimportant. Breakfast in bed is unimportant. Canada is important and unimportant. The World Cup of Soccer is important and unimportant. A white lie is important and unimportant. The Group of Seven economic summit is important and unimportant. The Vice-Presidency of the United States is important and unimportant. The deposition of Zhao Ziyang is important and unimportant. Talk radio is important anunimportant. Skipping lunch is important and unimportant. The common cold is important and unimportant. Proper dinner etiquette is important and unimportant. The military coup in Fiji is important and unimportant. The price of coffee is important and unimportant. David Lynch is important and unimportant.



 

PETER EISENMAN was dubbed "The David Lynch of Architecture" last year in Vanity  Fair.

I often hear people say about David Lynch, "I don't get it!"-that is precisely the point. Lynch disturbs the conventional expectations between form and narrative. He blurs time, space, color and sequence so that we can no longer see and hear in the same way. But what is the most disturbing of all, he does this within traditional genres and forms; the soap opera, the road movie, and so on. All our lives are spent learning how to get it: Lynch un-learns us.


CARLO McCORMICK lives and writes in New York City. He is Associate Editor of Paper Magazine.

As one who actually tries to have no taste, or what many might call acutely bad taste, it's always surprising when I happen to find something that truly offends me enough to hate it. There are so many bad films that I adore, and so much mediocre art that I find interesting, so why is it then that I cannot stand Lynch? It's not because his films are bad, but rather because they are bad art. Lynch's failures, either as a director of bad movies - "bad" here connoting not my opinion but his own adoption of cinematic devices and attitudes historically relegated to low-budget, lowbrow, or hierarchically B-grade film genres such as horror, melodrama, exploitation, fantasy, monster, sci-fi, crime, noir and mondo - or as an artist, are not the issue; howeverhis failure as a bad artist is. In this way Lynch represents a monumental affront, as well as a serious threat, to my faith in our own continued ability and capacity to be socially subversive. My problem with Lynch is not his mediocrity, which is forgivable, nor his commercialism and mainstream superficiality, which is acceptable and even to be expected in most Hollywood corporate employees such as he; it is his co-opting, capitalizing and colligating of the counter-cultural into his own campy, counterfeit, cannibalistic confiture. Within his decadent hypermannerism, horror no longer lurks in the phobic darkness of unknown terror, but parades vulgarly before us as a self-parody under the over-exposing lights of media pastiche and soulless spectacle. Lynch perpetrates the worst, most dangerous kind of fabrication, impersonating neither reality nor fiction but something far more precious and rare: the subjective visionary, idiosyncratic and anarchic outsider's fantasies of socially sanctioned fictional realities. In his fauxpersonal filmmaking, weirdness is strictly token, while brutality and hysteria are systematically sapped of their raw power by artsy stylization and kitsch irony. The intensity and expressiveness of exaggeration, excess and technical incompetence so brilliantly evident in the best underground and no-budget masters - such as H. G. Lewis, Coreman and Woods - is entirely lost on Lynch and his audience. It is a shame that these extremes have now merely become Lynch's own brand of cheesy, senseless ultra-violence, where they seem far more indicative of what is shallow, gratuitous and inane than of what can be scary, grotesque and insane about this world we live in. Beyond this lamentable fact, however, is the much more worrisome possibility that Lynch's impact will irrevocably pervert and tame that once pure and savage realm of cinema.



KATHY ACKER's most recent novel, In Memoriem to Identity, was published last year by Grove Press.


I presume that I am being asked whether Lynch's oeuvre is important to or in our American culture. At this moment, American culture, if there is such a single community, is defined by Hollywood, McDonald's, and the other appearances of the multi- nationals. If culture is that discourse, that community discourse, which attempts to construct actuality through possibility those possibilities announced in dreams, sexual longings, desire, fantasies, all the revelations of ecstasy - if culture is this, there is possibly no more single American culture.That is not to say that there is no such thing as art and culture in the United States. Even if our landscape at this moment seems to resemble that of the Dark Ages, there are, as in the medieval Dark Ages, tribes and communities that each possess their own language and culture. Bikers, S/M lesbians, Chicano, rap poets, the New York art world (quite white)... the tribes are many. The languages of these tribes often do not overlap; for example the liberal left in New York City cannot communicate to the homeless whom they may or may not want to help.


Concerning David Lynch's work: It is undeniable that in TV and in film Lynch has made an impact on media-Hollywood culture; that he has been allowed to make such an impact is also a sign that his work, at least his zeitgeist, fits in with the demands of the reigning powers. But whether Lynch's oeuvre has affected the arts and cultures of the various communities and tribes is the only interesting question. Because, for me, the MacDonald's culture of the United States can go to hell.

Eraserhead, Lynch's first film, had a strong cult following; Blue Velvet, a later film, a larger but a weaker one. Given the United States' government's turn toward totalitarianism, the only art that now matters is that which has a cult following and the only culture, that which is provincial.

EANNE SILVERTHORNE is an artist and writer who lives in New York.


Twin Peaks brought morality back to American TV. An eccentric centrist effeminately macho FBI agent Cooper attempted to heal the deep schism in the American psyche, between spirituality and matter, mind and body, mercy and justice, sugar doughnuts and the great outdoors. Shoving sclerotic apple pie past a stiff upper lip, he contemplated holistic solutions to a noir mess. He was mythical: though protecting the vulnerable he identified with the transgressor; he refused to abandon an ethic clearly inadequate in the face of evil. And he recognized a greater good than morality. He was also sociological; "decent" WASP America goodnaturedly trying to acknowledge even enlist, the modern forces of race gender, class in his pursuit of a dark primeval hallucination. He was Ahab after Dobie Gillis.



 

 

 

ANDREW ROSS teaches English at Princeton University and is the author of the forthcoming Strange Weather: Culturc, Science and Technology.


THE OWLS ARE NOT WHAT THEY SEEM


Almost from the first time I saw the opening credits of Twin Peaks, I have been inclined to watch this show about a Northwestern logging town as a commentary about environmental and ecological questions. If Twin Peaks is one of our first examples of ecological camp, as I think it is, then it surely will not be the last. One of the enduring effects of Twin Peaks is surely its influential reshaping and reimagining of the Pacific Northwest at a time when urgent ecological questions are being asked about the timber economy of that region. Recent political debate about these issues has centered on the protection of the northern spotted owl (although it is only one of the many animal and fish species threatened by the clearcutting of old- growth forests). It is this owl which increasingly got a bad press in Twin Peaks since Bob, the mystery killer entity, seems to be associated with the owls in some way, and since, according to Laura Palmer'sDiary (the commercial version), Laura's own psycho-sexual history was haunted by attacks by owls, imaginary or otherwise. In the light of the current ecological challenge to the timber industry, it is hardly surprising that TwinPeaks takes place in a lumber town where the surrounding environment is depicted as harboring threatening, evil forces, likely aliens, for whom owls (and perhaps even the Log Lady's log) may indeed be serving as telepathic communicants. The owls, we are repeatedly told, "are not what they seem," and may on the other hand turn out to be benign agents in the narrative. Nonetheless, the environment is one in which Nature, in Lynch's work generally, is seen as Darwinian, hostile, and complicit with the threat to human life in a small town. This is evocatively suggested by the opening credit sequence - the metonymic links there are between the birds, the brute facticity of industry and its pollution, the inexorable sharpening of the teeth in the sawmill, the shot of a small town beseiged by the shrouded, secretive environment, the sublime violence of the waterfall and the ominous undertows concealed in the eddies, all reinforced by Badalamenti's theme music, where the strings on top are a familiar referent from film melodrama, and the bass melody below is a sinister undertone. In the light of the ecology movement's "threat" to the male workforce of the Northwestern logging industry, it is perhaps no surprise to come across this story about a small town whose lumber economy is thrown into crisis by actions involving women, both alive and dead, and by mysterious environmental forces that involve owls and aliens. Perhaps it is also fitting that it is Josie, an Asian woman, who has power over the economy, and who halts the mill, since the Northwestern timber industry has been dependent on the Asian market for its highly profitable export business over the last decade. It isJosie's face, staring into a mirror as she applies her lipstick, that composes the very first shot in the pilot - a completely gratuitous shot, but one which suggests an origin for many of the resulting crises in the show: femininity, foreign-ness, and dreamy narcissism (dreamy narcissism being the mold for many of the other female characters in the show, especially Donna, the willful romantic, and Audrey, the village vixen). With a figure like Josie in charge of so many determinants of the show, it is no wonder that the masculine revenge of the show will be slow but sure, and perhaps only fully apparent after the fact, rather like Hegel's Owl of Minerva which only spreads its wings at dusk.



MANFRED STUMPF is an artist who lives in Frankfurt am Main.

Eraserhead was something of a cult film, at least for the NewWave generation. It was one of the first films to revert to black-and-white cinema and to simulate the aesthetics of the '20s or the '50s. Wild at Heart basically appeals to the same audience: now an older New Wave generation. It treats of personal myths, of the cultural figures we remember from our own childhood or from our parents'past, like Elvis, rock 'n'roll... Lynch presents us with the accumulated tragedy of love in an American world through the filter of the classical rock'n'roll era, which is, in a sense, the climax of American civilization. But it is the mask that attracts him, the "illusion of reality" - a formal, aesthetic means of speaking about reality, which he uses with unadulterated mastery.

Lynch accedes to myth, thereby formulating and, at the same time, finalizing history. In our age, it is not a matter of reformulating, but of processing the trends of the 20th century, including today's highly impulsive ones. Lynch engages in a kind of cultural disposal and reprocessing; in this sense he is an effective purification plant, rather than an innovator.



 

BRUCE JENKINS is the film and video curator at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis and a lecturer in art history at the University of Minnesota. His writings on film have appeared in Octoberand Millenium Film Journal.


A VIEW FROM THE HEARTLAND


Since his emergence nearly a decade and a half ago with the success of the midnight movie Eraserhead, David Lynch has represented for American film critics and filmgoers alike the limits of visual expressiveness, of a singular sensibility enacting its will within a mainstream movie. His films are, after all, creepy and intense experiences filled with imagery (and sounds) that threaten at any moment to pierce the screen and physically assault us in our seats. As Kenneth Anger had discovered in his epochal Scorpio Rising, the film medium not only possesses innate incantory powers, but its status as popular culture allows it to speak directly to the baser (and darker) side of the human psyche.


Twin Peaks, Lynch's detour into episodic television, has extended this transgressive (but entertaining) enterprise into living rooms across the country. Untamed by television, Lynch and collaborator Mark Frost unleashed upon a normal coffee- drinking, piechomping community the array of wildmen who had peopled his films. And in the process they advanced the look of primetime programming by at least two decades from an essentially 1950's notion of spectacle - their predecessors Dallas and Dynasty mired in a mise-en-scene unworthy of Vincent Minnelli on an off day - to a style more consonant with an era of reflection. Twin Cities, April 1991


VITO ACCONCI is an artist who lives in New York.

I think of David Lynch's movies as occasions for the homeless body, the wandering body, the body-on- horseback in the American United States Western. Certain scenes - in Blue Velvet, Dean Stockwell lip- synching Roy Orbison's In Dreams using a light-fixture as a microphone; Isabella Rossellini naked outside the house, everyone else clothed; the Twin Peaks dwarf leaving his chair to dance over the checkerboard floor - are stopping places on a journey. The stops are performances, enacted by some people in the movie in front of other people in the movie, and then in turn for us - the movie-goers - as if we're watching over those other people's shoulders. The American United States Western is combined with the American United States highschool play; the American United States Western is domesticated into the American United States suburb. The performers live up to the rules of performance, whether these are determined by himself/herself (the performer is a torturer) or by others (the performer is a victim); the performers play out the rules to 4the end of the line,_ as Barbara Stanwyck says in Double Indemnity. The Westerner too conscious of himself/herself (the Westerner transformed into the film noir detective), the Westerner aware of himself/herself as a Hollywood version of a Westerner: the juncture of The Searches with Sunset Boulevard.


Sometimes, during a David Lynch movie, I say "Oh come on;"it's when he (or someone in the movie) is saying "Oh wow" - the commentary that snickers with the audience and says "Oh gosh, isn't life weird." But sometimes, other times, as in those scenes mentioned above, the commentator misses something, and the weirdness comes on unannounced, and then it's really weird, because it has no name.

And then there's the scene - too short to be a scene, really, it's only an "instant" - that I can't get out of my head (more precisely, out of my body): We're back in Blue Velvet , Dennis Hopper's face turns, swings, moves into camera view; his face is close, his voice is close, but this is a bulletin, not an intimation: "I'll fuck anything that moves" - there's a cut, the scene changes, someone's moving, and so are we, and we might be scared, and we might be scary, too.



STEPHEN SARTARELLI is the co-editor of Aka, a journal of contemporary poetry and writing.


ROTTEN TO THE CORE

Taking in hand a handsome red pear the other day, and slicing it down the middle in order to share it with my wife, I found, to my great surprise, that at the core, around the seeds, the fruit had formed a near perfect sphere enveloped in a viscous gel and cleanly separate from the otherwise healthy pulp. In fact that gooey ball had somehow escaped my knife, so that when I parted the two halves of the pear, there it was, sticking out of one half, discrete in its separate reality, like an avocado pit. An odd sight, not only because on the outside the pear was immaculate and quite appetizing, but because usually the core of a ripe pear, unlike that of an apple, is of more or less the same substance and consistency as the pulp, except for those last few fibers and seed casings at the very center.

"Now isn't that the strangest thing you've ever seen?" I said to my wife. "Take it away," she said. "It looks like... David Lynch!"

A comment even more apt and penetrating than may at first appear: for in addition to the strangeness of the mutation itself, the fact that it had occurred beneath a surface so innocuous in appearance (like the "little chicken" in Eraserhead), or even downright beautiful (like Small Town America in Blue Velvet or Twin Peaks), seemed like pure Lynch. A bright cerise-red skin with Qne yellow shades encasing a luxuriant pulp: what better vessel for the perversion lurking within? Might it not be Isabella herself? Or Laura Dern? Or even Kyle McLaughlin? We did end up eating the pear. And it was, of course, delicious.


JOHN MILLER is an artist and writer who lives in New York.


Blue velvet  captivated me by offering an almost perfect synopsis of its times; with its hothouse eroticism, the charge that it exploited women seemed preposterous. Wild at Heart was entirely different. From the very outset it struck me as an undertaking which was both racist and sexist; Lynch came to appear less a radical stylist than an unwitting paragon of the Reagan/Bush era. Nonetheless, the utter negativity of Lynch's deadpan comic strip "The Angriest Dog in the World" still holds up. It features a certain animal-as-extremist: a dog so angry it can't even move, a dog straining on its leash so hard that it's completely taut. If minor events occur on the cartoon's periphery, this dog remains its immobile center. In Pop terms, the premise of a static comic strip approximates the reductivism of Andy Warhol's film Empire. Obviously, Lynch's dog is meant to parody the selfdestructiveness of unexpressed rage. But it also suggests a kind of morbid self-portrait. Pulling to the end of its tether, it refuses to budge. Having "lynched" itself, the dog might just as well be dead.



CARL STIGLIANO is awriter who lives in New York.


What adjectival efforts were required to characterize a situation before we were able to say for example, "It got very David Lynch on the 'F'train this morning."



THIERRY GRILLET, a former student of the Ecole Normale Superieur, is a producer at France Culture.

Violence - sadism, masochism, victims - is a staple theme of American cinema, particularly in the '70s. Sam Peckinpah's Straw Dogs and the films Scorsese made with de Niro (Mean Streets) are notable examples. These films reflect the urban, social violence resulting from the historic crisis that ensued when Vietnam made the air-conditioned dream a nightmare with its terrible vision of absolute violence: revelations of the carpet bombing of 1968 and the My Lai massacres of 1969 had America in a state of shock. The trauma felt by this Puritan nation when it saw itself in the role of murderer was symbolically transposed into scenes of social violence: the "Messianic" violence of Taxi Driver, whose hero wages his own private war in the urban jungle, and the symbolic violence manifest in Apocalypse Now, in which an attempt is made to redeem warlike violence as tribal or "cathartic" violence. In Lynch's films, however, violence is internalized, its source has been lost. The nightmarish violence of Eraserhead is inspired by a "disturbing strangeness" the baby born to the couple embodies the husband's nightmare. It is he who masochistically experiences the violence of this monstrous nursling. In Elephant Man, social violence is elevated to the level of abnormality, monstrosity. In Blue Velvet, the violence is again interiorized, since the sadistic interplay between Dennis Hopper and Isabella Rossellini is for the latter a source of ambiguous pleasure. This taboo pleasure in violence apparent in Lynch's films reflects the dual nature of the American nation which regularly represents itself in terms of good and evil.


JEREMY GILBERT-ROLFE is an artist and writer who lives in Los Angeles.


I don't really know David Lynch's work very well but as far as I can see he is a person who works with the poetics of suburban sleaze, sort of a Galsworthy of the lumpenbourgeoisie. As the director of Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks he should of course be the obvious choice to direct the I-hope-soon-to-be forthcoming Nancy and Ronnie and Frank Story. ButI don't think that in the end the work does much more than tell Americans what they already want to hear, namely that the underside of the American psyche and of American society is a world which revolves around sex and ambition of a deformed sort. In actuality, however, it revolves around greed and the deformations of racism - neither of which really appear in Lynch's works, which cleave to the traditional, and surely very revealing, Hollywood device (or dream) of a world which, though flawed, is a place where everyone always seems to have all that they 'need,'and where the notion of race is absent or blurred. In the'alien'character in Twin Peaks, the notion of the foreign is psychologized rather than politicized as it most certainly is n o t in the domestic politics or foreign policy of the United States. Like Warhol and Galsworthy, Lynch is an artist of the Establishment, who helps the banal to feel superior to a banality which is in fact a mirror image of themselves, and does so by telling them that their world is naughty in the way they want it to be naughty rather than evil in a way that they are quite unwilling to confront.


P E T E R  N A G Y is an artist who lives in New York.

For myself, David Lynch's films are important because they illustrate how aspects of surrealism have infiltrated the daily lives of Americans. Just as Fellini pictured a contemporary Italian realism withJuliet of the Spirits and La Dolce Vita, Lynch's strength is in the fact that much of the weirdness in Wild at Heart is taken from our everyday lives.



 CHRISTIAN BOLTANSKI is an artist and lives in Paris.

What we see in a film is what we need to see. The truth is the truth we saw. What interested me in David Lynch's films, and particularly in Wild at Heart, is the absence of God. Someone mentioned this to Lynch. They said "So, your film has neither a beginning nor an end?" He replied that his film has more of a beginning and an end than life does. It's true that Lynch sees life as a random set of events: take that out-of-theblue car crash scene, with all those tragic events in the middle. And the world always seems to be without order, without either good or evil and, above all, contrary to the believer's view, without God. Wild at Heart articulates a crucial modern problem: the absence of God, and by "God" I mean some supreme belief. This absence is what is responsible for the chaos shown in the film. I loved Blue Velvet because in that film - and this is much the same thing - there isn't really any good or evil. The ending is remarkable, with the young man surrounded by his family, his grandmother and his mother-in-law, and that little bird we see eating some repulsive worm. This little bird, which is quite marvellous, is at the same time a criminal. As for youngJeffrey all he can think of is beating wretched Dorothy. The whole film seems to be summed up in this young man who discovers the darkness inside himself, like a town where nothing happens, that dark place we all have within us. That is the beauty of David Lynch's films, and what makes them so different from other American films where the good guys always overcome the bad and life always prevails. Each character has blackness within. In Blue Velvet, Dorothy is tortured, but she is happy to be, and Lynch himself is involved as a kind of voyeur. He is active there, too. The film does not frighten, it disgusts, because it shows us our own dark side. What makes Pasolini's Sald beautiful is its ending. We see people being tortured and at the same time other people watching through binoculars - voyeurs, just like ourselves, like the voyeurs we become in a film by David Lynch.


S T E P H E N  C O X is a sculptor who lives in London.

I crossed continents to watch Twin Peaks.



 

RALF-RAINER RYGULLA, former editor, anthologist, disc jockey, and copywriter, is currently the manager of a disco in Frankfurt. His publications include Fuck You, Underground Poemsand Acid, NeueAmerikanische Szene (with R. D. Brinkmann).

The images in Blue Velvet and Wild at Heart remind me more of Russ Mayer than, for instance, of Ridley Scott. The Grade-B-movie ambience seems harmless enough, the surface has the usual consumer-friendly gloss, and the weather is good as in the hundreds of cheapies that come off production lines in the dustyvalleys around Hollywood. But the supercilious sneer of the knowit-all insider soon cracks the veneer. The moralist righteously grabs the first stone and the wood lice and worms underneath squirm, excreting slime in an agony of fear. This is a point of departure for a good film, and both films are good in a way that meets the expectations of a cosmopolitan audience; high-class shock, so high class, in fact, that it's just good enough for the feuilletonist treatment of commerce in human horror.


DAVID LEVI STRAUSS is a writer and critic who lives in San Francisco.

David Lynch is an important mainstream director (after only four movies and a TV series), but not a radical one, by any means. He only bends and tweaks conventions, careful never to disturb their roots. The most compelling Lynch spectacle is the dance between irony and camp, cowardice and oblivion. At his best (Blue VelvetJ, Lynch reminds me of Michael Powell in 1960 but the best of Blue velvet was an accident. Hopper and Lynch were two worlds colliding, and Hopper (with Dean Stockwell) took over the movie. At his worst, Lynch represents a kind of Young Republican postmodernism, perfectly in sync with the Reagan/Bush pejorocracy and the expanding U.S. military/security state. If war is the health of the state, is violence against women the health of the market? The Angriest Dog in the World strains impotently against his leash, and pisses all over himself.

ROB PRUITT and JACK EARLY are artists who live in New York.

David Lynch is important because he sees things very closely like a house fly and hears things only "Chicken," our chihuahua with big pointy ears, could hear.

PHILIP BROPHY is a filmmaker and writer who lives in Melbourne.


DAVID AND TIM

Two kids in school, sitting next to each other. One kid is flicking through a Marshall Cavendish Pictorial History of Art. His name is David Lynch. The kid next to him is defacing the Reader 's Digest Book of Great Peopk. His name is Tim Burton. David leaves school and gets money from the American Film Institute to make a movie about a guy who combs his hair like David Thomas and who would faint at the sight of his own sperm, Eraserhead. Tim goes on to try his hand doing animation over at the Disney studio. David leaves Cocteau alone for a moment and catches a few Jacques Tourneur flicks. Even happens across some Hammer & AIP Poe movies. Mixes them up for Elephant Man. Tim's dues at Disney are finally paid off. They let him make Frankenweenie- a short about a kid who revives his dead bull terrier for a science project. David gets back to the high brow and drops the horror of Gothic England for the wonder of serious sci- fi. He also learns about shooting big bucks in the studio crap game. Frank Herbert, H. R. Giger. . . and Sting? They call it Dune. Tim sticks to a low budget and makes a humble pomo masterpiece with the help of a very popular Saturday morning kid's show host - Pee Wee Herman. Jeff Koons sees Pee Wee's front garden and calls it art. Meanwhile, David discovers that the sand worms he spent millions on for Dune were subconscious symbols of the Hollywood movie system. He decides to play from the inside. Comes up with no-can-fail formula of mixing sleazy pulp with neo-surrealist alienation. Blue Velvet is lauded and generally misconceived as postmodern camp, but what the heck. Tim couldn't give two bits for David's arthouse slumming and scoops up huge dollops of David's surrealism, mixes it up with Ed Roth and Mad magazine and splashes Beetlejuice across cinemas. On a roll, David plays it safe by playing at playing David and throws up Wild At Heart. Phantom credits to George Stevens's Niagara, Sidney Lumet's The Fugitive Kind and Douglas Sirk's Written On the Wind. On a roll, Tim goes mega-corporate, gets Jack Nicholson to play Jack playing Jack badly and throws up Batman. Phantom credits to Stan Lee's Iron Man and Frank Miller's Dark Night.

Flying high, David hits TV and performs magic by getting people who never watch TV to watch it - and believe that David invented the medium with Twin Peaks. Flying low, Tim goes back to Pee Wee's front garden and gets Johnny Depp to trim the hedges for Edward Scissorhands. Back in his stately manor, David relaxes by listening to the Cocteau Twins on CD. A Robert Wilson sketch adorns the small wall. Back in his stately manor, Tim relaxes by reading his boxed set of EC reprints. A defaced TV Guide lies crumpled on the sofa.



BARBARA BLOOM isanartist who lives in New York and Berlin.

THE BANALITY OF EVIL

It will perhaps suggest the mood of those years if I tell you that during them I could not visit my mother-in- law without averting my eyes from a framed verse, a "house blessing," which hung in a hallway of her house in West Hartford, Connecticut.

God bless the corners of this house, And be the lintel blestAnd bless the hearth and bless the board

And bless each place of rest -
And bless the crystal windowpane that lets the starlight in

And bless each door that opens wide, to stranger as to kin.

This verse had on me the effect of a physical chill, so insistently did it seem the kind of "ironic" detail the reporters would seize upon, the morning the bodies were found. In my neighborhood in California we did not bless the door that opened wide to stranger as to kin. Paul and Thommy Scott Ferguson were the strangers at Ramon Novarro's door, up on Laurel Canyon. Charles Mason was the stranger at Rosemary


"I had a dream. In fact it was the night I There is nothing good or bad, met you. In the dream, there was our world, And the world was dark because there weren't any robins. And the robins represented love.162/4 "The ozon layer's burning up. And for the longest time there was just this darkness.

And all of a sudden, thousands of robins were set free And they flew down and brought this blinding light of love.

And it seemed like that love,

Would be the only thing that would make any difference.

And it did. So I guess it means,

There is trouble til the robins come."


- Sandy Williams, Blue Velvet

But thinking makes it so.



"It is a strange world." "Isn't it?"

- Sandy and Jeffrey, Blue Velvet


and Leno LaBianca's door, over in Los Feliz. Some strangers at the door knocked, and invented a reason to come inside: a call, say, to the Triple A, about a car not in evidence. Others just opened the door and walked in, and I would come across them in the entrance hall. I recall asking one such stranger what he wanted. We looked at each other for what seemed a long time, and then he saw my husband on the stair landing. "Chicken Delight," he said finally, but we had ordered no Chicken Delight, nor was he carrying any.


From The White Album by Joan Didion.


How far that little candle throws his beams!


William Shakespeare, Hamlet So shines a good deed in a naughty world.


One of these mornings, The sun is gonna come up And burn a hole clear through the planet Like an electrical X-ray."


- Lula, Wild at Heart

He did not see any reason why the devil should have all the good tunes.


- Reverend Rowland Hill

"This whole world's wild at heart and weird on top."


The Merchant of Venice

- William Shakespeare,



 That's all we may expect of man, this side the Grave:



 His good is - knowing he is bad.


The Ring and the Book
- Robert Browning,


"I have done that" Says my memory. "I cannot have done that" Says my pride, and remains adamant. At last - memory yields.

- Friedrich Nietzsche,

- Lula and Sailor, Wild at Heart

Beyond Good and Evil

Translation from the German: Catherine Schelbert

Translation from the French: Charles Penwarden.