Film Reviews

The Short Films of David Lynch David Lynch

Rating - 7/10

Whether you consider David Lynch a genius or a madman or somewhere in between, you can always be certain that when venturing into any of the surreal landscapes he has created on film you are going to see something unlike you've ever seen. In 2002 a collection of his early work was released. If you're anything like me, you are eager to see his new "Inland Empire", but as I looked for it playing here in Seattle, I was surprised to see it experienced a very short life span on the big screen. Even after the great mind behind the classics "Blue Velvet," "Wild at Heart," "Mullholland Drive," "Dune," and of course "Twin Peaks," was kind enough to grace our fair city with his presence upon the film's opening for a Q and A session following the first showing. For shame, Seattle, for shame. Well as I believe it's been said, when you're in the mood for steak you go out and get steak. No? Maybe it wasn't said. Either way, I came across this collection of his early work and had my fill.

The director himself walks us through his early thoughts and motivations for each piece with a commentary before each one of the six.

We start in 1967 when Lynch was a budding artist of 21 at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. He entered Six Men Getting Sick in the annual Experimental Painting and Sculpture Contest. He explains the piece as being an animated project on a sculptured screen. Really it's an art piece more than a movie. One head remains throughout, while others appear then change shape, vomit, before one bleeds from the neck - there's a lot of room for interpretation with it. It cycles through six times with an air raid siren constantly going. It's so strange-looking that you can't stop staring, even though something inside you tells you to look away. Each of the pieces evokes a certain level of that emotion.

The Alphabet is an interpretation of a nightmare featuring a girl in bed appearing to be dead, while chanting of the alphabet is heard over and over and animated letters are incorporated into live scenes as well as fully animated scenes. There's an interesting dichotomy of pleasant, almost happy, kid-like cartoons, followed by a disturbing images like a woman in bed contorting in a possessed fashion followed by blood spill.

Lynch has never really let go of the mind-bending effects employed in his films via the use of animation, and here we see his first (quite successful) attempts at that exercise. We see it again in the beginning of The Grandmother, which is the piece that most closely appears like a classic Lynch film. It's also the longest piece. An animation creates two live adults crawling like dogs, who somehow create a bed-wetting young boy (and not the old-fashioned way). After the boy pulls away from his parents he grows a grandmother in his bed out of dirt and twigs, until one day he's excited to see that a cocoon has developed and sliming out is an elderly woman, who he cherishes. Awww. Nothing says "loving grandmother" like the image of a slimy old woman. Every character's face is powdered for an eerie effect. The father is donning the stereotypical abusive father garb, including the stained white t-shirt, beer belly and long, dirty hair. He and the mother yell "Mot!" at the boy when they're angry with him. This is the only word spoken in the film.

The last three films are shorter. The Amputee is a short about a woman writing a letter to what seems to be a husband or ex-husband. She's writing and smoking as a nurse drains the fluid from one of her stumps, where her legs have been amputated.

The Cowboy and the Frenchman pits stereotypes of cowboys in the western U.S., against those of the French. It's the most polished piece as far as appearance, yet quite juvenile in certain ways. Lynch was asked to contribute to a collection of works showing stereotypes of the French while he was in Paris and this was what he put together. You wouldn't know that he was the director until about halfway through when they decide to have a hoedown, and things get strange.

Finally Lumiere is a 55-second short shot with the original model of camera and the original acetate formula used in Hollywood, resulting in the classic silent film look. Lynch sounds ecstatic to be able to use such a piece of history. It's a very quick piece and a little hard to follow, if at all possible.

Recommended? If you are a big David Lynch fan you'll enjoy it. Especially if you've followed Lynch for years, and are just curious what the early part of the road to who he is today artistically looked like. New comers to Lynch would be better off starting with something like the Twin Peaks series.