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David Lynch’s Inland Empire: a description

Written by: Lance Carmichael, CC2K Staff Writer


Warning: This Is Not a Review (Unfortunately)

ImageThe first descriptions of David Lynch's long-anticipated follow-up to Mulholland Drive are trickling out, and it's sounding more and more like his most challenging, experimental film since his debut, Eraserhead. Rather than post this as a tiny little news item, as your normal, saner movie website might do, we’ve decided to trumpet this with the front-page, lead story-attention that a new film from David Lynch truly deserves.  The New York Times features a two-page story about Lynch and his new movie online. After spending almost the entire first-page in typical “We’re at David Lynch’s house, having coffee with him, getting you up-to-date on who he is if you’ve never heard of him, doling out a few quotes about this artist’s creative method” NY-Times-style writing, they finally get to the good stuff at the bottom of page one.

Excerpts:

"The vertiginous Inland Empire is sure to provoke questions about meaning, literal and metaphoric. Still without a United States distributor, this may be his most avant-garde offering since Eraserhead. In tone and structure the film resembles the cosmic free fall of the mind-warping final act in Mulholland Drive.

Laura Dern, who worked with Mr. Lynch on Blue Velvet and Wild at Heart, plays an actress who lands a coveted role, only to learn that the movie, a remake, may be cursed: the original was aborted when both leads were murdered. Actor becomes character. Fiction infects reality. The various narrative strands — plagued by déjà vu, doppelgängers and the menacing ambient drone of Mr. Lynch’s sound design — start to unravel. Shuttling between California and Poland, the movie folds in a Baltic radio play, a Greek chorus of skimpily dressed young women and a ghostly sitcom featuring a rabbit-headed cast and an arbitrary laugh track.

A nightmare vision of the dream factory, Inland Empire belongs to the lineage of Hollywood: Mulholland Drive. In one scene a character, stabbed in the gut with a screwdriver, runs down Hollywood Boulevard, leaving a gory trail on the Walk of Fame. Like Mulholland Drive, the film is at once a tribute to actors, especially those chewed up and spit out by the industry, and a study of the metaphysics of their craft. Mulholland Drive. In one scene a character, stabbed in the gut with a screwdriver, runs down Hollywood Boulevard, leaving a gory trail on the Walk of Fame. Like Mulholland Drive, the film is at once a tribute to actors, especially those chewed up and spit out by the industry, and a study of the metaphysics of their craft. bloody valentines that runs from Sunset Boulevard to Mulholland Drive. In one scene a character, stabbed in the gut with a screwdriver, runs down Hollywood Boulevard, leaving a gory trail on the Walk of Fame. Like Mulholland Drive, the film is at once a tribute to actors, especially those chewed up and spit out by the industry, and a study of the metaphysics of their craft.

Acting, Mr. Lynch suggests, is a kind of out-of-body experience. Like Naomi Watts in Mulholland, Ms. Dern summons an almost frightening intensity in a performance that requires her to inhabit three (if not more) overlapping parts, lapsing in and out of a Southern drawl."

ImageA lot of the early press concentrates on how Lynch shot this on digital rather than film. Lynch has been quoted as saying he’ll never work with film again, as digital is so much easier and cheaper. What does this mean? Well, my theory is that Lynch has been “holding back” a little bit with the abstract, textural arty darkness, because it’s difficult to get millions of dollars of funding for abstract, textural arty darkness, even when you’re David Lynch. Using digital could potentially shave hundreds of thousands of dollars of Lynch’s budget. Since the man’s a millionaire (he directs commercials and videos when not shooting his own movies–and commercial directors make some serious do-re-mi), he could potentially start shooting movies on his own dime, and then get finishing funds from the French. In fact, this is just what he did on Inland Empire. So it’s very possible that his movies are going to be even darker and make even less sense than before. Whether this will be a good thing or not remains to be seen. Sometimes being forced to work within commercial genres is the greatest gift a filmmaker with talents like Lynch’s can get. It provides an inroad for audiences to get into and identify with what Lynch is doing. Seeing him stretch a genre or a typical Hollywood movie character in unexpected, heretofore unimagined ways is exactly what makes his stuff so compelling. On the other hand, Eraserhead was awesome. So it will at least be interesting.

Another comfirmation that “Inland Empire” will be Lynch’s most “difficult” film since Eraserhead is its reported length: three hours. Lynch’s films can be punishing even to his most sycophantic viewers (like myself). Inland Empire sounds like it’s a film not to be seen without several days' preparation.

Disciplined Lynch observers will take note that he has a habit of following up his relative successes with curveballs, as if he wants to deflect and defy expectations. He followed up the quirky Twin Peaks TV series with the pitch-black, very abstract Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, then followed up the also-pitch-black Lost Highway with the G-rated The Straight Story. Lynch was nominated as best director for Mulholland Drive, so it makes some kind of weird Lynchian sense that he'd follow it up with what sounds like one of his "artiest" efforts ever. From Variety's review:

"Nobody loves a mystery more than David Lynch, but the king of the unexpected is awfully predictable in what he doesn't do: He doesn't give answers, he doesn't solve anything and he doesn't try to make sense. Inland Empire may mesmerize those for whom the helmer can do no wrong, but the unconvinced and the occasional admirer will find it dull as dishwater and equally murky."

It sounds like pretty much another epic David Lynch release, which should give movie-lovers around the world a cause for celebration. Lynch’s best movies can take weeks or even years to digest, and Inland Empire is starting to sound like it falls right into that tradition. Lynch fans can expect to have something to geek out about and debate for years, while more casual fans can expect to leave the film bleeding from their eye-stalks.

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Author: Lance Carmichael, CC2K Staff Writer

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