Tuesday, June 4, 2013

David Lynch and Surrealism

A big special thanks to Pop Trash Beauty for tweeting this article by Smith.

I am a big fan of David Lynch.

I'm certain that comes as no surprise to most of you.  Twin Peaks was a pivotal point in my college experience.  The cloudy and somber mood of the Pacific Northwest, all of those trees ("What do you call these trees?"), the mystery over Laura Palmer's death, and the just plain wacky disjointedness, it all added up to a unique work of art.  This is to say nothing of Lost Highway, The Straight Story, Blue Velvet or even Wild At Heart, even though that latter film does not hold up so well in my opinion.

I also like academic interpretation and geekery. Now, a second year film student named Justine Smith has written a strong paper that draws the parallels between Lynch's films and surrealist art.  First, like all good scholarly types do, she defines her terms.  Exactly what do we mean by "surrealism?"  Smith says:

"Borne out of a legacy of fantasy art, Freudian psychology and Dada, an anti-art movement, Surrealism has no consistent style. It is often described as artwork produced by drawing on the subconscious. However, it is different from art that is merely fantastic as surrealists made a sincere attempt to create a new mythology while stressing the inner-compulsion to release their subconscious fears and desires (Hughes 212). Political and revolutionary, many surrealists purposefully tackle taboo ideas and institutions in their work, like sex, war and religion, believing that the mind cannot be free if certain topics are off limits. It is a movement that is often seen as rebellious and playful. They are often purposeful contradictory and purposefully upset the status quo through a variety of stylistic techniques."

As an example, Smith cites the above painting "Two Young Children are Menaced by a Nightingale" by Max Ernst.  The title of that painting alone could be a Lynch movie.  Another example associated with surrealism is Salvador Dali, an artist whom I am trying to acquire a taste for.

An aspect of surrealist art is to take the mundane and make it bizarre or even frightening if possible.  David Lynch does that in spades.  There is nothing he likes doing more than taking white bread, apple-pie-and-mom iconography and turning it on its head.  Just look what he has done to the notions of cowboys, 1950s diners, and suburbia in general.  What was once safe and normal no longer is once in Lynch's hands.

The construction of a new perception of reality is yet another common theme in surrealism. Smith takes Lynch's Lost Highway as something of an example of such a theme.  I remember liking Lost Highway, but it has been a long time since I've seen it.  Probably about time I owned the thing.  After all, Trent Reznor did the soundtrack.  But I digress...

Lost Highway is a film that switches between POVs and even jumps around timelines.  Smith astutely points to the number of mirrors and doubles that pop up in the film, signifying altered perceptions and new realities.  Douglas Sirk uses mirrors and anything glass to a similar end in Written on the Wind, a soap opera melodrama, sades of which can be found in Twin Peaks.  Again, I digress...

I would argue that something Lynch is superb at doing is rejecting the given reality and supplanting it with his own.  As an apt example of this, check out what he did with this live UNSTAGED performance by the magnificent Duran Duran in 2011. Spokes of a bicycle wheel, grilling hot dogs, even puppets and perhaps a zither are superimposed over the live footage.  I loved it.  Other Durannies?  Perhaps not as much. You might not like his vision, finding it distorted, nonsensical, or even horrifying.  Or you might dig it as a work of art worthy of a canvas in a gallery.  What you cannot do, however, is ignore it.  The films of Lynch demand that you notice them.

At the end of the UNSTAGED performance, Simon Le Bon tried to get David Lynch to come out on stage for a bow.  He did not.  Le Bon said something to the effect of "David has ascended to another reality."

I'd argue he's always been there.  Thankfully, he sends us beautifully surreal postcards.

Along with damn good coffee.  And hot, too.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

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