Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Lynch Mob

After re-reading for, like, the zillionth time the essay David Foster Wallace wrote about David Lynch, I finally bit the bullet and watched some. Aside from the Wallace piece, and general pop-culture rumblings about Lynch being A Weird Guy, the only thing I knew about D.Lyn was from a friend who had watched Blue Velvet a few years back and absolutely despised it. Which, as Wallace points out in his essay, isn't an uncommon reaction to the Lynch oeuvre, since his movies are bizarre and upsetting and just plain old hard-to-understand.

I decided to start with what's unquestionably Lynch's most family-friendly offering, the 1990 show Twin Peaks. Since it was a network television show way before Law and Order was broadcasting mutilated breast implants, Twin Peaks has a quaintness to it. It's almost strangely wholesome, even though "bad girl" Laura Palmer snorted blow and worked at a brothel. The strangest elements come from strange juxtapositions and unsettling moments - hospital food that looks like mustard, for example, or a characters blue-and-red sunglasses that look like those 1950s 3D movie glasses. Neither gets an explanation, which, as Wallace explained, is pretty much a David Lynch trademark: strange subterranean rumblings and mechanical clankings, incongruous character motifs, grotesque and unusual looking characters, which apparently are Lynch's stock in trade.

I like it. Special Agent Dale Cooper, played by the straight-shooting Kyle MacLachlan, is kind of hilarious in his squareness, and the sultry, sexy girls are erotic in a very 1950s way - lots of sweaters with conical bosoms, even some saddle shoes thrown in the mix. Lara Flynn Boyle, who later became one of the Skeletors on The Practice was practically curvy; Sherilyn Fenn, who went on to pose for Playboy, is delicious.

The show is unquestionably weird, but the weirdness generally springs from the kind of place that most art comes from: people are constantly furrowing their brow and sighing "I could do that" about most modern/abstract art, but the fact is, they don't. Lynch's odd moments spring from that same well; when he has a high schooler breakdance out of frame in the pilot episode, it's funny and weird and honest at the same time, because high school kids do weird shit all the time, and to depict them as automatonic droids whose only function is to advance the plot would be selling them out. His odd moments feel true. They seem to reflect the kind of oddness that real people deal with during the day-to-day.

Twin Peaks is, before all other things, a soap opera. It's got that whole who-killed-Laura-Palmer element, but the mystery fades into the background ase characters fall in and out of love, beat each other up, have visions, and rely on characters named th things like "The Log Lady" to give them guidance. To be honest, it's kind of like a miles-better version of that sudsy guilty pleasure Passions, which used possessions and talking puppets as major plot points and which was like a daytime Lynch-lite show.

Having raced through a season of TP in about ten minutes, I'm now way more interested in seeing films like Blue Velvet and Mulholland Drive, because I know they're going to be weird in a really specific way. I can handle weird and bizarre and incongruous; I can handle Lynchian. Ultimately, real life is Lynchian: weird, coincidental, dangerous, and not quite what it seems.

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