Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Review: ‘Authorship and the Films of David Lynch’

Throughout 2006, there was no film I anticipated more than INLAND EMPIRE. This was not because of the mixed early notices it received or its vague tagline “A Woman in Trouble.” I looked forward to INLAND EMPIRE because it was “A Film by David Lynch” and I am a David Lynch junkie. So when I finally settled down to see it, and was struck by how crude the digital photography looked and how disjointed the plot was, disappointment started tugging at me. By the end of the film, I’d witnessed enough creepiness and absurd humor that I didn’t declare it a wash out, but it still failed to knock me out of my seat as Mulholland Dr. had. Nevertheless, one week later I was back at the IFC Film Center, having paid my twelve bucks (lousy overpriced NYC theaters!), primed to give INLAND EMPIRE another shot.

With each subsequent viewing, I got more out of the movie. I grew to appreciate its murky aesthetic and unconventional—even by Lynch standards—storytelling. I gave INLAND EMPIRE the full benefit of the doubt and was rewarded for the effort. Would I have worked so hard had INLAND EMPIRE been made by, say, Uwe Boll? Probably not (hell, I probably wouldn’t have even seen it). Would I have watched Dune over and over until I was able to convince myself it wasn’t a total inept mess if it wasn’t also directed by Lynch? No again. As a David Lynch fan, I expect brilliance, and when that brilliance isn’t immediately evident, I assume the problem is mine, not his.

This is something Anthony Todd refers to as the “horizon of expectation” in his new book Authorship and the Films of David Lynch. Todd takes an interesting tack in studying Lynch’s role as an auteur, revealing how the Lynch persona has powerfully affected interpretations of and reactions to his work. A more traditional study of auteurism would trace the level of collaboration in a particular filmmaker’s work. Filmmaking is always a collaborative process, but if there is one major filmmaker who doesn't really need an entire book to convince us he's an auteur, it is David Lynch. He not only directs, but often writes and produces, sometimes acts in, personally promotes, and creates music and sound effects for his films. A David Lynch film cannot be mistaken for any other filmmaker’s work.

Although Todd does discuss how collaboration altered such works as Dune, “Twin Peaks”, and Mulholland Dr., his chief focus is on how the very fact that David Lynch’s films were made by David Lynch has altered our perceptions of them. Todd intriguingly points out how reactions to Wild at Heart and Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me depended on whether the critics were non-fan journalists or biographers who had a greater stake in Lynch appreciation and understanding. He also illuminates how these particular films were criticized in the early ‘90s for the very same reasons Lost Highway and Mulholland Dr. were later praised because of Lynch’s personal standing at the time.

Readers less inclined toward the excessively scholarly (such as myself) will have to wade through quite a bit of thesis-speak to get to the meat of Todd’s analysis, which is overall lucid, enlightening, and downright engrossing. I may not have toughed it out had this book been about anyone other than David Lynch, but that’s the horizon of expectations for you.

Get Authorship and the Films of David Lynch at Amazon.com here:

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