I wanted to post this conversation because I’ve found it fascinating to see one of my friends processing Lynch’s Inland Empire from screening to screening, and I love his interpretation of the plot (moreso than I enjoyed watching the film).  Hope this conversation continues as he intends to watch it yet again…

He wrote me that only one film had been capable of portraying impossible
by Antonius Block (Mon Feb 19 2007 13:31:51)
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UPDATED Mon Feb 19 2007 13:56:12

…memory, insane memory. [Why couldn't that fit?]Inland Empire (2006) –David Lynch
In Theater http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0460829/
As I was stumbling out of the theater after my first viewing of this beast of a film, one thought kept playing through my mind like a broken record: The cinema is dead. Long live the cinema.
(Later, I literally jumped out of my chair when I read Village Voice critic Nathan Lee’s comments on the film, which ended with the exact same phrase!)

What can I even say about Inland Empire? Lynch has long been fascinated with the extremes of human experience; from the horrific, the disturbing, the violent, to the serene, the blissful, the sublime. Several of his past films blend these elements together through nightmarish narratives that illustrate Milton’s maxim, that long is the way, and hard, that out of hell leads up to light.

But there’s nothing that approaches this.

To call Inland Empire labyrinthine would be a grave understatement; the “plot” of this movie is so fragmentary, so unraveled, that the resulting film teeters on the very brink of narrative cinema; it’s experienced less as a mystery than as a succession of sensations – most of them unpleasant – that taken together give the impression of a nightmare without the cohesiveness of one. And in that sense, this is the ultimate Lynchian film, because its lack of plot cohesiveness moves it so far into the realm of the experimental that it forces us to experience the film at an intuitive level that defies literal interpretation.

(That is, perhaps, entirely wrong – after all, it took several viewings of Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive for the cohesiveness of those to really come through, and when it did, their power grew immensely – but it’s something I will only discover over time.)

There is one major difference: I hated Inland Empire. At least, while I was watching it. Everything I feared about the poor, amateurish look of digital video was manifested in this movie, and the longer I stared at it, the uglier it seemed to become, until I could no longer differentiate my disgust for the technology from the repulsiveness of this nightmare. I was very much like the Polish girl – who seems to serve the same god-like role as the man in the planet in Eraserhead or the homeless guy behind Winkie’s in Mulholland Drive – watching this film within the film unfold before her eyes, with one tear drop forever running down her cheek. And yet…

And yet, by the time it finished, and for reasons I can only begin to fathom, let alone explain, I found myself devastated by the mercurial beauty of it all, as if the film had somehow alchemized itself; the resplendent finale created an inner peace.

Of course, I haven’t even begun to really think about the film itself; the manner in which it recycles Rabbits, incorporates the mysterious Axxon N. that once upon a time was set to be a short series on Lynch’s website like the former, how it keeps returning to scenes or situations that act like framing devices, as if the entire film were a series of concentric circles closing in on one center: the eye. Or about the parallels it draws between whoring and acting, or how it seems to conflate and multiply characters – or even about the effect of the digital video itself, which at once seems to emboss each warped close-up with an almost holy glow and at the same time makes the images so soft and malleable that they seem to defy our ability as audience members to grasp them with our eyes, to hold them up for scrutiny as if in the palms of our hands, as one can with the sharpness and vividness of film. Ironically, despite the added potential that digital video makes possible for filmmakers, it reduces the power that we as audience members have traditionally held over the image, changing nothing less than the very way that we see. The impact of this is huge, as evidenced in this picture, where the haziness of the images imparts the entire film with a wraithlike quality, as if in a dream where things move in and out of focus. Many will hate this – it’s not an easy thing to accept, especially for those of us who fell in love with Lynch’s work in part because of the beauty of his filmic images – but there’s no denying the pertinence to the material.

If I’m to be entirely honest with myself, I can’t say that I like this movie. But it might be a masterpiece.

Word is it’s staying around my city for a couple of weeks. I’ll try to say something more after a few additional viewings.

Re: He wrote me that only one film had been capable of portraying imposs
by alsolikelife (Tue Feb 20 2007 09:16:02)
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(That is, perhaps, entirely wrong – after all, it took several viewings of Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive for the cohesiveness of those to really come through, and when it did, their power grew immensely – but it’s something I will only discover over time.)

Let me ask you this — did you enjoy watching these films the first time? Regardless of how much I “got” of MULHOLLAND DRIVE, I enjoyed it immensely from the first time I watched it. I can’t say the same for INLAND EMPIRE — my reaction to that one was more like the cold admiration Hal expresses for Bresson — and I can’t even say that I admired the filmmaking craft in INLAND EMPIRE (maybe because, next to MULHOLLAND DRIVE, I didn’t really see any).

I like your descriptions of the video imaging a lot. At the same time I can’t help but be a little resentful that your account supports my general suspicions that both this video feature and video as a respectable medium are suddenly getting all this acceptance because of the name above the title. If it was anyone else (and there have been many artists using this medium for years, doing work even more off the deep-end than this, and no one’s lining up to watch them several times over to parse out the meaning of their works…)

On a happier note, I should mention that Pedro Costa’s COLOSSAL YOUTH makes a much more persuasive and beautiful use of digital video that blends documentary realism with Lynchian surrealism into a compelling whole. Actually the Lynchian parts are what I had problems with, but it may do wonders for you. I had a somewhat similar experience with this film to yours with INLAND EMPIRE — I wasn’t enjoying some parts but afterwards it all seemed to come together into one powerful emotion that stays with me even now. And best of all, unlike Lynch, it’s about real people, which makes the surreal parts all the more compelling. Hope it makes it over to you at your next film fest, which I believe is right around the corner?

I watched Inland Empire again last night
by Antonius Block (Tue Feb 20 2007 14:33:19)
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And this time around, my “disgust” was really toned down from when I first saw it. I guess I was able to accept the look of the movie for what it was, and by the time it got to that ending scene (before the krazy kredits stuff), I was all shivers.And though the structure here is even more complicated than his previous works (I think), I’m beginning to form a general sense of what’s going on. It’s funny, because — and this gets to what you’re saying — we have this natural desire to interpret, to make sense out of the world, and yet I firmly believe that Lynch wants these films to remain cryptic at a narrative level. But at least in the cases of Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive, the interpretations I’ve arrived at (that are amalgamations of my own ideas and those I’ve read) significantly increase both their emotional power and my respect for the way he restructures narrative. Which isn’t original in and of itself (I think Meshes of the Afternoon is the single most important predecessor to these works), but combined with his perfectionist technique (at least half of which is sound design), it makes for an incredibly affecting experience — and manages to reveal things both personal and about the genres/styles he is drawing on, both of which appeal to me. I guess what I’m getting at is this desire to have my cake and eat it too: to be analytical and intuitive at the same time, and these films really engage me at both levels.Anyway, without having read any other interpretations, here’s what I’m thinking as a general framework to what’s going on (this may or may not interest you, but I feel the need to write it down): Most of the film is an imaginary dramatization of the descent into prostitution of a Polish wife. Her husband is impotent, she has an affair with another man, becomes pregnant, and during her pregnancy the other man’s wife stabs her with a screwdriver, killing her unborn child. Her husband leaves her, and she turns to prostitution. While sitting on a bed and watching television in a seedy hotel room, she re-imagines herself as the Laura Dern character, a successful Hollywood actress being offered a new role, but gradually the part she is playing and her own past experiences leading up to her current situation become inseparable, and she relives her trauma in this dream that disintegrates into nightmare as parts of her real life infiltrate the dream, first as Laura Dern the actress — through the flickering electricity — finds herself among the other prostitutes, and later as Laura Dern the prostitute finds herself out on the street with them, which is the same street that the Polish woman worked herself. When she’s Laura Dern, she’s still somewhat into her dream and she’s working Hollywood and Vine instead of whatever crummy street in Poland she’s really on. The ending (in the hallway, behind the Axxon N. door) can be seen in the same light as the ending to Eraserhead, as a kind of catharsis once she has destroyed (however imaginarily) the source of her troubles.


Let me ask you this — did you enjoy watching these films the first time? Regardless of how much I “got” of MULHOLLAND DRIVE, I enjoyed it immensely from the first time I watched it. I can’t say the same for INLAND EMPIRE — my reaction to that one was more like the cold admiration Hal expresses for Bresson — and I can’t even say that I admired the filmmaking craft in INLAND EMPIRE (maybe because, next to MULHOLLAND DRIVE, I didn’t really see any).

Yes — although what I disliked initially about Inland Empire was 99% related to the DV itself; I suspect if the same ‘film’ had been shot on film, I wouldn’t be having such a bumpy start (though at the same time, I’m not sure I’d put it at the level of those other two in that case, either).

Anyway, during my second viewing — which I was sober for (I should have mentioned that for that first viewing, I went to a bar across the street and downed several drinks in the 15 minutes preceding the start) — I was a lot more impressed with the technique. In particular, I loved the constant, distorted close-ups that look like they were shot through wide angle lenses and have a slightly less obvious fish-eye effect. I’m thinking of that initial premonitory scene with the new Polish neighbor who looks like she just came from her facelift, and these distorted, extreme close-ups of her suck you right into every word she says. Though in general there’s a nearness to the characters in this movie that seems even more pronounced than in his previous work — an hypnotic effect that has to fight against the Brechtian pixellation of the digital video.

On the other hand, I was even more struck by how much seems recycled from his previous films — not just things like Rabbits but even many of the shots or scenes were things I had seen before: the scene where Laura Dern and Justin Theroux rehearse one of their scenes in front of Jeremy Irons and Harry Dean Stanton is just like Naomi Watts’ rehearsal in MD (only not quite so intense); the way the prostitute says “thanks” in that affected, all-american style; the scene where Theroux is given advice from the Polish husband about the consequences of his actions (which is what the whole surreal second half of the movie strikes me as being) is so much like the cowboy’s advice to Theroux in MD; the scene where Laura Dern is lit so whorishly and whispers how they have to be careful, how she thinks her husband knows, is almost copied verbatim from a shot in Lost Highway; etc. I could go on and on like this.


At the same time I can’t help but be a little resentful that your account supports my general suspicions that both this video feature and video as a respectable medium are suddenly getting all this acceptance because of the name above the title. If it was anyone else (and there have been many artists using this medium for years, doing work even more off the deep-end than this, and no one’s lining up to watch them several times over to parse out the meaning of their works…)

I totally understand where you’re coming from, as an independent digital video filmmaker yourself. I will say though that I think DV is fine for documentaries, where we usually are asked to be aware of the fact that we are watching a film anyway (unlike a lot of fiction).

I should say, though, that the things I suspect most people mean by “Lynchian” (i.e., strange people doing strange sh*t) do not by themselves appeal to me; I’m interested more in his visual and aural style and how he plays with narrative and is able to express a personal vision through these surreal things; the surrealism itself is only a means to an end, as far as I’m concerned. (Though I realize that for many people the insanity of it all is the underlying appeal.)

Having said that, you are one of the few people I will take a personalized recommendation from at face value (as are most of the people here; unlike the people I know in my daily life), so if there are any filmmakers in particular that you would care to promote along these lines that I may not be familiar with, feel free to tell me.

Colossal Youth sounds pretty interesting. And yes, our upcoming festival should arrive in a couple of months, though it will only be 1/3 of its usual size, apparently because there will be a larger festival later in the year. But I’m friends with the guy who runs it, so I’ll try to mention it to him.