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“The Grandmother”

Directed by David Lynch

I just didn’t have time to watch Boy’s Don’t Cry today so I decided to go with something brief and light-hearted to start the weekend. With that in mind, I present to you: “The Grandmother,”* which is generally regarded as David Lynch’s first film (his previous two shorts are closer to art projects that are difficult to define). Like much of his early work, Lynch is concerned about parenthood, but this time looks at it through the lens of the child instead of the parent as he does in Eraserhead (so I read – I still haven’t found the courage to watch it). The boy, referred to as “mutt” and treated as such by his parents in the film, tries to grow a grandmother** who will offer the unconditional love he craves (I guess it’s true), much like a pet dog would.

All of Lynch’s potential as a director is on display here, but I thought the most impressive aspect of the film was its use of sound. It drives the narrative of the film almost as much as the visuals do and his ability to use a surreal and ambient sound design is second to none.

Check this one out for yourself (it’s about a half hour long) and let me know what you think. As I’ve written before, Lynch is really hit or miss for me, but I think “The Grandmother” plays to his strengths as an artist. He’s not a very good storyteller, but these kinds of shorts free him up to play around with the creepy surrealism he’s so effective with.

*Rent the DVD or watch this on Netflix Instant Viewing if you’re really interested. The image quality of this on youtube and Google Video is awful and you miss out on some important details. However, I still linked to one to give you a taste of what it’s like.

** I thought the pod she grows in looked like a cross between E.T. and Pinhead.

Nicolas Cage with a cigarette and a mouthful of scenery

Wild at Heart is my sixth foray into the world of David Lynch. I’ve always had mixed feelings about his films (and Twin Peaks). I think The Elephant Man is my favorite Lynch film and Mulholland Dr. certainly left an impression on me, but I’ve always felt like his other films, such as Blue Velvet, were . . . well, kind of full of shit. There’s something cowardly about the way Lynch mixes some of the most pretentious and off-putting sequences out there with constant winks and nods that we shouldn’t take it too seriously. I think Roger Ebert put it much better than I ever could in his review of Wild at Heart:

There is something inside of me that resists the films of David Lynch. I am aware of it, I admit to it, but I cannot think my way around it. I sit and watch his films and am aware of his energy, his visual flair, his flashes of wit. But as the movie rolls along, something grows inside of me – an indignation, an unwillingness, a resistance. At the end of both “Blue Velvet” and “Wild at Heart,” I was angry, as if a clever con-man had tried to put one over on me.

Ebert is correct in praising Lynch’s ability to compose compelling visuals and I would add that there are few artists out there capable of creating a feeling of creeping dread, the source of which is barely perceptible to the viewer. However, I am consistently frustrated by Lynch’s inability to make me care about a single character in his films or even tell an interesting story.

Sailor and Lula prepare for a night out on the town

The story centers around Sailor (Nicolas Cage) and Lula (Laura Dern – why isn’t she in more good films?) on the road trying to find peace from Lula’s mother, who has hired some less than reputable folks to hunt them down. Various strange things happen, including some baffling, but amusing, allusions to The Wizard of Oz. While I enjoyed watching Cage and Dern swing for the fences throughout the film, I defy anyone to explain why I should care about what happens to either of these characters.

Now, if we’re supposed to watch this film with bemused detachment, it works quite well. The movie is full of ringers who provide memorably creepy contributions, including Willem Dafoe sporting the ugliest teeth in the history of film and everybody’s favorite weirdo Crispin Glover playing a cousin totally obsessed with Christmas and sandwiches.

Dell makes his lunch

I laughed consistently throughout this film and I think that’s what I was supposed to be doing, but I just find Lynch’s refusal to play things straight and add an interesting or memorable narrative frustrating. I don’t quite understand the cult of Lynch. Why should I take his work seriously when he so clearly doesn’t himself? This works well as a cult film suitable for midnight viewing and I guess that’s all it’s intended to be, but Lynch just seems capable of so much more.

Next up: Tyson (2008 – James Toback)

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