Discovering David Lynch is a rite of passage for any serious film fan. Born after the “Twin Peaks” craze and coming of age in a time when Lynch was making inscrutable 3-hour-long hand-held films and trying to become a rock star, Lynch never felt entirely relevant to me and the people I grew up with. I had seen Eraserhead in high school and been too young for it — I remembered it as a strange collection of sounds and scary images (which, to be fair, is not a terrible description). It wasn’t until a screening of Blue Velvet on the big screen in a Film Theory class that Lynch’s work came alive to me.
Along with the pilot for “Twin Peaks”, Blue Velvet is the best encapsulation of David Lynch’s dark vision of the world: a superficial Americana where things are rosy and clean on the outside but depraved and corrupt behind closed doors. Lynch has described the disembodied human ear that Jeffrey finds in the first act of the film as a portal to another world, an idea that the film allows you to read either symbolically or literally; either way, that “other world” is layered directly underneath the world we walk around in every day, if only we stop to look more closely.
It’s a brilliant film that holds up well thirty years later, and also is probably the best example of Lynch’s signature tone, veering wildly but authentically between being funny and terrifying. Some of his films are less coherent than others — Lost Highway, for example, never really comes together, and though it’s a bit blasphemous to say, Mulholland Dr has never felt like a fully realized or complete idea to me — but all of his work has individual scenes, characters, or images that you carry with you forever. Eraserhead is a must on the big screen if you’ve never seen it; if you pair it with a screening of 2001: A Space Odyssey (playing at both Somerville Theatre and Coolidge Corner this weekend), you can see the two most successful experimental films in the history of American cinema in a single day. What a time to be alive!
Screening this weekend at the Brattle Theatre. Multiple showtimes (including double-features) listed here.