David Lynch Shorts Programme:
Industrial Soundscape (Dir David Lynch, US 2008, 11 mins)
Bug Crawls (Dir David Lynch, US 2008, 5 mins)
Lumière (Dir David Lynch, US 1995, 1 min)
Six Men Getting Sick (Dir David Lynch, US 1966, 4 mins)
The Alphabet (Dir David Lynch, US 1968, 4 mins)
The Grandmother (Dir David Lynch, US 1970, 34 mins)
The Amputee (Dir David Lynch, US 1974, 9 mins)
Artist Talk: David Lynch via video link
July 6th 2019
Lee Ashworth immerses himself in a rare cinematic screening of the short films of David Lynch followed by an encounter with the man himself via video link as the David Lynch at Home season gets underway as part of MIF19.
“This is the water and this is the well. Drink full and descend. The horse is the white of the eyes and dark within.”
Upon hearing that mantra the population of a New Mexican town collapse into unconsciousness during Twin Peaks S3 E8 (2018). Vulnerable, exposed and open to manipulation, the townsfolk fall prey to something dark and extraordinary. Sitting in a darkened room watching the early experimentalism and later abstract works of one of the greatest living artists is exposure to that very same mantra. Within moments we are under the influence, adrift in dreams that are not our own.
Danny Boyle has recently discussed the difference between long form TV and cinema as being one of exclusivity: during the former you can check your phone, pause, make a drink, have a meal or discuss the unfolding events. In the cinema, you attend to the film alone, you give it your full attention without interruption. Impervious to the pause and rewind, we can reverse this perspective and think of a screening film holding us in its own exclusivity as we sit, anaesthetised from the eyes down, hostages to the moving image, captivated by ideas.
Early on during the succession of short films that span the directorial career of David Lynch from the ‘60’s through to 2008, a highly repetitive, hypnotic animation entitled Industrial Soundscape (2008) sent me and (as I found out later) my companion to sleep, albeit only for a minute or so of its eleven minute duration. Upon opening my eyes I discovered the same concatenation of steel, steam and electricity maintaining its trance-like rhythm, yet the day’s events up to the point before entering the cinema were now remote and detached, receding beyond a distant horizon. Industrial Soundscape (2008) was my gateway through to that Lynchian world, as I sat wrapped in the darkness of Cinema 1 whilst outside the July sun began to shine, people relaxed and drank in the square, lounging on deck chairs watching the balls back and forth at Wimbledon on the big outdoor screen. I had found the ear in the grass.
In the early works, Six Men Getting Sick (1966) and The Alphabet (1968), the animations are crude yet accomplished, reminiscent in some respects of Terry Gilliam’s Python-era assemblages, the themes unusual and intriguing. By the time we reach the live action shorts of The Grandmother (1970) and The Amputee (1974) however, fledgling themes and stylistic features begin to emerge, only to be recognised half a century later as hallmarks of Lynch’s singular aesthetic. When we experience the comparatively contemporary abstracts such as Bug Crawls (2008) and the aforementioned entrancing Industrial Soundscapes (2008), those same themes, recurring imagery and a tantalising taste of certain illusive ideas are revisited, consolidated, burned in to our retinas and on to the screen itself.
Notoriously hard to define yet unmistakable when encountered, Lynch’s aesthetic is mediated to the viewer through the persistence of recurring motifs. Under the right conditions – the dark of the Saturday matinee for example – these motifs constitute the mantra, they become the triggers that signal the crossing of thresholds, usually through intensified sounds and a deepened, meditative focus on seemingly innocuous or even banal imagery. Suddenly something changes in our awareness, our apprehension of events tilts unhinged into the uncanny and we are under. “Drink full and descend”.
Never designed to be viewed in succession in this manner, it is fascinating to see these shorts presented as a whole. As challenging in terms of patience as some of the more abstract pieces may be and as obscure as they are in terms of yielding narrative meaning… more than anything they articulate Lynch’s wider aesthetic vision and returning to Danny Boyle’s exclusivity, they consume your consciousness and change it.
Later that same evening, I attended the Artist Talk: David Lynch Via Video Link in Theatre A. Curated and hosted by Sarah Perks, the stage was set with a group of curators and associates of David Lynch at Home including Mary Anne Hobbs and Katie Popperwell amongst others. Looking up from the theatre seats, we were told that David was about to join us live from his home in California and then there would be questions from the curators and the audience.
While there was certainly intrigue and excitement amidst the crowd at the outset, I wasn’t quite prepared for what followed. From the moment David’s smiling face appeared on the huge screen it was clear from the raucous applause that there was an abundance of love in the room. From the moment he appeared the atmosphere became charged in that inexplicable way reserved only for the most charismatic of artists. The questions ranged from the elegantly simple “Are you happy?” that has become a staple of Mary Anne Hobbs’ BBC6 Music interviews, to more specific queries on artistic methods and the director’s experience of working with Catherine Coulson in her final days. The weather was covered (below par apparently) and the question of what David Lynch would do if offered a super hero franchise (Look around the room and give it to someone else!). Throughout it all, and increasingly so as the conversation continued, it felt like a genuine exchange as Lynch consistently tried to offer genuine responses, keeping his emotions close to the surface, especially when discussing memories of working with now sadly departed friends. To the great credit of Sarah Perks, question after question, answer after answer, the bond between the audience grew with this shared experience of a lifetime of Lynch’s work unfurling itself before us, as did the one between audience and auteur.
Aside from questions that had to be asked but were always going to somewhat evaded, such as ‘what’s happening in Twin Peaks right now?’ (to paraphrase, Lynch hinted that it’s a very dark afternoon there, which was as generous as possible to the spirit of the question), Lynch returned many times to his most passionate defence of refusing to compromise his ideas as an artist. Without resort to intense facial gestures and fluttering of fingers it is genuinely difficult to convey the conviction of Lynch’s belief that this is everything to the artist. As with all truly great artists, musicians and thinkers, they embody an authentic sensibility through their work that also encompasses their own lives and identities which become inseparable. For Lynch it is clear that authenticity is the only option and his sense of conviction is utterly inspiring.
After paying tribute to the industrial factory heritage of Manchester effusively and in his own inimitable style, David bid farewell and fittingly akin to the title of his exhibition, his head was disconnected – he was gone.
I stumbled out into the bar, incoherent, delirious… blissful.
Watch the trailer for David Lynch at HOME here:
Visit HOME for further info on the season.
All words by Lee Ashworth. More writing by Lee Ashworth can be found at his author’s archive. Lee Ashworth is also on twitter as @Lee_Ashworth_ and has a website here. He is one half of The Manchester Art Authority.