When a postmodern film premieres, there’s often a rush to condemn (or praise) its lack of coherence, leaving filmgoers huffing (or cheering), “It doesn’t make any sense!” I submit that this reaction is often misplaced, one recent example of such an instance being Paul Thomas Anderson’s adaptation of the novel (by the seminal postmodern author, Thomas Pynchon) Inherent Vice. If, as a viewer, you’re attempting to square everything that happens with a singular narrative or, more significantly, an overarching meaning or sense, you’ve failed to grasp the “point” of postmodernity in literature, which includes (but is not limited to) that “reality” and “meaning” are no longer monolithic values locatable outside of the interpretive act (or anywhere at all). Paranoia is the organizing principle in that particular film, in that nearly everything that happens appears to have some hidden significance or to indicate a larger organization, malevolently, though no such broader scheme will ever be revealed/provided to the reader.
Still recovering from Sundance meant a week spent out of the theater…for the most part. I did attend a screening of Jupiter Ascending (to disappointing result) and decided to skip Spongebob: Sponge Out of Water and Seventh Son because they were Spongebob: Sponge Out of Water and Seventh Son. Instead, I took it upon myself to launch into the work of David Lynch – a far superior choice – as well as dive into a wonderful French film called Girlhood (full review upon release). I also scooped up a few Netflix watches as well as The Judge from Redbox in order to judge the worth of Robert Duvall’s Oscar nomination. So onto Weekly Review.
It’s been a lifetime of waiting for Mr. David Lynch and me and with Eraserhead, I’ve finally uncovered the beautiful oddities and off-kilter surrealism of the celebrated auteur. Lynch’s jet-black Eraserhead is as much a character study as it is a cultural study, presenting nightmare-scapes rife with character tics and haunting black-and-white cinematography from Frederick Elmes that take subtle jabs at the heteronormativity of male-female relations. From the get-go, one is set off ease by Lynch’s uneasy depiction of sexuality as a living horror show, incomplete without a xenomorphic fetus spawn straight out of the freak show. Lynch’s unsettling portrait of unwanted fatherhood conjures deeply disquieting emotions – feelings expanded upon by Lynch’s soundtrack and’s unforgettable industrial sound design. But underneath its nasty facade, Eraserhead is also a deeply personal, almost intimate film and struggling with its own nihilistic, fatalist outlook that’s very much questioning its own sanity. Eraserhead is without a doubt a wholly fascinating film. (A)
THE ELEPHANT MAN (1980)
Lynch’s second film is yet another home run, a step sideways into more straightforward filmmaking but one that doesn’t lose one ounce of the hypnotic and affecting power that Lynch harnessed in his debut. Featuring an absolutely knock-out performance from John Hurt as a deformed “circus freak” welcomed into society by a kindly Victorian surgeon (Anthony Hopkins), The Elephant Man is a powerhouse of a revisionist biopic. Lynch reigns in his surrealistic elements without covering them up entirely, allowing him to present a heartbreaking true story with just enough style and character nuance to make it an engrossing and artistic experience. Coming to a close, Hurt’s performance and Lynch’s linchpin ending left my tear ducts wavering on the verge of breaking. (A-)
BLUE VELVET (1986)
Very much a precursor to Twin Peaks, Blue Velvet hones Lynch’s fascination with the underbelly of suburbia and plants it in the midst of a sexually charged, off-the-books teenage investigation. Like the Hardy Boys uncovering a prostitution ring, Blue Velvet makes for some harrowing, surrealistic scene work and showcases a totally bonkers performance from Dennis Hopper as a oxygen-huffing sexual deviant. While Eraserhead and The Elephant Man set Lynch up as filmmaker shaping his iconoclastic image, Blue Velvet solidifies his role as a subversive, sexual, singular director in an arena lacking on all of the above. (B+)
Like Planet Earth without David Attenborough’s sultry British baritone, visual collage/wordless documentary Samsara took director Ron Frickle five years to complete. Crossing into 25 countries to observe patterns of human traffic spliced into views of picturesque world wonders, Samsara is a wholly unique offering not best suited for the impatient or the narrative dependent. As a singular film experience though, it’s a sometimes captivating look at the things we do and the places we live and its hallucinatory, high-speed portrait of Earth’s odd regularities is perfectly suitable for any stoney movie explorer. (B-)
A practically unheard of independent release, Coherence came to my attention per a film critic friend’s top ten list. Already anticipating something special, I found myself truly surprised by how immersive a cinematic experience Coherence is. This is the kind of sci-fi misadventure you watch will the lights pulled low and the doors deadlocked shut. It shakes your perception of reality and the boundaries of possibility, all with the minimal usage of multi-colored glow sticks. The story follows a group of eight friends at a dinner party who experience the effects of a meteor passing close overhead. As they content with the Schrodinger-ian notion that all is not necessarily what it seems, circumstances turn dreadfully eerie, begging questions about identity and continuity that would thoroughly benefit any entry level philosophy student. Compelling and creepy throughout, Coherence is a hidden gem demanding a cult status. (A-)
THE JUDGE (2014)
A mild venture into dramatic territory for jabbermouth Robert Downey Jr., The Judge fills it quotient for melodrama early on but continues to poureth for that sacred saccharine drama-heavy cup. It’s a definitively average film with solid performances from RDJ and Robert Duvall (though I’m entirely unconvinced the latter’s performance is Oscar nomination worthy) that is set on hamstringing its way to the finish line, often at the expense of its own dramatic success. There are elements to The Judge to make it a worthwhile watch but they’re buried within a jello-mold of quizzical small-town whimsy that gives the whole thing an air of fluffy narrative negligence. It’s two hour and twenty minute run time makes it all the more difficult to endure and reccomend. (C)