Thursday, May 31, 2018

Ranking the David Lynch things

I first (knowingly) watched some David Lynch films as a teenager seeking out weird shit. Mulholland Drive and Eraserhead convinced me he was a genius, then Lost Highway cooled me off. A couple of years later, I finally checked out the Twin Peaks thing I kept reading about and the cycle started again. It's come and gone a couple of times since.

This was originally going to cover all 100 or so short films, advertisements, music videos, cooking demonstrations and other Lynch-directed paraphernalia, but it turned out I wasn't sufficiently obsessed. So here's a lukewarm Lynch fan's The Top 14 David Lynch Films and TV Shows.


Feature film
TV series

14. Wild at Heart (1990)

I always thought Lynch's absence was to blame for the deteriorating quality of Twin Peaks, but not now I've seen what he was doing instead. This juvenile chronicle of violence and fucking is barely redeemed by its amateur Wizard of Oz shtick and Twin Peaks cameo spotting.

13. Hotel Room (1993)

Lynch's final TV endeavour for a good while, this only lasted three episodes, either by design or lack of satisfaction. An anthology across time but in the same space, Lynch didn't write any of these and only directed two of them, so it's not especially characteristic. The only notable installment is the candlelit two-hander between Crispin Glover and Alicia Witt, but it'd be better as a play.

12. On the Air (1992)

Broadcast two months earlier than the superficially similar Larry Sanders Show, Lynch & Frost's send-up of old-time variety shows wouldn't be quite as lasting, with only three of its seven episodes aired. It's quite funny, but extracting every other ingredient from the complex Twin Peaks formula apart from the humour makes for a diluted and forgettable follow-up.

11. Twin Peaks: The Return (2017)

A lot of fans seem convinced that this was a glorious return and not an insulting waste of their time. For all its open-ended mysteries, the biggest one – why does it seem like a solid eight episodes have been padded out to an unwieldy eighteen with the minimum possible effort? – is solved when you learn that's exactly what happened, when Lynch/Frost were given more to play with than they could be bothered to actually write.

10. Dune (1984)

This infamous failure has lots of compelling elements that cripplingly fail to accumulate into a satisfying sum. Still, it's the only time I can recall that I've welcomed the polluting visuals of a film adaptation when reading the book later, so all that effort and money wasn't entirely wasted.

9. The Elephant Man (1980)

Based on a physician's self-aggrandising account, you don't have to know much about the historical Joseph Merrick to smell the dramatic license all over this one. The dream sequences are the only parts that suggest it's a Lynch film, and those aren't especially noteworthy.

8. Lost Highway (1997)

Five years on from the ignoble end of Twin Peaks, Lynch was beyond caring about what audiences wanted. Mulholland Drive would retroactively solve this mystery by doing the same thing more gracefully, but there's more to unpick and obsess over if you have more patience with it than I do.

7. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992)

When I first watched this, hot on the heels of the series, I was disappointed to be walked through a reconstruction of events I'd already enjoyed having pieced together by unreliable testimonies. And the original stuff made little sense even by Twin Peaks standards. Since then, I've come to appreciate it more as a stand-alone companion piece with a shockingly powerful performance from someone originally hired to play a corpse.

6. The Straight Story (1999)

Lynch's second road movie has little in common with Wild at Heart, or anything else he's done. If you'd heard about the weird nightmare-weaver and this was the film you checked out, you'd probably be confused. But if you've grown tired of the self-indulgence, this gentle tribute to a modern folk hero is very refreshing.

5. Blue Velvet (1986)

There was arguably no need to make Twin Peaks after this prototype covered much the same ground, but once we dig through the adorable, innocent surface to the dirt, it gets a bit too distressing to be enjoyable without killjoy '90s TV standards keeping the balance.

4. Inland Empire (2006)

Some of Lynch's best work happened when he had to creatively dig himself out of a tight spot, so this time he did it to himself. There is a story linking these incoherent bilingual scenes and mad webfilms, but don't worry too much about that. It should be annoying, but Laura Dern's invested performance powers it along and the handheld lo-fi directness makes it all weirdly captivating.

3. Eraserhead (1977)

This nightmarish Kafkaesque sitcom should be required viewing for anyone considering parenthood, just to balance out all the general positivity you'll hear. I've only watched it once, but won't ever need to revisit it, since it's not likely to get muddled up with all those other films about screaming cow foetuses, flexing roast chickens and singing radiator women stomping on sperms.

2. Mulholland Drive (2001)

Starting life as the new Twin Peaks, Lynch salvaged his failed TV pilot for the big screen by improvising a closed ending based on Lost Highway, only this time with clear and rewarding pay-offs to all the set-up. The light/dark balance comes out just right this time, and all the clues and tangents make it very rewatchable, not just to have a wank.

1. Twin Peaks (1990–91)

The first two-thirds of David Lynch and Mark Frost's postmodern supernatural detective soap opera horror show is so great, you can almost forget that most of the rest is horrendously unwatchable. That transition is handily abrupt, so you'll know when to call it quits. The only frustration is working out how many of the late episodes you have to stomach to fully appreciate the nightmarish finale (probably just the one?) and whether you should bother with the revival (if someone makes a really severe fan edit). Eternal optimist Dale Cooper might be my favourite character in anything.

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