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Posts Tagged ‘David Lynch’

Snapping, Humming, Buzzing, Banging: Remembering Alan Splet

May 13, 2014 | by

Lynch Crucifixion

Millions of Americans heard the name Alan Splet (1940–1994) for the first time as a punch line on television. The occasion was the 1980 Academy Awards, where his sound design the previous year, on Carroll Ballard’s The Black Stallion, had earned him a special Oscar. Citing prior commitments, Splet did not attend the ceremony. When the presenter held up the statuette and the honoree failed to appear to accept it, the evening’s host, Johnny Carson, turned this perceived snub of Hollywood taste back on the truant. “It always happens,” he deadpanned to the audience, “first George C. Scott doesn’t show, then Marlon Brando, and now Alan Splet.”

Splet deserves better. He was no joke. In fact, to an exclusive circle of independent filmmakers who know how much his collages of sound and musical refinement added to their movies from the late seventies to the early nineties, his name is still invoked with an affection verging on awe. Tributes can be found on YouTube from Ballard, Peter Weir, Caleb Deschanel, and Philip Kaufman, with whom Splet collaborated on three films. Splet’s sound design and editing on The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988) ranks among the most haunting and sophisticated of its day—or any day. Leoš Janáček’s string and piano music is as ravishing as Sven Nykvist’s cinematography, underlining not only the distinctly tart Czech melancholia of the novel, but also serving, notes Kaufman, to “supplant Kundera’s voice as the narrator and give the film its drive.”

No filmmaker in those years bonded more intensely or productively with Splet than David Lynch. The two met in 1970 when the writer-director needed a sound track for his short film The Grandmother. (Splet was then employed at a Philadelphia industrial film company, having bailed on a career in accounting.)

With no money to foster the visions Lynch had in his uncompromising young head, the pair spent twelve-hour days inventing effects on the cheap, recording human mewls and gurgles and hissing machine-made sounds. Not until their concoctions matched the images on the editing table and the pairing created an elusive “mood” (a key term for Lynch) were they satisfied. Thereafter, until Splet’s death in 1994, he partnered with Lynch on every major film project, those that were completed (Elephant Man, Dune, Blue Velvet, Wild at Heart) and those that weren’t (Ronnie Rocket).

In the opinion of some, however, their masterpiece of “audio surrealism” remains Eraserhead. Begun in Philadelphia and finished in Los Angeles, its atmosphere is as marked by the sooty poverty of the filmmakers as The Grandmother had been. It was during this time (around 1973) that Lynch, who could not afford paints, did two meticulous drawings in ballpoint pen: a crucifixion, in a style that combines Mattias Grünewald and Francis Bacon, and a resurrection, now lost. Hoping to raise money to finish the film, they had prints made, an enterprise that was rewarded with total failure.

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David Lynch, Hiding in Plain Sight

April 30, 2014 | by

The filmmaker comes to BAM.

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Lynch in 2007. Photo: Thiaggo Piccoli, via Wikimedia Commons

What, in retrospect, did we hope to hear from David Lynch last night? In “a rare public appearance,” the filmmaker appeared in conversation with Paul Holdengräber at BAM, to a sold-out crowd. The people were there. Lynch was there. And so … now what?

It wasn’t as if we expected to walk out with David Lynch decoder rings, finally capable, having listened to him, of educing his films’ meaning. Much of their joy derives from their refusal to cohere. Nor could we reasonably hope to reconcile the work with the man—the gap between the Missoula-born Eagle Scout and the psychosexual Grand Guignol of, say, Blue Velvet has always been pretty difficult to bridge. That’s all part of the Lynch magic, and you can hardly expect a guy to declaim upon the essence of his magic.

So why were we there, then? Did we simply want to see him bodily, to confirm the corporeal existence of a man whose work sometimes seems—extraterrestrial? Sure. But we also presumed we would learn something, anything, about him. Something new, something that qualified as insight: something that might make the whole Lynchian gestalt that much less opaque.

Such was not the case. Read More »

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Masterpiece Theatre: Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning

December 24, 2013 | by

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All this week, we are bringing you some of your favorite posts from 2013. Happy holidays!

My favorite movie of last year—the best movie of last year, I would argue—wasn’t nominated for any Academy Awards. It wasn’t even part of the conversation. That’s because the movie is Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning. You might think I’m just being ironic, that I’m taking pleasure in saying what no one else is saying. The latter may be true but the former is not. This movie is a secret masterpiece.

Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning is a movie Werner Herzog, David Lynch, and Shivers-era David Cronenberg might make if they teamed up to shoot a Bourne knockoff in Louisiana on a shoestring budget. This thought experiment works even better if we imagine Gaspar Noé dropping by the editing room later on.

The actual director, John Hyams, has a distinctive voice and style. He and his cinematographer, Yaron Levy, create a nightmare-scape of blighted semisuburbia through which the hero drifts like a damaged samurai, occasionally getting sucked into maelstroms of berserk, finger-hacking, foot-severing violence. The compositions are beautiful. The cheapness of the sets only enhances the lush and lurid atmosphere; everything seems hypnotic and dreamlike. Interiors look like Gregory Crewdson photographs and exteriors look like William Egglestons. This is not your standard VOD action movie. Read More »

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Campy Fiction; Smoking Strictures

March 9, 2012 | by

Watching a marathon of Twin Peaks has gotten me thinking about camp. There are movies and television shows that we delight in, and discuss seriously, though the content may not be “serious.” What can be said about campy contemporary fiction? Please give me a list of fabulous, outlandish books, preferably with a narrator who will repulse and delight me all at once. Something bad, but well-written.

Delight may not be the operative word, but David Vann’s new novel, Dirt, is outlandish, repulsive, well-written, and utterly over the top. (In one climactic scene, the teenage hero imprisons his mother in a toolshed after she threatens to have him arrested for the statutory rape of his cousin.) True to its title, the book is down and dirty. I am not sure whether the camp is intentional—but then I often suspect that many of the best “camp” artists, as for instance Lynch and Almodóvar, do mean it. Their sincerity is their power.

If you’re looking for high camp—without the Sturm und Drang—it doesn’t get campier than James McCourt’s 1971 send-up of the opera world, Mawdrew Czgowchwz (pronounced “Mardu Gorgeous”). And if soap opera’s more your speed, try Cyra McFadden’s 1977 The Serial: A Year in the Life of Marin County.

Dear Lorin,

I've recently moved to Manhattan only to learn that I am actually a ghost—that I am, apparently, an apparition. Needless to say, this discovery has been rather disconcerting, but my chief worry is that the recent strictures regarding smoke in apartments and Central Park will cause me rapidly to be evicted from my apartment, and possibly excommunicated from the city outright. I have it from trusted sources that you are at once smoking, wispy, and nebulous—indeed, altostatus cumulus—and yet you seem to face little threat from the law. Lorin, my friend, how do you do it?

Spiritedly,
Spook

Dear Spook,

My secret is I don't smoke very much. It's bad for you! It's probably even bad for ghosts ...

To the wise members of The Paris Review,

The only poem I have ever memorized was for Spanish class in ninth grade. It is time to add to the repertoire, but which poem do I choose? I imagine that it would be a comfort—something inspiring about living, loving, the natural ups and downs of being human. Perhaps something about choices, or appreciation. Not too long or too short. Something to share when the moment is right, or something to keep to myself, to repeat in a chant-like form on long runs through the woods. I maintain full confidence in your advice.

Sincerely,
Julia

Dear Julia,

Once my friend Cary and I had a poem-memorizing contest. He memorized poems by Richard Hugo. I memorized poems by Keats. Each poem had to be longer than fourteen lines, and each of us had to pay the other a dollar for every line we muffed. My favorite of the poems I learned is the “Ode on Melancholy,” which I think may fit the bill. At least, I go around repeating it to myself in low moments, and it seems to do the trick. (Note that the word globed should be pronounced with two syllables.) Read More »

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A Star Turned

February 6, 2012 | by

This is a story about the life and death of a Hollywood icon—much of it myth, uncorroborated hearsay, and patchwork nostalgia, but it’s all how I remember it.

In its day, which is to say from around 1996 to 2003, Les Deux Cafés was the brightest starlet of the Hollywood nightlife scene, and like many of her sexy habitués, she was famously unpredictable, hauntingly seductive, and seemingly hell-bent on her own destruction.

Hidden in a nondescript parking lot, behind an unmarked steel door, the “the two cafés” girded a pair of Provençal-style gardens dotted with mosaic-top tables and dripping with night-blooming jasmine and eucalyptus. Around the old magnolia tree dropping its leaves on the slate slab floor, past the mobile garden bar (and tables 20-23), you approached the main house through the patio—an elevated porch, covered by a canopy of grapevines and three species of Japanese wisteria, and heated year-round by an outdoor fireplace. These were the most coveted tables (numbers 50-62), each of them handmade glass-tile arabesques—where Al Pacino shot double decaf espressos and Six Feet Under shot episodes, where Tim Roth and his family ate most Sunday nights, where Heath Ledger, Djimon Hounsou, Nicole Kidman, Ridley Scott, and David Lynch ate Hama Hama oysters and drank Veuve Clicquot on quiet nights, and Lenny Kravitz and Bill Murray chopped it up and table-hopped on the busy ones.

Inside the house, a two-story white clapboard Craftsman bungalow, you came to the walnut-paneled banquettes (tables 70-101), where romantic couples would be getting engaged. The House, which was placed on a trailer and moved several blocks to this site, had reportedly belonged to James Cagney in the thirties. Designer Paul Fortune—who, after his masterful work at Les Deux Cafés, would famously revamp the restaurant at the Sunset Tower—hung his own portrait of the actor over the indoor fireplace.

Behind the house was the cavernous kitchen, and down a long, poured-cement corridor, past the bathrooms where TV stars did cocaine, was the Trapeze Bar—a jazzy, high-ceilinged modernist boîte where, long after the California smoking ban, performers still puffed through their sets, and, right after the Grammys, Puffy would dance on tables and buy out the bar’s collection of Krug Clos du Mesnil.

But, though the café was Siren-song beautiful, the real draw—what we lurch for with the electromagnetic descriptor vibe—was felt more than seen. The service was abysmal (infamously, and intentionally so), the food was okay, but the scene ... the scene was the thing. It was lost on no one that the garden tables were arranged as an amphitheater, the better to watch everyone else. Owner and guiding spirit Michèle Lamy casted the staff more than hired them, and, consciously or not, we all performed in her play. Read More »

12 COMMENTS

Staff Picks: ‘Excellent Women,’ David Lynch Remixes

January 6, 2012 | by

“Perhaps there can be too much making of cups of tea ... Did we really need a cup of tea? I even said as much to Miss Statham and she looked at me with a hurt, almost angry look. ‘Do we need tea?’ she echoed. ‘But Miss Lathbury ... ’ She sounded puzzled and distressed and I began to realize that my question had struck at something deep and fundamental. It was the kind of question that starts a landslide in the mind.” Barbara Pym specialized in just such tiny landslides. Thanks to Sadie, over Christmas I read her 1952 novel Excellent Women, about the romantic tribulations of a self-professed spinster in postwar London. You can practically taste the PG Tips. —Lorin Stein

I spent most of the holidays battling a cold and so sought out purely pleasurable reading in Jeff Smith’s comic fantasy epic, Bone. I love feeling so submerged in a book that you can’t possibly tear yourself away; everything else is forgotten. —Nicole Rudick

I recently received this collection of Russian criminal tattoos as a gift. Knowing how to decipher these intricately coded designs could come in handy to anyone who feels they may, at some point, end up incarcerated indefinitely in the former Soviet Union. —Emma del Valle

Zola Jesus finally lets someone remix her music, and it’s David Lynch, remaking “In Your Nature.” —Natalie Jacoby

All the lonely winter souls should brave the cold and venture to Film Forum for the Robert Bresson retrospective. No other director so clearly captures humanity’s elegiac graces. As Jonathan Rosenbaum laments, “In spite of its importance, his work may have difficulty surviving, because most of it doesn’t ‘translate’ to video.” Starts today in glorious 35mm! —Josh Anderson

The comments section of the New York Times’ review of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is a study in human nature (or something). For every actual review, there’s someone panning it on principle because they love the Alec Guinness version or the Le Carré novel and have no intention of seeing a remake (1 star); people who haven’t seen it but think it looks good (5 stars); and one guy who fell asleep ten minutes in (1 star). I, for one, recommend it highly: even if you’re a staunch devotee of the 1979 miniseries, you’ll find a lot to love. (And it’s worth it for the Julio Iglesias rendition of “La Mer” alone. Why is this not available for download anywhere?) —Sadie Stein

2 COMMENTS