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Posts Tagged ‘Milan Kundera’

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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Es Muss Sein

June 21, 2010 | by

The Unbearable Lightness of BeingI would never have had my very first orgasm, missionary style, on a twin-size futon in the middle of a school day had he not given me the book. It was The Unbearable Lightness of Being. In the inscription, he wrote he didn’t want his first gift to me to be something as fleeting as flowers or chocolate. They die, they get eaten, they disappear. How could I not be impressed? I was a teenager, a California girl from the quintessential southern part, where I’d probably been too preoccupied with all that, like, sun to get entangled in post-exile, Czech-communist literature.

Days later, I gave him my virginity. It was his first time too. We did it the way humans are meant to, without rubbers or other prophylactic nuisances. Afterward, he put on my bathrobe and sat out on my balcony, holding a wine-glass of orange juice in one hand, a cigarette in the other. I took a snapshot. We laughed.

I won’t lie and say I burned my way through it. In fact, I could barely get past the first sentence:

The idea of eternal return is a mysterious one, and Nietzsche has often perplexed other philosophers with it: to think that everything recurs as we once experienced it, and that the recurrence itself recurs ad infinitum!

Goddamn, it was a doozy of a line—a harbinger of many more that I also didn’t quite get. Several pages in, I’d suddenly come out of a haze and realize I’d just lost the last ten minutes of my life. It was like leaving Los Angeles on the 405 late at night, lulled by miles of darkness and speed, and then remembering: I’m still driving.

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