Prose Toad Literary Blog

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Tuesday, January 31, 2006

LuLu finds Moby Dick!

I suppose talent rises to the top. I want to believe that is true. The next literary lions are working away on their tomes, but walk through your Borders and see the same authors published again and again. You say there are new literary works scattered through the store. I suppose so. Poor fools. Their books will disappear in a matter of months. Hopefully the author's old parents bought a copy for their friends. That's embarrassing since the theme of the book is how horrible the author's parents were. Soon you'll be an outcast. Still, if you have written bunches of agents and publishing houses, receiving scant encouragement, that could be a blessing. After all, the publishing houses keep a whopping percentage of the cost of a book that they hid on a Borders back shelf somewhere that some thorough shopper put in their shopping basket.

If you used Lulu, you could publish today, be listed in Amazon for next to nothing, and begin your publicity tour on your dime of course. Here's some of their sales blurbs:

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Lulu lets you sell your work through Amazon, Borders, Barnes and Noble and on Lulu itself. Lulu handles all transactions, order tracking and shipping.

My God! Say your name is Herman Melville and you're written a tedious book about whaling and maybe the meaning of life. You've been turned down by everyone. Perhaps Lulu is the answer?

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Nonlinear films and the anticausality of Mulholland Dr.

by Adrienne Redd

warning: contains spoilers
partial list of film discussed:
Mulholland Dr. (2001)
Lost Highway (1997)
Memento (2002)
Identity (2003)
21 Grams (2003)
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

Life's but a walking shadow in Mulholland Dr. and perhaps it signifies — not nothing — but an _expression about the nature of film and art. "Dream logic" was how Roger Ebert characterized the film when it came out in 2001. I think the events of the film are not merely asensical, but anti-sensical. Mulholland Dr. is an elaborate demonstration of a noncausal universe.

Director, David Lynch has taken to the next level the nonsequential time depicted in films like Memento, (2002), 21 Grams (2003), Identity (2003), and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004). In each of these four, one can piece together the story once one gets one's head around the idea that time is not running continuously or forward as it appears to in our reality; however, Mulholland Dr. presents something entirely different.

In Memento, there some question of whether the protagonist, Leonard Shelby has imagined a man, Sammy Jankis, with the medical condition of the inability to form new memories or whether Leonard has appropriated Sammy's story to mask his own guilt in killing his wife. I believe that the film demonstrates by the end that Leonard accidentally killed his own wife and that there is no murderer upon whom to wreak vengeance once he tracks him down. Even with Shelby's self-deception, we the viewers are not necessarily deceived (Teddy Gammell is not the murderer of Leonard's wife, that much is clear) and the events of the film are logically connected, the backwards sequence and unreliability of the narrator notwithstanding.

Like another David Lynch film, Lost Highway, Identity employs as a plot device the very rare condition of disassociative identity disorder). But here again, even with internal, subjective reality, the causality and logic are not impossible to reconstruct. The character, Ed (John Cusack) who initially seems to be the protagonist of the film, is one of four or more alter egos. A former cop, he is the competent self (like Victoria in the case of Sybil Dorsett). We meet him in the first reality shell and not until the end of the film do we realize that the waking self is an insane prisoner, Malcolm Rivers (Pruitt Taylor Vince). There are various other fragments, including a homicidal child (Timmy, played by Bret Loehr) whom we are ultimately led to believe has committed all the murders. The point is that, if we accept the multiple personality explanation, it is possible to reconcile the event, however subjective or jumbled, with a reality like our own.

The ultra-short segments of 21 Grams are presented out of order so that the form of the film echoes its own meaning, which is that we make sense of our lives, that they don’t necessarily have intrinsic meaning. In comparison to the other films here, 21 Grams actually has the most conventional structure.

Similarly, in Eternal Sunshine, aside from the science fiction of being able to erase memories from people’s minds, there is nothing supernatural or unreal happening, and even the subjective events (such as burrowing into Joel Barish's childhood) can be reconciled with our conventional experience. Familiar causality (though with the pieces or events moved around) is still firmly in effect. Though we may be shown events out of sequence, one event causes another in the same way that we understand events to cause one another in our everyday reality.

In Mulholland Dr., it is as though a prankster has printed similar (but not identical) pictures onto wood and then cut up the pieces into similar (but not identically-shaped) jigsaw puzzles, mixed the pieces and sold them as a puzzle that can never fit together to form a single coherent picture. The film offers three pictures which cannot fit together: The protagonist, Diane's wish or dream about Betty and Rita; the "waking" but distorted picture of the last hours of Diane's life and the implied “logical” reconstruction we try to make of Diane's most likely life.

With the experience of movie-logic that we bring to this supposed narrative, we expect the loose ends to be tied up. We expect the "mysteries" to be solved. Who is Rita really? How did Diane Selwyn die? Who wanted to murder Rita/Camilla and why? We only get partial answers that partially fit.

Think also of the work by graphic artist, M.C. Escher, entitled “Ascending and Descending.” The work depicts figures on a never-ending staircase, drawn in such a way that they can be perceived as either ascending or descending. Our brain makes sense of the images but the never-ending staircase can’t physically exist in the space we inhabit.

~~~ Lynch as a surrealist painter

Lynch’s Blue Velvet, and to an even greater extent, Lost Highway were striving toward Mulholland Dr. All three make some allusion to films noir, which were frequently crime dramas, but largely abandon the attempt to solve anything. In Blue Velvet there is still some pretense of trying to unravel the mystery, though the loose ends and motivations of characters are not actually tied up. Lost Highway is even more challenging because we may not realize that most of what we see in the second half of the film is an internal, wished-for reality on the part of the protagonist — an attempt to escape the guilt of having killed his wife. (See my essay of December 2005).

The questions or mysteries in Mulholland Dr. can never be answered, so we must look instead for patterns. David Lynch was a painter before he made films and his films are to a great extent a continuation of the antirepresentational and polemical dialogue of modern art.
One set of patterns is that there are great many pairings in Lynch’s films and specifically in Mulholland Dr. in which these occur mostly among female characters. It is in these pairings that, I believe the viewer can find meaning (rather than just saying, "I saw the weirdest movie…" as Ebert does, though I do agree with Ebert that Lynch “has been working toward Mulholland Drive his entire career.”)

~~~ Pairings of female characters

Rita the amnesiac (later called Camilla) is first paired with would-be actress, Betty, whom we meet in the earlier frame of the film. This is conveyed through the elegant portrayal of their love scene and the fact that Rita (thinking she is perhaps hunted) dons a blonde wig for the scene that follows.

Double identity as a theme is also prefigured in Betty's breathless speech about actresses and movie stars, "Well, I couldn't afford a place like this in a million years... unless, of course, I'm discovered and become a movie star. Of course, I'd rather be known as a great actress than a movie star. But, you know, sometimes people end up being both. So that is, I guess you'd say, sort of why I came here..."

Rita and Betty are paired more subtly in that they are both searching for something; both find themselves in a new place, not their own place. (None of the characters is ever "at home," unless we count the final scene where the director, Adam Kesher (Justin Theroux) is throwing a wrap party after The Sylvia North Story is finished. Clearly, he is not "at home" when he find his wife in bed with the pool maintenance man.) Both Rita and Betty are alone in the world and are looking forward in time (and as an amnesiac, Rita can only look forward; she can't look back).

Furthermore, Betty and Rita are each paired with Diane Selwyn, whom we ultimately learn is the protagonist. Betty is paired with Diane because Betty is the wished-for identity of Diane; and “Diane Selwyn" is also a name "Rita" remembers (and thinks might be her own name). As she tries to place a call to D. Selwyn, whose name she finds in the phone book, she says to Betty, "It's strange to call yourself."

In another pairing, Diane Selwyn has also swapped apartments with a woman in her apartment complex, though we don't learn why and don't find out much about the tenant who has agreed to the trade (perhaps it was another unhappy love affair, like that of Rita/Camilla and Betty/Diane).

The central and most disturbing pairing is between Diane Selwyn and Betty Elms. Surrealist painter employed a private vocabulary of images. As is the case in Lost Highway, house (apartment) might be Lynch’s symbol for head. The swap of residences might refer to splinters within oneself and the fact that Betty is merely a fragment of Diane Selwyn, the waking personality.

The possible future identities of actress-and-movie star accentuate the sad pairing of Diane Selwyn, failed lover, bit part actress, murderess, failure and suicide with Betty, her own dream of what she could have been (or once was), full of starry-eyed innocence and promise. (Interestingly, Diane/Betty seems to be and is said other characters to be fabulous in her audition with Chad Everett (perhaps a reference, via casting to bad, hokey actors) and her stellar audition (which doesn’t get her the part) contrasts with the amateurish reading of the same scene between Diane/Betty and Rita).

Rather than through content (such as the dialogue or “text” of the film) double identities and pairings convey meaning through form. The twins, doubles and variously associated pairs of characters in Mulholland Dr. and elsewhere in Lynch’s work signify double vision — the viewer is asked to doubt not only the events but even the framework of the film’s “reality,” and not only this films reality but the reality of all art, the same statement that that another surrealist, René Magritte famously made. Before the eyes of the viewer is a picture of a pipe with the words under it, “"Ce n'est Pas une Pipe" or “This is not a pipe.” Correct. It — the painting — is not an actual pipe. It is a picture, that is to say, an illusion, of a pipe.

The meaning of Mulholland Dr. is that we the viewer are seeing not only illusion but illusion of illusion.

~~~ Illusion of illusion

After the scene in the late night theater, Betty morphs into the murderously bereft Diane, but she is also morphing between life and death and her teeth even become a bit sallow and greenish. Before this, as she sits in the theater with Rita/Camilla, regarding the strange performance on stage, she begins to shake violently (as Fred Madison does in the final scene of Lost Highway).

At Club Silencio, the master of ceremonies intones to the audience, “No hay banda.” The translation from Spanish is, “There is no band [playing the music you hear.]” There are two points to this pivotal scene. The first is to remind the viewer that the film itself, is and can be nothing more than a flickering illusion on the screen, like the recorded music at Club Silencio. There is no reality, only the illusion and the way it stimulates images inside our brains. This scene is David Lynch’s brain sending a telegraph to our brains commenting on the illusion that there is any “reality” in between (our brains).

The second point is that the master of master of ceremonies (and the lyrics of the Roy Orbison song, rendered in Spanish as Llorando) are telling Rita/Camilla that she is already dead and telling Betty/Diane that she will soon be dead, but worse than that Rita and Betty do not exist at all. Not only have all of the events (see my essay of December 2005) up to this point in the film been merely Diane Selwyn’s dying wish fulfillment, but Betty/Diane and Rita/Camilla are illusions of illusions. They are images flickering on the screen of a dying woman’s heartbroken desire.

À propos of Lynch as a surrealist, Freud is said to have commented about Salvador Dalí in 1938, "When I look at the work of an old Master, I immediately seek the unconscious, but when I look at a surrealist painting, I look for the conscious.” Similarly, we look for the logical in Lynch (though we don’t find it).

After the fracture point, it is almost as though Betty/Diane is decomposing before our eyes. The scorned and fallen Diane/ Betty is also paired with the waitress while meeting with the incompetent hit man in Winkies, since the waitress's name tag says, "Betty." (One device in depicting dreams in films and literature is that people and objects in the “real” world are picked up and irrationally plugged into the dream frame).

Betty/Diane is also seen riding in the limo and imperiously speaking the same line that Rita/Camilla speaks in the beginning of the film: "We don't stop here." The verb tense of this line is revealing; Betty/Diane doesn't say, "We aren't supposed to stop here" or "We weren't supposed to stop here" or "We aren't stopping here." She says, "We don't stop here," as if her words were the reality, but they aren't. She is saying this line as the car is stopping. The point is that she (and we) are so deeply committed to our own perception of reality that we can't imagine that we could be wrong. She is wrong at the moment she is saying the line and doesn't realize it. (Interestingly, though, the would-be killers (in the previous version of the scene with Rita) are also mistaken about what is going to happen next.)

Rita (Laura Harring) assumes the name Camilla Rhodes in the final 30 minutes of the film; there is also a connection both between her and the other Camilla Rhodes (Melissa George) whom Adam Kesher auditions for his movie. And because they are both auditioning, there is also a connection between the other Camilla Rhodes and Betty (who gives an eerily superb audition in contrast to some of the intentionally wooden acting in the film).

There are numerous other pairing of characters between the wish frame and the waking frame of the film, such as the Cookie Park hotel manager/ and the M.C. of Club Silencio (Geno Silva). At Club Silencio these mirages, time slips and identity confusions seem to be catalyzed by the blue cube. However, just as there are internal wish fulfillment versions or dream manifestations of people, the blue cube is merely the dream version of the blue key which Diane is told (by the hit man) that she will find when Camilla’s murder is complete. This is why she finds it in her purse at the conclusion of the scene at Club Silencio. The cube appears; the murder is complete and we and she are yanked back to the waking frame of the story.

~~~ Who is the blue-faced women?

The blue cube suggests yet another pairing between Diane and the homeless man who literally frightens Dan (Patrick Fischler) to death (the man telling his friend about a bad dream in Winkie's). The homeless person whom we see later with the blue cube affords another pairing of women, since he is portrayed by Bonnie Aarons, a pretty, young actress, not a decrepit man. Yet another mysterious connection between two characters. That this homeless person could scare someone to death is also emphasizing the pre-eminence of dream power over waking life.

Ultimately, the point of the pairings, is that Betty is not really the bum, nor is Betty Elms really Diane Selwyn, nor is Diane Selwyn really a ghost, nor are Betty and Diane alter-egos of one another. There is no "really" or reality. All of these identities are true and none are true. None of the fragments is related to another in a sequential or causal way. It's never possible in our reality, the one that we mostly inhabit, to see one's own rotting corpse, though it might be possibly in the world of nightmares.

Those of us who enjoy non-linear films may anticipate that "Ah-ha" of saying, "Here I am back again at the point of overlap in this circular narrative. Now I see." This is a tease and Diane’s speaking the same dialogue does not explain the confusions of identities. It doesn't work logically in any real, physical, objective world for Betty/Diane Selwyn to have arranged for the murder of Rita/Camilla before or after the director's party. Diane's suicide has neither happened before nor after the party at Adam Kesher's house. There is no clear moment when Camilla (Melissa George) becomes Camilla (Laura Harring), etc.

When the film hasn't advanced and a tree now grows through a child's head on the developed film, it's not that one image is the real picture and that one could scrape away the illusion. "No hay banda." There is no band playing the music. There is no solid reality or a single paradigm to explain what we seem to see. There is only absurdity, silence, silencio and all it can be filled with is more illusion. It is also fitting to set this film in Los Angeles, city of angels, city of dreams, city of the movie-making industry in which everyone wants to be in the movies and every movie star has a dozen identities or no identity. The protagonist’s name may even be a reference to two giants of the industry: “Selwyn” from [David O.] Sel[znick] and [Samuel Gold]wyn. This also underscores the movie poster for Gilda and Camilla's appropriation of this name provides such important controlling images for the film.) Rita Hayworth once said of this defining role, “Every man wants to marry Gilda and [is disappointed to wake up with] Rita.

Lynch quite specifically wants the characters (who can be props of a sort in his films) to escape their embodiment. He wants to remind us that "this is not a pipe.” The character is not the actor or actress but an abstraction created by the making of movies. Lynch begins this work with the numerous pairings in Twin Peaks, continues it in Lost Highway and achieves it in Mulholland Dr.

What do the ominously grinning older couple have to do with the slippage of logic?• (As clichéd personification of treacle sweetness, they are the reminder to Diane that she has lost the innocence of Betty, and so she shoots herself. Why is the dwarf (à la Twin Peaks) pressuring Adam Kesher to put Camilla in his movie? (Because this is Diane’s convoluted explanation for he “didn’t think too much of [her] as she says at the dinner party. Who is the blue-faced women who closes the film with the one word, "Silencio"? (Perhaps she represented an actress who survived the Hollywood meat grinder, like Ann Miller, who portrays the apartment manager in the dream frame and Adam Kesher’s mother at the end of the film. Such a survivor would have see many "Dianes" try to succeed and burn themselves out as waitresses or worse. And what has the cowboy to do with all of this? (Perhaps he represents an earlier and clearer moral code). Even films as different as The Wizard of Oz (1939), Chinatown (1974) and Phantasm (1979) we get some answers. In Mulholland Dr. we won't ever conclusively settle these questions and that's not because the film is flawed. Lynch wouldn't even try to close every circle as Quentin Tarantino does in Pulp Fiction (1994)

David Lynch announced at the Cannes International Film Festival that he will release a new film in 2006 entitled Inland Empire. If he never made another film, however, he achieved in Mulholland Dr. (2001) what he had been working toward for a quarter century. The purpose of this noirish excursion into the subconscious is not a non-linear narrative but an anti-linear, anti-causal narrative — the quintessentially [though Lynch hates the word] postmodern film.

• With the bad miniaturization, wooden movements and squeaking voices of these two, I am put in mind of an episode of Star Trek (1966 season) entitled "Catspaw.” This is relevant to Mulholland Dr. because the shrinking, dying beings at the end of the episode have only just been revealed as mere illusions of humans — in the moments just before their death.

Literary Taste, Circular Over Time by R A Rubin

I believe it is true that artistic taste, literary taste are circular in movement over time. The primitive becomes the pet of the Avant-Garde and in turn the intellectuals take hold with these new directions and become the lions of the art world. Then the public craves a yet more spectacular art and the artists strive to fulfill the demand. The naivety of the primitive gives way to the intellectual, the schooled technician, and this group gives way to cynicism and excess. Then the public pines for the simplicity that started the avalanche in the beginning.

The Australian
Hardwired to seek beautyDenis DuttonJanuary 13, 2006

"This craving for novelty is itself a fascinating area of empirical research. There is a tendency, for example, for all artistic genres to develop in the direction of greater emotional content in time. Music moves from baroque to classic to romantic, with modulations becoming more striking, emotions stronger, orchestras larger. Movies go from merely illustrating stories to becoming more graphically exciting.

These patterns toward increasing violence and emotional content can be put down largely to satiation: the process by which we simply get tired of anything we consume and crave more excitement from it.

Such cycles tend to have natural conclusions, with film producers periodically returning to the calm formality of Jane Austen after pushing the boundaries of sex and violence. Such episodes can be charted and studied with perhaps less precision, but certainly more fascination, than can the tides and cycles of ocean currents.

Darwinian aesthetics have hardly got off the ground, and much work remains to be done. Nevertheless, I've already seen a stiff, knee-jerk resistance to the very idea among older academics in the humanities. It's odd that the very academics who express outrage that religious conservatives want to keep Darwin out of high school biology classes in the US are themselves unwilling to admit Darwin into their own seminars."

Can we assume that the 19th Century Americans, Cooper, Crane, Melville, and Twain are the the primitives followed by the intellectuals or craftsmen, James, Dreiser, Hemingway and Fitzgerald; and they are followed by Saul Bellow and Phillip Roth? Ah excess! Now I yearn for the primitive.

Fear and Desire: The Fracture Point in the Films of David Lynch by Adrienne Redd

Mulholland Dr. (2001) and Lost Highway (1997) are two of the most mysterious films ever made. This essay argues that in both films, as in some other works by David Lynch, there emerges a fracture point between waking and delusional portions of the narrative.

Balanced on either side of the fracture point, there are two story frames in both Lost Highway and Mulholland Dr. — an external (but still unreliable) set of perceptions from a disturbed and unstable protagonist and an extended delusion which fulfills the protagonist’s most urgent desires.

Complementary to the understanding of Lost Highway and Mulholland Dr. are Blue Velvet and Eraserhead, the first full-length film by Lynch.

Lost Highway concerns a morose and narcissistic jazz saxophonist, Fred Madison (Bill Pullman). At a party which he attends with his wife, Renee (Patricia Arquette), she flirts with the host, Andy (Michael Massee). A few minutes later, Fred is approached by an ominous man in black (Robert Blake), referred to in the credits as the “mystery man”), who tells him, “We've met before … At your house. Don't you remember? …”

The couple drives home and their conversation in the car reveals Fred’s jealousy. Then it appears to be late at night and tension peaks as Renee calls out with increasingly fearfulness to Fred as she walks through their dark and empty house. Next we see a static-filled, black and white video of Fred having apparently just murdered Renee. The film skips forward to Fred’s guilty verdict and finds him on death row. One night, newly installed in prison, he cries out to the guards for aspirin for the pain in his head; he then writhes in pain, head in hands and experiences an apparition of the man in black standing at the doorway of a shack engulfed in flames. In the morning (from the point of view granted to us through the film) there is a physically different man in Fred’s cell, whom his jailers identify as Pete Dayton (Balthazar Getty).

Not being able to continue to hold this new occupant, the jailers release Pete. The story proceeds with Pete Dayton as the protagonist. He is in his early twenties, lives with his parents and works at an automobile repair shop. A customer of the shop, a tough and threatening older man named Mr. Eddy (also referred to as Dick Laurent, and portrayed by Robert Loggia) prizes Pete’s ability to repair his car and seems genuinely fond of Pete. Pete meets and begins and affair with Mr. Eddy’s much younger girlfriend, Alice Wakefield, also portrayed by Patricia Arquette.

Some reference has been made in the earlier story frame, as Fred and Renee returned from the party, to Renee’s former association with or employment by pornographers. Alice has a similar connection and in a noirish plot construct, she persuades Pete to rob a man she knows, who “always has a lot of cash” so that she and Pete can run away together. In a nightmarish scene with amateur pornography projected larger than life onto the wall, the robbery of this man (the same Andy who hosted the party) turns into a murder and it seem as though Alice is poised to betray Pete. He nonetheless accompanies her to a shack in the desert (the same edifice Fred has envisioned in flames). Identities become unstable (with Bill Pullman again portraying Pete/Fred); Mr. Eddy/Dick Laurent arrives, in pursuit of Pete and Alice. Fred kills him and completes the circle of the story by going to his own house and buzzing the intercom to say, “Dick Laurent is dead,” (the first line of the movie). Fred then flees into the night on the lost highway, chased by the police.

The first segment of the film, before Fred’s vision in prison, is the waking story frame, or at least Fred’s (incomplete and misleading) memory of the events leading up and immediately after Renee’s death. In the days preceding Renee’s murder, the couple received several video tapes, first showing the outside of their house, then showing the couple sleeping. The third video tape shows Fred covered in Renee’s blood, kneeling by her body, apparently having just killed her. Earlier after receiving the first two videotapes, Fred and Renee summoned two detectives (phlegmatic, dim and caricatured as Lynch’s detectives can be). Renee tells them that Fred hates video cameras and Fred adds, “I like to remember things my own way. ….How I remember them. Not necessarily the way they happened.” This clues us in that we are watching Fred’s recollection of the external frame of the story. It may also give an explanation as to who shot these tapes. In Mulholland Dr., as I discuss below, I believe we are watching events as they happen. In Lost Highway, the videotape is merely a metaphor for Fred’s memory of the murder of Renee and the days leading up to it. Perhaps receiving the tapes is also a metaphor for both Renee and Fred’s growing awareness. The detectives, as in Mulholland Dr., may not have ever existed at all, but were merely stock characters.

One possible explanation of Fred consuming headache and his vision of the burning shack is that Fred has disassociated. The medical term for this is disassociative identity disorder and used to be known as multiple personality disorder. Extraordinarily rare and disputed by some psychologists as to whether it even exists, disassociation is thought to occur in childhood when the waking self is subjected to unbearable abuse and plunges into a fugue state while another splinter of self takes over. The relevance here is that Fred cannot bear what he has done and so his waking self (the one who murdered his wife) is pushed below consciousness and an alter ego takes over. This alter is younger, more virile and, most importantly, can start over with Renee/Alice.

Fred’s vision of the burning shack is the fracture point of his life and his consciousness. This film as in many of Lynch’s films (and, in fact, in the work of other surrealists, such as Buñuel and Dali) employs a private vocabulary of images. In this case, house equals head. When the man in black, also a fragment of Fred, exchanges words with Fred at the party, he tells Fred, “As a matter of fact, I'm there [at you’re your house] right now… You invited me. It is not my custom to go where I am not wanted.” Consistent with the mythology of vampires, the man in black has been invited by Fred, whose jealous has been aroused by Renee’s tipsy flirtatiousness. If we identify the man in black as jealousy personified, his saying that he is “at [Fred’s] house means he is in Fred’s head. Perhaps he is the trigger to Fred’s jealous rage at Renee or perhaps he is the fragment who commits the actual murder.

The second portion of Lost Highway including the affair with Alice is then extended wish fulfillment, but Fred’s memory of violence and death cannot be suppressed for long and emerges in the final scenes. Fred’s flight into the darkness concludes with his death throes behind the imagined wheel of the car as the electric chair ends his life.


Mulholland Dr. concerns a perky, starry-eyed actress named Betty Elms, who wins a jitterbug dance contest and arrives from small town in Canada to stay in her aunt’s Los Angeles apartment and try to be a Hollywood star. Into Betty life (and apartment, just as it is being vacated by the aunt) stumbles Rita (Laura Harring), a lovely brunette who has just narrowly survived a car crash (and failed assassination). Not being able to remember her name, Rita seizes upon “Rita” from a poster of the 1946 film noir Gilda, with Rita Hayworth.

Thinking that she is friend of her aunt’s and tenderly welcoming her, Betty invites Rita into her bed, saying it will be more comfortable. They make love (in the only sexy sex scene in all of David Lynch’s work) and at 2 a.m. in the morning, Rita entices Betty to the Club Silencio, where, during the performance, Betty begins to shake and weep and opens her purse to find a blue cube. The setting snaps to another frame of the story, in which Betty becomes Diane Selwyn (a name Rita had remembered as possibly her own name)

Mulholland Dr. is more fully realized in terms of the double frame and there is a much more coherent statement to the film. The first point to the scene in Club Silencio is to reveal that up to this point in Mulholland Dr., what we have seen is merely the internal wish of Diane Selwyn/Betty Elms. The second point is that not only are the images on the screen an illusion of projected light, but what they seem to portray is also an illusion. At Club Silencio, the master of ceremonies intones to the audience, “No hay banda.” The translation from Spanish is, “There is no band [playing the music you hear.]” David Lynch is speaking through the master of ceremonies and he is reminding you that you are only watching a film.

There are actually two fracture points in Mulholland Dr., the first during which Betty reaches into her purse for the blue cube — and the second one is when the Adam Kesher (Justin Theroux) the director of the film (who has rejected Diane/Betty) announces at the party at the end of the film that he is going to marry Camilla. This second fracture point takes place in the more real of the two frames is the trigger that precipitates the events of the film — Diane/Betty’s hiring a hit on Camilla and subsequently killing herself out of guilt and despair.~~~

The entire narrative of Blue Velvet remains at the waking level, but there is one fracture point revealing the protagonist’s deepest apprehension (which is being sucked into the corruption of the other characters whom he encounters.)

Blue Velvet is a noirish crime mystery in which a charming young man, Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan) undertakes to solve a kidnapping in his seemingly idyllic small town in the mountains, Lumberton. The film is an extended exploration of the nature of innocence (another film essay for another day) but the film also contains a fracture point.

Jeffrey becomes involved with Dorothy Vallens, whose husband is being held prisoner to ensure her submission to a demented drug dealer, Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper) who has a sexual obsession with her. In a pivotal scene, Dorothy invites the much younger Jeffrey into her bedroom. As they copulate, Dorothy whispers, “What do you want to do?”

“I’m doing it,” replies Jeffrey.

“Are you a bad boy? … Do you want to do bad things?” She asks and implores him to hit her.

“No,” he protests. “I don’t want to hurt you. I want to help you.”

He tells that he knows something of her situation and asks her to go to the police.” As the word, “police” leaves his lips she roughly struggles with him. To subdue her, Jeffrey strikes her with the back of his hand. Flames (another Lynchian motif) of internal desire flare. Jeffrey is aroused and strikes her again and the camera comes close on her red mouth. She is also aroused by the violence. This scene is Jeffrey’s break with his illusion of the goodness of the world and his own good intentions (though he returns to the illusion of innocence at the end of the film, symbolized with the animatronic (but actual stuffed) robin holding a bug in its mouth at the end of the film.


The narrative of Eraserhead is an extended nightmare but it also contains a fracture in one set of perceptions revealing an even more primal fear below, that of being subsubsumed by the life energy of one’s offspring. No moment of Eraserhead (1977), David Lynch’s eerie expression of a man’s apprehension about fatherhood, takes place in external reality. The film is rendered even more difficult to understand because its disturbing scenes rely on a private vocabulary of symbols — squirting, oozing body fluids, sperm-like wriggling creatures, a bare bush that rolls into the room, etc. Nonetheless, given the context of three other Lynch films, one can make sense of the psychological meaning being conveyed.

The film begins with a sickened anthropomorphic god who pulls levers to bring into physical reality the (sexual) desire of the protagonist, Henry Spencer (Jack Nance). Henry receives an invitation from his an estranged girlfriend (Charlotte Stewart). He goes to dinner at her parents’ to be asked by her mother, “Did you and Mary have sex?”

Apparently Mary has given birth to something. “They’re not even sure if it is a baby,” says Mary’s mother. The film proceeds to show the travails of having a newborn, who wakes in the night and whose needs and ailments are hard to understand and contend with. Out the stress of this experience, Mary leaves Henry and goes back home to her parents and Henry is left alone to take care of the thing (that looks very much like a fetal horse).

The film is deeply hallucinatory, so the scenes don’t necessarily follow with much causal order (see my discussion of Mulholland Dr.) After Mary has left, we find Henry standing nervously turning a horizontal rod at the side of a room as a bare bush on a papier-mâché mound rolls into the center of the room and begins to spew dark fluids. As Henry stands there, his fingers twirling the rod, his head pops off and up through his neck thrusts the head of his malformed issue.

This decapitation impels us into a street scene in which a boy eagerly snatches up the head and takes it to a factory where erasers are apparently made out of heads.

The “fracture point” of Eraserhead is the physical depiction of both Henry’s horror at his offspring (the puppet was affectionately called Spike by the crew and cast who worked on the film) but more significantly at his own mortality. When a man (or woman) has a child they are literally and metaphysically replaced... Conversely, to kill one’s child is to deny the flow of time, to deny mortality and to become godlike or at least, inhuman. (See the future essay on the subject of patrifilicide — the crime of killing one’s children).

It is not Henry but Spike who is the eraserhead. Having a child will erase your head because when you reproduce you simultaneously become truly mortal and the inexorable cycle of life will be completed with your death.

Arguably, the fracture point could be called the central event of any narrative, whether that be a film, opera or novel. In Lynch, it takes on a distinctive significance because it is a break between one reality frame and another. This hypothesis is not a conclusion but a starting point and I look forward to exploring it further as Lynch makes more movies.


This essay is based in the research done for a film lecture given by Adrienne Redd at the County Theater in Doylestown, Pennsylvania on May 10, 2005 and again on September 29 and October 5, 2005 at the Ambler Theater and Bryn Mawr Film Institute respectively.

I’d like to extend my enthusiastic gratitude to John Toner, Pam McCloskey, Michael Lunney, Richard Bunker, Michelle Folkman, David Briggs, Alan Charlesworth, Chris Hartleben, Ethan Holland, Lori Mukai and Oliver Assiran and everyone who allowed me to test out ideas on them, who shared their ideas with me, who extended moral and logistical support and who tolerated my talking interminably about (and occasionally compelling them to watch) David Lynch for more than a year.

If there a fracture point, or series of fracture points within a greater dream (composed of sub-dreams of differing narrative cohesions) in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992) they are the extended montage from Agent Chet Desmond's disappearance through Philadelphia, and the room above the convenience store, up to and possibly including Agent Dale Cooper's time at Deer Meadows, if one accepts a theory articulated in Wrapped in Plastic that the first frame of the film is dreamed by Dale Cooper. This is too elaborate a set of arguments to explore here, so I toss it out for further contemplation later.

Unless one counts Wild at Heart, the sexiness of which is destroyed by its humiliation of woman at both the narrative and metanarrative level.