Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Writing, Empty Theme Parks, and David Lynch's Secret

Last night was the night I finally finished the last bit of the story of Laura Palmer's death. It took me about a week, with a detached and involuntary start, an enraptured, gluttonous middle, and a broken, soul-shaking, drawn-out end. I consumed the entire first season of Twin Peaks in one day, as well as the first two episodes of the second season. Then, at 2AM, I got so terrified by the ending, where Bob appears and crawls over the couch and coffee table toward Maddy, that I came to the conclusion that I wasn't going to watch anymore. I decided I couldn't handle it. "Trav," I said, "I'm an open vessel. You know this about me. I am highly sensitive to outside energies, but I have no defenses to keep out the negatives ones--that's a bad combination--and I just can't do anymore of this." Besides vowing not to finish the show, I actually went so far as to demand that Travis give me the answers and solve the mystery of who killed Laura and what the deal was with the red room and the black lodge, etc. and so on. Grudgingly, he did.

It was not long after this confession (which in reality was much bigger than that), that I announced I wouldn't be able to go to bed till I watched something that was comforting to me, something happy. Naturally, I chose Matilda. So, we stayed up and watched it (I quoted every word), and I felt a little better, and we finally got to tuck ourselves into bed at a quarter to five in the morning.

I spent the next several days trying to squelch the leftover fear in my mind and forget about the show. But I couldn't. If I wasn't humming the theme song, or speaking the words of the Fire Walk with Me poem, I was imagining turning a corner and seeing either Bob, or the giant, standing in the shadows, staring at me. Eventually, I decided that if I'd come that far and the images were already in my head, I might as well finish the story and see how it played out. So, two days ago we watched all but the last episode of season two, and last night we watched the finale and then the movie. In typical Lynchian style, it blew my mind and scared the piss right out of me.

My one complaint is actually a blanket complaint, covering a wide array of several tiny complaints. Most I won't get into; they would be nothing more than the insipid rantings of an overly-enthusiastic storyteller. But I will say this: the worst decision the network ever made (probably in the history of bad network decisions), was to reveal who killed Laura in the middle of season two. They totally jumped the shark! Everything after that (excluding the last episode, of course), was lackluster--nothing was scary, nothing was sexy, the fear and the mystery were gone and yet, unthinkably, we still had half a season to slog through (who gives a shit about James fixing the married chick's car and shacking up with her? who cares about Ben Horn going crazy and pretending he's a civil war general?). They took the piss outta the whole show when they told us who did it. As I told Trav a few episodes later (after the reveal), it's like going to a theme park with all your family and friends, and you have the best day of your life. And then everyone goes home, but somehow you've been left behind. All the lights are out now, the rides are turned off, no magical inviting sounds fill the air, the doors to the gift shops are locked, and you can't have anymore cotton candy. But the gates are shut and you're trapped inside, so all you can do is wait it out till morning, when the place reopens and someone comes back to get you. The theme park doesn't seem so fun and inviting when it's dark and empty.

But I kept climbing the mountain because of the promise that when I got to the top, David Lynch would be there to serve the cotton candy at the end. Boy, was it good too.

Unfortunately, this damn cotton candy is stuck on my fingers, in my teeth, my belly, my throat—it won’t go away!!

Thus I have discovered the secret to David Lynch’s uncanny ability to frighten and traumatize. As we’ve all no doubt learned through films such as Blair Witch Project, whose initial hype lay in its claim of real footage from a real happening, or the 1938 War of the Worlds radio drama, presented as news bulletins so the audience would be under the impression that the country was actually caught in an alien invasion, to truly terrify people, you’ve got to stay within the realm of reality. We’re all intrigued by films that start with the text ‘Based on a True Story’, especially if it’s supposed to be a scary movie. But Lynch creeps so beyond realism that his filmic experience very quickly starts to read as surrealism. The time he takes to trail the lens up a wall, along a telephone cord, around a room—it’s all to put the audience on edge; the last time it was so satisfying to watch one action drawn out like that was Cyd Charisse in Silk Stockings, taking 4+ minutes to change clothes!

I could talk about Artaud and the Theatre of Cruelty, I could probably even discuss Lynch's tendency to push both sound and visuals into expressionistic territory, but really I just want to talk about one aspect of his cinematics—indeed, the premiere aspect, as far as I’m concerned—that lingers in my mind and, quite frankly, haunts my soul. He has this way of depicting extremely mundane images in such a way that they’re turned upside-down and made into austere, abrasive, and aggressive distortions of their original—and still fully present—appearances. Through experimentations with color, light, shadow, pacing, meticulous sound work, the redundant and revolving rhythm that exists within the movement of one image on the screen—like a ceiling fan, a ribbon blowing in a breeze, or a car swerving endlessly down a curvy road—your eyes and ears can be thusly brainwashed and trained into seeing the world this way. Even after turning off the television, for nearly a week straight now, I have been trapped behind a Lynchian lens, unable to turn it off or change it—unable to do anything but filter my world through this expressionistic surrealism, where the daylight in a room suddenly takes on an eerie and hopelessly sad meaning, the sound of a running faucet is now an omen of destruction. The list goes on and on. The point is, though I may be doing a very poor job of communicating it, that by simply taking time to showcase the everyday, to capitalize on the ordinary, exploit the unremarkable, the basest of human emotions—fear—can be awoken in a very deviant and irrevocable way.

And now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, I’m going to utilize this frightening but inspiring feeling and go work on my book.

Have a lovely Wednesday.