Exactly five years after his first appearance, film critic and festival programmer Thomas Caldwell rejoins us to talk some key films of June 2015, ask whether there’s a cinematic god passing moral judgement on characters, and unravel the strange and unique filmography of director David Lynch.
Want to become an instant expert in our filmmaker of the month without committing yourself to an entire filmography? Then you need the Hell Is For Hyphenates Cheat Sheet: a double that will bring you totally up-to-speed before our next episode lands…
ERASERHEAD (1977) and MULHOLLAND DR. (2001)
David Lynch is one of the great cinematic touchstones. He’s somehow both incredibly niche and universally beloved, and that innate contradiction somehow feeds into his films, which are terrifying but not horrific, funny but never comedic, profound but never preachy. But if you’ve never quite understood the appeal, or have never known where to start, then you’ll want to clear an evening and program the following double. Your evening will kick off with Eraserhead, Lynch’s first feature. This is one of the greatest debuts of all time: Lynch immediately created an evocative and unique world that’s too weird to be the one we live in, but too familiar to be completely alien. It might seem off-puttingly strange at first to some, but Lynch is dealing with some very familiar emotions here. When you’ve finished that, jump forward to Mulholland Dr., one of the six or seven films that (along with Eraserhead) could be legitimately called his masterpiece. Mulholland is a tremendous work, and showcases not only his technical accomplishment, but also how brilliantly he works with actors. This is something we tend to forget due to the impossible aesthetics he uses, but Lynch creates potent characters and clearly knows how to get the best out of those who play them. An evening with these two films from either end of his career, and you’ll get exactly why everyone adores him.
Substitutions: If you can’t get or have already seen Eraserhead, seek out Blue Velvet (1986). This is as big a statement of intent as his first film, a terrifying noir that reveals the darkness of small town suburbia in unique Lynchian style. If you can’t get or have already seen Mulholland Dr., his brilliant Lost Highway (1997) will chill you to your bone. In the best way possible, of course.
The Hidden Gem: Want to watch something off the beaten track? Well, The Straight Story (1999) would, in anyone else’s filmography, be a fairly “normal” entry. But Lynch’s career is an inversion if ever there was one, and this master of sex, violence and terror somehow made a G-rated film for Disney that was as highly regarded as anything else in his oeuvre. This true story of a elderly man travelling three hundred miles on a ride-on mower to visit his estranged brother is beautiful, gentle, and unmistakably Lynchian.
The next episode of Hell Is For Hyphenates, featuring Thomas Caldwell talking David Lynch, will be released on the morning of June 30 (AEST).