The first in a series of selections from my work-in-progress on David Lynch's Inland Empire. Among other concepts, the piece uses the work and theories of Chris Marker as a partial guide to understanding IE in its aesthetic and structural contexts.
First I'll address Lynch's efforts to become the Griffith of our new media era.
Please email feedback or comment below. Though the article does not currently have a publication venue, I'm considering my blogging as the presentation of a work-in-progress, presented in sections. Waiting for the pieces to fit together as a coherent whole would do a great disservice to my subject.
Though this section is largely without spoilers, it is aimed at those who have already seen the film.
Creating a New Folk Culture: Future Cinema Aesthetics and the Rise of the Backyard Filmmaker
Inland Empire is not universally ugly. It is often intentionally ugly, and very often intentionally amateurish. But why? David Lynch has vowed never again to shoot on film, in spite of his avowed love of the look of film. What effects might this have on Lynch’s work? And what does this decision mean for the future of motion pictures?
Chris Marker has stated that “film won’t have a second century.” Cinema culture is moving irrevocably to hobbyist-produced small-screen filmmaking, and David Lynch has chosen to abandon traditional filmmaking tools in favor of the tools of the amateur. Just as Dante invented modern Italian by writing his Divine Comedy in the Tuscan dialect, so Lynch is creating a new vernacular language of filmmaking by combining his control of the medium with the tools of the masses and the realities of cinematic production in the (still developing) age of full cultural democracy.
Lynch’s aesthetic devotion to this new cinematic language extends from his choice of camera to his use of framing, choreography, actors, and music to mimic amateurism. IE was shot on the PD150, an affordable prosumer camera with the identifiable look of digital video. DV’s technical freedoms (low-light shooting, freer camera movement, and the elimination of shooting costs) allowed Lynch to work without a script and improvise during takes. Like YouTube serialism or Chris Marker’s Immemory CD-Rom, IE explores narrative fracture as a component of the new dominant viewing experience of the masses – the aggregation of discrete multimedia events.
At various moments in IE, Lynch frames his actors in ways that mimic internet video, or poor student filmmaking (the extreme closeups of Nikki’s first conversation with her new neighbor set this precedent in the first scene). In another mimic of YouTube aesthetics, Lynch incorporates poorly rehearsed choreography routines to pop songs, and uses amateurish (“bad”) actors in some of the film’s smaller roles. There are even moments where his use of music feels like this new digital auteurism; his use of a Beck song is too loud vis-a-vis the scene, too extensive a sample to smoothly fit into the story, and too obviously placeable without reflecting on the narrative to serve as an effective emotional cue.
Lynch draws connections between this new aesthetics and previous folk cultures. By establishing a folk tradition of subverting Hollywood narrative presentation (the curse on On High in Blue Tomorrows), Lynch implies the demolition of Hollywood storytelling strategies at the hands of a new set of digital auteurs – amateur and backyard filmmakers. “Rabbits,” the ‘sitcom’ populated three human-sized rabbits, was shot literally in Lynch’s backyard, and picks apart the conventions of sitcom as a cause-effect simple narrative (misplaced laugh tracks and dialogue that gives no clues as to meaning or content). Like most of Lynch’s recent output (self-distributed on his website) it began as a series of short episodes in serial form. David Lynch, like Chris Marker before him, suggests that the age of narrative cohesion in longform storytelling has passed.
I won't make any promises on which section I'll excerpt next, but I'm leaning towards my section on IE's relation to Transcendental Meditation.
Click here for Part 2: Going Inland: Inland Empire and Transcendental Meditation
Click here for Part 3: Memory, Identity, Confusion, Recursion: Narrative Structure in Inland Empire - A Primer