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While at the American Film Institute, David Lynch tested two different
of videotape stock by shooting this strange little piece, featuring
Catherine Coulson as an amputee writing a letter, & Lynch as a nurse
attending her. Coulson's voiceover details various domestic issues, & she
remains oblivious to the fact that she might be bleeding to death while
nurse rushes around frantically, eventually, it seems, abandoning
It has been suggested that Lynch deliberately shot both versions badly, so that the Institute wouldn't start replacing film with videotape.
Regardless of whether or not this is true, The Amputee is better viewed as an example of Lynch's warped sense of humour than his skill as a filmmaker, & of what sort of ideas he might come up with for something as simple as a stock test.
While it is not as deep or impressive as some of Lynch's other works, I believe that this film breaks new ground in terms of camera work and how a scene is put together. I think it is important that this film is shot twice, once to capture the story, the other to capture what is happening. If you view simply the woman, you will grasp what her letter is all about, however, if you view the nurse, you will take in only what the nurse is doing. Viewing it once just staring at the woman, and then again viewing only the nurse gives quite a contrasting look at the same exact picture. It may very well be an experiment only, but the fact that it has this effect is intriguing on its own. Try it yourself!
David Lynch made this short during a troubled time when filming of
Eraserhead had come to a stand-still due to lack of funds. He
volunteered to make a short film twice as a test for a couple of stocks
of black and white videotape that the American Film Institute wished to
compare. As a result he made a film called The Amputee twice. Both
versions are more or less the same and consist of a woman who is a
double-amputee reading aloud to herself the contents of a letter that
she has written while a doctor tends one of the stumps on her legs. It
ends with the stump gushing blood, the doctor fleeing and the woman
In truth it isn't very interesting. It's shot in one take with ugly composition. The quality of the videotape is poor in both versions; while the content is a combination of the repulsive with the mundane. It was written and filmed over the course of one day, and it is throwaway stuff that is of limited interest. It's more an example of the director's bizarre humour than anything else. It stars Catherine Coulson who would go on to play the part of The Log Lady in Twin Peaks.
Amputee, The (1974) Version 1
*** (out of 4)
Amputee, The (1974) Version 2
** 1/2 (out of 4)
David Lynch's fourth film has a woman (Catherine E. Coulson) with no legs writing a letter to a lover while a nurse (Lynch) does weird things to her stumps. It should come as no shock but here's another very strange film from the director. It's weird because while your ears are listening to what the woman has to say, your eyes never leave her stumps where all sorts of weird things are going on. I'm sure this short will offend many people and it's this offensiveness that makes the film so effective. The goo coming from her stump has to be seen. The second version runs a minute shorter and doesn't appear to have as much being done to her stumps.
David Lynch wrote this short film to test two different types of
videotape stock for the American Film Institute.
You can check this out in "The Short films of David Lynch". I found this short extremely intelligent. In "The Short films of David Lynch" it is shown twice, but is not the same action, only the text is the same.
For me, in the first time I just couldn't stop staring at the nurse, who is in the only place on screen where action is happening.
The second time, what she is is "thinking" gets more relevant to the audience, but we find out that it has no connection at all to her legs and to the nurse.
In the end I figured out that I had just watched two different short movies! It's a great feeling for those who like the art of making movies!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I for one thought both the first version and second version to be
hysterically funny! David Lynch changed a small bit of this short film
to test two different types of film, but in the end the second film
looked like it had a better touch up quality. David's cameo fit the
perfect role as the nurse and in the second film ended up to be a laugh
when he ran out of the room because of her oozing bloody foot wound.
The story didn't make much sense to me, only that i knew she had some
disputes with some initial friends or acquaintances, but i for sure
thought it was a dark comedy in a way.
David Lynch is, by far, an amazing writer towards shorts;Even know he uses the most complex and confusing ways to make his shorts and films so original that it almost can't be interpreted. Without one doubt i'm a firm believer that this short was better then both "The Alphabet" and " Absurd Encounter with Fear", combined. The question is what was the girl talking about? and how did she get like this? There will be no prequel, but it is a question that only your mind could answer, once again the imagination of David Lynch.
If you like early Lynch, you may like this. A commentary, I think, on amputation not only of the physical variety, but of the emotional as well. At five minutes long, sitting through the film is not exactly the test of patience a film like "Lost Highway" or "Eraserhead" may be... but in terms of its content, it is decidedly just as experimental as either of those.
It's obviously meant to look kinda shabby, and there's no evidence of
any rehearsal. So with those parameters in mind, it's really great. I
kept thinking how ridiculous, how juvenile, but I couldn't look away. I
somehow knew it wasn't going anywhere, and I also felt it didn't have
to; it's horrible stupidity is so fun. Nonsense is so underrated, so
easily dismissed, but this simple, freaky clip haunts me. It harasses
the psyche, the way early Monty Python or The Aqua Teen Hunger Force
infects my consciousness.
Even though it's just meant to stretch a few creative tendons, it still pulses with the same absurd wide eyed wondrous horror of his more ambitious stuff. The sentimentally mundane and tedious narration that's totally at odds with the ridiculously disturbing visual creates exactly that type of extreme discomfort that has been the defining quality of all his best work. He produces this same detached, dizzying horror with Nikki's death scene in "INLAND EMPIRE" where two street dwellers are calmly discussing a possible bus route to Pamona, unconcerned as Laura Dern's Nikki lays bleeding between them right on Hollywood Boulevard. Nothing is ever just what it seems in a Lynch moment.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Since this was more of an experiment without direction of form, only an
experiment of video stock, I'd have to say that it's unsuccessful: the
video quality is poor and doesn't add anything to the overall action of
the scene being presented.
That said, the scene being presented is kind of interesting. A double-amputee writes a letter to someone else, talking about recent drama and a love-triangle while some random doctor character screws up and sends her leg bleeding all over the place. The end.
It's shot twice (two different video stocks), and while the first is better paced, the second has more action (read: blood). The first feels more intricately designed, what with the voice-over narration, the woman writing, and the doctor operating and all of it concluding at the same time. The second one isn't quite so well-tuned, even in keeping everything together (some blood spills over the page the woman is writing on, which cuts away the sense of odd surreality and just makes it kind of ridiculous), but there's a lot more stuff going on and it's slightly more impactive... too bad it's ended awkwardly.
Maybe the lesser of the bunch of David Lynch shorts I've seen, the only real interest are in some seconds here and there within the four minute un-broken shot of some nasty, black-death humor that's ingrained into the material. Unfortunately, it's almost a waste to watch the film as it is by admission of Lynch himself a technical 'throaway', something to just get onto film to bite back at the AFI for possibly switching to video. Therefore we get what could be comparable to what Godard did around the same time- tool around with the possibilities of video by just going for something off-putting within the frame. It could've worked maybe as something worth watching more, but it's really a bit too un-pleasant even in its own biting sense-of-what-the-hell way. It's just an amputee who writes a confessional letter (heard in voice-over) as a wacko doctor plugs away at one of her stumps. He also, at the end, just runs away in a hurry, perhaps as to just add that last bit of "whoa" for Lynch to work with. That part is actually a nice bit of surreal whimsy, but the work is just too simplistic and deranged to really give any sense of visual amazement like in the other shot works of Lynch, or to build on the outrageousness like in Eraserhead. Worth a watch, once, then never again unless you have a thing for, well, stumps, and confessional letters written during their upheaval.
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