The Alphabet (1968)
By Raymond Benson
David Lynch is today’s foremost surrealist. In many ways, he has taken up the mantle begun by those artists of the 1920s who attempted to present in tangible, visual forms the juxtapositions, bizarre logic, and beauty/horror of dreams. Salvador Dalí, Luis Buñuel, Man Ray, Germaine Dulac, René Magritte—to name a few.
Most people know Lynch from his films, but as this thoughtful and insightful documentary reveals, he is and has always been primarily a painter. Lynch began his career in the “art life” studying and practicing fine art… and he sort of fell into filmmaking along the way. Even today, despite his recent foray back into television with Twin Peaks—The Return on Showtime, Lynch spends most of his time in his home studio drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes, and painting.
The film is narrated
“You have to sometimes make a huge mess and big mistakes to find the thing you are looking for,” an at ease David Lynch imparts while painting and smoking in a sun soaked yard as his young daughter swirls about before him. In David Lynch: The Art Life, the genius artist/director reflects on his early years, recalling childhood memories, troubled youth and identity crisis’.
Combined with insights from the man himself, Director Jon Nguyen captures petite ticks, character traits and scenes which shed light onto Lynch as painter/film-maker and old/young man. New filmed footage of Lynch tearing up a croissant and staring curiously at a stick as though seeking inspiration, is both endearing, wry and enlightening, alongside his stories of infancy (playing war) and the living “hell” of adolescence due to routine intestinal spasms and living with a conflicting personality.
What isn’t explored
Connecting a Mr Smith in Boise, Idaho, to Winkie's diner, splitting Naomi Watts in two, a Bob Dylan memory turned into Jeanne Bates and Dan Birnbaum coming out of a bag, and The Cowboy Monty Montgomery in Mulholland Drive, the air in Eraserhead, a Blue Velvet moment, the lines of Lost Highway, David Lynch's daughters Lula (Laura Dern's name in Wild At Heart) and Jennifer (voice in The Alphabet, starring Peggy Lynch) as bookends, cinematographer Jason S on call to film Jon Nguyen, Rick Barnes and Olivia Neergaard-Holm's David Lynch - The Art Life - all this and more came into my conversation with one of the directors.
On Mr. Smith: "I think the only person that knows is David. Just as he's the only one who
To outline the narrative of Eraserhead feels rather reductive since the film is a visual and auditory experience that requires first hand exposure. But, basically, it’s about a guy named Henry Spencer (Jack Nance) who is forced to marry a neurotic girlfriend, Mary X (Charlotte Stewart) because she gave birth to a creature/baby he impregnated her with.
(The Criterion Collection)
Everything Ugly Is Beautiful
By Raymond Benson
One of the many excellent supplements that appear on this disc is a rare video interview from 1979 with David Lynch (and cinematographer Frederick Elmes). For those of us who have aged along with the director, it is a striking glimpse at a young artist at the beginning of his strange and wonderful career. In it, he explains that he is attracted to sometimes harsh, oppressive settings, such as the nightmarish industrial cityscape in Eraserhead. “What everyone else finds ugly, I find beautiful,” he says proudly. And the director has pretty much remained true to his word, hasn’t he?
Eraserhead is a landmark picture, but its original release in 1977 was slow to reach an audience. It gained its must-see reputation only after the film was picked up to run on the midnight movie circuit that
Price: DVD $29.95, Blu-ray $39.95
Jack Nance stars in David Lynch's Eraserhead.
David Lynch’s (Blue Velvet, Dune) 1977 debut feature, Eraserhead, is both a lasting cult sensation and a work of extraordinary craft and beauty. With its mesmerizing black-and-white photography by Frederick Elmes, evocative sound design, and unforgettably enigmatic performance by Jack Nance, this visionary nocturnal odyssey remains one of American cinema’s darkest dreams.
Yeah, yeah, we’re just running Criterion’s press release write-up for the film but, jeez, there’s been so much said about it over the years, that we’ll wait for our review to lay on some editorial gravy…!
Criterion’s Blu-ray and DVD releases of Eraserhead contains the following features:
• New 4K digital restoration, with uncompressed stereo soundtrack on the Blu-ray
• “Eraserhead” Stories, a 2001 documentary by David Lynch on the making of the film
• New high-definition restorations
Hitting both DVD and Blu-ray, the Criterion release of Lynch's 1977 feature debut comes our way courtesy of a brand new 4K digital restoration with uncompressed stereo soundtrack on the Blu-ray.
As always, a handful of new special features will be included on both discs, and you'll find a full listing below along with the cover art.
In the film Henry Spencer (Jack Nance) is left alone in his apartment to care for his deformed baby and has a series of strange encounters with the beautiful girl across the hall and the woman living in his radiator.
Consider the vignette about an obese woman who decides, in a fit of depression, to slice off her fat. Her self-mutilation is juxtaposed with footage of a skinny model striking poses in a commercial. The director, Xavier Gens, cuts back and forth between the imagery with such mechanical repetition that the viewer develops a mixture of nauseation and whiplash but not, alas, fear. What a sad encapsulation of modern horror’s exceedingly sorry state. Horror used to be about atmosphere,
Written by David Lynch
Directed by David Lynch
Mrs Bates lived on inside Norman’s fractured psyche.
Her continued residence compensated for the guilt her son felt following her murder. Ever present, her spectral presence kept watch in the guise of a maternal superego overlooking the Bates motel from close quarters.
Psycho was one of many Hitchcock films in which the master of suspense would allow the repressed trauma of the Real to trickle through and threaten the stability of a carefully constructed ‘reality’. Maternal anxiety would again occur in The Birds by way of its eponymous creatures wreaking havoc on the townsfolk. The verbal contract in Strangers on a Train, epitomised in the kernel of a single cigarette lighter, refused to die a quiet death. And in Rear Window, Jimmy Stewart’s Lb Jeffries saw in the apartments opposite his own – surrogate frames for the cinema
For many it was first seeing Star Wars and for other more recent generations it will be their first viewing of Fellowship of the Ring but for me it was the scene where an older Kyle Maclachlan speaks to a backwards talking dwarf in a red room and my life was changed forever.
As a result I have eagerly watched all of David Lynch’s directorial work many times over the years and await each new project eagerly. Sadly he seems to have slowed down somewhat from the productive decades of the 80’s and 90’s and has only directed two movies in the last ten years.
To celebrate Universal Picture Centennial Anniversary year and the release of a Limited Edition David Lynch Box Set out on 4th June, containing six of David Lynch’s classic films plus exciting never-before-seen footage, it includes classics such as Eraserhead and Twin Peaks: Fire walk with me and Hey U Guys has 1 special David Lynch Box set to give away.
I’ve copied in a list of the films and the assorted extras (gathered onto a single disc in this box set) so you know exactly how much Lynchian madness you’re getting. There are interviews, outtakes, short films and other experimentia secreted within and this is a must for fans of the director.
Here’s a list of what’s on what,
1. This frame is from around twelve seconds into a thirteen-second shot, just before the screen goes black. Jeffrey sobs. The unflinching, unmoving camera eye does not look away. There is no soundtrack. There is nothing ironic or postmodern about this moment.
2. Paul Virilio, from his book Open Sky:
‘If anyone thinks I paint too fast, they are watching me too fast,’ Van Gogh wrote. Already, the classic photograph is no more than a freeze frame. With the decline in volumes and in the expanse of landscapes, reality becomes sequential and cinematic unfolding finally gets the jump on whatever is static.
3. Rendered at a low frame rate (below) the shot in question suggests Jeffrey’s jagged brokenness. In order not to watch too fast maybe we ought to watch differently, deforming the film to correspond to its own portrayal of psychological torment and deformity.
4. David Lynch, from an interview
The Alphabet was an experiment born out of a little girl’s nightmare. David’s then girlfriend Peggy’s niece was reciting the alphabet in her dream in a tormented manner. This gave birth to the idea of making the film. Difficult to construe, the surreal film is open to interpretation. It indicates the trauma of rote learning in schools. It conveys that learning should be a pleasant part of growing up and not become a cause for fear and nightmares.
The Alphabet combines animation with live action. The sound design is morose and dark.
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