David lynch is renowned for having a distinct brand and vision.
In fact, it is so distinct that is often hard to differentiate the exact aesthetic that his creative vision assigns. The undefinable becomes part of the mise en scène, which in an easier viewpoint, is the absurd which lurks at the heart of our daily life.
Since the revival of twin peaks some 27 years after first release, there has been much comment on how Lynch redefined television with his signature blend of slow build ambient music, luscious landscapes and idiosyncratic characters. We’re talking about you, Log Lady. Yet, arguably the Lynchian aesthetic is not reduced to the original twin peaks or indeed the current revival. For instance, in eraserhead we see the distorted visuals offer a twisted, jarring look at the inner mental processes of the main character; indeed the surrealist, neo-noir trappings of twin peaks bear a hermeneutic resonance with eraserhead and of course, blue velvet, featuring the ever effervescent kyle MacLachlan. This two-tone minimalist approach is a tangible palette in Twin peaks, which with its cherry pie and dark coffee aesthetic, Lynch breeds the darkness that lies under the skin of this small township.
Surrealist he may be, but lynch’s precision and focus are far from the randomness associated with auteurs such as Dali or even the early brush work of Pollock. There is echoes of this in the neon pink of Wild at heart, the stark contrast to the muted shades of brown in Nicolas cage’s mercurial character a strong reminder of the iconographical lynchian approach. Yet, as some critics have mentioned, the disposition towards the iconography, in lieu of character development is a lynchian archetype that has been maintained since 1980’s The Elephant man. Themes of evil, corruption, dissonance, derangement and cruelty are frequent bedfellows of lynchian features yet perchance this desire for an aesthetic entirely of his own making limits the overall development of plot or character. Whilst in Mulholland Drive we identify with the development of Naomi Watts’ character, we feel the dream metaphor sacrifices the veracity of plot in favour of the lynchian obsession with an aesthetic ‘dream reality.’ Viewing the world through a distorted lens for the sake of it is perhaps why lynch is the marmite of directors in modern Hollywood.
However, Lynch’s aesthetic influence is to be found throughout modern cinema. The visual lexicon he constructed so assiduously in twin peaks and transferred with aplomb to works such as inland empire (2006) has had an influential effect on the visual language of other works. For instance, the highly stylised contours and wardrobe of Mad Men is a lynchian trope, the sharp suits of roger sterling and the ice-cold Donald draper are echoes of dale coopers precise mannerisms and cinematographic elegance.
This is seen similarly in Utopia’s arresting visual palette, the stark yellows and greens are wholly lynchian and indeed in the John Merrick‘s dream of his mother in The Elephant Man, the dreamlike nature of our world is expounded upon. Yet often, with the lynchian aesthetic, one cannot see the ocean for the waves. For example, in Agent Cooper‘s dreams of the red room and of course, that iconic macabre set piece featuring Laura palmer, the audience is often focused on the surreal, what the hell is happening moment. Yet, the red room, a graphical distortion of the 1984 room of the same name, the darkness and malevolence is presented not as an unstoppable force, rather lynch constructs a universe of metaphor. Much like our dreams are indecipherable shoals of names and places, there is a logic. A logic or method in the madness. This madness is an influence which has permeated everything from walter white’s demented attitude towards cooking crystal meth to tony soprano’s withering self-loathing.
While most will dismiss lynch as weird for the sake of weird the aesthetic is not something that is simply icing on the cake. The whole of his collected works are experiments in the cinematographically form. Delluc and Carnudo spoke of, almost a century ago, of the power of cinema, the moving image. This is the idea that cinematographically power lies in the homogeneity of the piece expanding upon this, we can see this tangibly in lynch. Every work captures the eye, it draws in the senses and the mind. They are visual feasts upon which to explore every nuance and crack in the world. What the hell is going on would be an apt summation of lynch’s work and his aesthetic. Yet, you can’t turn away for a single second, lest you miss any detail. That is the true holding and striking power of lynch, the very act of aesthetic creation is a flame and we are the moth.
But do not go to close, lest you are consumed. Otherwise, you will end up walking with fire.
Words by James Hill