The Belcourt Theatre has programmed a gosh darn great retrospective of films by American cinema’s reigning surrealist to celebrate the May 11 opening of the new documentary David Lynch: The Art of Life, and in anticipation of the May 21 return of the legendary Twin Peaks television series on Showtime. Jon Nguyen’s portrait of Lynch finds the artist/director at home and in his painting studio working, smoking cigarettes, drinking coffee and talking about how he accesses the images in his subconscious mind to populate both his canvases and cinema screens. For examples of his finished products look no further than the broad selection of 10 additional films the Belcourt has programmed. I’m a lover of Lynch’s work and I’ve seen all of the films in the retrospective – some on the screens at the Belcourt. Here are the highlights:
David Lynch’s debut feature influenced everyone from Stanley Kubrick to the Coen Brothers while throwing back to the naturalistic horrors of the Grand Guinol theater of 19th century Paris. Eraserhead is the most purely surrealistic film in Lynch’s oeuvre. The black-and-white movie has a timeless look, and while themes about abortion and the fear of intimacy occasionally surface, Eraserhead is an underwater dream of a film that announced Lynch as a director who was equally obsessed with the absolutely ordinary and the shockingly extraordinary. Eraserhead will be preceded by the Lynch short The Grandmother (1970).
The Elephant Man (1980)
This unforgettable film about an intelligent, gentle man made into a monster by a disfiguring congenital disease might be the most deeply human movie in Lynch’s catalog – that’s mostly due to John Hurt’s courageous performance in the title role. Lynch shoots this one in the same black-and-white from Eraserhead, but the actual strangeness, cruelty and bizarre circumstances of this true life story allow Lynch to explore his dark themes while remaining focused on characters and relationships. The effort garnered The Elephant Man eight Academy Award nominations. The Elephant Man will be preceded by the Lynch short The Amputee (V.1) (1974).
May 7 and May 9
Dune is a huge mess of a film filled with hokey effects, confusing plotting and the most bizarre closing lines in the history of American cinema: “And how can this be? For he is the Kwisatz Haderach!” That said, I’ve watched this film countless times and I even own a super sketchy DVD copy of the “long version” of the movie that I found on eBay years before the extended edition DVD was officially released in 2006. Dune proves that even Lynch failing can be far more watchable than many of his peers at their best.
May 7 and May 11
Blue Velvet finds a young man named Jeffrey Beaumont turning amateur gumshoe when he discovers a severed human ear while on a walk. Kyle MacLachlan’s turn as Beaumont feels like a dress rehearsal for his role as Twin Peaks’ Agent Dale Cooper, and Lynch’s subversive exploration of sex and violence serves-up a blistering critique of suburban values. Blue Velvet will be preceded by the short film Premonitions Following an Even Deed.
Wild At Heart (1990)
May 7 and May 12
Wild At Heart is my favorite David Lynch film – it’s ultra-violent, sexed-up and thoroughly strange and dark. This pastiche of Romeo and Juliette, The Wizard of Oz and rock ‘n’ roll iconography burns as bright as the match heads that Lynch continuously pictures exploding into tiny infernos. The film is also Lynch’s most romantic movie with Nicolas Cage and Laura Dern’s Sailor and Lula proving to be Lynch’s most memorable on-screen pairing. Stab it and steer!
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992)
This impressionistic prequel to the Twin Peaks television series tells the story of the tragic last week in the life of America’s favorite doomed high school sweetheart, Laura Palmer. This movie is way more bizarre and dark than the original series. Be warned, but definitely catch this screening in preparation for the premiere of the new season. The film will be preceded by the Lynch short The Amputee (V.2) (1974).
Lost Highway (1997)
In some ways Lost Highway isn’t as unhinged as Mulholland Drive (2001) or Inland Empire (2006). That said, it’s definitely one of Lynch’s most challenging films, and I’ve always felt that Lost Highway marks a break from traditional story structure that informs most of the director’s later films. Lost Highway revolves around a woman – or women – and the man – or men – who killed and/or love them/her. Lost Highway features lots of saxophones, nudity, violence, implied pornography, Robert Blake and – on a personal note – it’s the worst first date movie ever. Lost Highway will be preceded by the short film Six Men Getting Sick.
Find a list of all the films in David Lynch: A Retrospective along with tickets and times at www.belcourt.org.
Joe Nolan is a critic, columnist and performing singer/songwriter based in East Nashville. Find out more about his projects at www.joenolan.com.