By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
But just when Lynch seemed to have it made, this oddball Icarus flew too close to mass culture‘s klieg lights. Despite a shattering climax, Twin Peaks guttered and died, and the public never warmed to Wild at Heart (which I still think is his worst film). By the time Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me was released in 1992 (and yes, that’s the year he began smoking again), he had fallen sadly out of favor. a Although his account of Laura Palmer‘s last week is one of that decade’s bravest and most harrowing films, it died in a blizzard of nasty, uncomprehending reviews (The Washington Post termed it a ”psychic autopsy, a weirdly fundamentalist cogitation on the intersection of Heaven, Hell and Washington state“).
When I ask about this fall from grace, he shrugs and replies in the primitivist terms you might expect: ”They warned me if you‘re on the cover of Time, you’ve got two years‘ bad luck coming. And a black cloud did come over me, and when the black cloud comes over, there’s nothing you can do about it. Nothing. And you look out and you wonder, ‘How come these things are happening and people are saying these things?’ It‘s just the way it is. It’s just part of the deal. And then you wonder, ‘How long will the cloud be there?’“
Lynch didn‘t make another film for five years, and you heard industry types muttering that he was ”over.“ But his own faith in himself was unshaken. ”If you don’t believe in the work and you get bad reviews, then it‘s really devastating. But if you believe in it, then the bad reviews, at most, are confusing -- you can still live. With Dune it was the first example, and with Fire Walk With Me it was the second.“
Because his work never relies on formula, Lynch has a narrower margin for error than most filmmakers: If a scene or two goes kerflooey, he completely loses the audience. That’s pretty much what happened with the patchy Lost Highway (1997), whose Mobius-strip structure was miles from Hollywood‘s three-act cliche -- Bill Pullman transforms into Balthazar Getty with no explanation. People just didn’t get it. That may be one reason he played it so linear in The Straight Story, a lawn-mower-powered 1999 road movie that was as square as Grandma‘s favorite doily. Although the movie was guilty of romanticizing small-town life (no Wal-Mart in Lynch’s Iowa), it also marked a heartfelt stab at a new emotional maturity. Lynch genuinely believed what he was saying about family and reconciliation. The movie had a tenderness largely missing since The Elephant Man.
That tenderness has carried over into Mulholland Drive, which finds Lynch up to his customary trick of dropping light and dark into the Cuisinart. Although this is the crookedest story he‘s ever told, Lynch never loses sight of his heroines’ frailty amid all the hallucinations, mistaken identities, performances within performances, dreams within dreams within dreams. The film‘s vision is bleak, for Lynch no longer seems to believe in any kind of solid, stable psyche. He portrays the self as a series of trap doors through which we tumble, or perhaps as an onion -- peel off its layers and there’s nothing left but silence. In a pivotal scene, Rita and Betty go to a downtown theater and watch a Latina singer belt out a song with wrenching passion. It‘s a dazzling star turn -- until we discover that she’s merely lip-synching. Mulholland Drive suggests that each of our lives is a performance in which we‘re never quite sure whose voice we’re really hearing, or who‘s writing the lines.
It’s not that Lynch has no idea of how he‘d like the world to be. For all his dark, perverse imaginings, his social values are rooted in the sunlit credo of the American West: Don’t tread on me. Nothing matters to him more than his freedom to do whatever he thinks up. I first saw this side of him one afternoon in 1989 when he began railing about the city government: It wouldn‘t let him put razor wire around his property to keep itinerants from cutting across his property. He shook his head:
”You know, John, this country’s in pretty bad shape when human scum can walk across your lawn, and they put you in jail if you shoot ‘em.“
While Lynch doesn’t seem like the sort of man who‘s packing heat, he was drawn to Ronald Reagan because of his ”cowboy image“ and laments that L.A.’s wonderland of individual freedom is being hedged in by rules and regulations. He takes building-code restrictions personally. ”People,“ he says, ”should be able to build what they want to build, when they want to build it, how they want to build it.“
Although he claims to know nothing of politics, in last year‘s election he backed the Natural Law Party, whose philosophy is that an ideal government mirrors the natural order. While this may sound slightly wacko, the party’s platform is perfectly sensible -- libertarianism with a human face. As part of the campaign, Lynch produced a campaign video for the party‘s presidential candidate, John Hagelin, an acclaimed quantum physicist. This tape is an extremely strange document (you can see it at http:archive.hagelin.orgsoundbytesdavidlynch.htm), for Lynch has no great knack for doing normal. He interviews the candidate in front of creepy golden curtains and punctuates the questions with ominous pulsing music. The superbrainy Hagelin winds up seeming like an off-kilter, B-movie version of a real politician -- the presidential hopeful from Twin Peaks.