Monday, July 21, 2014



Every month I am posting a new video essay. This month's video also doubles as an entry in Wonders in the Dark's latest genre poll, the Romance Countdown, where Lady and the Tramp placed at #57.

Lady and the Tramp is one of the great romances of all time…but it’s much more as well. In fact, the animated classic samples numerous mid-century film (and TV) genres. “Lady in Movieland” explores many of them while also observing Lady’s anxiety and eventual acceptance of a new member of the family (and what this means for her own comfort and independence). Hope you have as much fun watching this as I had making it.

Videos follow the jump. If you're also in the mood for something completely different (although it too involves an unwanted infant and dark nighttime attack), check out last month's video essay on David Lynch.

Monday, July 14, 2014


We begin on Coronation Day, when many other fairy tales have ended. In the isolated kingdom of Arendelle everyone has their role to play. Crowds gather to celebrate their new queen (whose parents died at sea in the extended prologue) while servants bustle around the castle opening the windows and doors for the first time in years. Younger Princess Anna falls for a foreign prince who proposes marriage within hours. And the new Queen Elsa, a beautiful but aloof and conspicuously gloved blonde, accepts her new responsibilities with a pronounced reserve. And no wonder: once shocked by her sister's impending engagement, Elsa loses control (and glove) and shoots ice from her fingertips before fleeing her horrified subjects and escaping to the mountains; a long-concealed secret has been revealed and the kingdom turned upside down. Winter hits in the middle of summer, the good queen forswears her monarchical prerogative, the sidekick princess emphatically steps in as our heroine, and now we know all bets are off - Frozen will be stuffed with welcome surprises.

Monday, July 7, 2014


Although from now on I'll be alternating Lynch-focused pieces with other material (particularly my upcoming entries into the Wonders in the Dark romantic countdown, summer reading list round-ups, and an already-written but long-postponed review of Frozen) my attention to Twin Peaks won't really be wavering in the upcoming months. How could it? When I fell back under the spell of the series and its co-creator David Lynch this spring, I didn't yet know about the upcoming blu-ray boxset, featuring ninety minutes of deleted footage from Fire Walk With Me and a bevy of special features that would make even the most casual fans' mouths water. I'm particularly looking forward to Between Two Worlds, in which Lynch himself will interview Sheryl Lee, Ray Wise, and Grace Zabriskie, the actors who played the Palmer family so central to Peaks lore. He will not only be interviewing them as themselves but as the characters they played - a fantastic idea albeit one that probably only Lynch could pull off. I'm particularly excited to see the underrated Lee return to the role that defined her forever; and in a sense, this feature will also be the closest we get to a new Lynch dramatic film for some time - unless his rumored upcoming project comes to fruition. I can't wait, and in early August I will be reviewing both Between Two Worlds and The Missing Pieces (Lynch's title for the Fire Walk With Me deleted scenes edited into their own standalone feature, a fantastic and necessary approach).

Meanwhile, I've participated in my first-ever podcast, Cameron Cloutier's "Obnoxious and Anonymous." Cameron, whose fondness for long, unedited conversations defines a channel just packed with in-depth goodies, was someone whose work I discovered via his interview with filmmaker/author Jennifer Lynch. It's probably the longest interview she's ever done, full of insights into The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer and her father's work, as well as her own film career. Cameron invited me to participate after I commented on a previous podcast, and we spent over two hours discussing (and sometimes disagreeing about) both Twin Peaks and Fire Walk With Me, touching on what was good and bad about the show's controversial second season, how the show attracted and then turned away viewers, and why the film was so poorly received. It was a great conversation and there may be more in store after the blu-ray comes out. I've placed the podcast after the jump but you can also visit the YouTube page to check out some of the fascinating links Cameron included in the description.

In other news, friend and fellow blogger Bob Clark has launched a webcomic well worth checking out. Dubbed "Neo Westchester", the strip cleverly combines savvy social commentary with geeky references, taking an affectionate but clear-eyed view of gaming and anime culture. Beginning with the simple scenario of two fans waiting in line for a game release, the series branches off into surreal fantasies, political satires, and the eventual inclusion of genuine sci-fi intrigue. Ambitiously and accurately, Bob himself describes it as "Bloom County meets Akira," adding, "I hope I can offer a nice taste of political and cultural humor and commentary laced with a healthy dose of action and adventure in the form of deadly robots, evil corporations, and the ragtag rebels fighting them both in the streets and the technicolor carnage of online gaming." Join the battle here.

And now, since I'm already using this post as a catch-all, a status update. As noted, I'll be continuing Twin Peaks posts at least once a month from now on. This will include the aforementioned review of The Entire Mystery box set, perhaps some further podcasts, and hopefully some interviews which I've recently put out feelers for. Additionally, since I've focused so much on Lynch's involvement with Peaks lately, I'd like to list my favorite 20 moments not directed by him (though some will be written by him, or feature him as an actor, they still won't have been covered in my recent directorial retrospective). I am also hoping to end the year with an in-depth study of Sheryl Lee's performance as Laura Palmer in Fire Walk With Me. While this may be my favorite aspect of the film, until now my numerous Fire Walk With Me pieces haven't actually addressed it in much detail. I'm hoping this upcoming essay (which will also touch on her overlooked post-Peaks career) will be the first of many to examine great, underrated performances in screen history. Perhaps the next one can explore Bing Crosby's role in The Country Girl, another brilliant but infrequently-discussed piece of acting.

So that's the general idea and a provisional outline of where we're headed. Which is not to say I haven't already produced a lot of Twin Peaks commentary for you to explore in the interim. I recently updated my Twin Peaks directory from 2010 to include all the Peaks posts, images, video clips, and even brief mentions which have occurred on Lost in the Movies over the past six years (I'm also linking up entries in my episode guide and other Peaks pieces each morning on Twitter). Primarily, of course, this includes recent work. I spent the last two months exclusively focused on the work of David Lynch. If you missed them, I definitely encourage you to visit both my conversation with Tony Dayoub on Fire Walk With Me and my recently-concluded David Lynch Month, which probably constitutes the most ambitious series of posts I've ever assembled for this blog. Every week of that month, I posed a "Question in a World of Blue" and the discussion never closes so please jump in now if you have anything to say.

Finally and most importantly, I want to highlight my video on David Lynch's early work. I think it's the best piece I offered all month, and one of my strongest posts in any format. Sadly, it remains the least-viewed of all the month's posts, as is often the case with videos. Please take this opportunity to watch my tribute to Lynch (spoiler and graphic content warnings apply, of course), or at least to bookmark it for viewing at a more convenient time. I promise it's worthwhile - and if you think so too, please share it with others. This is the only way it will reach a wider audience.


And here is the full "Obnoxious and Anonymous" podcast I participated in:

Monday, June 30, 2014


This is my fifth and final entry in David Lynch Month, an essay examining long-term changes in Lynch's work. You don't necessarily need to read "part one" first, particularly if you're already familiar with Lynch. There are spoilers for all of his films.

This week's "Question in a World of Blue" is: What does the term "Lynchian" mean to you? You can respond in the comments below or on your own blog (please tag this entry in your response).

David Lynch has been making films for almost half a century. Because it took him another ten years to release his first feature, and nearly another decade to achieve his full-on "Lynchian" breakthrough into the mainstream, we tend to forget he's been around for so long. But Lynch's work stretches from the avant-garde cinematic renaissance of the late sixties (with its reliance on celluloid and aesthetic discipline) to the digital free-for-all of the twenty-first century teens (unmoored and immersed in its own video hyperactivity). He has both shaped his times and been shaped by them, but he's also stood apart - a one-man band beating his own crazy clown drum, sometimes celebrated as a true and timeless American original, sometimes scorned as a self-indulgent sideshow to the larger world, societal and cinematic.

From my recent Lynch marathon, two distinct and somewhat paradoxical observations emerged: a sense of unpredictability alongside an awareness of trajectory. On the one hand, Lynch's body of work is more wildly diverse than is usually credited: yes, there is a special "Lynchian" mood, style, and sensibility, but within that world there is incredible flexibility, ranging from the gentle, G-rated sincerity of The Straight Story (1999) to the raw, hallucinatory terror of Inland Empire (2006). Not only does Lynch's oeuvre feature wild fluctuations in tone, look, and subject matter, these wild fluctuations often occur from one project to the next. This marathon reminded me that the wacky, light-hearted TV pilot On the Air (1992) premiered a mere month after the intensely dark and emotional Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992), while Lynch's tragic, stylish Mulholland Drive (2001) was shot around the time he recorded the gleefully juvenile Thank You Judge (2002).

Yet if Lynch can't be simplistically pigeonholed, he can - with caution and qualification - be placed. Over nearly fifty years his work, and the voice expressed in that work, has undergone gradual and long-lasting transformations: despite the variations film to film, strong patterns and an overall evolution emerge when looking at the big picture. This means not only recognizing links and echoes between far-flung films (say, the mirrored endings of Eraserhead (1977) and Fire Walk With Me) but also observing a tidal flow to the themes and styles presented onscreen. There is a chronological march in which claustrophobic panic gives way to rootless wandering, classical restraint dissolves into multilayered impressionism, and recognition of corruption from within slowly overtakes the quest against external evil. Just as in Lynch's films random experimentation and apparent non sequiturs coalesce into powerful, perhaps unintentionally resonant psychodramas, so several narrative arcs emerge when examining the totality of Lynch's expression.

Monday, June 23, 2014


This is my fourth entry in David Lynch Month. It is a chronological overview of his career, including full reviews of every single feature and capsules on every available short.

This week's "Question in a World of Blue" is: Do you see particularly important turning points in David Lynch's career? You can respond in the comments below or on your own blog (please tag this entry in your response).

Over three days, I watched almost every single film Lynch has created since 1967, and as "film" I include not just features or shorts, but commercials, music videos, TV pilots, even the occasional promo tag. Next week I will examine the overall evolution of his career, in theme, storytelling, and visual style. Today I'm going to focus more on the nitty-gritty, the "trees" that make up the Lynchian "forest" (if you want to avoid spoilers, just read about the films you've seen - the only entry that contains a spoiler for a separate film is Inland Empire, which discusses the end of Eraserhead in its last paragraph). I will examine each of his works in turn, starting with Six Figures Getting Sick, a painting-in-motion installation he created as an art student in the late sixties, and concluding with Came Back Haunted, a Nine Inch Nails video so rapid-fire it contains a health disclaimer. Thus his filmmaking work begins and (for now) ends in the service of other arts - painting and music - but along the way he emerged as one of the greatest filmmakers of the twentieth century, his work appearing in cinemas, on television, and eventually streaming over the internet. He's bridged all motion-picture mediums and approaches, told stories and immersed himself in irrational imagery, accomplished himself as a humanist director of sensitive performance and a formalist photographer of abstract images.

Despite his surprising range, there is a distinctly "Lynchian" flavor to all of his films, which we'll discover as we move through them one by one. Each feature film is covered in five paragraphs (except for Blue Velvet, Fire Walk With Me, and Inland Empire, which get six, and Mulholland Drive, which gets ten), his seven TV episodes are covered in three, particularly distinctive short projects in two, and the rest of his work in single short paragraphs (often a couple commercials are discussed together). Here's what I couldn't see: a fictitious Anacin commercial (1967), the "Champions" episode of the Lynch-Frost American Chronicles (1990), a low budget video for his song "A Real Indication" (1993), HBO's Hotel Room sketch Blackout (1993), advertisements for Alka-Seltzer and American Cancer Society (both 1993), video documentary Lamp (2007), playful greetings to the 2008 Hollyshorts awards and the 2010 Twin Peaks festival, a concert film for Duran Duran (2011), and probably dozens or even hundreds of short clips from DavidLynch.com, which aren't listed in online filmographies unless they also appeared on DVD (all I can verify missing are two episodes of his goofy Over Yonder web series, but there must be plenty more where that came from). Even with those exclusions, I covered sixty-seven titles below. For a filmmaker with only ten features under his belt, Lynch has been shockingly prolific.

Feel free to browse for the projects that interest you (it may be best to bookmark the post and return for several visits) or follow the entire overview chronologically - this retrospective can be read either way. Indeed, one could say the same of many of his films...

Monday, June 16, 2014


This is my third entry in David Lynch Month. It is a video essay covering his early work.

This week's "Question in a World of Blue" is: Does Laura Palmer have special significance in David Lynch's body of work? You can respond in the comments below or on your own blog (please tag this entry in your response).

With a title inspired by a passage from The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer (by Jennifer Lynch), Take This Baby and Deliver It to Death focuses on David Lynch's first six features - through Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992) - as well as the TV show Twin Peaks (1991-92) and a few audio samples from later works. Allowing the interweaving of assembled footage to speak for itself, this non-narrated video essay emphasizes the complex, evolving portrayal of violence and abusive characters in Lynch's early work. Needless to say it contains both spoilers and graphic content, so proceed with caution. At 23 minutes, this is my longest video, but that's down from a 45-minute rough cut (not to mention a 4 1/2-hour assembly!) so the results are pretty tight. You can watch Take This Baby and Deliver It to Death as one continuous video on Vimeo below, or as three separate chapters on YouTube:

Monday, June 9, 2014


This is my second entry in David Lynch Month. It is a collection of quotes from news and magazine articles, scholarly essays, blog posts, and other literature (as well as audiovisual media) on "Twin Peaks", stretching from 1989 to the present.

This week's "Question in a World of Blue" is: Why did viewers and critics abandon "Twin Peaks" in 1990 and reject the 1992 film? You can respond in the comments below or on your own blog (please tag this entry in your response).

There are no spoilers until after a very prominent warning, and I would actually suggest reading up to that point if you're unfamiliar with the series. This could really build your interest.

INTRODUCTION
WHAT KILLED TWIN PEAKS?

It all started so promisingly. A wildly inventive mash-up of police procedural, soap opera, horror story, and wacky comedy, Twin Peaks (1990-91) followed FBI Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) as he investigated the murder of beloved teenager Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee), whose body washed up on shore in the two-hour premiere. Just as much as the ensemble cast, the town of Twin Peaks was a character, with its eccentric denizens, numerous intrigues and affairs, and spooky presence in the woods. It was a place viewers eagerly returned to each week - at least initially. The ABC series won rave reviews, a cult audience, and hundreds of imitators (everything from Lost to The Sopranos bears its imprint). For five or six months in 1990, it was a genuine phenomenon, sweeping magazine covers, TV shows, and the New York Times bestseller list. At the center of the media blitz was David Lynch (Mark Frost, the series co-creator, seldom gets equal credit despite having a greater hand in the show's practical development). Lynch, a cinematic surrealist, had hit the small screen at exactly the right moment in pop culture - or so it seemed. Yet within a year Twin Peaks was dead last in ratings; when it was finally cancelled, it was practically jeered off the air (at least by those still paying attention). How on earth did this happen?

Monday, June 2, 2014


This is my first entry in David Lynch Month. It combines a guide to the upcoming month, a memoir of my own Lynch journey, and 135 images from his films.

Each week I will pose a question to readers related to my latest post. This week's "Question in a World of Blue" is: How did you first discover the work of David Lynch? You can respond in the comments below or on your own blog (please tag this entry in your response).

This spring I've been completely immersed in the universe of David Lynch. It started in January when I read a book about Twin Peaks and my interest in the series was renewed. I started listening to Peaks soundtracks and podcasts all the time, devouring articles and essays on the subject, and re-watching the entire series. From there I broadened my scope to all of Lynch's work, initiating a marathon viewing of all his films and then returning to many of them yet again. The results have been unfolding for the past month (as Tony Dayoub and I corresponded on the film Fire Walk With Me), but will escalate in June. Every Monday I'll post a new, meaty post on David Lynch and his work.

First up will be "Gone Fishin'," a massive collection of quotes from news articles, TV reviews, and film essays on the Twin Peaks phenomenon. These are selections I gathered while doing my own research for the correspondence with Tony, and taken together these disparate sources tell a fascinating tale about one of the most innovative shows of all time, how its downfall came about, and why its deeper qualities took time to appreciate. This will post next week, Monday, June 9.

A week later, on June 16, I will unveil "Take This Baby and Deliver It to Death," my first video essay in a year and a half, a non-narrated impressionistic tribute to themes and motifs in Lynch's work, anchored around the endings of Eraserhead and Fire Walk With Me. It builds off the observations in the previous post, as well as my conversation with Tony about the fate of Laura Palmer and how this twist impacted not just Twin Peaks but Lynch's work as a whole.

June 23 brings the first part of my comprehensive Lynch retrospective, "The Eye of the Duck," which discusses everything in the director's canon - features, shorts, TV episodes, music videos, commercials - on an individual basis. Each title will be accompanied by a screen-cap; one of the most enjoyable parts of preparing this month was gathering images from the visual wealth of Lynch's filmography.

Finally, on the last day of June I will share the second part of my retrospective, "It's a Strange World," an essay examining the abrupt shifts, subtle reversals, and gradual evolutions in the Lynchian touch, ranging from narrative strategies and thematic concerns to visual motifs and directorial vision. This is the "forest" piece, while the previous week's essay will cover each "tree." While the depth and diversity of the director cannot be summed up in a single essay, there are several very strong narrative arcs encompassing his oeuvre, and they shed light both on his work as a whole and the individual films.

For now, by way of setting the stage, I want to offer my own personal musings on David Lynch and my journey of discovery with his work. When I discuss his films at the end of the month I will be analyzing, contextualizing, and connecting them, but I won't really be relating them to myself. So I will do this below, without any major spoilers (my upcoming posts are another story, but I'll note which works I'm spoiling beforehand). If you're unfamiliar with Lynch, but curious, the rest of this post is a good place to start.

Following the memoir is a smorgasbord (careful, Audrey) of 135 Lynch screen-caps - twelve from each feature film, three from each Lynch-directed Twin Peaks episode, and a sampling from his shorts (plus one image taken from a promotional show). Lynch's work is a treasure trove of haunting, disturbing, and beautiful images, but just as amazing as his killer eye is the breadth of his ability and technique.

Monday, May 26, 2014


This is the final entry in my four-part correspondence with Tony Dayoub of Cinema Viewfinder. We are discussing Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me on the film conversation site To Be (Cont'd). Three weeks ago I kicked off the conversation with my first entry, "Twin Peaks is Dead - Long Live Laura Palmer!".

Lynch's Affinity for Laura Palmer
by Tony Dayoub

Joel,

David Lynch hasn’t released a full-length theatrical feature since 2006’s Inland Empire. This offers us some perspective on his filmography and Fire Walk with Me’s place in it. It’s but the first of a series of films depicting a woman whose dual nature is a signal of internal dissonance. What most intrigues me is how jarring it feels compared with his work up until then, a considerable achievement given the almost mischievous disdain Lynch has for traditional narratives. Even though  he started his career with Eraserhead, a stubbornly surreal work, his next two films–The Elephant Man and Dune–both strike me as stabs at legitimacy, a director bringing his unique vision to projects which might allow him mainstream success. Blue Velvet, which looks at the frighteningly dark underbelly of shiny, wholesome small-town America, is the first work that truly feels Lynchian. Then comes TV’s Twin Peaks, which continues along those lines. And right before Fire Walk with Me, Lynch directs Wild at Heart, a noir romance that hints at Lynch’s penchant for the surreal intruding on reality, this time in the form of characters from the movie The Wizard of Oz.

Monday, May 19, 2014


This is the third entry in my four-part correspondence with Tony Dayoub of Cinema Viewfinder. We are discussing Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me on the film conversation site To Be (Cont'd). Two weeks ago I kicked off the conversation with my first entry, "Twin Peaks is Dead - Long Live Laura Palmer!" Share your thoughts on the film under the main entry (this is only the intro; follow the link below to read the whole letter). While I have cross-posted my two entries on Lost in the Movies for archival purposes, I encourage readers to follow the link below and read the whole conversation in one place.

Tony,

Entering the world of Fire Walk With Me for the first time, I was thrilled by its air of uncertainty. Lynch's rhythms and images provoked and perplexed me: the static-filled TV set where we would expect the show’s opening theme song; the plastic-wrapped corpse of Teresa Banks floating downstream, unclaimed and unloved; the FBI meeting in a skimpy Oregon airfield, sour-faced Lil (Kimberly Ann Cole) offering coded information via a wiggle, stitch, and blue flower. And then we were off to Deer Meadow, to investigate Teresa's murder. You've already described the Bizarro World qualities of Twin Peaks' doppelganger town, but perhaps even more unsettling than what Lynch shows us there is how he introduces us to it.