I LOVE Mark Osborne’s short film, More, which came with El Bola, the very first FilmMovement selection (Year 1, Film 1). I watch it over and over and over again! It presents an interesting contrast between children who are simply being happy with adults intent on producing and consuming happiness.
This 20 minute video, The Story of Stuff, is fantastic! It looks at the underside of production and consumption in the United States.
Did you know that a model for consumption was created in 1952 and we’ve been increasingly producing and consuming ever since? You’d think all of that stuff would make us happy, but our happiness levels have been on the decline since that time, too. Plus, we are destroying the planet by being so heavily identified with consuming and producing.
Definitely worth watching. Check out the website.
The short film, The Architecture of Reassurance, is the directorial debut of Mike Mills who went on to direct Thumbsucker. The film is from 1999. In 1998, there was a book that came out about how Disneyland affects the American lifestyle by the same title. I don’t know if there is a connection, or not, but the themes are the same – how does popular culture shape our lives?
Mike Mills said of suburbia, “I really had this confusion where I thought because everything was so integrated design-wise, everybody who lives there must be integrated, they must all have the same kinds of feelings.” He thought this should have made suburbia the happiest place on earth. Of course, that isn’t the reality and he presents this realization through Alice who descends into the madness of suburbia from her modern home on the hill just as Lewis Carroll’s Alice descends into the madness of Wonderland.
Interspersed throughout the film are interviews with actual homeowners and their teens of the houses he used for the film. All of the homes look similar, including the interiors. It slowly dawns on Alice that she is not welcomed in Suburbia because she just doesn’t quite fit in. At the beginning of the film, Alice tells her mother she’s going out and her mother tells her that if she sees any strangers, to tell them she said hello. I thought that was hilarious given the stranger danger we who grew up in the burbs have been brainwashed with for years on end. (Some of my friends will barely let their kids play on the streets!)
I absolutely loved Akira Kurosawsa’s Dreams! These dreams are supposedly based on those Kurosawa actually had at various times throughout his life. I’m not sure if these were day dreams or sleeping dreams or both, but they are beautiful. This is supposedly the most “Japanese” of all of his films and therefore the most difficult for Westerners to understand. But I think my mind makes more sense of symbolic imagery than it does logical realism so I had no problem with it at all and was never once bored, as is the claim of many Western viewers. I think the film is absolutely gorgeous! Some say it is a very self-indulgent work and perhaps it is, but I thought it was both insightful and universal.
"Sunshine Through the Rain" is about a little boy who wants to play in the rain because the sun is shining. There’s an old Japanese superstition that says the foxes hold their wedding ceremonies when its raining and the sun is shining so little boys can’t go out to play. Of course, the little boy does go out to play and it has very serious consequences. The boy is noticed by the fox and must kill himself unless he can gain forgiveness from the angry fox. So the boy goes off, seeking forgiveness from the fox. I can’t begin to imagine what Kurosawa meant by this, but I related to it in terms of religious superstition. There is all of this beauty we are taught to ignore because if we witness it, we are headed straight to Hell which is a sort of suicide. I get the feeling Buddhism has elements of this crazy Hell within it every bit as much as does Christianity. It’s the nature of superstition no matter the religion! Mess up according to social custom and you will be eternally doomed!
"The Peach Orchard" is about a young boy, too. Again, he’s not supposed to leave the house but he follows a girl who shouldn’t exist out into the peach orchard which shouldn’t exist, either, because it’s been cut down. There are spirits of the peach orchard which chastise the boy for being a part of having the orchard cut down. The boy cries, assuring them that he loved the orchard and was devastated that it was destroyed. The spirits believe him and there is much dancing and jubilation at this realization, but in the end, the peach orchard remains chopped down – except for one small peach tree branch that is flowering. What it made me think of is what starts out as the innocence of children. When you are a kid, you don’t feel you are at fault for everything adults are doing to the world, but as we get older, most of us end up being more part of the problem than part of the solution because we have unconsciously adopted our parents views and their deeds. The ending makes me think of my favorite Dr. Seuss book, The Lorax which is likewise about deforestation and consumerism. All that’s left is a single seed but in that seed and the younger generation is hope.
"The Blizzard" is about four mountain men making their way through a terrible snow storm. All finally choose to give up but one who, even though he encounters an alluring spirit that tries to lull him into death, chooses life. And with this choice, he realizes his camp is just minutes away which invigorates his fellow men who are all encouraged to get back up and make their way to “home base”. That, to me, could speak to so many different possibilities: the desire to give up on what matters most deeply to you because it is so incredibly counter-cultural; the cultural desire to give up on life because it seems far too bleak ; and the idea that you’ll never know what lies just around the bend if you do decide to give up.
"The Tunnel" is about a Japanese military officer who believes he is at fault for the death of his platoon. He has to try and convince them they are dead and releases his guilt to them before they march back into the tunnel. I watched this and for the first time realized how difficult it must be for military officers who “lose”. How do people deal with this sort of loss when it involves so many lives and those lives have been destroyed at your order? There is a very strange dog that meets the officer prior to entering the tunnel and returns after the tunnel, too. It was a Soviet tactic to use dogs laden with explosives. Maybe the Japanese used them, too? I don’t know how the dog fits into the dream, but it’s definitely nightmarish! Of course, its just as horrible to use animals to aid in killing as it is human beings! I guess I have a difficult time understanding war as anything other than a nightmare. How did humanity ever get to the point of believing killing and violence are justifiable? When the ex-military officer sends the dead away, they obey without question. Ah! There’s the link! The Soviet dogs were starved and then trained to search out food under tanks. Once they were trained to search for food under tanks, they were sent out to search for food under enemy tanks which, of course, they wouldn’t find. But they went under the tanks looking for it anyway and all of the explosives they carried were detonated which killed them and destroyed the tank they were under. You get trained to do as you are told and so you do as you are told, unquestioningly, despite the despicable consequences.
“Crows" is about Vincent Van Gogh, played by Martin Scorcese! I LOVE Vincent Van Gogh so absolutely adore this dream! Kurosawa said he was talking to Scorcese about the deterioratin of color in old films and quit focusing on what Scorcese was actually saying because he had the sense he had encountered his energy before. He kept trying to figure out where he had come across that energy and realized it was in Vincent Van Gogh! Van Gogh killed himself the same month he painted Wheat Field with Crows. This is one of my favorite dreams. See what you think of it!
"Mount Fuji in Red" is about a nuclear power plant melt down. This is the sort of night mare I grew up having. We did all of those crazy drills in elementary school for nuclear bombs which scared the living day lights out of me. I was always convinced I’d never see my grandchildren because humanity would have destroyed itself by then. I can only imagine how scary a nuclear power plant would be to the Japanese when they had already dealt with the horrors of the Atomic Bomb! But it’s one thing to have another country do something that horrific to you, and another to have that sort of horror inflicted upon you by the desires of your own people – not that they desired horrors, but that they were willing to take the horrible risks that involve nuclear power for the sake of convenience. Of course, we’re revisiting that in a big way here in the U.S. It does make you pause!!! Is convenience and comfort worth the risk?
"The Weeping Demon" is about what I grew up fearing – the nuclear holocaust. A man is wandering through a desolate landscape and encounters a one-horned “demon” who is actually a mutated human which he claims has occurred because of the nuclear holocaust. These mutations have crated a classification according to the number of horns that have grown on their head. Those with the most horns consume those with less horns. But the more horns (the greater the consumption), the greater the agony. Nature has been completely distorted. Dandelion weeds grow larger than humans and very little else grows. The “weak ones” are those who aren’t as consumeristic and they are the ones that go first because they are consumed. Immortality is punishment so the willingness to die is almost a sort of sanity even though it still registers within the individual as insanity. The most consumeristic of the demons pray for death but are condemned to live in pain for eternity. Eventually, consumerism creates the ultimate separation. The mutated human asks the wandering man: Do you want to become a demon, too? And the man runs… down, down, down, down into nothing.
The last dream, "Village of the Watermills", is probably my favorite. It’s kind of like looking at -what’s that sociologist’s name? Daniel Quinn! It’s kind of like looking at Daniel Quinn’s idea of givers and takers. Members of modern society are primarily takers. They believe they should get something from whatever it is they give because they perceive a lack therefore they must take. But tribal civilizations didn’t have this mentality – they were givers. They were appreciative of what they received. So rather than expecting something from what it was they gave, they gave because they were appreciative of what it is they perceived to have received. That’s based on the heart of nature. But as is stated in Kurosawa’s dream, most don’t understand the heart of nature because they don’t realize that they are going to perish.
I haven’t purchased any Kurosawa films yet, but I would definitely like to own his dreams! (Wonder how many horns that produces!!)
After working through David Durnell’s article on Dumbland last night, I went to bed wondering if maybe Lynch did intend Dumbland to be a pessimistic film. It does seem pretty pessimistic. The thing is, mosty of his films are very dark, but somehow, I always come away with a stronger sense of compassion from them than pessimism. Dumbland was more crude than what I’m used to from Lynch and I’m not exactly a fan of that sort of “humor”. But I woke up with a very strong sense that it was compassionate.
I looked up pessimism and there are two definitions: 1. an inclination to emphasize adverse aspects, conditions, and possibilities or to expect the worst possible outcome; 2. the doctrine that reality is essentially evil b: the doctrine that evil overbalances happiness in life.
Lynch definitely emphasizes adverse aspects, conditions, and possibilities. But I don’t think he personally expects the worst possible outcome and I have no sense whatsoever that he thinks reality is essentially evil or that evil overbalances happiness.
I think the reason Lynch presents so much “evil” in his films is because we, as a culture, are addicted to happiness. Also, we’re still a society based on puritanical values which taught that humanity is evil/fallen and that only the “chosen” are “good”. America thinks of itself as “chosen”. We are good and we intend to spread our goodness to others. Problem is, we tend to deny what is “bad” in order to keep the focus on our “goodness”.
This has layers and layers and layers that I think Lynch plays out beautifully in his films. The abusive patterns that are perpetuated by the denial of the abuse at the family level make their way into the societal level, too. We were raised with an extremely detrimental metaphysical model that told us we are bad and God is good. In order to be good, we have to do as we are told – “accept Jesus as our Lord and savior” (or whatever.) What this model has done is obscured the fact that we are both “good” and “bad” – every single one of us. To deny either in favor of the other is going to cause problems. It seems to me what Lynch is showing in most of his films is that the overbalance of so-called “goodness” is what is causing so much evil. The denial of evil/pain in order to focus on good/happy creates an imbalance that needs to be corrected.
What we deny is what gets perpetuated. Instead of recognizing it for what it is, we glorify “acceptable” or entertaining forms of violence, and become numb to the horrors that are happening around us. If we were to see evil for what it is, we’d do more to bring it to an end. But we don’t want to see it – especially in ourselves. So what Lynch does is shove the evil in our face, hoping we’ll see ourselves reflected in it. He wants us to wake up – not so that we’ll think of ourselves as evil, but so that we’ll quit unconsciously perpetuating it. I don’t think he’s trying to say it’s hopeless. But I do think he wants us to see reality without all the filters.
It isn’t that humanity is bad, it’s confused. We confuse perception with reality. We can’t change reality, but we can change our perceptions about it if we are willing to quit numbing ourselves with our “happy” distractions. Perhaps it isn’t optimism, but it isn’t pessimism, either. If we see pessimism in Lynch’s art, it’s probably because we are pessimistic ourselves. If we see hopelessness in his films, it is likely because we have a strong sense of hopelessness ourselves. If his films make us angry, then perhaps we are a bit like Randy and don’t realize it. His films are meant to evoke a response – not just the typical “feel good” response of the movie industry. He wants to pull up all of those repressed emotions we don’t like dealing with to make us deal with them. Until we are willing to do that, we will unconsciously perpetuate them.
I don’t think that’s pessimism; I think that’s compassion. We’re all in this together, after all and it is we who create our reality. Why not create consciously? We have to be willing to look at all aspects of ourselves in order to do that – not just the ones that make us “feel good” or allow us to pretend our existence doesn’t affect others and that the existence of others shouldn’t affect us. (Sartre said, existence is about “being in the way” – our existence is contingent upon others, not separate from others.)
So a few thoughts while I’m at it…
In Episode 1, Randy is looking at “that wooden shed over there” and the neighbor makes a point to say “it is my shed” which is obvious because it’s in his backyard which is separated from Randy’s by a fence. The neighbor tells Randy he only has one arm and flings his arm on the ground, Randy seems not to know what to say, and a helicopter flies overhead. My immediate thought was Vietnam – especially with the neighbor’s arm lying on the ground. There is some emotion trying to register, but it doesn’t register so Randy gets angry instead. To distract himself from his anger, he turns to the local gossip about his neighbor – “the who is sleeping with who” conversation. To me, the disconnect is painfully sad.
In Episode 3, the doctor keeps asking Randy, “Does this hurt you?” and and Randy keeps replying that it doesn’t. What finally angers him, I think, is the realization that the doctor wants him to feel something. Randy doesn’t want to feel anything – especially pain. Randy reacts when the knife is in his brain which may signify that he doesn’t have any. But I think it also points to emotional pain. It isn’t physical pain that Randy reacts to, it’s emotional pain.
In Episode 4, just before Randy has beaten his wife to a pulp, she momentarily acquires a new and improved beautiful face. I agree with Durnell that this is about plastic surgery. Women, instead of recognizing that they are being objectified, attempt to become a more attractive object. This, of course, simply perpetuates the objectification.
Episode 8 is great. It’s very much like Meursault beginning to recognize his existence through other’s judgments of him. As I mentioned in a previous post, Sartre said in Nausea that existing is “getting in the way” of others. Randy doesn’t want anything in his way. He’s always saying things like – what if I wanted to take a shit in my backyard? He should be able to do whatever it is he wants on his little plot of land without others getting in his way. He doesn’t realize that he is as much in the way of others as they are of him. You can only fully understand your existence through others and, as Camus said, this is typically realized through their judgments of you.
But it’s a mixed thing. If you are a child and have adults telling you that you are a “shit head”, a “dumb turd” and an “ass hole”, then you are likely to do one of two things – believe it and let yourself be abused, or deny it and become abusive. I think the ants could be both his repressed thoughts about himself and the fact that he does indeed exist so “is in the way” of others.
I think Randy definitely represents American society in general – not just suburbia (although I think suburbia just does America “bigger” because we’re in more denial). We don’t like being told what we can and cannot do, even when it’s for the sake of all of humanity. Our response to having limits imposed upon us is always anger: “If I want to drive an SUV then I want to drive an SUV. Fuck you! You are full of shit anyway. Everything is OK because I say it is and I’m a part of a special “chosen” society so I know and you don’t. I want to do what I want to do and you have no right “to get in my way.” In other words – you do not exist. But when you deny the existence of others, you are, in effect, denying your own existence as well because our existence is contingent upon the existence of others.
That’s why I think Lynch is being compassionate rather than pessimistic. He’s presenting our reality to us in a way that hopefully we can accept. And hopefully, we do find that reality disturbing! (If we don’t, then we’re probably psychopathic.)
In my interest in watching all things David Lynch, I watched six of his short films today: Six Figures Getting Sick (Six Times), The Alphabet, The Grandmother, The Amputee, The Cowboy and the Frenchman, and Premonitions Following an Evil Deed.
My favorite was The Grandmother which is about a boy who “grows” a grandmother to escape his abusive parents. It has a very Eraserheadesque feel to it.
I also liked The Alphabet. I have know idea what it is actually about, but having been a homeschooler, I can’t help but think it’s a knock against forms of education. Lynch made this film in 1968 and won a grant from the Film Institute for it. Lynch came up with the idea for the film when he learned that his wife’s niece was having a bad dream and was saying the alphabet tormentedly. The woman in the film is his wife and he used a room in his house to make the film which he painted entirely black.
God I love this! City Paradise came with the May Spiritual Cinema Circle volume. I think I’ve already watched it about 10 times! (And lo and behold it’s on the internet, but it’s much better experienced on a bigger screen with decent sound.)
The closing song is by Joanna Newsom (Peach, Plum, Pear)
Peach, Plum, Pear
We speak in the store
I’m a sensitive bore
and you’re markedly more
and I’m oozing surprise
But it’s late in the day
and you’re well on your way
what was golden went gray
and I’m suddenly shy
And the gathering floozies
afford to be choosy
and all sneezing darkly
in the dimming divide
I have read the right books
to interpret your looks
you were knocking me down
with the palm of your eye
This was unlike the story
it was written to be
I was riding its back
when it used to ride me
We were galloping manic
to the mouth of the source
we were swallowing panic
in the face of its force
I was blue and unwell,
made me belt like a horse.
Now it’s done.
Watch it go.
You’ve changed some.
Water ruin from the snow.
Am I so dear?
Do I run rare?
You’ve changed some:
peach, plum, pear.