In 1995, 41 respected filmmakers got a shot at using the first motion picture camera, the Lumière brothers’ cinématographe. Rather, they got more than a shot, but often not much more: each of these icons of world cinema had to make do with a single, 52-second roll of film. Whether you were Spike Lee, Costa-Gavras, Wim Wenders, Merchant & Ivory, or Peter Greenaway, the rules remained the same: no additional film, no synchronized sound, and no more than three takes. This large, indirect collaboration produced the film Lumière and Company, an anthology of all these very short pieces, each of which showcases the kind of creativity only strict limitations can release. (Brian Eno would, I imagine, approve.) David Lynch’s fans, a dedicated aesthetic faction indeed, will surely fast-forward to their man’s contribution, Lumière, which you can watch on YouTube.
Even in these 52 seconds, Lynch enthusiasts can spot many of the director’s signature aesthetic and emotional preoccupations. David Foster Wallace eloquently defined the term “Lynchian” as referring to “a particular kind of irony where the very macabre and the very mundane combine in such a way as to reveal the former’s perpetual containment within the latter,” and you might take Lumière as a bite of unadulterated Lynchianism. Taking place in vaguely but sinisterly askew small-town midcentury America — a realm now more closely associated with Lynch than anybody — the film drops into and out of a brief fugue of pure biomechanical grotesquerie. Some of the eerie dream-state quality comes from the incongruously ancient look and feel of cinématographe footage. Much more comes from the sound design, which lays the music of a warped classic film score on top of the noise of aging machinery. Critics note Lynch’s way with striking images you couldn’t forget if you wanted to, but I suspect his use of sound does just as much to lodge his movies permanently into our cinematic consciousness.