David Lynch Presents the History of Surrealist Film (1987)

What liv­ing direc­tor has drawn the descrip­tor “sur­re­al” more often than David Lynch? If you’ve seen, or rather expe­ri­enced, a few of his films — par­tic­u­lar­ly Eraser­head, Lost High­way, Mul­hol­land Dr., or Inland Empire, or even the first half of his tele­vi­sion series Twin Peaks — you know he’s earned it. Like any sur­re­al­ist worth his salt, Lynch cre­ates his own ver­sion of real­i­ty, with its own set of often unfath­omable and inex­plic­a­bly but emo­tion­al­ly and psy­cho­log­i­cal­ly res­o­nant qual­i­ties. In 1987, the year after his break­through Blue Vel­vet opened in the­aters, the BBC appar­ent­ly thought him enough of an author­i­ty on the mat­ter of cin­e­mat­ic sur­re­al­ism to enlist him to present an episode of Are­na on the sub­ject.

And so we’ve high­light­ed, just above in two parts, the fruit of their col­lab­o­ra­tion, with apolo­gies for the straight-from-the-VHS qual­i­ty of the video. (I just think of the slight mud­dled­ness as adding anoth­er wel­come lay­er of unre­al­i­ty to the pro­ceed­ings.)

Lynch’s duties on the broad­cast include pro­vid­ing facts about the films and film­mak­ers excerpt­ed through­out to tell the his­to­ry of sur­re­al­ist film. (He also pro­vides sev­er­al choice opin­ions, as when he calls Philadel­phia “one of the sick­est, most cor­rupt, deca­dent, fear-rid­den cities that exists.”) We see bits and pieces of pic­tures like Luis Buñuel and Sal­vador Dali’s 1929 Un Chien Andalou (above), Jean Cocteau’s 1932 Blood of a Poet, Fer­nand Léger’s 1947 The Girl with the Pre­fab­ri­cat­ed Heart, and Chris Marker’s 1962 La Jetée. Not only does Lynch con­tex­tu­al­ize them, he dis­cuss­es their influ­ence on his own work. Casu­al film­go­ers who’ve caught a Lynch movie or two and tak­en them as the imag­in­ings of an enter­tain­ing weirdo will, after watch­ing this episode, come to under­stand how long a tra­di­tion they fit into — and they’ll no doubt want to see not just more of Lynch’s work, but his sources of inspi­ra­tion as well. (They may, how­ev­er, after hear­ing all he has to say here, still regard him as a weirdo.)

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Relat­ed Con­tent:

Watch Dreams That Mon­ey Can Buy, a Sur­re­al­ist Film by Man Ray, Mar­cel Duchamp, Alexan­der Calder, Fer­nand Léger & Hans Richter

Un Chien Andalou: Revis­it­ing Buñuel and Dalí’s Sur­re­al­ist Film

The Hearts of Age: Orson Welles’ Sur­re­al­ist First Film (1934)

The Seashell and the Cler­gy­man: The World’s First Sur­re­al­ist Film

Man Ray and the Ciné­ma Pur: Four Sur­re­al­ist Films From the 1920s

David Lynch’s Sur­re­al Com­mer­cials

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on lit­er­a­ture, film, cities, Asia, and aes­thet­ics. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­lesA Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall.

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Comments (6)
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  • Howard says:

    As well as Luis Bunuel you could men­tion Alan Resnais’ L’Annu00e9e derniu00e8re u00e0 Marien­bad, and Andrei Tarkovsky

  • sezaar says:

    The first sur­re­al­ist film was Un Chien andalou accord­ing to the pope of the sur­re­al­ists Andru00e9 Bre­ton. La Coquille et le cler­gy­man was not con­sid­ered to be a sur­re­al­ist movie.

  • David J. Russell says:

    David Lynch

  • MIKE says:

    The sec­ond half of Twin Peaks is more sur­re­al than the first since Coop­er ends up van­ish­ing in the mid­dle of a for­est to enter the Black Lodge.

  • Alex says:

    I think the writer of the arti­cle only men­tioned the “first half” of Twin Peaks because the show does slip into a sense of semi-nor­mal­cy after Lau­ra’s killer is revealed. But I agree that the final episode of the series with the Black Lodge sequence trumps the entire­ty of sea­son one in terms of sur­re­al­ism.

  • Lester says:

    Emak Bakia means noth­ing in Hun­gar­i­an.
    It is Basque, I think.

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