The David Lynch Retrospective: A Two Hour Video Essay on Lynch’s Complete Filmography, from Eraserhead to Inland Empire

If you were to watch David Lynch’s com­plete fil­mog­ra­phy from begin­ning to end, how would you see real­i­ty after­ward? Video essay­ist Lewis Bond sure­ly has some idea. As the cre­ator of Chan­nel Criswell, whose exam­i­na­tions of auteurs like Andrei TarkovskyFran­cis Ford Cop­po­la, and Mar­tin Scors­ese we’ve pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture, he once released a med­i­ta­tion on what makes a Lynch film “Lynchi­an.” Now, under the new ban­ner of The Cin­e­ma Car­tog­ra­phy (and in part­ner­ship with film stream­ing ser­vice MUBI), Bond not only returns to the well of the Lynchi­an, but plunges in deeply enough to come up with The David Lynch Ret­ro­spec­tive.

In two hours, this video essay makes a jour­ney through all the dark recess­es of Lynch’s fea­ture fil­mog­ra­phy — a fil­mog­ra­phy that, admit­ted­ly, can at times seem made up of noth­ing but dark recess­es. It begins in 1977 with Eraser­head, Lynch’s first full-length pic­ture as well as his least remit­ting. How­ev­er har­row­ing its bio­me­chan­i­cal strange­ness, that debut drew the eye of Hol­ly­wood, result­ing in Lynch’s hir­ing to direct The Ele­phant Man, a chiaroscuro vision of the life of deformed 19th-cen­tu­ry Eng­lish­man Joseph Mer­rick. There fol­lows the infa­mous Dune, which finds Lynch at the helm (at least nom­i­nal­ly) of a $40-mil­lion adap­ta­tion of Frank Her­bert’s sci­ence-fic­tion epic, an extrav­a­gant mis­match as was ever made between direc­tor and mate­r­i­al.

Bond men­tions that he con­sid­ered exclud­ing Dune from The David Lynch Ret­ro­spec­tive, see­ing as the direc­tor him­self has dis­owned the pic­ture. Still, no Lynch enthu­si­ast can deny that it brought him to the artis­ti­cal­ly uncom­pro­mis­ing posi­tions that have made the rest of his body of work what it is. But what, exact­ly, is it? Bond draws some pos­si­bil­i­ties from Blue Vel­vet, Lynch’s return to the art house whose mem­o­rably oneir­ic fusion of idyl­lic small-town Amer­i­ca with sadism and voyeurism also func­tions as a state­ment of philo­soph­i­cal and aes­thet­ic intent. Not that Lynch is giv­en to state­ments, per se: as Bond empha­sizes in a vari­ety of ways, none of these works admit of direct expli­ca­tion, and this holds as true for the ultra-pas­tiche road movie Wild at Heart as it does for the split-per­son­al­i­ty neo-noir Lost High­way.

Then comes 1999’s The Straight Sto­ry, a movie about an old man who dri­ves a trac­tor across the Amer­i­can Mid­west to vis­it his broth­er. Bond frames the lat­ter as the most Lynchi­an choice the direc­tor could have made, its seem­ing­ly thor­ough mun­dan­i­ty shed­ding light on his per­cep­tion of cin­e­ma and real­i­ty itself. It also low­ers the Lynch-fil­mog­ra­phy binge-watcher’s psy­cho­log­i­cal defens­es for the simul­ta­ne­ous Hol­ly­wood fan­ta­sy and night­mare to come, Mul­hol­land Dri­ve. Though Bond describes it as “the zenith of all that’s Lynchi­an,” not every fan agrees that it’s Lynch’s mas­ter­piece: some opt for the impen­e­tra­ble three-hour dose of pure Lynchi­an­ism (and cryp­tic sit­com rab­bits) that is Inland Empire. Bond describes Inland Empire, still Lynch’s most recent fea­ture, as “a tor­tur­ous film, and this should be seen only as com­pli­men­ta­ry.” There speaks a true Lynchi­an.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

What Makes a David Lynch Film Lynchi­an: A Video Essay

A Young David Lynch Talks About Eraser­head in One of His First Record­ed Inter­views (1979)

How David Lynch Manip­u­lates You: A Close Read­ing of Mul­hol­land Dri­ve

Watch an Epic, 4‑Hour Video Essay on the Mak­ing & Mythol­o­gy of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks

Twin Peaks Actu­al­ly Explained: A Four-Hour Video Essay Demys­ti­fies It All

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

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