Saturday, April 11, 2009

Altered States

I saw "Eraserhead," rather naively, at a midnight show a long time ago before I quite knew what I was getting into. Not everything was available on VHS in the late '80s, and actually going out to see films in theatres was part of the movie-watching process.

"Eraserhead" is an experience not quite like any other. It's like a film from another planet. The viewer may be able to distinguish the shot-countershot construction, deduce the narrative and understand protagonist-antagonist conflicts. But the very way in which it is told, the actual visual fabric of the film, an askew, out-of-step filmy and mythic cadence comes through in a non-intuitive, instinctual and subtly but ultimately unsettling way.

I walked out of that film feeling stoned, unable to see the world in the same way. Lynch used to have that power, and that's why we are still talking about him, perhaps like we will talk about no other filmmaker. The images now are delivered online or in digital byte-sized pieces, not large, overpowering, linear and in an unmediated way.

No longer through the eyes and ears, right into the soul.

The last time I felt that way in a David Lynch film was walking out of "Blue Velvet." I wasn't high then, either, except for the film, that seemed on the surface so "normal" but underneath so subversive, transgressive, and morally frightening. That was the whole beautiful idea of course. Eventually Lynch knew what he could get away with - or was getting away with - and "Twin Peaks" and "Wild At Heart" don't seem other-worldly so much as merely weird. I made it a point to see "Island Empire" in a theatre, all 4 and a half hours of it, but still came out more annoyed than anointed.

Art has the power to transform the viewer, only if it's allowed to be received in the best possible, most effective way. Art has a way to make you drunk, high, confused and immoral. Want you to go out and take down the government. Or make art of your own. The best art doesn't compromise. And as a viewer, you shouldn't compromise how you engage with it.

Sit back, shut up, pay attention, and let it work on you.

Tommy Wiseau's "The Room" has the similar power to intoxicate. An overpowering mix of inept acting, plodding plotting and confounded mise-en-scene tied with a (-n un-intentional?) sincerity worse than Ed Wood. Micro-budgets are the new authentic, and perversely he reports the film cost $6 million to achieve its epic shabbiness. Perhaps if Wiseau ever makes another film, he'll be revealed as just an artless opportunist. That'll be a shame, but perhaps to be expected.

His film has been playing for almost 5 years in West LA once a month at midnight, and being out late, on the Sunset Strip, in a movie theatre, certainly adds to the insidious power of the film. For now, I'll be happy drifting along considering him in touch with something otherworldy. Something alien and special and wrong and outside the majority of us.

Not a lot of films make me feel that way nowadays.


Chuck Williamson said...

Good god! The more I read about this film, the more desperate I am to see it!

Excellent write-up. Just makes me chomp at the bit even more, since Netflix just refuses the carry it.

(Maybe one of these days I'll see The Room as it was intended--on the big screen, with the large audience.)

Roger L. said...

Thanks, Chuck. I'm not sure Netflix "refuses" as just merely, "doesn't"
carry it.


Indeed the film is worth finding in a theatre, and may slither your way. If you can't wait the DVD is available but I don't recommend it, unless you and your friends promise to not hit pause and not drink too much. ;)

(Great work on your blog Out-1 by the way!)

Thanks for reading!