In the Nerdwriter‘s video essay on David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, we dive beneath the veneer of things and discover how the legendary director plays with and manipulates our expectations to dizzying effect.
“Not content with the dreams Hollywood has been feeding us en masse for decades,” narrates Nerdwriter, “Lynch uses cliched expectation to move us into the space film has yet to go, showing us the dangers and the hopes of believing.”
At 15 years old, Mulholland Drive remains unmatched in its squeamish sex-appeal and its drawing of parallels between acting and amnesia. Lynch, for whom much of the story came to while practicing Transcendental Meditation (before it was cool), has always been reluctant to discuss interpretations of the film, but admits he considers it a love story. A twisted, masturbatory love story…
When it comes to my appetite for cinema, it’s not always the film that intrigues me the most but the voice behind it. Speaking with various filmmakers—from auteurs that have been working for decades to emerging independent directors on the cusp—what I find myself obsessively enticed by is: why did this person, make this film, at this time in the world? Not only what did the film convey to the audience but what was the film trying to say, what was their intention—trying to understand where the film changed from an idea ruminating in their brainstem to the screen. And although it’s always interesting to know what other works inspired a specific film, I love discovering the movies that eternally excite my favorite directors, whether or not there’s any direct correlation between that which they worship and that which they create.
And as one of the most thrilling and inspiring new filmmakers to emerge in the last few years, Zal Batmanglij has been putting out films that speak to our current generation, illuminating the world we live in and asking us—now what do we do? His films carry a mix of political charge, poetic beauty, and suspenseful thrill that harkens back to a bygone era of cinema yet are distinctly modern and fresh.
So previously knowing about his love for films such as Kieslowski’s Three Colors: Red or Pekula’s All the President’s Men, I wanted Zal to breakdown some other films he loves, giving a fresh look at classics from David Lynch to Bernardo Bertolucci—and even his own first film Sound of My Voice. A few months ago Zal and I got on the phone to dissect just what he loves about these films and what he takes away. Enjoy.
25% Jane Fonda – especially her voice in this film 25% Tone: that alchemy of direction. Also, the chemistry between Fonda and Sutherland, had to have been real. 15% Gordon Willis’ cinematography 15% Editing through holding the shot and withholding—you rarely see the therapist. 15% Sound design. That phone ringing. 5% The 1970s – clothes, sets, the film stock.
45% The dreamlike tone; years later the mood lingers like an afterimage. 20% Jean Louis Trintignant 10% Finale in the snow 10% The tango scene 10% Vittorio Storaro’s cinematography 5% The psychosexual undercurrent
Sound of My Voice
50% Brit 30% The tone of the film — the colors, the handheld cinematography by Rachel Morrison, that basement… 10% Rostam’s score 10% The element of WTF
Double Life of Veronique
30% It’s the music, which still haunts 30% Irene Jacob who pulls you in and keeps you clean. 30% The framing and the sense of magic from the film stock and colors. 20% The use of SOUND especially when the sound design enters the actual film — to take us to the train station.
Six Degrees of Separation
20% Will Smith’s fucking balls out performance 20% Stockard Channing’s transformation 20% The script based on Guare’s play, that dialogue 20% Donald Sutherland’s Flan 20% Real power and money skewered so effortless on screen.
20% Bad Girl Naomi 20% Sweet naomi 20% WTF dream logic tone 10% Angelo Badalamenti’s music 10% Rebekah Del Rio singing “Crying” at the night club
Sundays may be a "wan, stuff shadow of a robust Saturday" or a day of "forced leisure for folks who have no aptitude for leisure," according to Tom Robbins, but a weekend is still a weekend. The pleasure of a Friday night, the knowing the burdens of work week have a brief respite carry themselves into the following two days of leisure, and what better way to indulge in that leisure than heading to the cinema.
And this weekend, there are more than enough wonderful films showing around New York for you to disappear into. Whether it’s your favorite Claire Denis, Roman Polanski, David Lynch, or the latest NYFF premieres from Jim Jarmusch, Spike Jonze, and the Coen Brothers, there’s surely something to satisfy every cinematic appetite. I’ve founded up the best of what’s playing around the city, so peruse our list, and enjoy.
The Last Picture Show Bottle Rocket Escape From Tomorrow Design Is One: The Vignellis Blue Caprice Dracula 3D I Used to Be Darker Frances Ha Alien (1979) Gahan Wilson: Born Dead, Still Weird Mulholland Drive Muscle Shoals A Touch of Sin Una Noche Wicker Man: The Final Cut
Un Chambre En Ville Let the Fire Burn Russian Ark Model Shop The Pied Piper Donkey Skin Shall We Dance
An Evening With Bruce Dern: Smile Arabian Nights I Am Suzanne! Whistle Down the Wind Requiem NN Nightmare Alley Kundun Hangover Square Goha The Aviator 10 Rillngton Place Hugo
Sundays may be a "wan, stuff shadow of a robust Saturday" or a day of "forced leisure for folks who have no aptitude for leisure," according to Tom Robbins, but a weekend is still a weekend. The pleasure of a Friday night, the knowing the burdens of work week have a brief respite carry themselves into the following two days of leisure, and what better way to indulge in that leisure than heading to the cinema.
And this weekend, there are more than enough wonderful films showing around New York for you to disappear into. Whether it’s your favorite Cassavetes or Lynch, the best of NYFF, or some of the most stunning new releases, there’s surely something to satisfy every cinematic appetite. I’ve founded up the best of what’s playing around the city, so peruse our list, and enjoy.
Mulholland Drive Ain’t Them Bodies Saints Blue Caprice Frances Ha Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean Dario Argento’s Dracula 3D Muscle Shoals The Getaway I Used to be Darker A River Changes Course A Touch of Sin Una ncohe Walter The Big Lebowski
The Killing of a Chinese Bookie Enough Said Gravity Blue Jasmine Opening Night A Woman Under the Influence
A.C.O.D. We Are What We Are In a World… Short Term 12 The Summit Monty Python The Room
The Young Girls of Rochefort Newlyweeds After Tiller Let the Fire Burn Une chambre en ville Lola West Side Story
Deliverance Don Jon In a World… Legend Bloodsucking Freaks Muscle Shoals Brazil
Inside Llewyn Davis Burning Bush The Wind Rises American Promise NYFF Live: Claire Denis L’Age D’Or The Lusty Men The Secret Life of Walter Mitty They Live By Night About Time Abuse of Weakness Bastards Gloria Jimmy P. Written on the Wind The Immigrant
Museum of the Moving Image
All Cats Are Brilliant Man’s Favorite Sport? Tiger Shark Today We Live Hello Anatolia One Step Ahead The Tree and the Swing Kiss the Children
An Autumn Afternoon The Dead Man and Being Happy The Garden of the Finzi-Continis Casino The Night in Varennes Shutter Island Hugo The Name of the Rose
As our summer days begin to melt behind us, it’s time to cast our eyes to fall and get excited for all the cinematic events in store for us. The air will start to chill and the leaves will begin to wither from their branches, but what’s really important are the myriad retrospectives, premieres, and events happening around the city to enjoy. And if you’re currently experiencing the woeful jealousy that comes with knowing you’re missing out on the Venice and Toronto film festivals, never fear, the New York Film Festival is just around the corner.
So whether you prefer to watch the season change from behind the screen of Howard Hawks’ best, plan on making a midnight date for IFC’s weekend screenings, and everything in between, we’ve rounded up the best in film events happening around the city this fall. Peruse our list and start planning out your cinematic schedule now. Enjoy.
NewFest at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, September 6th to September 11th New York’s premier LGBT Film Festival celebrates its 25th anniversary and second year in partnership with Los Angeles’ Outfest and the Film Society of Lincoln Center with a diverse and compelling collection of narratives, documentaries, shorts and parties! [more info]
See It Big! at Museum of the Moving Image, September 6th to October 20th
The Museum’s popular ongoing film series See It Big! celebrates the joys of large-scale moviegoing. It provides a chance to discover or revisit essential films in their full theatrical splendor in one of the finest film venues in the country. Great movies transport us into new worlds, and they immerse us visually and aurally. Despite the easy availability of movies on portable devices and small screens, there is only one way to really see a movie: BIG! The Museum always endeavors to show a film in the best available version, whether it is a stunning digital restoration, or a rare screening of a vintage Technicolor 35mm print. Projection formats are noted throughout. [more info]
Skateboarding is Not a Crime at BAM, September 6th to September 23rd
The ultimate in counterculture coolness since the late 1960s, skateboarding has made an irresistible subject for movies thanks to its rebel-athlete superstars, SoCal slacker fashion, and jaw-dropping four-wheel acrobatics. This series features the best of skateboarding on screen from the 1960s to the present, including films by Stacy Peralta, Spike Jonze, Larry Clark, and many more. [more info]
The Complete Howard Hawks at the Museum of the Moving Image, September 7th to November 11th
Cinema is a medium of action, in which everything must be expressed on the surface, in concrete physical terms. In Hawks’s film, behavior is everything. An instinctive existentialist, Hawks depicts a universe where groups of men and women battle the abyss by sticking to a precise code of conduct and behavior, where professionalism under pressure is the ultimate virtue. No great Hollywood director has ever shown less interest in such institutions as government, family, and marriage. And Hawks displayed a healthy disregard for gender roles. “In the end, the traditionalist Hawks may be more modern than the modernists,” wrote Molly Haskell, “in perceiving that as a mutual adventure of equals, sexual union, like sexual antagonism, is a meeting not of subject and object, but of two self-determining subjects.” [more info]
Lame Brains and Lunatics: Cruel and Unusual Comedy, Part 4 at MoMA, September 11th to September 17th
Silent-era slapstick tackled social, cultural, political, and aesthetic themes that continue to be central concerns around the world today. Issues of race, sexuality, public order, and industrialization have traditionally been among the most vital sources for rude forms of comedy. Drawing from the Museum’s holdings of silent comedy, acquired largely in the 1970s and 1980s by former curator Eileen Bowser, Cruel and Unusual Comedy presents an otherwise little-seen body of work to contemporary audiences from an engaging perspective. The series continues with comical takes on crime and punishment, movie making, sports, eating habits, and the rituals of romance. All films are from the U.S. and are silent, with piano accompaniment by Ben Model. Each screening is introduced by Steve Massa, author of Lame Brains and Lunatics: The Good, The Bad, and The Forgotten of Silent Comedy. [more info]
La Jetee and Slow Action at Nitehawk, September 21st and 22nd
The first in our post-apocalyptic double-feature is the landmark featurette by Chris Marker, La Jetée, in which a tale of time travel is told through still images. Established in the context of a post-nuclear Third World War, where the survivors live underground in the Palais de Chaillot galleries in post-apocalyptic Paris, La Jetée unfolds into a scientific quest to revisit the past and to ‘rescue the future’. It’s an exploration of memory, time and space, and the advancement of life on our planet in a compelling and succinct manifestation of imagery.Following La Jetée, is the recent work Slow Action by British filmmaker and artist Ben Rivers. Slow Action is a post-apocalyptic science fiction film which exists somewhere between documentary, ethnographic study and fiction. Earth in the distant future, when the sea level has risen to absurd heights forming new isolated islands and archipelagos. Two narrators read accounts from a great library of Utopias, describing the four islands seen in the film. [more info]
Dante Ferretti: Designing for the Big Screen at MoMA, September 25th to February 9th
Constructing “a working space for narrative” is how production designer Ferretti describes his role in the collaborative process of filmmaking. A key characteristic of his approach, especially in his fruitful associations with Pier Paolo Pasolini, Federico Fellini, and Martin Scorsese, is his practice of conceiving, for each project, a single set piece intended to stimulate the director’s imagination and crystallize the visual style and character of the film. Indulging his preference for both dreamlike and historical subjects, and drawing on his knowledge of painting, sculpture, and poetry, Ferretti categorizes his designs as “period” (Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom), “fantasy” (The Adventures of Baron Munchausen), or “contemporary” (Todo Modo). Inspired by the grand-scale, operatic traditions of classical Italian cinema, Ferretti’s work is most effectively viewed as it was originally intended: on the big screen. Presented in conjunction with MoMA’s Dante Ferretti gallery exhibition, this 22-film retrospective demonstrates how the designer’s settings have served to guide directorial practice with signature distinction. [more info]
Mr. Nobody, September 26th
In the year 2092, Nemo Nobody is a 118-year-old man who finds himself as the last mortal amongst humans who have become immortal due to scientific advances involving the perpetual rejuvenation of telomeres. When Nemo is on his deathbed, he reviews three possible existences and marriages he might have experienced. References to the big bang theory, the nature of time, superstring theory, and memory help structure the plot.
The 51st New York Film Festival, September 27th to October 13th
Founded in 1963, as the auteur theory and European cinematic modernism were crashing upon the shores of American film culture, the New York Film Festival continues to introduce audiences to the most exciting, innovative and accomplished works of world cinema. Join us as North America’s second oldest film festival marks its 51st edition with 17 days of exciting world premieres, award winners from Cannes, Berlin and Venice, retrospective screenings, spotlights on emerging filmmakers, panels, galas and much more! [more info]
Celebrating Jim Henson: The Biography at the Museum of the Moving Image, October 1
Brian Jay Jones’s eagerly awaited biography, Jim Henson: The Biography (Ballantine Books, 2013), written with the cooperation of Jim Henson’s family, covers the full arc of Henson’s all-too-brief life, exploring the creation of the Muppets, Henson’s contributions to Sesame Street andSaturday Night Live, his nearly ten-year campaign to bring The Muppet Show to television, and such non-Muppet projects as the richly imagined movies The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth…The panel features some of the world’s leading experts on Henson’s life and his work, including Fran Brill, the beloved Sesame Street performer; Dwight Bowers, curator of the Smithsonian’s Museum of American History; Karen Falk, archivist for The Jim Henson Company; and Barbara Miller, Curator of the Collection and Exhibitions for Museum of the Moving Image. The program, moderated by Craig Shemin, President of The Jim Henson Legacy, will include rare and delightful clips of Henson talk show appearances, a 35mm print of Henson’s Oscar-nominated experimental short film Time Piece (1965, 9 mins.), and other rarities. [more info]
Mulholland Drive at IFC Center, October 4th and 5th
"The story isn’t so complicated, it’s just a matter of trusting your inner feelings. It may be harder for people now because films are what they are, and it’s all on the surface, so when you introduce some abstractions, the mind isn’t trained to see them. Now, music is so abtract, and no one has a problem with music. Yet film is so much like music, the way things occur in time and come back; those harmonics are really interesting." [more]
Jacques Demy Retrospective at Film Forum, October 4th to 17th
“Of all the New Wave directors who once professed their joy in cinema, Demy remained most faithful to the delights of sight and sound and to the romance of movie iconography. With loving attention to those Atlantic coast towns — Nantes, Rochefort, and Cherbourg — where he grew up, Demy invented a world of benign and enchanting imagination.” Showing:Un Chambre en Ville, Lola, The Girls of Young Rochefort, A Slightly Pregnant Man, Parking, Model Shop, The Umberellas of Cherbourg, + more
To Save and Project: The 11th MoMA International Festival of Film Preservation. October 10 to November 12th
To Save and Project, MoMA’s international festival of film preservation, celebrates its 11th year with gloriously preserved masterworks and rediscoveries of world cinema. Virtually all of the films in the festival are having their New York premieres, and some are shown in versions never before seen in the United States…What distinguishes To Save and Project among the world’s film preservation festivals is that nearly all the titles are presented on celluloid, respecting their original format of 35mm or 16mm. This festival, then, is a celebration of the vital work of archives around the world, including MoMA’s Department of Film, as well as Hollywood and international studios, distributors, and independent filmmakers, to save our cinema heritage. [more info]
The Last Picture Show at IFC Center, October 11th to October 14th
Early in Peter Bogdanovich’s The Last Picture Show, as the wind from the Texas plains whips the small town of Anarene, the high school senior Sonny Crawford (Timothy Bottoms) halts his recalcitrant pickup truck—Hank Williams is warbling “Why Don’t You Love Me (Like You Used to Do)?” on the radio—to give a ride to his mute young friend Billy (Sam Bottoms). When Billy sits beside him, Sonny turns his cap backward on his head, a gesture that makes Billy smile and that Sonny will repeat several times, and his buddy Duane Jackson (Jeff Bridges) once, during the course of the movie. Sonny, Duane, and Jacy Farrow (Cybill Shepherd), Duane’s girl, later sing their high school’s song, partly in affection, partly in mockery, as they drive in Jacy’s convertible—the three joyfully united in friendship, no matter that both boys love this vain and luscious heartbreaker. It’s 1951, school’s nearly done, and anything is possible. [more]
Shepard & Dark, October 11th
Sam Shepard and Johnny Dark met in Greenwich Village in the early 1960s and, despite leading very different lives, remained close friends ever since. Shepard became a Pulitzer Prize winning playwright (Buried Child) and an Academy Award-nominated actor (The Right Stuff), while Dark was a homebody who supported himself with odd jobs. Through the decades, they stayed bonded by family ties. Dark married an older woman named Scarlett and Shepard married her daughter. For years, the two couples lived together, until Shepard broke away for a relationship with Jessica Lange in 1983, leaving Johnny to help father his first son. Nevertheless, he and Dark continued writing to each other, amassing hundreds of letters. [more]
12 Years a Slave, October 18th
Steve McQueen’s “12 Years a Slave” instantly establishes itself as the most unflinching of all slave dramas, which is to say, there is plenty of flinching, not to mention cowering and recoiling and passing out, thanks to beatings and whippings that arrive at roughly 10-to-15-minute intervals throughout a 133-minute running time. “Amistad,” meet the Marquis de Sade, in the form of slavemaster Michael Fassbender, who puts his victims through more tortures than Mel Gibson ever could have imagined for Jesus. [more]
Primer at IFC Center, October 19th & 20th
I love narrative and how it exists and why it exists and how it’s meant to be used. You can come up with a paragraph full of some truth, something that’s universal, some exploration, and it can be really informative, but it’s likely to not be that interesting. But you can spin a story, you can tell a narrative, and you can infuse it with this stuff, and if you’ve done your job right, you haven’t just captured somebody’s attention long enough to take them on this journey, you’ve also figured out something about the exploration through the act of the story because that’s what we key into. So I love narrative and I think that film is the height of narrative, and I don’t know what 100 years from now looks like, but from right now, to be able to communicate non-verbally but still explore, I don’t know what would be better than that. That’s what I love about it. It’s like you’re feeding right into the main line of how we experience things. [more]
Blue Is the Warmest Color, October 25th
It is amazing. In France, it’s not out yet but at Cannes it was huge, and I think this is one of the reasons. This film is very modern. It’s a new way to make films. We never saw a film like this before—a love story this realistic. And it says a lot about the youth of today. It’s a film about love. I don’t really think it’s a film about homosexuality—it’s more than that. Homosexuality is not taboo anymore—even if it isn’t considered “moral” by everyone—which is how it should be. [more]
The Wes Anderson Collection at the Museum of the Moving Image, October 27th
The Wes Anderson Collection (2013, Abrams), edited by Matt Zoller Seitz, is a lavishly illustrated and perceptively written new book about one of the most influential directors now working. Wes Anderson is known for the visual artistry, inimitable tone, and idiosyncratic characterizations that make each of his films—Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, The Darjeeling Limited, Fantastic Mr. Fox, and Moonrise Kingdom so instantly recognizable. In celebration of the book, the Museum presents a day-long program, with a screening of The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, followed by a panel discussion and a book signing. To cap off the day, there will be a screening of a restored 35mm print of Fellini’s 8½. The Fellini film was a clear influence on Anderson for The Life Aquatic. Both movies are about filmmakers, and were filmed at Cinecittà in Rome. Matt Zoller Seitz is the editor of rogerebert.com, and the television critic for New York magazine. In 2009, he created a five-part video essay, The Substance of Style,about Wes Anderson and his influences, published on Moving Image Source. [more info]
Her and Hands and Arena Brains at Nitehawk, November 16th
Starring director Abel Ferrara and writer Alissa Bennett, Aïda Ruilova’s new film, Head and Hands: my black angel, centers around a conversation regarding Pier Paolo Pasolini’s life and death. Spiraling out from there, the story breaks into an unconventional and tangential narrative about love, hustlers, desire, drugs, conspiracy, film scripts, and the actress Zoë Lund. Head and Hands is a fascinating look at the obsessive forces at play and self-destructive tendencies that often accompany creative brilliance. Run-time for Head and Hands is 45 minutes.Painter and filmmaker Robert Longo’s 1987 short Arena Brains is a portrait of artistic life in the lower east side featuring theater and performance artists along with house-hold names Steve Buscemi, Ray Liotta, Sean Young, and Michael Stipe. Traveling from the gritty back-alleys of Manhattan to its affluent gallery spaces, Arena Brains juxtaposing the often ridiculous duality of the art world. It’s all here: sex, power, art, and the media. There’s even a quiet lonely young man (R.E.M.’s Stipe) observing it all and trying to get a sandwich. [more info]
Inside Llewyn Davis, December 6th
The ambition was that the movie have the real music from the period, but the characters were essentially made up. Oscar was playing a lot of what Dave played. And we took other things from Van Ronk—the fact that he was a working-class kid from the ‘burbs who came to the Village, and he was a merchant marine. There’s a book that he wrote, The Mayor of MacDougal Street, which is a very interesting description of that pre-Dylan folk-revival scene in the Village that Van Ronk called “the great folk scare” in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s …. but there were many aspects of the character that were made up whole cloth, and didn’t have any connection to Van Ronk. [more]
Her, December 18th
The film stars Joaquin Phoenix as a writer who falls in love with a computer operating system. But although that description may seem vague, the trailer suggest it’s much more of a meditation on the insanity of love overall and how deeply it effects our lives.Speaking about Her this summer, Jonze said, “It’s a movie set in the slight future of L.A. and Joaquin Phoenix’s character buys the world’s first artificially intelligent operating system… it basically turns into a human, this entity, this consciousness, on his computer,” but turns, “into something more romantic.” [more]
Daft Punk’s "Get Lucky" is sitting high atop the Summer Jams of 2013 power ranking, with its irresistible bassline and breezy vocals bearing promises of getting lucky, and the release of the album behind it has kept the masked men on everyone’s minds. And with the ubiquity of "Get Lucky" inevitably comes every sort of iteration of YouTube mashup. The best one, though, which we’re not sure how we missed, comes from YouTube user jcs101010, who has skillfully juxtaposed the track with scenes of the works of David Lynch.
The bulk of the footage comes from the episode of Twin Peaks where The Man From Another Place appears as a red-suited dwarf who tears up the dance floor, which naturally works well with Daft Punk’s Chic-evoking funk. But scenes from Lynch’s other works, including the iconic "bad coffee" moment from Mulholland Drive and plenty of nightmare fuel from Eraserhead also make appearances. It could probably have used more dancing or general movement to really work, but for fans of Twin Peaks and / or Daft Punk, it’s the perfect wonderfully weird dance party for your Friday afternoon. Have a good weekend, everyone!
Absurd and brilliant auteur David Lynch has always been a man of ideas. In the past, he’s said that, "ideas dictate everything. You have to be true to that or you’re dead." And throughout his career, he has been completely unwavering to his own conception and theories of what a work of art should be. Whether it’s his paintings, music, wood-workings, etc. Lynch has stayed true to his precise aesthetic obsessions and artistic desires that have grown into a genre entirely his own.
You hear the term Lynchian and you know what you’re in for—a "deconstruction of this weird irony of the banal" filled with "expressions of certain anxious, obsessive, fetishistic, oedipally arrested, borderlinish parts of the director’s psyche." But even in his earliest films, most created while he was a student at AFI, Lynch’s films felt a part of the world we associate with him now. Heavily influenced by the work of Francis Bacon, he focused on paintings and art forms outside of film until realizing that if he could put these ideas and creations in motion, just how much more powerful they could be.
And this week, Hulu is giving us a look at the mind of young Lynch with a collection of his rare early short films, available to watch for free. From the animated nightmare The Alphabet to the terrifying and haunting The Grandmother, you can see just how the man who gave us the world of Twin Peaks, Mulholland Drive, Lost Highway, Wild at Heart, etc. came to be. And for those Hulu Plus users, Eraserhead is featured in their Criterion section as well.
So if you’re looking for some grotesque delight this weekend, head over to Hulu and fall in love with David Lynch all over again. I’d suggest blacking the windows and having your strobe light ready for this one.
There’s always one film that lives inside the hearts of the cinematically minded—the one that opened their eyes, shook their world, and made them keen to the emotional, social, psychological, and physical possibilities that a movie can hold. For me, that was seeing David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive for the first time. I remember feeling as if someone had hit me over the head with a frying pan, awakening something in me that I never knew existed. It was the beginning of a new chapter in my life and remains a personal touchstone—a piece of cinema with which I have the most intimate relationship.
In The Film That Changed My Life, Robert K. Elder interviews 30 directors on their "epiphanies in the dark." After spending a lot of time recently thinking about the way in which my tastes have changed but what will always stay the same, I wanted to share some highlights from Elder’s book, that gives insight into some of the most acclaimed and brilliant filmmakers today, as they reveal the movies that ignited something in them and made them want to make films of their own.
So here are some of your favorite directors on the films that moved them the most—enjoy.
Edgar Wright: John Landis’s An American Werewolf in London
"I’ve always been fascinated by horror films and genre films. And horror films harbored a fascination for me and always have been something I’ve wanted to watch and wanted to make. Equally, I’m very fascinated by comedy. I suppose the reason that this film changed my life is that very early on in my film-watching experiences, I saw a film that was so sophisticated in its tone and what it managed to achieve.
It really changed my life. It’s informed both Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. There have been moments of verbal comedy, physical comedy, and tonal comedy. And extreme violence, somehow. Something like AN American Werewolf in London, the idea of having this mix of socially awkward comedy prided by incredibly vivd Oscar-winning horror, was just astonishing—is really astonishing. Horror films never get considered for Academy Awards; it’s incredible that An American Werewolf in London won the first ever makeup Oscar."
Rian Johnson: Woody Allen’s Annie Hall
"It’s magical to me. To this day, I can watch the film and try to analyze it and try to figure out how this little movie works, and it’s almost impossible. I end up getting lost. For me, watching this film is like a kid watching a magic trick.
I’d put it up there with 8 1/2 in terms of a film that personally redefined for me what film was capable of. This was one of the first films I saw that played with form in a brave way, and it paid off.
If anything it has grown in stature in my mind. What it achieved has become even more remarkable. I hate the tendency to say, "Films today don’t do what they used to," because that’s bullshit. In any generation, people are reticent to take the risks that this film does. One thing I’ll say about today versus back then, the idea of taking risks that this film took is frightening because there is less tolerance on the part of audiences today. I’m emotionally affected by it each time I see it. I appreciate what it pulled off."
Danny Boyle: Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now
"My relationship with it, and my relationship wit most films that I love, is not really an intellectual one at all. It’s a passionate, visceral, emotional, one and in a funny kind of way I learned to value and appreciate that more as I go on really, rather than try to ever understand the films.
it’s obviously made at the Everest of megalomania, the absolute peak of, ‘I can do nothing wrong, and I must just push myself.’ And that’s, of course, one of the things celebrated in the film. You do see a film made at the absolute edge of sanity, really. In terms of the indulgence that movies can induce in people. But there’s a great side to it as well because it is his ambition and its about bigness, and I think that’s something we have lost. We now watch big films in terms of impacts and scale. I’m sure we’ll get it back, hopefully. But we really lost big films, these slightly overwhelming, overly ambitious big films. We’ve lost them, for whatever reason: confidence, marketing, whatever other factors you build into it. We do see to have lost that ambitiousness, I think."
Richard Kelly: Terry Gilliam’s Brazil
"I think the greatest thing I learned from Terry is that every frame is worthy of attention to detail. Every frame is worthy of being frozen in time and then thrown on a wall like an oil painting, and if you work hard on every frame, the meaning of your film because deeper, more enhanced. New meaning emerges in your story because of your attention to detail. It is also developing a visual style that is your own, that is hopefully unlike anything that has been done before.
I think Terry has one of the most pronounced, specific visual styles of any filmmaker. He gave me something to aspire to as a visual artist but also as a storyteller, as one who aspires to be a social satirist.
In this film, what Terry was doing—the level of detail, the complexity, the overwhelmingness of it all—I guess it challenged me. I guess that’s how I’ve always been. Maybe I just saw part of myself there."
John Waters: Victor Fleming’s The Wizard of Oz
"Girl leaves a drab farm, becomes a fag hag, mets gay lions and men that don’t try to molest her, and meets a witch, kills her. And unfortunately, by a surreal act of fetishism—clicks her shoes together and is back to where she belongs. It has an unhappy ending.
When they throw the water on the witch, she says, ‘Who would have thought good little girl like you could destroy my beautiful wickedness?’ That line inspired my life. I sometimes say it to myself before I go to sleep like a prayer.
I was always lookin’ for something that other people didn’t like, or people were frightened of, or didn’t care for. I was always drawn to forbidden subject matter in the very, very beginning. The Wizard of Oz opened me up because it was one of the first movies I ever saw. It opened me up to villainy, to screenwriting, to costumes. And great dialogue. "
Richard Linklater: Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull
"The film pulled me in so dark and deep. It was the boldness of the movie. in the era of feel-good movies, touchy feel stuff was all over the place, and man, this movie was unafraid. It was so brave to depict such a flawed, unlikable, scary guy.
It made me see movies as a potential outlet for what I was thinking about and hoping to express. At that point I was an unformed artist. At that moment, something was simmering in me, but Raging Bull brought it to a boil.
I remember telling people, some of my buddies, ‘Oh you gotta go see this movie,’ and they’re like, ‘Uh, yeah. Maybe.’ And even that girl I went with, we broke up shortly thereafter because she said it was boring. I was so mad. I’d had, like, this huge experience, and she walked out and goes, ‘Eh, it was kind of boring.’ I was like, ‘Who am I with? This is crazy!’ That was the end of that. A guy wants his girlfriend to at least appreciate that part of him. It’s every guy’s fantasy to have a girl who, if she doesn’t think that those films are great, at least can see why you like them, and tolerate it."
Welcome to Cinematic Panic, a new column in which I anxiously watch all of the Criterion Collection films that have either slipped under my radar or have fueled my film obsession and then share my personal rambling insights as to what makes them so damn good. Enjoy.
I’ve always had a very special relationship with David Lynch. He’s the man who sparked my cinematic interest and made realize that watching a film could be an experience—a physiological, visceral experience that takes you out of yourself and brings you into another world. The first time I saw one his films was during a particularly frigid winter, post-Christmas, post-first real heartbreak. I was a tear-stained mess of a person who hadn’t eaten or vacated her bathrobe in about two weeks. On a whim, I signed up for a class called "The Cinema of David Lynch," and having only watched Eraserhead on mute while some Radiohead album played an attic bedroom years before, I decided it might be best to watch one of his films in its entirety. I popped in Mulholland Drive and suddenly something started to change. As I sat in the dark on my couch, a strange thing took hold of me in a way I hadn’t experienced from a simple film viewing before, and I checked myself at the door and entered his nightmarish dreamscape never to return. The second the film ended, I called my mother downstairs and made her watch it with me again. Obviously, she didn’t share the same reaction, but this time I felt it even more. The next day I rented Blue Velvet, then Wild at Heart, then Lost Highway, and I spent the better part of the next month watching all of Twin Peaks.
It’s been a long while since then but his films have become a part of me, his world a place I call home. Last year, I got the chance to meet David briefly and when I asked for a photo with him, his response was, "For a girl that looks like you, anything." My mind interpreted those words as Mulholland Drive‘s infamous "This is the girl." But the moment was brief and I went back to my reality not quite knowing if that was all just a dream. But for his dark and winding oeuvre, it’s his 1977 first feature Eraserhead that is pure Lynch at its core—stripped of any Hollywood glamor and star power, just a raw synthesized portal into the brain of one of cinema’s most beloved and enigmatic directors.
The last time I saw Eraserhead I was sick to my stomach—not from the film, but from some stomach virus I acquired—but I still couldn’t refuse a midnight screening of the film (and the sickness might have made it even better). Sitting in the pitch-black tiny theatre at IFC Center, it was the first time I had seen the film on the big screen, and once again I checked myself at the door and entered David Lynch’s twisted world of wonder.
When you think of the great directors of the 1970s, David Lynch doesn’t typically come to mind. But it was then that Lynch spent five years giving birth to the idea that became Eraserhead. At that point in his life, he was living in a dangerous neighborhood in Philadelphia—the city where he says he got his "first thrilling thought." Perhaps that thrill arose from fear, as he dealt with numerous robberies and break-ins (and lived across the street from a morgue). Violence, hate, and filth were all around him and embedded those fears into his subconscious, sparking an artistic inclanation towards the beauty in the morbid side of life. Speaking to his obsession with the morgue across the street, Lynch says, "The [body] bags had a big zipper, and they’d open the zipper and shoot water into the bags with big hoses. With the zipper open and the bags sagging on the pegs, it looked like these big smiles. I called them the smiling bags of death."
Inspired by the troubling world around him, as well as his own fear of fatherhood, Lynch began writing Eraserhead, which was to be green-lit by AFI in 1971 but suffered financial troubles throughout. Lynch delivered newspapers during the film’s principal photography to bring in more money. There were long stretches of time when shooting had to stop for lack of income. But Lynch was determined to press on, even if it meant creating scenes out of miniature dioramas and filming them if need be. Having always been inspired by numerous artists who dealt with anxiety and the macabre side of life is a surreal way, he was influenced greatly by the work of artist Francis Bacon and writer Franz Kafka.
The script for the film was only 20 pages long, which is no surprise seeing as the majority of the film’s content lives in the textures, sounds, and images presented rather than the sparse dialogue. Starring Jack Nance, Lynch originally described the film as “a dream of dark and troubling things"—and that it is. The structure is simple and vaguely linear, with elements that dive into the subconscious and venture off into the surreal. It’s a claustrophobic film about a man named Henry Spencer (with a now infamous coiffure of hair) and set in an unknown post-apocalpytic industrial landscape—the stoic, solid, sterile machinery almost mocking of his crumbling life. Henry lives in a tiny dilapidated apartment in an old building alone but soon learns that his girlfriend Mary has given birth to what appears to be his offspring. He’s pressured into taking care of the child, which is more of a reptilian, alien creature than a baby and whose cry is akin to a piercing, strangled squawk. Mary is horrified at their child and leaves Henry to deal with the situation. His sense of anxiety grows even further into a nigthmare world full of guilt and sinful dillusion.
What Lynch does best is worming his way into the viewer’s psyche, penetrating all those things lying dormant in your subconscious: the things that frighten you or excite you or expose you the most. But rather than scare you (which is, by the way, why I don’t understand films like this being classified as "horror"), he wraps you in a sense of tranquility or a dream-like state, lying somewhere between the grotesque and the familiar. Eraserhead is film that is clearly the visual interpretation of Henry and Lynch’s shared subconscious boiling to the surface, allowing you to journey inside. Lynch will never analyze his films or explain their meaning, saying it’s how they "strike each person" that matters. He says, "it means other things to other people, and that’s great."
Henry is an observer, just as we are observers watching the film, taking it in as he does. Through the twisted and distorted visuals of the film mixed with the twitching, doomed industrial sounds we hear, we are made to feel completely ill at ease—mimicking Henry’s anxiety as our own. The film is an abstract study that’s portrayed in verses rather than paragraphs of text, like the sketch of something yet to be unearthed. We search the film for clues to unlock its mysterious nature, but even as we study each moment with precision there will always be the feeling that what this world meant to Lynch will always be unknown. And as with most of his films, it’s so much more about the feelings evoked and psychological state it enduces than the trite satisfaction of being able to say, "Oh, I know what this is about!"
Probably the most famous scene of the film is the "Lady in the Radiator" scene, in which Henry falls asleep dreaming of a deformed woman with swollen cheeks on a stage singing "In Heaven Everything is Fine." "The Lady in the Radiator was not in the original script at all," says Lynch. "It was a very dark film until she came along." Dreams and how they compare to waking life is present in almost all of Lynch’s films, paralleling his obsession with the unconscious mind. The act of the performance also makes its way into the majority of his work, perhaps perfected in Mulholland Drive‘s Club Silencio scene when Rebecca del Rio sings (or does not sing) a frighteningly beautiful a cappella version of Roy Orbison’s "Crying" that echoes the entire sentiment of the film. And just as the Lady in the Radiator sings "In Heaven Everything Is Fine," Dean Stockwell’s performance of "In Dreams" in Blue Velvet simultaneously takes us out of the world of the characters in the film and allows us to become more entrenched in their own psychological journey. The staged performance speaks to who we are inside the deepest caverns of our mind and who we are to the world, who we present and tell ourselves we are, and what’s really looming just beneath.
What’s interesting about Eraserhead is how inherently and distinctively Lynchian it feels without the signature traits of David Lynch that people associate with him nowadays. Those who have a Netflix account and have watched various episodes of Twin Peaks will claim their love for David Lynch with proclamations about doughnuts and coffee and cherry pie, oh my. And yes, his fascination with food—especially of the saccharine variety—has a lot to do with his ideas about indulgence and sex and are central to his work, but Eraserhead is void of all that. It’s the bare-bones Lynchian aesthetic that established him as one of the most revolutionary independent filmmakers of all time. It has been almost seven years since his last film, Inland Empire (which got back to that very stripped, essential cinematic quality that was deeply imbedded in the frightening corners of the mind), and his interests appear to lie elsewhere these days. Who knows if he’ll ever make another film. But if he doesn’t, it’s at least safe to say that you could watch his films your entire life and still become excited and have questions, always stumbling through the woods into a red room of the mind.