A Somewhat “Lynchian” Post

You ever want to make a room go silent?  You ever want to weird out a group of people who claim they “can’t be weirded out?”

Okay, then here’s what you do.  Put on the chicken dinner scene from David Lynch’s Eraserhead.  No one will ever look at you the same way again…or talk to you, for that matter.  Oops.

eraserhead

Unless…

Unless they get it.  And if you get it – if you get David Lynch, if you can on some level identify with what he’s doing, with the weirdly earnest yet deeply disturbed nature of his work…then it’s hard not to be absolutely enthralled by his films, even if one doesn’t necessarily like them.   It’s also hard not to deeply respect David Lynch as an artist, a true auteur who never makes a movie without getting the final cut, doesn’t care what the reviews say,  doesn’t even care if his films are successful or popular.  David Lynch is a man who makes exactly the movies he wants to make, no matter how much those movies might unsettle his audience.

Everyone remembers their first David Lynch experience.  For me, it was a late night showing of what I now know to be Lost Highway, many years ago.  At the time, I only saw a couple scenes, got confused and changed to something else.  Yeah, I’ll admit it, I was totally one of those people who didn’t understand what the the appeal was.  Seeing those several scenes out of context, Lost Highway at first seemed like it was just trying to be weird for the sake of being weird, and that notion didn’t appeal to me.

coffee_lynch

Later on, I saw The Elephant Man, and my opinion slowly started changing.  Then, finally, I watched Eraserheard. 

It didn’t hit me so hard at first.  After 109 minutes of surreal visions, uneasiness, ghastly moments involving “the baby,” uncomfortable laughter, nausea, heads rolling around and—finally, at the end—being overcome with a feeling of sheer horror, I’ll admit I had no idea what exactly to think about it.  But what snagged me, what finally made me a Lynch fan, was the fact that days after seeing Eraserhead for the first time…well, it stayed with me.  The movie is a bit like a grievous injury to the brain—it lingers in your mind for days, maybe even weeks before it finally heals into a scar.

See, what became clear to me after Eraserhead was that Lynch doesn’t just try to be weird for the sake of being weird, and when his critics claim this, they’re missing the whole point; really, making this accusation is much like staring at a living, breathing tree and yelling that it’s a dead tower of dead.  Lynch’s films operate in a surreal, dreamlike landscape, highly influenced by Dadaism, Eastern mysticism and Franz Kafka.  Like Kafka, Lynch’s greatest talent is the way that he presents utterly bizarre events without emphasizing them, the same way that one would experience these events in real life.  Even in a movie like The Straight Story – which despite its utter lack of darkness, is one of his best films – he makes the odd storyline of an old man driving through the US on a lawnmower actually seem unbelievably mundane, amazingly normal.  Lynch’s films  are like waking dreams, more so than they are movies.

But how so?

dumbland-008

Put it this way.  Have you ever had a truly ugly nightmare, the kind that leaves you trembling on and off throughout the day?  Okay, now, that’s all well and good.  But have you ever noticed that as soon as you try to describe that nightmare to someone – as soon as you try to really analyze it yourself – it doesn’t sound scary anymore?  No, actually, it seems absolutely ridiculous.  No matter how hard you try to tell Bob that the nightmare you had about being eaten by a giant pink Pac-Man with lollipop ears was the scariest experience of your life, your actual description makes it seem utterly laughable.  Bob can’t understand.  Even you can’t understand, not in retrospect.  You need to have been there.

That’s what David Lynch’s work accomplishes.  As bizarre as his movies are – from the awkward expressions, to gas masks, to dancing midgets and crude cartoon characters – and as ridiculous as they sound in retrospect, that moment when you’re watching a David Lynch movie is unsettling, mystifying and confusing…and the feeling you get from watching it lingers on, never truly going away.

-Nicholas Conley

Why David Lynch’s “Dumbland” is Smarter than it Looks

I’ll admit, about two minutes into Dumbland—the 2002 web series/”cartoon” by David Lynch—I almost turned it off.

Of course, I was already wary of the series before even starting; it’s a bit difficult to watch something with a ridiculous title like “Dumbland” without at least some trepidation.  I mean, Dumbland?  Seriously?

dumbland-002

However, I’ve always been fascinated by the work of Dumbland creator David Lynch, as I stated in my coffee blog.  From Eraserhead to The Straight Story, Lynch is a remarkably unique filmmaker; his meditative, Dada-influenced approach to films is compellingly absurd, and his work—while often highly uncomfortable to watch—has a way of carving a permanent scar upon the viewer’s subconscious, branding the viewer’s memories in a way that resembles the lingering discomfort we experience after an especially bad nightmare.  In fact, Lynch’s films operate much on the same level as a nightmare; his perverse creations seem laughable at first glance, but the actual experience of watching those creations is inexplicably disturbing.

Though some might resist labeling Lynch’s work as “horror,” Lynch’s twisted sensibilities get right to the essence of what horror is supposed to be.  His films are frightening.  They’re unnerving.  They make the viewer uncomfortable, sometimes for days on end.  While many horror films might give you a couple jump scares, Lynch’s horror is the kind that never leaves you.

As an artist, I admire Lynch.  I admire his approach, his unflinching honesty, his darkly sincere voice.

So despite my apprehensions—and despite my immediate disdain for “Randy,” the unlikable main character—I  gave Dumbland a chance.   I stuck it out.  I stuck it out through all of the coarseness, all of the crude animation, all of the nauseating repetition, all of the (seemingly) exploitative profanity…and in the end, I was surprised to realize that despite its crudity, Dumbland proved to be a highly worthwhile viewing experience.

dumbland_randy

Watching Dumbland certainly isn’t enjoyable, but that’s the entire point; Dumbland is a razor-sharp, darkly satirical commentary on the perversity of contemporary suburbia.  It’s a critique of Western culture.  A critique so harsh and so relentlessly vicious that it would make South Park blush—and it gets away with all of this by carefully cloaking itself in the masterful disguise of “just another stupid internet cartoon.”

“It is of course, however, no surprise that most critics –ranging from Lynch cult fans to structuralist cinephiles– totally miss the point of the series’ much necessary raison d’être. While structuralists attack the “crudeness” and alleged “pointlessness” of the series, using the infamous accusation of “weirdness for weirdness’ sake,” supposed Lynch fans simply relish in that alleged “reasonless weirdness,” without care or respect to any sort of real artistry or social commentary. Both camps of critical reception seem to be oblivious to the true brilliance and intensity at work here, and even more oblivious to the message, as well as Lynch’s origins: the Camus-inspired Theatre of the Absurd, the movements of Dada and Anti-Art, and the overall surrealism Lynch is perfecting, following of course in the footsteps of Buñuel and Dali. There is a lot of progression, sincerity, satire, and stark beauty in Lynch’s work –all of which impatiently ignored by critics, under the pretense of “incomprehensibility.””

– David Durnell, Sisyphus and Suburbia: A Contextual Study of David Lynch’s Dumbland

The “perversity of contemporary suburbia” is one of Lynch’s most recurring themes, especially in both Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks, but the quirky filmmaker has never tackled it in quite so scathing a manner as he does here. The setting of Dumbland‘s eight episodes is simple; in the armpit of suburbia there lives a bald, violent, idiotic man named Randy, who seemingly never leaves the confines of his front lawn.  As a result, Randy’s life is hopelessly boring.  He spends most of his time throwing around his son and wife; on the rare instances when “intruders” from the outside world enter Randy’s domain, he responds to them with violence.  The only exception to this is when his “friend” – a character resembling the cowboy from Mulholland Drive – comes over, and the two of them have a “friendly” conversation how much they enjoy hunting and killing things.

dumbland-008

The result of this is that even though Dumbland bombards the audience with a slew of irritating burp, fart and violence jokes – jokes which at first seem characteristic of a bad Adult Swim cartoon – it soon becomes clear that these “jokes” aren’t supposed to be funny.  Once the bleakness of Randy’s world becomes fully visible, Dumbland quickly becomes a terribly depressing, even nauseating series to watch.

Randy is hopelessly stupid.  He possesses no ambition, no drive and no motivation to improve himself. His attraction to violence is so great that, in the absence of victims, he even becomes violent toward himself.  Randy frequently hurts people.  He’s constantly confused, disoriented and angry.  He passively watches his child’s gums bleeding, torments his wife and generally shows little understanding of anything around him.  He abuses everyone near him, and is utterly oblivious to the damage he causes; in the world of Dumbland, it appears that Randy’s behavior  has been tolerated and accepted for so long that he sees nothing wrong with it.

His narcissism is best displayed in the episode “Get the Stick!”, when a nameless man choking on a stick in his mouth suddenly breaks into Randy’s yard.  At the desperate urging of his son, Randy tries to “help” the man – but instead of simply removing the stick or cutting it in half, he instead effectively pulverizes the man into oblivion, at which point the ruined man wanders into the road and is run over.  The only reply to this that Randy can muster up – his barbaric feelings on the horrible murder he’s just committed – is to be irritated, because in his words, “The fucker never even said thank you.”

But Randy, despite his ignorance, isn’t happy with his life; he’s intensely miserable, frustrated and angry, with no outlet to express his feelings other than his frequent acts of violence.  He’s a pathetic man, and the disturbing hopelessness of his character – and his isolation from the world surrounding him – demonstrates what Dumbland is really all about; when a doctor inspects Randy in the third episode, the doctor revealingly diagnoses the sociopathic man as being “perfectly normal.”

dumbland-2002-610-L-CrPoKW

Randy is symbolic of the overall infantilization of society.  He’s the gruesome portrait of a puerile, solipsistic contemporary man; a burping, farting, shallow character, a character who truly believes himself to be the center of the world.  His absurd fate at the end of the series – which is illustrated with Lynch’s usual unflinching eye toward the darker and more bizarre areas of our psyche – brings the series full circle, as Randy’s violent tendencies finally catch up to him.

I don’t believe that David Lynch is a cynic.  The giddy idealism buried within such movies as Blue Velvet is fairly evident, once one looks past the dark surface.  However, I do believe that Lynch is a creator who isn’t afraid to open up the most evil parts of his own mind and display them to the world, which is why much of his work is so uncomfortable; we recognize the truth in it.  Dumbland, despite its cartoony appearance, is possibly one of the darkest works that Lynch has ever created.  It’s certainly not the best introduction to Lynch – for that, I suggest something more like Blue Velvet or Mulholland Drive – but for those of us who already understand Lynch’s work, Dumbland is an absolute must-see.

-Nicholas Conley

Two Cups of Good, Hot, Black, Coffee.

coffee_lynch

“Coffee became tied to what I called “The Art Life.” I loved to go to diners and drink coffee and try to catch ideas for the work. Coffee has always seemed to facilitate thinking and catching ideas. Not only that, but the flavor of coffee is beyond the beyond good. 

Even bad coffee is better than no coffee at all.”

– David Lynch

David Lynch loves coffee.   Loves it.  The director of such mesmerizingly strange films as Eraserhead, Mulholland Drive and Blue Velvet, Lynch’s passion for coffee is evident in all of his work—especially in Twin Peaks, a TV series wherein the central protagonist,  Agent Dale Cooper, is rarely seen without a cup full of the world’s favorite dark, caffeinated beverage.  The above quote is pulled from an article in the Huffington Post, an article which is basically an excuse for Lynch to endearingly proclaim his love of coffee—as well as endorse his own brand of David Lynch coffee.

As silly as all of this pro-coffee enthusiasm might sound, I have to admit something; I understand exactly where Lynch is coming from.  Honestly, reading that Huffington Post article gave me a ridiculously big, overdramatic grin.  Why?

Because I love coffee, too.  I love coffee to such an extent that coffee is probably hopelessly sick of me—but I don’t think I could ever get sick of it.

I’m sure that my ridiculous coffee fanaticism here surprises absolutely no one.  The title of my blog—Writings, Readings and Coffee Addictions—does point toward a certain overt obsession.  One of my first published short stories appeared in an anthology titled The Coffee Shop Chronicles Vol. 1, Oh, the Places I have Bean!, and another appeared in Cup of Joe: Coffee House Flash Fiction I actually happen to be drinking coffee in a coffee shop as I write this (my, what an amazing coincidence!), and I’ve drank coffee throughout the writing of every post on this entire blog.  As of this morning, I currently have about 70-some pages left to edit on the manuscript for my next novel–this is my fourth round of edits, bear in mind, since I like being thorough–and I can’t even begin to tell you the copious amounts of black coffee I’ve consumed throughout the novel’s making.

0327131016

The three subjects listed in my title – writing, reading and coffee – are essentially the three vertices of my triangle of happiness.  It’s certainly an uneven triangle – not so much a dignified isosceles as it is a lopsided scalene – but I love it, all the same.  Coffee has always been a part of my creative process; most of my favorite pieces have been completed with a thoughtful sip from my latest cup.

Now, like anyone else, I certainly have my preferences.  As I said earlier, I like my coffee black.  Strong.  Dark as possible, with a hint of sugar.  If you find me somewhere, randomly hand me an Americano and we’ll be friends for life.  When I make coffee at home, I greatly enjoy the process of grinding the beans, smelling the oils and savoring the wonderful taste–or offering that taste to others, in a steaming mug full o’ comfort.  However, I do fully agree with Lynch’s statement–even bad coffee is better than no coffee at all.  While it’s certainly not my preferred choice, I’m still more than happy to drink instant coffee, or even cheap gas station coffee.  I feel that coffee, even lesser forms of it, can improve any moment of any day.

And why?  Because it’s a small, personal joy.  A simple dose of happiness.

coffee

I’ve always loved coffee.  As a child, my parents, older relatives and all of the adults I knew always drank coffee.  Coffee seemed like a token of adulthood—perhaps a gateway into the adult world.  As I gained some more years under my belt, I began sneaking in more and more sips of it.  By the time I was a teenager, coffee became a regular joy for me – and that was when I started to connect it to my creative process.

Since then, coffee has stimulated my creativity.  It makes me more reflective, more focused.  It heightens my awareness, compels me to work harder, makes me excited to indulge in my artistic tendencies.  I feel as if I could take on an army of zombies, tanks, alien serial killers and cyborg dinosaurs, as long as I had a good mug of coffee to bring along with me.

Uh...cyborg dinosaurs?

Test footage from Michael Bay’s Jurassic Park IV.

“Your breath is sweet
Your eyes are like two jewels in the sky
Your back is straight, your hair is smooth
On the pillow where you lie
But I don’t sense affection
No gratitude or love
Your loyalty is not to me
But to the stars above

One more cup of coffee for the road
One more cup of coffee before I go
To the valley below”

– Bob Dylan, One More Cup of Coffee

Coffee is wonderful for a number of reasons – and despite the bad rep it sometimes gets, coffee has a number of health benefits.  For one, coffee is the number one source of antioxidants in the United States.  Crazy, huh?  According to some studies, coffee can help prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s, type 2 diabetes and Parkinson’s.   Generally, all the downsides that come from drinking coffee only tend to kick in when coffee is drank in excess; in other words, I wouldn’t worry about your one-to-three cups a day, but if you’re the kind of fanatic who drinks a Lynchian twenty cups a day, you might be overindulging a bit.

But again, what really makes coffee so fantastic is what a simple pleasure it is.  The warmth, the taste, the feeling it gives the drinker—it doesn’t last too long, it doesn’t change the world, it doesn’t even significantly change your day, but if a person allows oneself to savor a cup of coffee, it truly is a wonderful thing.  Life is difficult.  Complications, though necessary, are stressful.  But a minor thing like a hot cup of coffee in the morning is something to be appreciated.

Enjoying small pleasures—instead of taking them for granted—is one of the secrets to happiness.  Contemporary life has become so cluttered, so fast-paced; we often race ahead so quickly that we never actually take the time to enjoy a single moment.  But these moments, these small, happy moments that we so often overlook, are exactly the things that count the most when it comes to day-to-day life.   Small pleasures, simple pleasures.  Pleasures like warm weather, like finding a dollar bill on the ground, watching a movie you love, unexpectedly seeing a familiar face, finishing a piece of art—or a poem, or a musical piece, or what have you.  Spending time with loved ones.  Taking a moment out of your busy day to go get lunch with your significant other, walk down to the docks and oh, say…feed the ducks.

verducks

We all have our goals.  Ambition is important.  Passion is important.  Hard work is important.  To achieve our dreams, we must put our primary focus on all three of these things.  But happiness is important, too.

As for me?  I find my happiness in writing, reading and coffee addiction.  Give me the inspiration to write, a good book to read and a couple cups of coffee for the day, and I’m all set to go.

“Harry, I’m going to let you in on a little secret: every day, once a day, give yourself a present. Don’t plan it, don’t wait for it; just let it happen. It could be a new shirt in a men’s store, a catnap in your office chair, or two cups of good, hot, black, coffee.”

-Dale Cooper, Twin Peaks.

So, here’s to simple joys—such as coffee.

coffee_agentcooper

-Nicholas Conley