My introduction to David Lynch was, unfortunately, at a very young age. I was in elementary school and my mother came home with a VCD (the DVD’s precursor) of The Elephant Man. She thought it was a Chaplin-like black and white film about a man who is also an elephant, a fun film for an 8-year-old. Quickly into the film she realised this was not the case, but it was too late and I was too stubborn to admit I was scared. I had nightmares for days and to this day, I have not rewatched it.
But I came back to Lynch, many years later, during my freshman year of university, with Mulholland Drive. I had no idea what I was about to encounter, but I knew the moment the man started telling his dream at the cafe, that another nightmare filled sleep awaited me. After the film, I went online immediately, as I’m guessing many people do after seeing Mulholland Drive, searching for some explanations. What does it all mean? There were pages and pages of theories, each one making as much sense as the other. I went to sleep, confused and afraid of something I could not name. So I went back, again and again, first to Mulholland, then to his other films, to name what it was that made me feel so afraid, so anxious, and unable to move. I’ve wondered why that fear I felt after watching his films stayed with me longer than any other horror. Why the horrors that made me jump and scream left my mind very shortly, while the word “silencio” is still enough to make me shiver. Why can’t I still watch The Elephant Man, despite not remembering a single shot from the film?
Since then I learned not to google what it all means and realised that I was afraid because I could not name the source of my fear. That fear was, and is, more powerful because it was not momentary. Jump scares could make me jump in my seat because they screamed at me. Lynch stayed because he whispered the fear into my ear and held my hand while doing it.
So for the second week of this challenge, whose shorts to choose but Lynch’s? I choose the following seven films:
- Dior: Lady Blue Shangai (2010)
- Dumbland (2002)
- Darkened Room (2002)
- Rabbits (2002)
- Premonitions Following an Evil Deed (1995)
- The Alphabet (1968)
- Six Men Getting Sick (1967)
I started with the one I was most familiar with, Lady Blue Shangai, which is a commercial shot for Dior. I saw this one when it first came out, but back then, I had no idea who directed it, I just watched it for Marion Cotillard. Back then Marion Cotillard was the face of Dior and shot a bunch of shorts for them, and this one was the one I liked the least. Coming back to it as a viewer who’s now seen Lynch’s work made me see it in a different light. Lady Blue Shangai is one of my favourites of the seven shorts I watched. You can tell that he was given full creative control because if the name Dior wasn’t in front of it, you can’t even tell this is a commercial unless you’re very familiar with Dior products. It reminded me of Inland Empire the most, a woman in love, confused, in and out of time.
My absolute favourite, and the one that’ll haunt me the most is Rabbits, which you’re probably a bit familiar if you’ve seen Inland Empire because some scenes from it are used in the film. Rabbits is one the most nightmarish, unnerving films I’ve ever seen. Imagine a live audience sit-com with characters who are depressing humanoid rabbits. Oh, and there is some demonic shit going on. It’s hard to decide what the scariest part of Rabbits is. The demonic ritual with red lights and the monologues are the most obvious choices at first, but it’s Suzy’s (one of the lovely rabbits) announcements of the time that unnerved me the most. Every few minutes, Suzy tells what time it is and the audience laughs. Gradually it gets later and later, and you’re wondering why she keeps telling the time. Is something coming? Are they expecting another demonic ritual? Or the worse, is one of them going to come real close to the camera and look me in the eyes? It seems like she’s counting towards something, but who or what? Lynch has me again, making me fear something I don’t know.
Six Men Getting Sick and The Alphabet were the ones I was most excited about. Six Men is Lynch’s first film ever and one wonders, was he always like, well, himself? And yes readers, he was. Lynch was always very Lynchian. I can’t tell you anything about Six Men besides that I have no idea what was going on, but I was nervous. The Alphabet was so interesting to watch for many reasons. On my first watch, I was just interested in the film itself. On the second watch, I was filled with jealousy of his genius. Lynch made this strange, wonderful film when he was 22 years old. It’s hard not to be jealous when you’re 24, and can’t imagine yourself doing anything as great as that in four minutes. Then I realised how dumb it is to be jealous of David Lynch, so on my third watch, I was just in awe–also known as jealousy’s nicer sibling–of him and this four-minute film that is so unsettling yet so calming in its discernible echo of anxiety.
Summer Challenge: One Short A Day will continue next Tuesday with part three. In the meantime, tell me your favourite shorts for me to include in the challenge in the comments or at twitter. Follow the challenge on Letterbox here.