Aristotle said that no great mind has ever existed without a touch of madness. I’ll continue his thought and say no great art has ever existed without a touch of madness. Michelangelo was so obsessed with his work that he almost never bathed. Leonardo daVinci composed an uncomfortably long list of synonyms for “penis” in his Codex Arundel. Lord Byron kept a bear as a pet in his college dorm. Van Gogh cut off his ear. And then there’s David Lynch, a man who inhales madness and exhales art. Seriously, watch him in an interview and you’ll get the feeling that he was the inspiration for Heath Ledger’s Joker. Crazy he may seem, but Lynch understands the power of film, and he knows how to elicit feelings from his audience. He is a master of images.
Lynch certainly didn’t pull any punches in his early career as a filmmaker. As a young man he attended a variety of art schools and in that period created a number of incredibly strange experimental shorts. These films have been packaged together by the Criterion Collection and are available with a subscription to HuluPlus.
Six Men Getting Sick
When Lynch was eighteen he combined sculpture and film, because he wanted to see paintings that moved. The result was Six Men Getting Six, which consisted of six loops projected on a sculptured screen of figures. The animation depicted the figures getting sick, their bellies growing and heads catching fire. Though it doesn’t achieve its full effect on a two dimensional screen, it’s well worth checking out for its disturbing ingenuity.
The idea for The Alphabet came from Lynch’s wife, whose niece was having a nightmare and began reciting the alphabet in a tormented way. Lynch took this incident and created a haunting mixture of live action and animation. There are a series of jump cuts near the end that are particularly freaky. Though only four minutes long, this short won Lynch an AFI production grant which allowed him to continue his bizarre brilliance with an actual budget.
With a small budget at his disposal Lynch finally had the ability to make something a little longer. Another combination of live action and animation, The Grandmother is the tale of a boy neglected and abused by his parents, who decides to grow his own grandmother. And because it’s a David Lynch film, he does. This is 33 minutes of pure nightmarish surrealism. It’s an exercise in fantasy, and will without a doubt stretch your imagination.
In 1974 the AFI enlisted Frederick Elmes to test two different stocks of film. Lynch asked if he could shoot a short with the film, and his request was approved. He wrote a script overnight and came up with The Amputee, and he shot two versions–one for each stock. The result is a one-shot of a woman writing a letter, while her female nurse (played by Lynch) attends to her leg stumps. The shot uses a very shallow frame but the grotesque nature of the images, coupled with the strange voice-over of the woman, keep you interested in all the little details. It’s a quite a success for a simple experiment.
Premonition Following an Evil Deed
In the early nineties, some of the most talented directors were assembled to work on a project that became Lumiere and Company. Each director had one task–to shoot a film with an original cinematograph, the device used by the Lumiere brothers in the early years of cinema. There were only three rules: It could be no longer than 52 seconds, it could not contain synchronized sound, and the director could only use three takes. Lynch’s end product was far better than the rest–a deep, dark, and disturbing 50 seconds. There are essentially four shots to the story: 1) A woman in horror, 2) a pair of policemen looking at a dead body on the lawn, 3) grotesque creatures boiling women in tubes, and 4) the police informing a couple about the murders. What does it mean? Whatever you want it to mean. As Lynch once said:
“It makes me uncomfortable to talk about meanings and things. It’s better not to know so much about what things mean. Because the meaning, it’s a very personal thing, and the meaning for me is different than the meaning for somebody else.”