Random Musings on David Lynch, Digital Video and Crazy Clowns

A confluence of recent events, some of them coincidental, have put David Lynch on my mind. The latest of these was the release of his new music video (yes, a music video), of which the least I can say is that it’s appropriately titled. All of this just brings back my ambivalent feelings about the career arc of a man who was once my favorite filmmaker.

There was a time – actually, quite a long time – where I was a rabid David Lynch fan. I’ve mentioned enough in this blog that, despite its reputation as a notorious flop, the director’s sci-fi epic ‘Dune‘ is still my favorite movie. (You can click on over to my review if you need to read my defense of that film.) Beyond that were also his masterpiece ‘Blue Velvet‘ and his seminal TV series ‘Twin Peaks’. Even when I didn’t like something Lynch had made (I have mixed feelings about ‘Wild at Heart’, and his sit-com ‘On the Air’ was kind of a dud), I still always managed to find something interesting in the work.

By any rational measure, ‘Mulholland Drive’, released in 2001, was Lynch’s last great film. He even scored a second Oscar nomination for it. While I liked the movie a lot, it also struck me as being largely derivative of his earlier ‘Lost Highway’. The ending of ‘Mulholland Drive’ felt as if, in his desperation to cobble his failed TV pilot into a feature film, the director had reached into his old bag of tricks to throw something together. That left a sour taste in my mouth, but I still managed to find much to appreciate about the movie.

Unfortunately, Lynch went off the rails not long after that. Rather than focus on another feature, he instead began wasting time putzing around on his personal web site and getting lost in his own head. During this time, he made a lot of terrible short films and web series. He also forsook 35mm photography for cruddy-quality DV. The culmination of this time was the disastrous three-hour ‘Inland Empire’ in 2008. The shockingly-inept movie played like a high-schooler’s parody of what a David Lynch film should be. The utter failure of ‘Inland Empire’ seemed to signal the end of a once-great artist.

After that, I largely tried to put the downfall of David Lynch out of my mind. Revisiting ‘Blue Velvet’ on Blu-ray late last year reminded me of the better days, when I still considered him a genius. However, while cleaning my home theater room a few weeks ago, I found a DVD that I didn’t even realize I owned – something called ‘Room to Dream: David Lynch and the Independent Filmmaker’. I have no memory of purchasing or obtaining this disc. I had never even broken the seal on the cardboard sleeve.

The disc appears to be a promotional item put out by Avid Technology, Inc., makers of digital editing equipment widely used by the filmmaking community. The copyright date on the sleeve says 2005. The centerpiece of the content is a 20-minute interview, described as “a glimpse into the creative mind of David Lynch.” In it, the director talks a bit about his personal and career history, and then spends a lot of time proclaiming his newfound love for shooting on handheld DV. We see some behind-the-scenes footage of a scene he was shooting at the time, where Lynch is surrounded by a crew of what seem to be college interns.

This is followed by a six-minute presentation of that scene, in awful-quality 4:3 letterbox video. Three people sit in lawn chairs, yell at each other for no reason, and then start singing. The scene is embarrassingly amateurish, with porn-level acting. Lynch’s treasured DV photography looks like a bad home movie. Watching this just reminded me of Lynch’s fall from grace, and made me really depressed.

(Other contents of the DVD amount to a straight-up informercial for Avid, hosted by some douchebag who claims to be an indie filmmaker but who is clearly a paid actor.)

Seemingly timed specifically to pull me out of my funk, Universal recently announced the release of several of Lynch’s earlier films on Blu-ray in the UK: ‘Eraserhead’, ‘Dune’, Blue Velvet’, ‘Wild at Heart’, ‘Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me’ and ‘Lost Highway’. I had initially planned to import all of these except ‘Blue Velvet’, which I already have the domestic edition for. (Also, the UK disc will not include the movie’s deleted scenes.) But then Universal went and bundled them together into this very handsome box, which I can’t resist.

The UK Blu-rays are scheduled for release on June 4th, and can be ordered from Amazon UK. While region-coding details have not yet been clarified, Universal’s Blu-rays are usually region-free. (In any case, I have a region-free player.)

So, all of that brings us to Lynch’s brand new, 7-minute music video, called “Crazy Clown Time.” It’s… well, you can watch it for yourself. Be warned that this is not safe for work.

I… actually don’t think I hate it. Maybe? I’m honestly not sure. I mean, I don’t even know what to say about this. I’m sure that anyone coming at the video fresh without a background in David Lynch would probably think that it’s utterly bonkers. And even those who are, or have been, Lynch fans may consider this to fall into that realm of bad self-parody. Lynch’s singing is indisputably awful. There’s no way around that. But, even so, parts of this remind me a lot of ‘Industrial Symphony’ and the famous “Pink Room” scene in ‘Fire Walk With Me’. It’s kind of hypnotic. Maybe it’s terrible. Maybe it’s the best thing he’s made in years. I have no idea how to process this. Ultimately, that may be a good thing. At least I’m trying to process it, which is more effort than I gave the entire three hours of ‘Inland Empire’.

[Music video via Wired]


  1. JM

    Is this a parody of Neil Young?

    Because if this debuted at ‘Funny Or Die’ I would click Hilarious.

    The idea that a 66-year-old dude is rocking out this insanity in his backyard makes me hopeful for the future of the human race.

    If I was David Lynch’s wife, I would send him to the clinic every three months to check for brain tumors.

    But this video made me smile so hard, I’m seriously considering donating $3 to the David Lynch Foundation For Consciousness-Based Education and World Peace.

    • Josh Zyber

      I hadn’t even realized that Lynch remarried again (his fourth!) in 2009. His previous marriage lasted a month. You’d think he’d know better by now.

  2. Shayne Blakeley

    I actually like the song and album alright, the video is, too literal I guess? It doesn’t really add to the music at all.

    • Josh Zyber

      I guess if you look at it from the perspective of a music video for the song, then the video seems too literal. But if you look at it from the perspective of a Lynch scene with song vocals pointlessly played over it, then the lyrics seem too literal. I think I’d prefer this without the vocals at all (for many reasons, not least of which is Lynch’s terrible singing). Then again, without the lyrics, the scene would probably seem even more repetitive than it already does.

  3. Apparently if Lynch isn’t involved with a great writer then his talents pretty much go to waste. Twin Peaks is just one of those incredible confluence of talent that it’s pretty much impossible to look away from at times. It also helps if you have great actors like Kyle McLachlan and Ray Wise.

    I really like some of his other stuff, like Mulholland Drive etc, I think his material works best when it’s the real world through that twisted view of his and it’s a shame he didn’t hone that a little more and explore it.

    Oh well, here’s hoping he’ll wake up and find someone to collaborate with again and create something special.

  4. Barsoom Bob

    Is that fuckin’ guy out there or what !

    He is just stream of conciousness primal at this point, wants no structure or constraining narratives. It was hilarious and also funky, been in situations that almost approached that.

    Bold artistic stance, just like Yoko Oh-no, but who listens to Yoko Oh-no.

  5. Barsoom Bob

    Come to think of it, he has kind of come full circle. Eraserhead is a very PRIMAL nightmare about birth and babies and such.

  6. What about Lynch’s “normal” films, the ones that seem so contrary to his bizarre sensibilities? I know that Disney is behind The Straight Story, but what studio has the rights to release The Elephant Man?

    • Barsoom Bob

      Mel brooks had something to do with the making of that movie and was supposedly the one who wanted Lynch for the job. I think.

      • EM

        Still, perhaps the time is right for The Elephant Man redone in Brooks’ more typical style. If not a movie, at least a Broadway musical.

    • Josh Zyber

      The Elephant Man is distributed by Paramount in the U.S. and Studio Canal in Europe. Studio Canal previously put out a (Region B) Blu-ray in the U.K. and France.

  7. I’m with Josh… It’s really difficult to process that video, because it’s one of those things that can both work and not work on so many levels.

    Viewed from an artistic point, it’s probably MEANT to be crap, and that he’s making a comment on how he can put together anything and people will see all sorts of meaning in it because of his name. On the other hand, that then turns it into a bizarrely meaningful comment on the state of what is and isn’t art. It even goes on too long and is repetitive, which itself is probably on purpose to make a comment about how long the viewer will stick with something to see meaning vs leave it from short attention or boredom or disinterest…

    On a personal level, I can’t help thinking on its own, without Lynch’s name, we’d see this as utterly forgettable rubbish on YouTube (I doubt we’d even be discussing it), whereas if we saw this as a surreal dream sequence in the middle of a Lynch film, we’d see it as surreal genius… Which is it?

    I think Lynch is also asking himself the same question about his own work by creating this in the first place… Does he create great imagery, or does he only think he creates great imagery because of the praise and name and reputation that has grown around him? How far can he push the envelope and still have people praise him and see meaning in his work, even when he ceases to himself?

    Of course, I could be talking completely out of my sphincter, and Lynch could just get a kick out of the discussions stemming from something he threw together to purposefully be without meaning in order to witness the reactions it gets… 😉

  8. August Lehe

    Josh, read your DUNE review, but I really didn’t need to. My experiences with DUNE matched yours about 95%. My kid brother is a Trekkie. To me TV Trek is just a low-budget FORBIDDEN PLANET. Bro and I both dislike STAR WARS(NOT bad, but a DUNE cousin).