Review of Todd McGowan, The Impossible David Lynch (Columbia University Press, 2007)

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Review of Todd McGowan, The Impossible David Lynch (Columbia University Press, 2007)
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  locates such steadiness of theme, forrn,narrative,and style in Hitchcock'swork is itself adefense of the auteurist perspec-tive. Allen'sconclusions would stand on even firmer ground,however, if he had set forth a rationale for his ar-rteur-based approach, and if he'd taken note of instances that call Hitchcock's authorsl-rip into question, as when Paramount ve- toed his last-rninutescrambleto recilll the prir-rts of Vertigo so thecmcial confession/revelationscene couldbe removed. Alor-rg the same lines, Allen has little to say about most of the brilliant collaborators-Robert Burks, BenHecht, Henry Bumstead,and so on-who made importantcontributions to Hitchcock masterpieces, although he does quote the half-baked theoriesof TechnicolorconsultantNatalie Kahnus at surprising ler-rgth. But these aren't rnajor con-rplaints, and myother quibbles with the book are smaller still-mir-ror inac- curacies, occasionaloversirnplifications,and omissions of in- terestir-rg material, as when he linksthe opening camera movement in Psycho (1960) to Hitchcock's often-used bird in-ragery without mentioning its srcir-r in a "fly on the wall" motif that was mostly excised from the final screenplay. None of which should dissuacle Hitchcockiar-rs fromcligging intothis carefully researchedancl artfully written book; thanksto its fine scholarship,critics will be tracing the rarnifications of Hitchcock'sromanticirony for a longtinte tocome. Unity witl-rin diversity. Both/and. Criss-cross. "Isn't it a fascinatingdesign?" as Hitchcock rhetorically asked in re-latior-r to Strangers ondTrdin (1951)."You could study it forever." o 2oo9 Dovid sletrirr MARTIN FRADLEY Ihe lnpossihle Dovid Lynch hy Todd McGowon Afterthe commercial failureof both the second season of Twin Peaks (1990-91)and itsbig-screenprequel, FireWalkwithMe (1992), directorDavid Lynch was regularly dismissed as obscurantist or an aimless postmodern cynic. His reputa- tion was restored following the widespread acclaim achieved by MulhollandDr. (2001).A revival of serious critical interest also occurred, evidenced bythe publication of books about Lynch: JeffJolrnson'sPeryeft in the Pulpit:Morality in theWorks of DavidLynch (McFarland, 2004), Erica Sheen and Annette Davison's edited collectionTlrc Cinema of Daid Lynch:AmericanDreams, Nightmare Visions(Wallflouer- 2004), trric C. Wilson'sTheStrangeWorldof David Lynch: Transcendental lrony from "E raserhead" to "Mulholland Diye- (Cor-rtinuum ,2007), updated editions of Chris Rodley'sLyncft on Lynch (Faber and Faber,2005) and Michael Chioni D avid Lynch ( B FI Publisl-rir-rg, 2006),and now Todd McGon. an's study,whicl-r is oneof the mostsustained andsrcinal accountsof Lynch'suncannyand often bewildering oeuyre. McGowan beginsTlrc lmpossible David Lynclz with the contentionthatthe director's films repeatedlydemonstrate a centralpreoccupation: "the bizarrenatureof normality" (1). For thisauthor,Lynch'smovies are neither ironic norftrnda- rnentally reactionary (as they have often beencharacterized). Instead McGowan sees thern as interrogationsof late-capital-ist socialalienation and, in turn, oLrr individual relianceon compensatoryfantasy.Rather thanoffering some respite fromthe oppressive nature of reality, Lyncl-r's films are argr-red to demystift the fantasies which serve to structureand underpin our relationshipto thematerial world.McGowan claimsthatLynch's pop-expressionistaesthetic erases the artificial bound- arybehveen psychicand social reality,providing a surreal cri- tiqueof Hollywood "realism"and our peryerse relationshipto the"normality" it supposedlydepicts. Lyr-rch's films"don't strike us as realistic," suggests McGowan, "because we are so enmeshed in an ideologicallydriven fantasy underwritten by Hollyrvood" (ll). However, Lynch does not simply ernploy the Brechtiantactic of startlir-rg audiences, as manyof Godard's films do; Lynch's films take as their subject a powerful desire to escape dissatisfying reality by rreansof cinernaticartifice. The lmpossible DavidLynch traces the evolution of Lynch'streatrnent of fantasy in a chronological series of close readings of all the feature films, frorn Eraserhead (1977) through to MulhollandDr. Perhaps the most compelling as- pectof McGowan's study is his revisionistirnpulseto contin- ually refute tl'redirector's reputation as apolitical: "If there has been one sustained theme of criticism of Lynch'swork, it has followed these lines:he creates filmic worlds that show little signof thematerial world-of class inequality, n'rargin- alizedpeople,or economic struggle" (26). As a counterblast,Thelmpossible DavidLynch goes to great lengtl-rs to argue that, fromthe outsetof hiscareer with filmslike Eraserhead atdThe Elephant Man (1980),Lynch'smovies havealways erplored the endlessly permeableboundarybehveen individ-ualsubjectivity and the materialworld's ideological imposi- tions and interpolations. This avowed emphasis or1 challenging critical doctrineconcerning Lynch doessome- r::::niAulll::emDDml|1 .i;ii;L:!:::3iaiL::t:liliet;Jir,:;::i:i:at:r]:e!::i::A;!::::i:.,:t&t,,:,:,::::::riairri::.:::ut:t::::a..ia 84 SPRTNG 2ooe  timeslead McGowan to arrive at some surprising(and occa- sionally hyperbolic) conclusions: the critically scorned sci-fi adaptation Dune (1984-which Lynchhimself haspracti-cally disowned) is boldly reimagined as his "most overtly po- litical film" (89),arguinghere that fantasy drives social revolution;commercial flopTain Peaks: FireWalk with Me is calledthe director's"most important and srcinal film" ( I 3 I) because it insistently deconstructs the cultural fantasy sur-ror-rnding thedoomedLaura Pahner. McGowan's individual analyses of films such as B/ua Velvet(1986), Wild at Heart ( I 990), andLost Hi ghway (1997 ) are methodical, thoughtful, andlargely persuasive, thoughthe prose does have an occasional tendency to become ar- cane and overly scholarly,something that will doubtless alienate readers without at least some training in contem-porary film theory.These lapses into convoluted conceptualabstraction are due in no small partto the author'sinsistence on employing psychoanalytic concepts as an integral part of his project-"films that blur the line between desire andfan- tasy," he writes in a representative passage, "best approximateour quotidian experience of the world,inwhich fantasy saves us from having to endurethe inherent traumatic desireof the Other unprepared"(17). Of course, this usage is in many ways understandablegiven the films' blend of expressionismand surrealisrn,and its themes of psychopathology and sexual obsession. Lynch explores-asthe title of his most recent film,lnlandEmpire (2006), makes plain-the psyche's inner and unconscious expanses.Yet McGowan's claim that thedirector's films "make sense only if we turn to the insights of psychoanalysis" (145) is surely an overstatetnent. Might we not, for example,understand Blue Velvet (1986), with its overt foregrounding of various Freudian thernes and tropes, as a parodyof psychoanalysis? Likewise,McGowan'stakeon The Straight Story (I999)-that it presents Lynch's "mythical image oftheheartlandnot as reality but as theresult of an extreme fantasmaticdistortion" (79)-risks overlooking the film's gentle humor and its self-mockery of key Lynch tropes and images, the author perhaps strainingtoohard to apply his thesis to Lynch's oeuvre in its entirety.Yet what is most admirable finally in The Impossible David Lynch is the au- thor's critical imagination andtheoretical ambition,which provide the basis for a genuine rethinking of a much-discussed fi lmmaker. o zoog Mortin Frodley ovEmmrws DONALD F. LARSSON Becoming tiln Literote:lhe Art ond Crofl ol Motion Pictures by VintentloBrutlo tiln: A Oiticol lntroduclionby Morio T. Promoggiore ondTom Wollis Some of us canrecall a time whenthere was not much gr,rid- ance for thenascent cineaste. Despite a handful of available film historiesand essay collections, something still was miss- ing. One had to dive into those works, samplinghere andthere, comparingand contrastingword with film until some- thing clicked, some cumulativeweight ofknowledge finally tipped a switchthat allowedyou tounderstand whatyouhadbeenhearing and seeing in thetheater all along. Now there is a huge range of availableresources, including 7h e CompleteIdiot's Cuide to Movies,Flicks, and Film(Npha,2000); theInternet; andthe mini-film archives included onsome DVDs.The growthof film study in higher education has also estab- lishedone pathway for the film initiate through structured knowledge, but how many film students will actually hearthat click of understanding?These thoughts are promptedby hvo very different.books with similar aims. Both Film: A Citical Introduction byMaria T. Pramaggiore and Tom Walls of NorthCarolina State University, and BecomingFilmLiterate by Vincent LoBrutto,who teaches at the School of Visual Arts in NewYork, aim to introduce readers to motion pictures, yeteachbook's structure and contentreflect a differ-ent understandingofwho thosereaders might be. As acollege lext, Film: A Critical Introduction is the more conventionalbook. Nowin its second edition,this work stands apart from its competitors through its new emphasison writing about film. Few other textbooks combine such de- tailed discussion of theelementsof film with, in theauthors'words, "theimportance of developinginterpretiveand evalu- ativeskills by constructing written arguments" (xii).Thus, inpart l, Prarnaggiore and Wallislay outthe groundwork of film study in relation to audienceexpectations; formal struc- tures ofnarrative,image andsound;and theextra-textual ref- erences inherent in somr-rch of the film experience, all in relation tothe goalof film analysis: "to make statements about a film's themesand meaning" (26). A discussionof different types of interpretive claims is thenfollowed by an analysis of CarlFranklin'sDevil in aBlue Dress (1995). A similarpattern holdsthroughoutpart 2 of the book as explanations and FrLM aUARTERTY 85
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