Thursday, August 23, 2007

TWISTING IN THE WIND

David Lynch's Inland Empire makes it to DVD

Posted on Thu, Aug 23, 2007 at 4:00 AM

Inland Empire
Studio: Rhino
Cast: Laura Dern
Director: David Lynch
WorkNameSort: Inland Empire

I first saw Inland Empire in June at a one-night-only screening at Miami's 440-seat Colony Theatre. The event was, from what I've been able to discern about the enigmatic self-distributed film, the only Florida date.

Naturally, the movie sold out, and my lateness in obtaining tickets had my companion and I squinting our eyes in the nosebleed section of the cramped performing arts venue, staring at a too-small screen, not to mention enduring a botched video intro with a live-via-satellite David Lynch and a projector malfunction around reel four.

Still, despite these not-so-cozy environs, I was awestruck by this impenetrable epic, which casts a spell few films ever have. How often do you get to see a three-hour experimental film on the big screen, anyway? Of course, if watching a director's nonlinear, dreamlike deconstructions for 172 minutes sounds a torturous slog, you might find comfort in the New York Observer's Rex Reed, the abominable hack critic who, sure enough, named Inland Empire his ninth-worst film of 2006 (only ninth-worst?! How disappointing). And FYI, his worst-of-the-year pick was Borat. Oooh, contrarian!

For the more adventurous viewer, the belated appearance of Inland Empire on DVD is the cinematic event of the summer. In a perfect world, this movie would have played for months in prestigious cinemas all across the globe. In the '60s, when folks lined up 'round the block for L'Avventura, Last Year at Marienbad and Persona simply to remain cultured, Inland Empire would have been a smash hit. Then again, it couldn't have possibly existed in a pre-Pro Tools era: David Lynch's latest conception is a child of the digital age, arguably doing more with the DV format than most Final Cut Pro hackers could dream of.

Indeed, the DVD format might be the perfect home for the picture. The ability to rewind and scene-surf ' unnecessary conveniences for most viewings ' here may provide the spectator with the ability to nail down that extra bit of insight into the seemingly indecipherable plot. Is it cheating? Maybe. Unethical for film purists? Absolutely. But something tells me that with the way Lynch composed this thing, he wouldn't mind it.

Watching Inland Empire for the second time, I was now prepared: I would take notes furiously, my hand hovering an equal distance from my pen and the pause button. Every fact, no matter how mundane it may seem, would be recorded. After all, a viewer must be thorough in order to fully articulate a theory on Lynch movie ' right?

Like Lost Highway and Mulholland Dr. before it, Inland Empire presents the seeds of a straightforward narrative: An actress named Nikki (Laura Dern) has just gotten the leading part in a Hollywood melodrama ridiculously titled On High in Blue Tomorrows. It isn't until she begins to rehearse in character that the film's director, played by Jeremy Irons, leaks a secret: The movie is actually a remake of an earlier German picture that was never completed because the two leads were killed during the shoot.

It loses any shred of linearity after an hour, after Nikki is â?¦ killed? Reborn? Is Nikki in another life, an alternate universe, a celluloid limbo, a permanent dream state? Laura Dern gives the best performance of her career, mutating into a confused housewife and a bedraggled floozy, the latter recounting her worst experiences under the hot light of an interrogator. We get a few cutaways to a sad Polish girl, an oblique scene in a woodsy cabin, a blurred exchange for what appears to be sex, a collection of model-perfect women engaging in an impromptu choreographed dance to 'The Loco-Motion,â?� a cigarette burning a hole through a piece of silk and the slow unraveling of that murder mystery mentioned before. Then there are the people with the rabbit heads, introduced as sitcom characters in one of the movie's many moments of mordant humor. All the while, thoughts and ideas from previous lives recur with dreamlike entropy, and Lynch's astoundingly mobile camera takes it all in, making each image look more severe than it is.

Even after two viewings, the sum of this film is still perplexing, but it's clear Lynch is saying something profound about the cesspool of Hollywood, the necessary whoredom ' of the flesh and beyond ' that one must succumb to to succeed in it, and the voyeuristic impulses it creates. My theory is that Nikki 'disappearsâ?� because she's been permanently sucked into the Hollywood machine, officially becoming an image, ceasing to exist beyond the celluloid. Yours may be completely different.

You won't get anything out of Lynch himself in the copious bonus features. A handful of deleted scenes show a lot of dull moments that were rightly excised, but even the weakest scenes have a magnetism, thanks to Lynch's digital filmmaking prowess. A 30-minute behind-the-scenes featurette called Lynch 2 shows the director at work with cast and crew, and it's fascinating to see the maestro at his craft. This great cherry-pick of moments features his natural anger, frustration, complacency and joy.

The second disc also includes Ballerina, Lynch's lovely 12-minute short of a ballerina dancing, which made it into Inland Empire in a blink-and-you-miss-it superimposition. An interview with Lynch finds him ever the magician, refusing to reveal what the film is really saying and focusing instead on the changing film climate, the digitization of technology and the glorious shooting conditions. The most curious featurette is called Quinoa; it might also be called David Lynch Living. It's a black-and-white cooking lesson with the oddball director making the titular dish, pausing to tell the creepiest story ever about the exchange of currency. Lynch might not be the most telegenic cooking instructor, but can Rachael Ray make a 172-minute existentialist masterpiece?

The special features ' however enjoyable for Lynch fans ' are almost beside the point. Buy this and form your own interpretation of the filmmaker's cerebral exercise. You may not get it right, but you probably won't get it wrong either.

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