Sound And Vision: David Lynch
In the article series Sound and Vision we take a look at music videos from notable directors. This week we look at several music videos directed by David Lynch.
When you look at the filmography of David Lynch on imdb you see that he has directed exactly 100 things, according to his director credits. The larger amount of these credits are, in fact, short movies he has made as a way to try out new techniques for his features. Things like Darkened Room, Out Yonder, Boat or Ant Head are best perceived as doodles in the margin, sketches for larger pieces, or larks to get his weirder ideas out there. They are, to use a harsh word, inessential.
The same goes for many of Lynch's music videos. Pieces like Interpol's I Touch a Red Button Man, David Lynch's own song I have a Radio, Nine Inch Nails' Came Back Haunted or Thought Gang's A Real Indication are only for completists. Even if something like Moby's Shot in the Back of the Head is made in a similar style as David Lynch's absurdist cartoon series Dumbland (also not quite essential) you would be forgiven for skipping it. His promotion for Ariana Delawari has echoes of Mulholland Drive, but if you want a music video ode to that film, Richard Bates Jr. did it better.
His music video for Donovan's I Am the Shaman leaves something of a sour aftertaste, as it seems to be nothing more than an advert for Donovan's and Lynch's shared love for Transcendental Meditation, something which is controversial among some of Lynch's fan base, as depicted in the documentary David Wants to Fly. Even more disappointing is the ending of Lynch's video for his own blues project Blue Bob's Thank You Judge, which ends with an anal sex joke that seems juvenile at best. Might it be the influence of a pre-fame Eli Roth, who co-stars in the video alongside Naomi Watts?
Truly, there are only two pieces in Lynch's music videography that I would recommend, albeit with caveats. X Japan's Longing Setsubou No Yoru (The Poem) uses some of the imagery present in Blue Velvet , Lost Highway and Wild at Heart, especially of fire, skies and a lover's embrace, to stunning effect. It's surprising it is a slightly obscure music video, cause among Lynch's videography it's the one that feels much more like one of his films. The main attraction, not an afterthought. It is a full on painting, not a doodle in the margins. Still, as a painting it is slightly kitsch.
Lynch's video for his own song Crazy Clown Time also feels like a headliner or the main course. An odd-ball video that depicts a party gone haywire in a style that is similar to Inland Empire, with its deliberate digital flattening effect and hazy grain. It is a truly unnerving piece, in which the synchronous movement of the actors moves beyond choreographed dancing into almost cult-like behavior. The rhythmic hand movements bring to mind the infamous "Gooble Gobble"-scene in Tod Browning's Freaks.
There is also a literalism to the video that is used to full effect. I have been balking against literalism in music videos before, where I think it's weak when a video depicts the lyrics exactly. Recently, and with me knowing fully well that I might piss off the most rabid fanbase in pop culture, Swifties, I have been disappointed in the music videos Taylor Swift directed, for instance. Something like All Too Well or Anti-Hero has rubbed me the wrong way, especially because whenever Swift sings a lyric, it's literally also shown on the screen as a visual metaphor. Instead of adding to it, doubling the effect of the symbolism, having it both in the lyrics and on the screen distracts. It weakens both the visual and the song itself. All this to say that normally, the quickest way to get me to dismiss a video is to do exactly that.
But Crazy Clown Time is different, as the inane lyrics, that are doubled by the visuals, establish a truly unnerving effect. Especially because the visuals add, rather than subtract, a demented and angry state that isn't necessarily present in the lyrics themselves. And the repetition and the mundanity of some of the lyrics also add the idea that this crazy party gone haywire might be the normal state of being for the narrator and the people in the song. Which gives this truly discomforting effect. Even more so, Lynch uses the doubling down of visuals and lyrics to build a tension: when he sings about a character setting his hair on fire, instead of showing it immediately, he stalls the moment. The effect is that we, as an audience, know what is gonna happen before it is shown, creating a moment of deliberate tension and anticipation. This is a truly haunting music video, one that does feel essential, and quintessentially Lynch. Skip the rest, but watch this one, and the one by X Japan, at least.