Rating David Lynch: Best to…Least Best
It’s an extremely hard choice, but I think David Lynch is my favourite director, even over guys like Kubrick. In some ways, the two directors are opposites; Kubrick being the consummate technical wizard, always analysing and striving to create perfection in his movies, verses Lynch, whose imagination is limitless and works in a very loose and dreamlike way, to create, quite frankly, unnerving movies. Seriously, Lynch’s movies seem to get more and more creepy as he went along, leading to the mindfuck that was Inland Empire. But now, having finally watched Dune, I can rank his movies in order. There will be a few surprises….
#1 – Mulholland Drive
Lynch’s movies had well and truly dived into the surreal by Mulholland Drive, and what he created is a clusterfuck of seemingly random plot points, opaque characters and terrifyingly powerful scenes. It is as mysterious as it is beautiful, and takes a far smarter man than myself to completely understand without extensive research. This is Lynch’s homage to the Hollywood he knows, a fucked up place where anybody can be anyone and sinister inhabitants lurk around every corner, and how the pursuit of fame can corrupt even the most starry-eyed individual. The fact that Mulholland Drive was shot in a shorter tv pilot form first, then expanded seamlessly later, is staggering.
#2 – The Straight Story
Please, fellow Lynch fans, don’t string me up for this. It’s funny, because of all of Lynch’s movies, even counting Dune, this is the one that is generally ignored. I mean, a G-rated Disney movie about an old man riding on a tractor in rural Iowa, what the fuck is that? And right in the middle of Lynch’s ‘weird’ period? It’s a shame, because underneath all of the corniness and meandering pace is a truly remarkable film. It’s just an old fashioned film, a film that tells a simple story of how the human spirit can overcome any challenges put ahead of it. It’s a big change from the series of nightmares that is Lynch’s oeuvre Twin Peaks onwards, but Richard Farnsworth, looking all of his seventy nine years old and dying of terminal bone cancer, puts forth a stunning performance as the lead character, and his interactions with the various characters he encounters on his voyage are amazing in their realism.
#3 – Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me
Twin Peaks is probably my favourite television show ever, but in all honesty, while the plot is linked between the show and FWWM, the tone and feel is quite different. Lynch only directed some of the key episodes of the show, and it goes without saying that they were the best ones. With FWWM, having the constraints of wanting to tell the full story of the last seven days of Laura Palmer’s life in a relatively short run time, Lynch had to cut all the endearing and comedic elements out of the picture. So, we are left with the horrific parts of Twin Peaks, now without the safety of television’s rules and guidelines for content. More than most other Lynch movies, there is a threatening presence looming throughout the entire movie that never lets up, before it spikes regularly in ghastly intensity. It’s almost like Lynch realises that we have a general idea of what will happen, after watching the tv show, so he just wants to mess with us further, by introducing baffling shit like garmonbozia and the Owl Cave ring. At the end of it all, it’s the uncut version of the Twin Peaks world, as fascinating as it is harrowing.
#4 – Lost Highway
Perhaps the start of Lynch’s increasingly confusing span of movies, Lost Highway starts with an extremely intriguing concept, that of an unhappy couple being secretly videotaped as they sleep, and just rips it apart, wildly flailing the plot in a completely different direction at the halfway point with transforming people, numerous doppelgangers, and of course, the creepiest Lynch villain ever (yes, even more so than Frank Booth) in the Mystery Man. Lost Highway is notable in that it’s perhaps the only of Lynch’s later movies that he actually explained somewhat in an interview (psychogenic fugue, for your information), but there is still more than enough around the edges of the movie to get lost in.
#5 – Inland Empire
The least understood of the Lynch films, Inland Empire is long, unwieldy, and makes very little sense, especially on the first viewing. Everything is so radical; the three hour runtime, the relatively awful look of shot-on-camera visuals, the nonsensical plot, the random characters, and to top it off, a genuine nightmare feel that pervades the whole movie. It is heavy going, especially for someone not used to Lynch or someone expectant of an easily digestible movie, but I believe there is a modicum of storytelling amongst all of the seemingly aimless scenes of bums talking in slow motion, odd rabbits, and Polish people talking about prostitutes, even more so after reading this. The whole movie is just so damn menacing, and the fact that IE has twice drawn me, someone with the world’s worst attention span, in completely for three hours.
#6 – Blue Velvet
Whoah, controversial opinion number two! Blue Velvet, I will say, is an extremely good movie, I just don’t feel it as much as the ones I ranked higher. Dennis Hopper is frightening, Isabella Rossellini is pathetic, but something is missing. I think maybe it is because this is Lynch’s first try at recapturing the ineffable feelings present in Eraserhead. I wouldn’t say that he particularly fails, and I’ve tried to love this, but I guess it’s just a personal thing with me.
# 7 - Dune
Honestly, just throw a blanket over the rest of his movies, I think they are all about as good as each other, which shows how stunningly consistent Lynch truly is. Dune is trashed by every one, including Lynch himself, but I saw the extended cut recently and thoroughly enjoyed it. It was fun to see what Lynch could do with a mega budget (one he never got again, I can assure you), and Dune is just a big, silly sci-fi movie. I do think if Lynch had the final cut, it may have been better received at the time, but it certainly is not horrible.
# 8 – Wild at Heart
I wasn’t a fan of Wild at Heart when I first saw it, but a re-watch changed my mind. This is the film that you use to get someone’s feet wet on all things Lynchian, as it’s just a slightly off-kilter road movie with a few bizarre scenes to remind that it is a 90s Lynch film. Sure, I could do without the constant references to The Wizard of Oz (they become almost cringe worthy by the end), but surprisingly Nicolas Cage’s Elvis impersonation doesn’t grate.
I might as well creep you the fuck out further.
# 9 – Eraserhead
Another movie maybe ranked too low, but I’ve never really gotten into Eraserhead for whatever reason. It’s one of those movies you have to be in the right mood for, I think. It is an astonishing testament to the will of Lynch as a film maker, taking over four years to completely finish, with lack of funds a constant problem. The cinematography is starling as well, perhaps better than even his later films.
# 10 – Elephant Man
You know you are a good director when one of your worst movies was nominated for eight Oscars. I do feel bad calling this Lynch’s worst, because it’s still superb, maybe it’s the lack of traditional Lynchian elements, but John Hurt is fantastic as the titular character, and Anthony Hopkins as his saviour.
That was hard, but really, all of the man’s films are good, so just watch them all!