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TitleJustus Nieland - David Lynch (Contemporary Film Directors)
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Table of Contents
Title Page
Copyright Page
	Interior Design
		Bad Plumbing: Eraserhead
		Inhuman Windows: The Elephant Man
		Sexy Tchotchke: Blue Velvet
		Furniture Porn: Lost Highway
	The Art of Being Moved
		Radio-Affectivity: Wild at Heart
		Melodrama's Crypt: Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me
		Moving Impersonality: Mulholland Dr.
		The Moving Picture: Six Men Getting Sick
		Animated Humans: The Grandmother
		Good Machine: The Straight Story
		Vital Media: Inland Empire
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Document Text Contents
Page 1

David Lynch

Justus Nieland


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David Lynch

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network of surveillance that had earlier looped back on Agent Cooper’s
gaze. The picture is less a key to the truth of Laura’s pathos than a prop
for epistemological uncertainty and cognitive befuddlement that follow
a spatial path: from melodrama’s hysterical interior, to the repressions
of the gothic hallway, to the ontological zigzags of Lynch’s Red Room. If
the gothic epistemology of the depths is one version of the melodramatic
moral occult—the post-sacred substitute of “realm of inner imperatives
and demons” for the wholly other—another is the Red Room, inscru-
table home of all the post-sacral passions of the Lynchian cosmos.
Leland/BOB will be summoned to the Red Room after murder-
ing Laura and Ronette Pulaski (Phoebe Augustine) in the abandoned
train car. The murder sequence, like the cabin-in-the-woods orgy that
precedes it, bends melodramatic pathos to its extremes in a kind of sa-
domasochistic ceremony, a frenzied ritual of hyper-visibility. In the train
car, Leland will place a mirror on the floor in which Laura will be made
witness to her own anguish. And Lynch’s camera itself will stand in for
this mirror several times, shooting Laura’s terrified face from an extreme
low angle (fig. 14). Ronette, her hands bound, her lipstick smeared, begs
for salvation in a way that joins vision to a call for melodramatic moral
legibility: “Look at me,” she begs, before being visited by an angel and
then promptly bludgeoned by Leland, “I’m so dirty.”

Figure 14. The boomerang image: being witness
to melodramatic sadism

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This, too, is a kind of boomerang image, doubling back on the prob-
lem of the spectator’s pleasure in these scenes of suffering. Lynch’s
parallel editing between the endangered Laura and Ronette, trapped in
the train car by Leland, and the arrival of MIKE (like BOB, his former
partner in murder, an inhabiting and now-repentant spirit), who has ear-
lier attempted to warn Laura about her father, is quintessentially melo-
dramatic—at once speeding up the action and prolonging the ceremony
of killing. Lynch has a pornographer’s way of dilating the time of sexual
spectacle. A similar expansion of time takes place during the murderous
violence itself, as Leland’s blows and Laura’s bloodied mouth are intercut
with a black screen. Because we know how this story will end, we are,
like MIKE, too late. Time is expanded and Laura reanimated, but the
pleasure in witnessing the reanimation depends on a primary loss, on
our always knowing that Laura will die. The killing of Laura Palmer is
an exercise in mourning and memorialization, and Lynch scores Leland’s
violence to Luigi Cherubini’s operatic “Requiem in C-Minor.” But it is
also a work of secular mythmaking, for the murder animates a series of
images that spawned the mythic universe of Twin Peaks itself: a close-
up of Laura’s broken-heart necklace, held by Leland; a shot of Leland
wrapping Laura (and the camera) in plastic; a shot of Laura’s wrapped
body being placed in the water.
Is Fire Walk with Me’s critique of the latent madness in patriarchal
authority blunted by its recourse to the fantastic—the possession of Le-
land by the demon BOB and the forces of the mysterious Black Lodge,
the submission of both to the power of the Man From Another Place?
Lynch’s mise-en-scène itself blurs the natural and the supernatural, as
the river into which Leland has dumped Laura’s body is suffused with
an unmistakable, velvety redness, and a spotlight finds Leland in the
woods. We dissolve to the Red Room, where the Man From Another
Place and MIKE demand from Leland/BOB their “garmenbozia,” now
retranslated by the subtitles into melodramatic terms: “pain and sorrow.”
In pantomime, BOB makes a broad gesture as if to render the pain from
Leland’s levitating body and then throws blood on the black-and-white
pattern of the zigzagged floor. With the pain and sorrow magically ex-
tracted from Leland’s body, Lynch prepares the way for Laura and Agent
Cooper’s final union in the Red Room, where they encounter another
hovering angel. In the Red Room the experience of pain is reduced to

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David Lynch
Justus Nieland

“A stunning piece of work. One of the most provoc-
ative, erudite, and elegantly written—not to men-
tion persuasive—writings on Lynch I have seen. It
is a much-needed volume and will contribute to
Lynch criticism, but its reach is much wider; it will
signal the arrival of a signifi cant voice to the fi eld.
This is the book.” —Akira Mizuta Lippit, author
of Atomic Light (Shadow Optics)

A key fi gure in the ongoing legacy of modern
cinema, David Lynch designs environments for
spectators, transporting them to inner worlds
built by mood, texture, and uneasy artifi ce. We
enter these famously cinematic interiors to be
wrapped in plastic, the fundamental substance
of Lynch’s work. This volume revels in the weird
dynamism of Lynch’s plastic worlds. Exploring the
range of modern design idioms that inform Lynch’s
fi lms and signature mise-en-scène, Justus Nieland
argues that plastic is at once a key architectural and
interior design dynamic in Lynch’s fi lms, an uncer-
tain way of feeling essential to Lynch’s art, and
the prime matter of Lynch’s strange picture of the
human organism.

Nieland’s study offers striking new readings of
Lynch’s major works (Eraserhead, Blue Velvet,
Wild at Heart, Mulholland Dr., Inland Empire)
and his early experimental fi lms, placing Lynch’s
experimentalism within the aesthetic traditions
of modernism and the avant-garde; the genres of
melodrama, fi lm noir, and art cinema; architecture
and design history; and contemporary debates
about cinematic ontology in the wake of the digital.
This inventive study argues that Lynch’s plastic con-
cept of life—supplemented by technology, media,
and sensuous networks of an electric world—is
more alive today than ever.

Justus Nieland is an asso-

ciate professor of English

at Michigan State University,

the author of Feeling

Modern: The Eccentricities

of Public Life, and the co-

author of Film Noir: Hard-

Boiled Modernity and the

Cultures of Globalization.

A volume in the series

Contemporary Film

Directors, edited by

James Naremore

Cover photo: Rabbits and the

Lynchian sitcom. Inland Empire,


University of Illinois Press
Urbana, Chicago, and Springfi eld

9 7 8 0 2 5 2 0 7 8 5 1 4

9 0 0 0 0

ISBN 978-0-252-07851-4

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