Since we were getting a little freaky with Dead Ringers, I thought I might get away with something even more abstract for horror movie #12. In fact, let’s not watch one, but TWO. Don’t worry – they’re short (But do worry – they’re David Lynch).
Six Men Getting Sick (Six Times)
“It’s better not to know so much about what things mean. Because the meaning, it’s a very personal thing, and the meaning for me is different than the meaning for somebody else.” – David Lynch
For any other director, I’d suggest their experimental short films as sort of the “deep cuts” of their filmography – in that, maybe you should go there once you’ve seen some of their features, figured out where they were going a little bit first, made sure you liked them. With Mr. David Lynch, who polarizes so many, I’m going to be backwards about it. I think if you start with his most abstract, sometimes nonsensical shorts, you’ve got a better chance of understanding exactly where he’s coming from. That way, when you’re watching Mulholland Drive on a Friday night thinking, “Alex, this movie makes no sense, and it’s forever long, and why in the hell are we watching a woman sing Roy Orbison’s Crying in Spanish?” you can think back to that five-minute short I made you watch and remember – “oh yeah, he was trying to do that.”
He’s still trying to do that. And that’s what makes him so special (noticing I use “special” a lot – I genuinely feel that way, so I’m going to stick with it). When Lynch first animated his painting and created a looping film called Six Men Getting Sick, he was trying to see a painting move. When you watch any feature film he’s made since, he is still trying to make a painting move. So for all the confusion that Lynch movies seem to cause, I can’t help but think that they are all just his vision of a moving painting, done over and over, in different colors, with different brushstrokes.
There is no doubt, watching this set of short films, late at night, in a dark room, that the images and sounds contained within are disturbing and frightening. While Six Men is definitely abstract, The Grandmother is straightforward (as much as it can be) in confronting death. I call them both horror movies. They are both art-horrifying (for that crazy discussion, see the last post) to me.
I quoted Lynch on “meaning” at the top of the post because I don’t want to get caught up trying to explain what either of these pieces means. Whatever it means to me, is going to be different than what it means to you. This is the beauty of getting really abstract and experimental with the film you watch. Lynch was a painter first, and director second: you have his and my permission to watch these movies the way you’d look at a painting. Step back, cock your head to the side, and just let the image invade your thoughts.
If you do that, you’re going to have nightmares, and that means you’re doing it exactly right. Good job. Now, stop thinking you need to have an answer to all your questions for the film to make sense. When you look at a Monet landscape, you probably feel a certain calm, serene way (I’m sure there’s someone that’s deeply disturbed by Monet). Do you need to know what it means to appreciate it? No. The questions and the feelings they create are your answer. David Lynch movies live by that logic, too.
In Six Men, I encourage you to sit through the full six loops. If you’re like myself and my boyfriend watching this, you’ll feel a strong urge to say “Done!” after loop two. However, when you hit loop four, you’ll start to see and hear things you didn’t notice before. By the time the last loop comes around, you may wish you were in the art gallery where they loop this 24/7 (just me?), so you could have a bit more time to gather up all the details. I notice the sounds growing more obnoxious, and then flattening, and then deadening entirely. I start to focus on the colors changing, and I am incredibly drawn to the purple cast over the last frame. I watch the spindles the vomit makes as it falls from the mens’ mouths. I know, I’m weird. But what the hell do you see? Roses and waterlilies? I think not.
After that, I played The Grandmother, remembering that it combines this animation style with live action. Definitely not remembering that it begins with two adults crawling on the ground making dog noises. It’s as disturbing as it sounds. Their faces are distorted in some way. Then we learn they are parents. This kid needs a better role model. Not a problem – he grows one.
The birth of Grandmother is why I chose this to begin with. It’s gruesome, and gory, and repugnant, and also just gorgeous. I love watching her grow, I love watching the boy water his bed (if you’re reading this and not seeing this, you’re going to think I’m nuts based on those two thoughts, aren’t you?). I find the relationship between them really lovely. Which makes it all the more awful when things go awry. If this is way out of your comfort zone, just think of The Grandmother as the darker, edgier cousin of Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie (Lynch purists everywhere are closing their browser windows now).
Other Things to Notice:
I think this might be true of all recent releases of Lynch films, but if you’re watching these on DVD, make sure you take the time to run the program that helps you change your TV settings. It will change the tone and lighting of the blacks, which is not just a pet-peeve of David’s (see this little snippet of delight), but a serious necessity to see everything that’s going on in The Grandmother. Otherwise, it’s going to appear very underexposed and dark on your screen. When adjusted correctly, you’ll be so impressed by the shapes that appear out of the dark. Like a painting, the lighting is exquisitely contrived, and is part of what makes these films effectively scary. So just do it.
Sound, also, is INCREDIBLE. Lynch as a sound designer is one of the very best, and his films are not only enhanced by his choices, but sometimes told entirely through sound. Both of these shorts have no dialogue, so the sound effects are everything. They are also scary. If you have a Halloween party, feel free to turn off the picture and just play the soundtrack to these on a loop. Your guests will leave quickly.
If you do have access to the full The Short Films of David Lynch DVD, I suggest watching the interviews that Lynch gives with each short. They’re not overly informative (he would never dream of it), and there’s just enough info to give you some idea of when/how the ideas for these strange things came to him. But then, nothing can really prepare you for a Grandmother growing out of a bed.
Finally, I’m going to point out that both Six Men and The Grandmother are available to watch, in their entirety, online. Search YouTube and you’ll find them. But out of respect for David, remember this.
If You Like It, Watch:
Eraserhead: This is a film based on dream logic and only dream logic. People who love Eraserhead really love Eraserhead. Only way to tell if you’re one of them, is to watch it.
Inland Empire: The people with bunny heads (yep), will remind you of the animation in both these shorts. The locomotion dance sequence will give you life. And the creeps.
The Straight Story: This is not a horror movie. It’s just here to prove to David Lynch haters that he can direct a movie so normal, Disney produced it. Just FYI.
**Still looking for movie suggestions!**
Visit the October Films Pinterest board for what I’ve got left on the line up. Then tell me what I’m missing right here in the comments.