Friday, November 17, 2006

DAVID LYNCH AND THE ART OF FOLDING SPACE



Here’s another reason for some thanksgiving over this coming week: Robert Cumbow, author of Order in the Universe: The Films of John Carpenter and Once Upon a Time: The Films of Sergio Leone, has made a welcome return to the cyberpages of 24 Lies a Second.

Mr. Cumbow has given 24 Lies readers a whole bunch of treats in the past year or so, with excellent articles on Altman and Coppola and his widely praised and wonderfully in-depth submersion into the universe of Jonathan Glazer’s Birth, certainly the best piece I’ve ever read on this mind-boggling movie.

Now he’s back on the 24 Lies beat again with a brand-new piece, this one sure to delight everyone who always knew in their hearts that David Lynch’s adaptation of Frank Herbert’s sci-fi opus Dune was far more personal than the work-for-hire disaster its reputation in the entertainment press at large would suggest. In fact, Mr. Cumbow postulates it is this 1985 film that supplies a critical metaphor for the way David Lynch makes films. The piece is entitled, and delightfully so, ”David Lynch Folds Space… Because He Is The Kwisatz Haderach!”

(Can’t you just hear little Alicia Roanne Witt lisping her way around that one?)

I’m so happy to have a serious critical consideration of Dune out there, as part of an overview of Lynch’s career, and that it comes from Robert Cumbow is even better. Not only does he clue us in that Herbert wasn’t just flying loose and free when he came up with the term “Kwisatz Haderach” (it derives from the Hebrew expression meaning “jump from the path,” the archaic equivalent of “short cut”—and in Hebrew folklore, “Kwisatz Haderach” is the ability to jump instantaneously from one place to another), but his extrapolation of the concept of folding space, originating in the book and interpreted in the movie, is used to organize and understand Lynch’s intuitive approach to the art of filmmaking:

Dune’s “explanation” of travel without movement, of the folding of space, is a sly announcement of not only the vision but the technique that David Lynch brings to the screenwriter’s and film director’s art…

It’s always struck me as odd that when a film depicts someone with superior physical powers—a gunslinger with an impossibly fast draw and accurate aim, or a martial artist with the ability to turn a leap into sustained flight—no one ever asks why and how he can have such ability; but when a character has superior mental acuity, there is always a need to explain it. Sherlock Homes always had to explain how he deduced (actually induced) factual conclusions based on observed phenomena. The whole purpose of Dr. Watson is to be exasperated by Holmes’s easy-seeming investigations and discoveries, to demand explanations from Holmes, and to be ultimately satisfied by them. Special Agent Dale Cooper has the same sort of powers of observation. Early in
Twin Peaks he asks Sheriff Harry Truman about his love affair with Josie Packard. Harry, Watson-like, asks him how he knew. Cooper shrugs it off: “Body language.” This is Lynch’s joke on the Holmes-Watson tradition, as well as on the then-current vogue for interpreting character from posture; it’s really no explanation at all—certainly not the kind of explanation Holmes would have given and Watson would have accepted. As Cooper continues to display his uncanny mental agility, Truman compares himself to Watson, then settles comfortably into the role of taking on faith something he admits he cannot understand. When Harry decides to let Cooper in on the “Bookhouse Boys,” he organizes a meeting at the Double R CafĂ©. Norma Jennings serves the coffee, and Cooper immediately asks Ed Hurley, “So, Big Ed, how long have you been in love with Norma?” Big Ed is astonished, but looks to Harry, not Cooper, for an explanation—and all he gets is Harry’s accepting shrug. The message is that Cooper’s powers don’t have an explanation—they just are.

This is a key to the world and vision of David Lynch, in which dreams, visions, imagination, accidents, and coincidences have the same value as observation, interpretation, and reasoning, and are treated with the same degree of reliability. Many writers and artists since the Romantic era have urged the acknowledgment of the irrational as entitled to equal time with the rational; but David Lynch is one of the few artists—certainly one of the very few film makers—whose style and technique exemplify that conviction.”


There’s much, much more from Robert Cumbow on David Lynch, and it’s available just by folding a little space of your own and hightailing it over to 24 Lies a Second.

1 comment:

Bob Cumbow said...

Dennis-Thanks for your kind words on my little piece on Lynch. It probably doesn't show, but I actually worked on it off and on for over six months, and it represents about 33 years' worth of reflection on his work. I;m grateful for your enthusiasm. I must give credit where it is due, however: The discovery of the etymology of the term "kwisatz haderach" was Peet Gelderblom's, inserting a stunningly perfect new dimension to the article after it was already completed.--Bob