Monday, April 02, 2007

A Slow, Uncomfortable Screw

Inland Empire, Midlands Arts Centre, Birmingham, Monday April 2nd, 2.30pm.

The taxi driver hurtling me away from the Midlands Art Centre is in a talkative mood. He asks me what I've been up to, and I tell him I've been to see a film, Inland Empire. The conversation doesn't stop there, as he asks me what it was about. He had to ask me this one, and about this particular film.

It's about an old Polish gypsy story, the film adaptation of which was abandoned when the two leads got murdered. Now director Jeremy Irons is trying to get the project off the ground again, casting Laura Dern in the lead, only she doesn't know that yet because it doesn't happen until tomorrow. Laura's husband's the jealous type, but her romantic lead-to-be (played by Justin Theroux) is a priapic playboy with a glint in his eye and wandering hands. Laura's batty neighbour (Grace Zabriskie) foretells trouble and murder. There's also a rabbit sitcom going down, a chorus line of finger-clicking hookers dancing to 'The Locomotion', various Eastern European gangsters scowling menacingly, and a mesmerised Julia Ormond looking to stick a screwdriver into somebody, although she hasn't been told who or when yet.

In other words, David Lynch is back up to his usual tricks. And yet this is a pure and powerful hit of the writer/director at his most wilfully indulgent, unsugared by the lush cinematography, memorable villains and graphic nudity that kept mainstream audiences gripped to previous works like Blue Velvet and Mulholland Drive. At 3hr 9min it's his longest film since Dune, set at a very deliberate pace that some might describe as 'slow' and is mostly shot with poor-definition digital camera that almost give it a 'home movie' feel. As with Mulholland Dr., at its centre is an actress in jeopardy in the dense and hazardous Wonderland of Hollywood, a film within a film which may well be a within a further film, where time, location, identity and perspective can shift from one scene to the next.

Of course I say none of these things, and decide to fall back on Lynch's own plot summary. So I shrug my shoulders and say 'it's about a woman in trouble'. The driver seems relieved with this answer, maybe my earlier silence was disturbing him. But the holiday traffic is thick so his interlocution continues.

'But is it any good?'

A difficult one to measure. As defiant an arthouse picture as anything Lynch has done since Eraserhead, how you will respond to this film will depend on how you feel about sitting through a 3hr film where the nearest thing to plot structure is 'a woman in trouble' and very little else will make sense at first sitting. And yet is there a more compelling premise in the history of narrative than a pretty lady in peril? In truth, Lynch challenges our patience to the optimum level, but does succeed in pulling together a compelling film from unlikely constituent parts, the ineffable quality of much of the periphery proving once again not to be his flaw but his genius.

The driver reminds me the meter's still running as I shrug again. 'Probably for hardcore fans only', I tell him.

'Hardcore, eh? I'll definitely be checking it out then!' he laughs, as he keeps my change.

Confused? He certainly will be.



Blogger Phill said...

Wow - We almost went to this exact screening at the MAC but I decided it would be a bit too heavy for our day off so we went and played aerobie in the park instead - possibly a wise choice?

10:02 AM  
Blogger Dead Kenny said...

Well, Phill, that might depend on whatever the flip 'aerobie' is, but if it was outdoors and with your gf it was probably a healthier way to spend a sunny afternoon than watching IE.

That said, I always think Lynch films need to be seen and experienced in a cinema first. Although it's a difficult film to watch at times, nobody walked early, and the general buzz after was it was worth sticking with, so try and catch it before it comes out on DVD.

3:44 PM  
Anonymous Alison said...

It caused me real pain, real physical sensory pain. I don't think I liked it, but I'm not sure, I think I either really loved it or really hated it, but I can't tell which. I know it should at least come with an anti-hangover warning.

12:17 PM  

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