So much has been said about David Lynch, and at the same time it feels like it’s never enough. Watching his films affects your brain in a unique way that is especially subjective and determined by your mood and life in the moment of consumption. His films stand the test of time and inspire countless creatives, speaking to a deeper level than many are willing to descend. It’s no surprise, then, that he is multi-talented in artistic fields, beginning with painting as a young man.
Almost like a moment in Lynch’s evolution from painting to film, his shorts stand as living paintings: bite-sized pieces of the maelstrom of his mind to fascinate, disgust, and bewilder. They are somehow even more difficult to digest and process than his films with their lack of restriction on thought or imagery, they fill with revulsion and intrigue. Recently, VIFF showed a compilation of David Lynch’s shorts along with his documentary, The Art Life. Take a look below at what kind of magic Lynch created in these strange, compelling shorts.
6 Men Getting Sick (Six Times)
Lynch’s first experimental short film, 6 Men Getting Sick (Six Times) is one of the more straightforward additions to his collection. With a mind-numbing siren in constant alert, we watch a mixed-media story unfold. Film over paint, fire over canvas, six heads seem to vomit, their organs appear filled with blood. Hands are grasping and covering as one by one they disappear. The sense of anxiety this short cultivates is strong, and it’s visuals are particularly jarring and interesting, making this a favourite.
Six Men… was created in 1967 with a budget of $200, while Lynch was attending Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, a step along the way to his ingenious inventive mind to be displayed in his first feature-length film, Eraserhead. In the recent documentary The Art Life, Lynch speaks of the moment he felt inspired to create the animated film, a movement in his painting and a wind heard from imagined trees, a poetic moment for what is strangely a poetic film in its looping narrative.
The following year, Lynch went on to create The Alphabet. Here he branched out a mix of animation and live-action, telling a story of a woman haunted by dreams of a menacing alphabet. Charming dot art and sung scales transform to disgust and awe through bodily sights and sounds. The sound of a mewling child grates on the mind, a type of birth seems to be shown, phallic figures ejaculate, and letters give birth to smaller letters. “Please remember you are dealing with a human form,” we are reminded as we transition to Lynch’s wife, (Peggy Lynch) eerily singing the alphabet in bizarre white makeup and gown soon to be marred by crimson.
Lynch would take this birth theme further and at length through his next short, The Grandmother. Humans are as seeds, planted below the ground and grown to maturity writhing together desperate for nourishment, a mix of plant and animal. There is no choice of which field we are planted in, and we meet a family marred by abuse and discontent. Here Lynch confronts the dead, monotonous moan of stereotypical family life. A little boy bears the brunt of the anger, a perpetual bed-wetter put to shame by a yelling father. In order to escape his personal repetitive hell, he plants a seed for a grandmother, heaping dirt upon a bed and watering it faithfully with that desperate expectation only a child can have.
When she is ready for harvest, a sort of non-traditional and strange labour manages to catch the mystery and mess of new life. The boy’s patience and dedication has paid off, and he has a loving grandmother as a place of reprieve. But, the life cycle also includes death, a state of which nobody is exempt.
The Grandmother is dark, reflective of the set of The Alphabet with garish white faces popping against empty black. Like the seedlings at the start, it is another fossilized example of the journey Lynch had begun to his cinematic greatness. This short would earn him a place at the American Film Institute where he would finally make Eraserhead, the time he reflects on as the happiest in his life.
The Amputee, Part 1 and 2
Perhaps the strangest of the bunch, Amputee Part 1 and 2 are combined for their nearly imperceptible differences—just an addition to length on the second version. A woman recounts a story through a letter with just enough details to draw you in and not enough to help you comprehend. She smokes languidly, reading aloud in her mind as her caretaker comes in to change the dressing on her knees, following a recent amputation. As she muses in her monotonous tone, fluids gush and stream from her kneecaps, a shunt is poorly placed but she pays no notice to any of it, too consumed by her internal thoughts. Amputee was created while Lynch was in the middle of Eraserhead, and it feels like an extension of his restless waiting, one of those projects we pump out to get the juices flowing. Despite its bizarre content and stagnant perspective, there is a bit of a relaxing quality to it that’s difficult to describe.
Featured Image: Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts