Friday, June 18, 2010

Mulholland Dr. (Part 2)

The Spine of Mulholland Dr.

The narrative spine of Mulholland Dr. is very simple. Diane Selwyn is experiencing depression and mental decompensation because of personal and professional problems. She suffers a professional setback when she loses a nice role at an audition to her former lover, Camilla Rhodes. This exacerbates her deteriorating mental condition. Diane fantasizes that some external force caused this to happen, like a mafia plot. At a party at Adam Kesher’s house, Camilla and Adam reveal that they’re an item. This severe cruelty further pushes Diane over the edge. Diane meets a hit-man at Winkies and hires him to kill Camilla. He tells her that he’ll leave a sign for her to indicate when the job is done. Diane notices that a stranger has overheard their conversation and has reacted with a horrified expression. Diane goes home and goes to sleep. She dreams of an idealized vision of herself named Betty Elms who is tantalized by a mysterious woman named Rita who is pliant to Betty. Diane awakens and discovers that the hit man has left proof of his deed. Camilla is dead. Diane suffers a psychotic break with reality, joylessly masturbates in a vain and pathetic attempt to reconnect with a reason to live, and then shoots herself.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Convincing UFO Footage

Okay, I've got a confession. Like Fox Mulder, I want to believe. That is not to say I believe. Seeing is believing. To date, I haven't seen anything. But, the next best thing to seeing, is seeing convincing video. And this certainly qualifies.

If it isn't a balloon, it's something very odd indeed. However, I can't rule out a balloon based simply on the way it moves.

The donut hole in the center reminds me of the Maury Island Incident.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Mulholland Drive (Part 1)

I've been working on an essay about David Lynch's film Mulholland Drive. I'll post it here in segments.

David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive contains a proper, causal narrative with a linear plot, even though it doesn’t seem like it.

What makes Mulholland Drive work for me is the way in which Lynch uses all his old cinematic themes, memes and symbols to tell us a fresh story. He’s always been interested in doppelgangers, and the subterranean current of evil and depredation that underlies consciousness and reality (if indeed, there’s any difference between the two). We surround ourselves with fantasies of goodness, of optimism and light, when the ultimate, final reality of our lives is that they end, and all we are left with is “that cold model of the barren earth which serves as paste and cover to our bones.” The essential psychological agony we feel when we contemplate life’s final result is the energy that fuels the films of David Lynch as well as many others.

Lynch’s cinematic style in Mulholland Drive employs standard cinematic techniques in individual scenes, while rejecting causality in the narrative arc with a deliberate obfuscation of point of view. Betty is a pert, perky blonde with a great deal of personal ambition, whose Hollywood dream of becoming an actress in motion pictures seems to play out with almost serendipitous ease. Each of Betty’s scenes employs a standard narrative structure. They exhibit distinct settings, characters that possess rational motivations, which in some cases, conflict, a pivotal moment (dramatic crisis) and a resolution. Moreover, Lynch’s visual style affirms the narrative structure. He uses camera angles, shots, zooms, pans, etc., to reinforce the standard cinematic narrative point of view. This is Betty’s point of view, just as it is Betty’s narrative.

Through symbolism and metaphor, however, Lynch infers an additional layer of meaning every bit as intentional as Betty’s motives. Betty’s character is a perky go-getter. Her identity is fixed and known. Rita, on the other hand, is amnesiac. Her identity is completely unknown. Thus we are confronted with the surface mystery of Mulholland Drive, the mystery of Rita’s true identity, and all that that implies (we know that she was about to be murdered before the accident that resulted in her amnesia). Betty discovers about herself that although she is a talented, pretty, precocious blonde, she’s also tantalized, intrigued and perhaps obsessed with Rita’s alluring mystery. It sucks her in. For her part, Rita is in a state of flux. She’s tabula rasa. And Betty is extremely attracted to that… And the audience is extremely attracted to them both.

There follows mysterious vignettes in which Betty and Rita journey to a mysterious nightclub called Silencio (Silence), there’s a shadowy figure called the Cowboy, and a puzzling blue box that can be unlocked by a key. This key is central to the turn of the super-narrative. When Betty unlocks the box, she disappears. Diane Selwyn, a person mentioned earlier in the film, and whose body the women have discovered prior to their trip to Club Silencio, wakes up. In fact Cowboy appears in the doorway and says “Time to wake up pretty girl,” or something to that effect. Diane looks exactly like Betty and is portrayed by the same actress, Naomi Watts.

Lynch’s camera now demands we abruptly shift our allegiance to the Diane character and we reluctantly submit to the camera’s tyranny, or we leave the theater. Relentlessly, the camera uses the same traditional cinematic techniques to establish that we are now in Diane Selwyn’s point of view. But wait! What about charming Betty? We want to go back to Betty and Rita, and discover the answer to the mystery and achieve the happily ever after ending that we were promised, albeit with a little dash of lesbianism for extra flavor! This is precisely the cinematic trope that Lynch is lynching. The message of Mulholland Drive is that the cinema is an illusion, and if you imagine your life by its principles, you destroy yourself so thoroughly, emotionally and existentially, that real death is a welcome relief. This is the sub-narrative. In terms of the super-narrative, Betty is Diane’s alter-ego. She never really existed. Everything that happened in the movie up to the point where Diane Selwyn wakes up, is apparently a dream of Diane’s. The second half of the film is unremittingly bleak, as Diane’s entire world crumbles around her. She has lost a good role to her lover Camilla, and then lost Camilla to Adam, which heaps betrayal upon betrayal. One element of noir has survived; Diane has hired a hit man to kill Camilla (played by the same actress who played Rita). When Diane realizes that the job has been done, she shoots herself, and that’s the end of the film, except for the final image of the chanteuse from Club Silencio assuring us that there’s no afterlife.

Who was trying to kill Camilla/Rita in the beginning of the film? Diane, of course. Betty, Diane’s alter-ego, was Diane’s subconscious attempt to psychologically deal with the guilt of hiring the hitman. But solving that mystery is not the reason for the film’s existence, just as who killed Laura Palmer was never the raison d’être of Twin Peaks. The purpose was to show the story, with as much psychological truth as possible, of a sad and pathetic loser who kills her lover and herself in Hollywood. What makes the film work as art is Lynch’s steadfast refusal to explain anything, and to pull the starkest images out of his subconscious that he possibly can.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Grandma's Eulogy

This past weekend, flew back to Decorah, Iowa (place of my birth) to attend my Grandmother's funeral. Also wrote and delivered the eulogy. Several cousins asked for a copy and so I thought I'd post it here for all and sundry...

Maude Pruisman

I want to thank you all for coming today to honor the memory and celebrate the life of Maude Pruisman, my grandmother, and the grandmother of many others here. She was also great grandmother, aunt and great-aunt for many more here today as well as a mother-in-law and a cousin to some. As Maude’s eldest grandchild, I have been asked to share a few short remarks about our dear grandmother, or grandma, as I always knew her.

Grandma lived a very long time. In those nine decades she saw almost the full breadth and scope of the 20th Century. When she was born, President Woodrow Wilson was in his first term, automobiles had only been around for 15 years and most people didn’t have electricity or indoor plumbing. When she was 54 years old, just two years older than I am today, Man landed on the Moon.

Like everyone who lives a very long time, her life was full of ups and downs. When I remember Grandma smiling and laughing, those times she had the biggest smile on her face, was when she was with her grandchildren. I think that her grandchildren brought her the greatest pleasure in her life. A close second was successfully bidding 10 no-trump in a spirited game of 500, or experiencing a very long discard run in Skipbo.

Grandma liked to cook, and she was a good cook. All of the grandchildren I’m sure will remember her Apple Koogan, her sour green bean casserole and vinegar potato salad, but I also remember her fried bullheads. I’m sure if I could taste them again, I would appreciate them a lot more than I did when I was 7 years old. Grandma also liked As the World Turns, and going to coffee with Grampa Klaas, and all her friends, in downtown Kanawha.

I am old enough to remember when Grandma had a job. She worked for the school system in Kanawha where she was employed as a cook; she used to help out in the kitchen when she was living at Eastern Star, too. She was always a very hard worker and an immaculate housekeeper. I am also old enough to remember Manley, and going to visit grandma at her house there, where grandma lived with her first husband Charlie, and where their four children: Glenn, Betty, LaDonna and Rhonda were raised. During one memorable visit there, I learned a painful lesson about not playing with sewing machines.

Grandma had more than her share of heartbreak in her life as well. She suffered tremendous grief having all four of her children and one grandchild (Cally Jo) predecease her. The hardest to bear was probably the first: Aunt Rhonda, who I remember as a laughing, friendly sixteen year old. One day Rhonda and I were riding our bikes in Kanawha, where grandma moved after marrying Klaas Pruisman, when Rhonda fell off and skinned her knee in the road. The sight of her bloody knee and tears made me panic and I ran home to grandma’s house screaming that Rhonda was hurt real bad. Grandma was in a state of panic to match mine, but then Rhonda came pedaling up, saying that it was “nothing.” Then Grandma got mad at me for scaring her. I was so confused.

On the day of Rhonda’s funeral, grandma sat weeping in her chair in the Kanawha house with a grief so powerful it couldn’t be helped by anything I could do. My heart breaks when I remember it.

Grandma taught me many things, and gave me many gifts. Of the lessons she taught me the most vivid was that work is its own reward. Despite her wisdom, in the end, I decided that work as its own reward is pretty rotten compensation. Grandma and Grandpa had apple trees in their backyard. One summer I went to stay with grandma and grampa for a week. Unbeknownst to me, my mother and Grandma had cooked up a plan for me to do some chores. The chore in question was to pick up the fallen apples from the apple trees in grandma’s back yard and put them in a bucket to be thrown away. Well, I enjoyed that as much as any six-year-old can who’s picking up mushy, rotting apples covered with bumble bees with his bare hands. To this day I have no idea why it was so important that I use my bare hands for that job, rather than rubber gloves, or a hand spade. But suffice it to say, the possibility of using such common-sense tools never even entered grandma’s mind. Grandma, you see, was German, and never afraid to get her hands dirty.

In retrospect, I much preferred visiting my Aunt Dolly, who made me costumes, and who had much better toys to play with.

I had many more visits with Grandma after that. All of them were much nicer, but then I was never asked to pick up rotten apples again, either.

Grandma gave me a couple of gifts that were very special to me. The first was when I was three, and in St. Mary’s Hospital in Rochester. I was going in for major surgery and grandma asked me what I wanted. I said “a baby-doll.” I’m not sure why, but it was probably because I’d seen one of the other children in the pediatric ward playing with one and I wanted a similar experience. Apparently there followed a family conference as to whether it was appropriate for a boy to have a baby-doll, and a decision was reached that it was probably okay. If only they could have known! In any event, I was given the baby-doll, which followed me into and out of surgery and through recovery. Another gift I remember fondly was a recording of Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra playing Beethoven’s Fifth. I played the grooves off that record.

When I was a little older Grandma and Grampa used to go on trips with Mom and Dad and Karen and me. On one trip out west, near the city of Las Vegas, Nevada, Mom and Dad came back to the campsite after visiting a casino (a pursuit Dad has never fallen out of love with) to find Grandma suffering heatstroke from the desert sun and me shivering inside a sleeping bag after swimming all day in ice-cold water. Later in the trip as we were driving over the Rockies, Klaas made the comment, “Mountains: You’ve seen one, you’ve seen ‘em all.” Mom held her tongue for 800 more miles until we returned to Iowa, and Klaas marveled about how much the corn had grown while we were away on the trip, and Mom said, “Cornfields: you’ve seen one, you seen ‘em all.” And that, as Lily Tomlin would say, is the truth.

So in the end, I knew Grandma as well as anyone. She was an uncomplicated person who knew her own mind, and when she formed an opinion, she stuck to it. She was stubborn that way. She expressed her feelings and always tried to be fair. I can’t say she was always happy or even generally happy, but she wasn’t a sad person, either. She knew that family meant more to her than anything else in her life. It was her great joy and accounted for her greatest grief when those relationships ended too soon.

I loved her with all my heart, even though she sometimes frustrated me to distraction. For some reason she found a lot of what I had to say very amusing. Those kids, they say the darndest things…

A friend of mine from college once asked me if I believed in life after death. I said no, that I believe in the resurrection and the life. By that I mean that I believe in the sleep of death, and it is not only what I believe, it is also what I prefer to believe. Grandma is no longer with us, she’s passed on. Her grief and pain are wholly healed. Some day, the horn will sound, and all will rise. On that day, I very much believe, Maude Pruisman will find her name written in the Book of Life. I accept that on faith, and I furthermore hope on that day to find my own name written in the book with other than erasable ink, just as Grandma, my mom and dad and all my aunts and uncles have tried to ensure for me through their instruction and example, and for whose efforts I have been insufficiently grateful.

Thank you for listening.