“A Woman In Trouble” – Part III

“A Woman In Trouble” – Part III

This is the third in a three-part installment on the work of David Lynch and its relationship to feminism, just in time for the long-awaited release of season 3 of Twin Peaks, now slated for 2017.


My favorite work of Lynch’s, Eraserhead, is perhaps his most enigmatic. The film, which reads like a nightmare, deals with the feelings of dread and inadequacy surrounding new-found fatherhood. This is Lynch at his most raw. The malformed baby the protagonist Henry (played by Jack Nance) must learn to care for is fragile, terrifying, and exceeds the skill set of its parent. To fail to provide means its death – a fear common to all parents who are just learning to sustain a life that is not their own. Henry’s masculinity in general is put to task as the Lady in the Radiator squashes large, globular sperms with her high heels in a playful, mischievous way as the viewer-as-Henry helplessly looks on. Henry’s longing for his neighbor juxtaposed against his own shyness and duties as a father communicate a subordinate, introverted masculinity. The fact that this is Lynch’s first feature length film makes the above all the more impressive – rather than hiding behind the camera, Lynch is putting himself on display to be examined.

I would also argue that the “gaze” of Lynch’s work isn’t always clear. Sweet and intimate friendships like Donna and Laura’s and Shelly and Norma’s in TP came well before Garfunkel and Oates or Broad City. Indeed, Ronette, Laura, and Theresa Banks share a kind of camaraderie as sex workers that humanizes them and exemplifies the special kind of friendship that can develop among women in this profession. Mulholland Drive’s Betty/Diane and Rita/Camilla serve as a sort of Hitchcockian hapless victim/rescuer dyad which evolves into a romantic and sexual relationship, in much the same way viewers are habituated to expect with heterosexual pairings. This allows for a subversive twist on the typically straight film noir genre. While it’s possible to argue that this choice was made for the titillation of male, heterosexual viewers, I can say that as a young queer person viewing this in a theater with my mom, it was nothing short of… Well, let’s just say awkward as hell.

Here again, though, it cannot go without noting that Naomi Watts has been publicly vocal about her discomfort with some of the scenes in the film, particularly the masturbation sequence. As a feminist and someone who has directed and starred in erotic films, the comfort of my performers is always at the forefront of my mind, and it gives me pause as to the nature of Lynch’s on-set director/performer dynamics. It would be intellectually and ethically dishonest to say I don’t find this potentially problematic. Being the one “behind the camera” brings with it all sorts of privileges, namely that you are in charge of image creation. You decide what the performers do, how they are framed, lit, etc. Being in front of the camera is a considerably more vulnerable position, and if I ever had the chance, I’d

Those who decide they cannot support Lynch due to his depiction of women have my understanding and support, even though I remain a devoted fan. This brings me back to where we started… My new friend at the bar. After I realized my words had little sway over someone who had never seen anything of his, and I was possibly getting into the territory of talking her out of it, I decided to back down and enjoy the rest of my drink. But this conversation had given me the chance to reflect, and to begin to articulate feelings about and artist I’ve admired for so long, but have had little success in describing.

I for one know I’m looking forward to what’s in store for those of us who’ve waited patiently these long 25 years to be reunited with the weirdest small town in television history. Twin Peaks has forever changed the face of American TV, and it will be interesting to see how it fares with new audiences having their first bites of that cherry pie so good it’ll kill ya.

Photo credit: luisalvaradob.tumblr.com


“A Woman In Trouble” – Part II

“A Woman In Trouble” – Part II

This is the second in a three-part installment on the work of David Lynch and its relationship to feminism, just in time for the long-awaited release of season 3 of Twin Peaks, now slated for 2017.


CW: Discussion of sexual assault, IPV

One thing I’ve learned over the years about Lynch’s works is that they’re not an easy watch (See: preceding reference to racism, sexism, ableism, and transphobia).  On TP, characters of color, such as Josie Packard and Tommy “Hawk” Hill (yep, that’s really his name) speak in stilted English, or adhere to vague animist traditions that don’t refer to an actual, specific culture (Tommy’s tribal heritage is never named). Johnny and Audrey Horne suffers from unnamed intellectual and emotional disabilities which manifest in a mishmash of symptoms (he beats his head against a dollhouse when he learns of Laura Palmer’s murder; she is depicted as a hypersexualized coquette, yet simultaneously naïve and emotionally disturbed). David Duchovny’s character, DEA agent Denise Bryson, has received plenty of flack for being insensitive to the trans community.

And then there’s the violence. All of the violence. I feel like I need to offer a content warning before I even begin to explain the depth and intensity of the sexual violence, incest, intimate partner violence, and psychic/emotional trauma that are woven into the very fabric of the show. Most of the horrific violence is perpetrated against women; indeed the central whodunit of the show revolves around the rape and murder of a small town’s beloved teenage girl. Yet, as I explained to my less than impressed new friend at the bar, it has never felt gratuitous to me. Really. As I explained to her, I trust where Lynch takes his audience and why. The first few episodes of TP show how distraught everyone in the community is over this crime. Laura Palmer is a human being. Unlike CSI or Law and Order: SVU, she isn’t simply one in a parade of desecrated bodies discovered by a wisecracking team of investigators completely numb to the atrocity of it all. Indeed, her death shakes an entire community who has known her since her birth.

The violence visited upon Shelly Johnson at the hands of her husband Leo are nothing short of traumatizing, particularly for those of us who have lived through the misery of such relationships. The first time the viewer sees Ronette Pulaski, she is crossing a bridge back into Twin Peaks, bruised, bloodied, and in a state of shock after a night of unspeakable abuse. For the sake of those who haven’t seen the series, I won’t give away the identity of Laura’s murderer, but all I can say is take care of yourself when/if you get around to watching the prequel, Fire Walk with Me. Yet amid all of these haunting stories and gruesome images emerges a strange sense of “empathy with” rather than “sympathy for” the survivors and victims.

This brings me to perhaps one of the most nebulous and fascinating parts of Lynch’s work. I consistently fail to be able to fully articulate this to another person when I discuss my love for his oeuvre but I’ll give it a try… Lynch is an absolute genius when it comes to capturing and relaying a feeling. Indeed, TP’s major themes rely on trusting one’s gut, paying attention to feelings, and refraining from relying entirely on the logical and objective. Agent Dale Cooper (played by Kyle MacLachlan) is both the hegemonic ideal of urbane, white masculinity and driven largely by his ability to tap into his intuition.

Aside from how the characters are crafted, Lynch’s work manages to transport the viewer into worlds that feel like they’re a real slice of the director’s subconscious in a way few directors dare to do. Rather than sprawling and domineering, most of Lynch’s films occupy an intimate, even claustrophobic landscape. Interpersonal relationship dynamics and private fears are splashed across the big screen for all to see. Like the robust works of Jackson Pollock, the supposedly masculine strokes speak to a more chaotic and panicked interior; inner turmoil is at the forefront, cranked to a scream rather than sequestered to their typical whisper.

Tune in next week for Part III, wherein we wrap up our discussion!

Photo credit: WomenWriteAboutComics.com

“A Woman In Trouble” – Part I

“A Woman In Trouble” – Part I

This is the first in a three-part installment on the work of David Lynch and its relationship to feminism, just in time for the long-awaited release of season 3 Twin Peaks on Showtime slated for 2016… or 2017.


“No, but really –“ I assured her as I started to pick up my pace, “most of his films pass the Bechdel test, and in fact more often than not feature women working cooperatively rather than antagonistically. The vast majority have what I would consider the kind of ‘strong female lead’ that would put feminist poster boy Joss Whedon’s work to shame!” I took a sip of my Twin Peaks-themed cocktail (the One Armed Man) at the bar of a local eatery which has kept them on the menu for the last year or so. I’d been attempting to win over another patron who admitted she’d never seen the show.

I went on to wax philosophic about how Mulholland Drive flipped the traditional film noir trope of the troubled dame rescued by the gruff gumshoe on its head by foisting the naïve and bubbly Betty (played by Naomi Watts) into the lesbian savior role in the enigmatic 2001 thriller. I cited Laura Dern’s masterful and grossly underrated performance in Inland Empire, portraying multiple characters ranging from prim and constrained to rough and gritty to fearful and confused in a nearly 3-hour existential clusterfuck that taps into the darkest parts of the self. I offered that  90’s pop culture icon Laura Palmer, (played by Sheryl Lee) in her more-than-meets-the-eye, homecoming-queen-gone-bad messiness, reads quite a bit like the title character in Donnie Darko – the fated, sacrificial Christ figure – with a Courtney Love twist.

Her eyes started to glaze over. Maybe I was edging into hypomania. Maybe I just have a lot of feelings about David Lynch.

The will-they-or-won’t-they do-si-do surrounding the Twin Peaks revival slated for 2016 has left many a fan (your faithful narrator included) twisting in agony. Will Showtime pony up the dough to make the dream of so many TP dorks come alive? Will the third season, 25 years in the making, have to be housed on Amazon or Netflix, allowing us to barricade ourselves in and binge watch with a pot of damn fine coffee and cherry pie? Will we have to cringe through racist, sexist, ableist, and transphobic stereotypes (for believe me, there were many) as we did with the original series?

If being a devotee of Lynch’s for the past 16 years has taught me anything, it’s that he loves to keep his fans guessing. This is the part that I connect with the most. You see, I’ve always been a fan of magic tricks, but I never want to know how they’re done. I have no interest. For me, that takes away all the fun. I remember watching Lost Highway with friends in one of our parents’ basements as teens, and afterward we discussed at length just what the fuck had happened in that movie. We developed theories, some infused with elements of mythology (Bill Pullman’s character gets a headache and becomes another person? Sounds like how Zeus birthed Athena to me). Some of them led us to dead ends (wait, but that hadn’t happened at that point in the film – had it?). The discussion was just as enjoyable as watching the film itself. In Mulholland Drive, Naomi Watts’s character actually finds mysterious puzzle pieces that don’t reveal their purpose until the very end. And even then the viewer is left perplexed and uneasy. (I won’t spoil it for you, but I’m also not sure that I could.)

Tune in next week for Part II, wherein we discuss where the feminism part comes in!

Photo credit: TVLine.com