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Art

Where’s the Ear?

If you haven’t yet read the exciting news about MH8, please check it out in the post below this one before reading on….

One of the genuine joys of the internet are those lovely curios that you happen upon and can’t get enough for a few weeks or so, and then promptly forget about, only to pick them up again months later with a renewed zeal (like say, Vector Park or the achingly funny “sports crime” blotter that ran in the now-defunct New York Sports Express). My latest forgotten distraction suddenly picked-up-again-with-rediscovered-fervency is David Lynch’s daily weather report, available on the non-member section of his official website, www.davidlynch.com .

The report is a daily quicktime file of a now silver-haired and yet still-quite-hale Mr. David Lynch giving us the current weather conditions for the greater Los Angeles area. Each report features the director in his trademark white dress shirt, tightly buttoned up to the neck, sitting at a desk in either his office or perhaps his secluded LA home. After an initial greeting, he launches into a brief report that includes the current date and Los Angeles weather situation, the contents of which are almost verbatim from one day to the next (this being Southern California, after all. Sample report: “Here in LA: beautiful, blue skies. Golden sunshine. Quite still. Seventy degrees Fahrenheit. Twenty-one degrees Celsius.”).

Clearly, Lynch has an artistic preoccupation with repetition. Consider his long-running (1983-1992) LA Reader comic strip, The Angriest Dog in the World, various low-res examples of which are available at a few different Lynch-related websites, such as here and here (if any reader knows of either a more comprehensive ADITW archive, or perhaps a published collection, I’d love to know about it).

The four-panel strip featured the exact same introductory text from week to week (“The dog who is so angry he cannot move. He cannot eat. He cannot sleep. He can just barely growl. Bound so tightly with tension and anger, he approaches the state of rigor mortis.”), along with the exact same artwork: three panels of the dog, chained up in the backyard of a typical suburban dwelling, emitting a prolonged growl, 1 panel of the same scene, except at night, lit up only by the glow of the house’s window. The only change for each week’s strip was the dialogue captions of what are presumably the ADITW’s owners, emerging from the window of the suburban house.

But returning to the weather reports, what’s amazing to me is that these 30 second clips, and more importantly, the cumulative effect of viewing them day-after-day, function artistically as boiled down David Lynch films in that somehow they contain that same level of vaguely unsettling meta-realness and anti-coherence that Lynch’s full-length productions are known, lauded and sometimes derided for. Take for instance Lynch’s well-known gosh-gee 1950’s vernacular, here enhanced by the stilted formality of the setting and boilerplate verbiage of each report, which stands in direct contrast to what we know as viewers of the contents of Mr. Lynch’s films. That is, in a typical David Lynch film, any environment that seems relatively normal or cheery or stable is, upon closer inspection, not at all normal, cheery or stable, but is instead a rather transparent protective coating around deeper levels of complex and disturbing reality. See for instance Blue Velvet’s idyllic Lumbertown, or Twin Peaks’ Laura Palmer, or Betty’s hagiographic vision of Hollywood in the first half of Mullholland Drive. Which is why for me one of the single-most unsettling scenes from Lynch’s work is the opening segment of his G-rated, Disney-produced The Straight Story, where the camera languidly rolls from house to house through an idyllic Rural American Downtown in an echo of the opening minutes of Blue Velvet.

As a viewer, there’s that moment of anticipation—you’re waiting for the camera to pan down and find the torn-off ear lying in the grass. Which of course, there is no dismembered ear (i.e. horrifyingly complex and barely hidden layered underbelly of immorality, debasement and brutality) in The Straight Story, just as there is no ear in these little weather reports, but there remains the viewer’s steadfast anticipation of such, which makes these reports work both as unsettling bits of meta-performance-art and highly effective in-jokes (and really, is there a difference?). And plus, should you need a three-sentence overview of the day’s weather in Los Angeles, they’re good for that as well. All of this makes me increasingly certain that the true hallmark of a great artist is their ability to take a piss (see: Bob Dylan, Flannery O’Connor, Shakespeare, Mark Twain, etc).

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