Meshes of Lynch
Fandor / Lost in the Movies
If I had to pick a favorite among my recent outpouring of video essays, this would probably be it. Requiring a lot of organization, contemplation, and experimentation, my non-narrated split-screen comparison of Maya Deren and David Lynch finally emerged as a video that speaks immediately and directly to the viewer but also contains a lot to unpack if they want to go further with it (to dig into this common ground, I would recommend this collection of quotes I posted to accompany another Deren video essay last summer). I’ve created videos on both directors before so it was a joy to join them together in this approach.
advisory: I would very much suggest listening to the video with headphones or good speakers. I use Lynch’s subtle soundscape in Inland Empire (including his song “The Ghost of Love”) as the backdrop and there are connections there too, even though Deren’s film is silent. While nothing is explicitly spoiler-y, some of the selected scenes are suggestive and/or surprising. If you want to fly completely blind with his work, including Twin Peaks, be warned. The montage also contains violence and frightening images.
Here is the description I wrote for Fandor Keyframe, followed by screencaps of sixty-one comparisons from the video, going film by film.
“As viewers of Maya Deren’s Meshes of the Afternoon and David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive have frequently recognized, there are many similarities between these two filmmakers (Meshes’ innovative co-director Alexander Hammid carried on with a documentary career while Deren’s later work continued with her themes and style in Meshes). An ordinary key charged with dangerous supernatural power; characters who multiply, bending space and time; an Angelino atmosphere in which daydream becomes nightmare…these are just a few of Meshes’ and Mulholland’s common touchstones. Others have compared Meshes to Lost Highway, with characters in high windows nearly or actually viewing themselves on the street below, or Inland Empire, which escalates Mulholland’s fragmented identities in a suburban home that serves as a multidimensional portal. In fact these threads – or meshes, if you will – extend to almost all of Lynch’s work in the second half of his career, from the moment Twin Peaks took a particularly dark turn in 1990 through Inland Empire’s climax sixteen years later.
This video essay holds the two worlds side by side, allowing the correspondences (and there are dozens of them) to emerge without commentary so that you can draw your own conclusions. Mysterious figures recede into the distance. Ordinary living rooms are transformed into ominous, uncertain spaces. Monsters pop out in the middle of the bedroom, and, even worse, familiar faces take on a monstrous quality – suggesting that perhaps these visions of mind or magic have their roots in everyday reality. Some visual links are obviously designed and composed exactly the same but others are more poetic and suggestive, relating ideas as well as images. Are all these connections merely coincidental? Lynch was a student at the AFI in the early seventies, and even back then screenings of Deren’s work were staples of such programs. However, when asked by biographer Greg Olson (Beautiful Dark, 2008) if he had seen or even knew of Maya Deren, the avowed non-cinephile Lynch said “No.” (Lynch also professed ignorance when early works were compared to Luis Bunuel.)
It’s entirely possible that Lynch and Deren (who passed away in 1961, when Lynch was still a teenager) are simply drawing from the same psychic well. It’s also possible that Lynch was impacted by her work long ago and forgot the encounter. But does it matter? I think what’s important is how the works themselves speak to one another across the decades. Watching them together, especially enveloped by the eerie soundscape of Lynch’s Inland Empire, uncanny sensations and euphoric epiphanies course through my nerves and imagination. Maya Deren and David Lynch are brilliant directors not merely because of their vivid images or ability to tell a story without precisely telling a story. They are attuned to something that runs much deeper than pure cinema or pure art, something that strikes a chord deep within. They have the ability to manifest our dream lives onscreen. I hope spending this “lost afternoon” with the two masters inspires you to view these films with renewed attention and appreciation.”