Back in 2006, David Lynch fell in love with DV- digital video- and made a movie on a cheap, Sony PD-150 camera. It’s not much of a camera, but David raved about it in his typical idiosyncratic way, amazed by it’s autofocus feature (something every cheap video camera has had for ages) and which works terribly, often focusing in on everything in the shot except the one thing you actually wanted to focus on.
But to Lynch, that was heaven- and so why not make a 3-hour-epic-that-feels-like-6-hours starring Laura Dern? Inland Empire makes Eraserhead seem like a Hollywood family blockbuster. Mostly improvised, with only the barest semblance of a story in his pocket, Lynch and his gang set out to make something out of almost nothing, letting camera and actor meander wherever the whim took them. This sounds like a pretentious mish-mash of garbage, and it would be, except that Lynch is a genius, and Laura Dern is an amazing actor whose presence always pulls you in, even here. To make an emotionally compelling film with truly crappy equipment- that’s an impressive feat in itself.
The result is more of an experience than a “film”, but if being affected is a legitimate yardstick for measuring how successful a work of art is, then Inland Empire is a win. It will push your patience, and you should not start watching it at midnight, that’s for sure- but if you’re game, you will be rewarded. Kind of like Mulholland Drive, but way crazier, Inland Empire portrays LA and Hollywood as the nightmarish cesspool that it is. Kind of like Lost Highway, time and space seem to split themselves after a protagonist’s decisions are cast. Lynch being Lynch, he seems to have had no trouble finding celebs clamoring to play in his sandbox, and so this highly inaccessible and uncommercial work features the very commercial talents of Justin Theroux, Harry Dean Stanton, Grace Zabriskie, Jeremy Irons, Karolina Gruszka, Peter J. Lucas, Krzysztof Majchrzak, and Julia Ormond… not to mention cameos by Nastassja Kinski, Laura Harring, Terry Crews, Mary Steenburgen, and William H. Macy. Crazy.
Lynch has recently remastered Inland Empire to overcome the technological limitations of the time and camera, which is a mistake. While I’m sure the new version will look prettier and have more detail, mini DV, like super 8 and vinyl records before it has its own aesthetic qualities that can’t be replicated on other mediums. Not in spite of, but because of these limitations, Inland Empire works- and to try and “fix” them á la George Lucas is a dumb step that even Lynch, apparently, was unable to avoid in his quest for visual perfection. 20 years from now, someone will be restoring the film to its original, crappy quality, and cinephiles will cheer… but you can beat them to the punch by watching his original version, as intended, here- digital warts and all.
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