In Summer 2023, the Criterion Collection brings out their long-awaited Blu-ray of INLAND EMPIRE, after a theatrical release of the 4K restoration. The details of that restoration may be as convoluted and rabbit-holey as what you’ll see in the movie. Having seen the film in original theatrical release, then on DVD (the Absurda/Rhino 2 disc edition), and now the Criterion Blu-ray: in my opinion, the Criterion release looks very good indeed for a project that originated on prosumer mini-DV. Doubtless there are those with home theaters equipped with the latest tech who will scream otherwise, but for the most part, getting into minor jihads over what constitutes “proper restoration” is a game of fools. What counts is how this looks and sounds on your setup. Even if you don’t have the latest 4/8/16K TV with 5.1/Atmos sound, this is a great presentation, especially if you don’t have a previous releases of the film.
The two Blu-ray set presents the feature on the first disc, with no chapter stops. The second disc contains supplements. From the Absurda release, it ports over “More Things That Happened,” “Lynch 2” and the “Ballerina” short.
“Lynch (one)” is a feature-length precursor to “Lynch 2” (which mainly focused on Empire’s production), made by an anonymous director/crew member working the pseudonym “blackANDwhite.” It’s a snapshot of Lynch working, doing his daily weather report, and constructing and sharing stories, presented in truly murky video quality.
There’s also an extra feature of Lynch reading excerpts from the “Room To Dream” book pertaining to EMPIRE.
Finally, there’s the trailer—for the 4K restoration, not the trailer for the film’s original theatrical run.
“More Things That Happened” is a feature-length (75 min.) presentation of outtakes/deleted scenes, much like those seen on previous releases of Blue Velvet, Wild at Heart and Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me. It’s interesting, although not quite as illuminating as Peaks’ “The Missing Pieces” turned out to be. “More Things” is fragmentary—fittingly, since EMPIRE‘s script was written on the fly. Some scenes are simply variations on things already established, such as Dern’s Sue character puttering around the house with her husband, scenes of the valley girls, and a couple of monologues to some sort of policeman. There are several longer scenes: one in Poland with a character referred to as the “Lost Girl”; something with “the Phantom,” who offers to sell a watch during conversation with sinister overtones; Dern as Nikki in Poland, entering a hotel room to see herself lying on the floor. In one, we see Dern on the phone with Devon (Justin Theroux) and a disembodied voice speaking to her in Polish. Static interrupts the line and the scene cuts to the “Rabbits”; one of them states, “There is something here.” Another scene is a conversation with Dern as Nikki and a friend (Nastassja Kinski, who only appears at the end sequence in the final film).
Again, it’s a very good presentation/package. But if you have that Absurda/Rhino DVD release, you might want to hold on to it, as it has features that didn’t make it to the Criterion discs: “Stories,” a 42-minute featurette of Lynch talking on a microphone (a set-up similar to “Eraserhead Stories“), sometimes speaking on subjects relating to the film (“Rabbits,” the Polish segments) and sometimes not (a bit about watching movies on phones was fan-edited into an iPhone commercial parody). “Quinoa”, a 20-minute short, has Lynch cooking the title grain and telling stories (including a mention of “frog-moths” ten years previous to “Twin Peaks: The Return”). There are also three theatrical release trailers and an image gallery that lasts for seven minutes. The Absurda DVD has chapter stops in the movie and an Easter Egg of a 2 minute Dern monologue that is not part of “More Things That Happened.”
Watching INLAND EMPIRE today, it seems to show Lynch getting back to basics—returning his method of working during his Eraserhead days using the tools available at that time, but applying what he has learned since, without the concerns of a studio influencing the production process and final product.
PLOT: A wandering, essay-style autobiographical documentary by musician Moby, who discusses his career, his alcoholism, and his veganism in a series of sketches that range from comic to philosophical.
COMMENTS: “I know we’ve been in a fairly conventional narrative for a while, but now we’re going to go back to being weird,” sings Moby, accompanying himself on banjo, at about the twenty minute mark. We then see him dressed as a Buddhist monk, walking down an L.A. street striking a bowl with a rod while a group in white robes and animal masks follows him. Alternating typical documentary techniques with weirdo tableaux is the method here, but while there is plenty of rambunctious imagination to the sketches, this isn’t quite the “surrealist biographical documentary” it’s pitched as. Moby Doc is not surrealist, although it contains the fleetingly surreal imagery you’d catch in any modern music video. It is, more accurately, a “collagist biographical documentary,” a story that moves logically and chronologically through Moby’s life and career, but proceeds by stitching together scraps of information cast in different styles and textures. Thus, we have Moby monologues, comic psychodramas where miscast New York actors play Moby’s parents, appreciations from David Lynch, career-spanning concert footage, staged therapy sessions, humorous one-way telephone conversations, space shuttle footage, grandiose shots of Moby standing alone atop a majestic mesa, animated bits, a Woody Allen-esque gag where Moby talks to Death, and a tribute to the Beatles’ “All You Need is Love” video.
As someone with a casual acquaintance with Moby—a few tracks from “Play,” downloaded on mp3 a decade after they were recorded, have made it into my rotation, and I knew virtually nothing of the artist behind them—I think this documentary may play better for people like me than for longtime fans. Rabid followers have heard all these stories before (the musician has already published two memoirs), and there’s not much new music here. The quirky presentation, tailored to a cultured rather than a mass audience, means it serves well as an introduction to those of us with a marginal interest in the musician. Well aware that he is aging out of dance floor relevance, Moby seeks to rebrand himself as an elder statesman and Serious Artist: thus, the recent concert footage of orchestral arrangements of his electronica hits.
As candid as Moby is about his hedonistic excesses—the middle section of the film is peppered with unflattering AA-styled confessions, some involving poop—critics point out that parts of his history are whitewashed or ignored (a scandal involving Natalie Portman goes unmentioned). Such spin is to be expected in a self-funded vanity project. The bigger issue is how you respond to the narcissist paradox at the film’s core, which may determine how well you like the film (and, by extension, how well you like Moby). He begins the film by announcing he intends to explore nothing less than “the why of everything,” but then, naturally, proceeds to explore nothing more than the why of Moby. He realizes that he is addicted to fame, confessing how bad reviews and “kill yourself” troll comments wound him, and reveals that he aggrandizes his image in order to compensate for feelings of inadequacy. He wants to share universal wisdom—much of it genuine—-with the viewer, but he has enough self-awareness to realize that this mission will inevitably make him look pompous. He compensates with little self-deprecating jokes: when he talks about his music as a form of self-healing, he cuts to a reaction shot of his fake therapist stifling a yawn.
So Moby Doc ultimately becomes a lavish, 90-minute, million dollar humble brag. This could understandably rub some people the wrong way. But I relate to Moby’s dilemma: everyone has something to teach others, everyone has valuable life-lessons to share, but how can we do this without looking presumptuous and egotistical? Comic irony is the go-to strategy, and Moby deploys it as well as he can. So instead of being a recitation of rock-n-roll clichés about an artist seduced by fame, money, and pleasures of the flesh who goes through some shit and comes out the other end rededicated to his Art, Moby Doc is an obfuscational comedy: Pink Floyd the Wall with a sense of humor. And that’s not a bad thing; it’s probably as much profundity as a man who’s lifelong passion is to make music for teenagers to shake their asses to can hope to produce.
PLOT: A detective interrogates a monkey suspected of murder.
COMMENTS: David Lynch made the curious short “What Did Jack Do?” in 2017 for a French museum exhibit, and screened it once more at his own Festival of Disruption in 2018. Other than that, this bit of monkey business was an overlooked footnote in his filmography, until Netflix dropped it onto their streaming service on January 20, 2020 (on Lynch’s 74th birthday).
Shot in Eraserheadian black and white, with Lynchian signatures like coffee and a left-field musical number[efn_note]It’s also worth noting that a talking monkey had the briefest of cameos in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me.[/efn_note], “Jack” is basically a two-hander (almost a one-hander, since Lynch not only plays the interrogating detective, but also provides the monkey’s voice). There is a plot, of sorts, but mostly, it’s the detective and his simian suspect trading absurdist quips that occupy a space between the ineffably sinister and the ambiguously cliched: “Don’t worry. I’ve heard the phrase ‘birds of a feather flock together.’ A perceived fundamental. There are, of course, exceptions.”
“What Did Jack Do?” is, in essence, Lynch futzing around with the Surrealist potentialities of Syncro-Vox—the technique pioneered in the 1950s in which human lips are superimposed over animals or animated characters. Lynch’s experiment is extremely sophisticated, with his usual attention to detail: visually, the lips are blended so well that they almost pass as a real feature of the Capuchin monkey, remaining just off enough to supply an uncanny undertone that harmonizes wonderfully with the overt absurdity of a talking monkey in a suit and tie. Jack’s face is, of course, blank, and his gaze flits randomly, but depending on dialogue Lynch chooses to put in his mouth he can appear lovesick, resentful, or nervous. That’s a wonderful surrealist illusion. The result, while arguably slim, is still arresting and worth your time—and it goes without saying, a must-see for Lynch completists.
I showed it to a young Lynch neophyte; her main takeaway was “Jack is cute!”
Netflix’s business practices give them a lot to answer for, but they deserve credit when they get it right. “What Did Jack Do?” is a super-niche offering that won’t be bringing the streamer new subscribers, but they’ve done a hell of a service to the cinephile community by making it available at all.
Thought Gang was a musical collaboration between director David Lynch and composer Angelo Badalamenti formed after the second season of “Twin Peaks.” Just four days after we posted the music video for “A Real Indication” (1992), Lynch released this even weirder music video featuring the tracks “Frank 2000” and “Woodcutters From Fiery Ships,” from the same lost record.
Celebrating the cinematically surreal, bizarre, cult, oddball, fantastique, strange, psychedelic, and the just plain WEIRD!