Tag Archives: David Lynch

CAPSULE: MOBY DOC (2021)

366 Weird Movies may earn commissions from purchases made through product links.

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Rob Gordon Bralver

FEATURING: Moby,

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.

Still from Moby Doc (2021)

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 -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 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.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a self-portrait, an acid flashback, a therapy session, a rumination, and a surrealist music-video package all rolled into one.”–Owen Gleiberman, Variety (contemporaneous)

SHORT: WHAT DID JACK DO? (2017)

366 Weird Movies may earn commissions from purchases made through product links.

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: David Lynch

PLOT: A detective interrogates a monkey suspected of murder.

Still from What Did Jack Do (2017)

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 number1, “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.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“It’s weird as hell, man, and I can’t get enough of it.”–Miles Surrey, The Ringer (Netflix release)

SATURDAY SHORT: ANT HEAD (2018)

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.

SATURDAY SHORT: A REAL INDICATION (1992)

This segment doesn’t feature music videos often, but when director and composer Angelo Badalamenti release one that’s been sitting in a vault for a quarter century, that’s a real indication. Their 12-track self-titled album Thought Gang (2018) is available on all major streaming platforms. This song also appears on the Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me soundtrack.

BOOK REVIEW: “ROOM TO DREAM” (2018, DAVID LYNCH & KRISTINE MCKENNA)

As an avowed skeptic, I readily volunteered to review Lynch’s bio-memoir to make sure the artist in question got a fair shake (from a non-“fanboy”), and also so that I might better understand a director about whom I have such mixed feelings. Right off the bat, let me inform you that this book is a very enjoyable read and that anyone who is remotely interested in the life of David Lynch should give it a go.

The format is slightly unconventional. The heavy lifting is done by long-time Lynch associate and friend Kristine McKenna, who provides the academic half of things. She conducted extensive interviews with Lynch’s family, colleagues, and the like, as well as got all the dates of events lined up with impeccable precision. Her half of each chapter comes first, providing the facts for every chunk of David’s (having gotten to know him so well by now, I’m going to call him by his given name) life, starting with token facts about his parents and early childhood. Having known the guy since the late ’70s, she’s on solid footing here, and though I haven’t run her sections through my fact-checker, I have no reason to doubt them.

David’s portion acts as a rejoinder to each of the “academic” chapters, bringing the memoir genre crashing into the more rigorous biographical genre. Coming across so much as a Midwestern all-around swell guy might have been unbelievable had his sections been presented without McKenna’s. However, judging from the remarks, anecdotes, and testimonials of the dozens (and dozens) of people interviewed for this book (and prior works), David comes across in his sections as honest, interesting, and, again, swell.

Room to Dream moves chronologically in structure, and breaking down the chapters so that each covers a specific big project (such as the hard work of Eraserhead, the serendipity of the Elephant Man, and the trial-by-producer-fiat of Dune) allows the book to be read in bits and bobs over a long course of time without compromising narrative flow. As I said before, it is all eminently readable and fun, and the reason I’ve avoided quoting any specific passages so far is that there are too many to bust out. That said, I will bring to your attention David’s most Lynchian phrase I’ve come across: “There’s a donut, and there’s a hole; and you should keep your eye on the donut.” (This bit of life coaching also appears in interviews he’s provided.)  And in describing David’s voice, (a court adviser in Dune) says it’s “kind of like Peter Lorre from Philadelphia.” 1

Indeed, memorable quotations abound; so much so that my book-mark ran perilously close to running out of room as I jotted down page numbers. David Lynch is a great guy who’s led a highly enjoyable life marred only on occasion by artistic or professional setbacks (the closest he comes to criticizing anyone is describing his distaste for two French corporate “suits” who don’t share their eccentric industrialist boss’ vision). His greatest failing is perhaps is he falls in love with a consistency that precludes long marriages (he’s on his fourth wife).

And my criticisms of the man and his biography that I had hoped to unleash from the back of my mind? I couldn’t muster them. The name-dropping is a little overwhelming at times (less of a problem for readers in “the Biz”), and my only stylistic quibbles have more to do with my archaic language and syntax hang-ups than anything Kristine McKenna gets up to. I personally would never take a compound noun (“Executive-Producer”) and morph it into a verb (“Executive-Produce”) when the sentence structure could be shuffled ever so slightly to keep it a noun (or, as I’d prefer, the verb phrase “produce executively”). But as any sane person can see, this complaint is almost nonsensical.

To sum up: Room to Dream was so good that its section on Mulholland Drive (a movie I have disliked with a passion for over a decade) made me inclined to give it another go. Snap up a copy of this fine tome or borrow it from your local library. It will give you all the Lynch you could hope to digest.