Digital Lynch: The end?

After Mulholland Drive (2001) Lynch is “done” with film. Celluloid is slow, big, cumbersome, disjointed, scratched, and “ancient technology” so Lynch decides to tackle his latest shiny, new toy and is like a puppy at Christmas with the idea of digital film making. Digital, in contrast, is lightweight, smooth, fast there is an immediacy which is almost addictive, instant editing, autofocus all allows for the full artist's freedom from the clunky technical requirements of celluloid.

For Lynch you can see why this is so important, the ability to zoom in close to a scene (without the constraints of a boom operator, grips, camera men) the financial freedom of knowing a scene can keep going without the audio whirl of money being spent (celluloid films are expensive which is why we can “thank” digital for making programmes like Big Brother financially viable.). The organic nature of digital seems to fit Lynch’s creative vision so well, if a director can keep focused on a scene, keep seeing what is unveiled from the actors, the subtle changes in pace, emotion or tension then the end result will surely be better. There’s no one likes to dwell on a scene more than Lynch, his love of “quiet” space to jar so aggressively against “loud” space in his films is unique and as a auteur it’s almost what defines him.

Digital production

So as we’ve established digital production allows for self indulgence. With whizzy cameras and the right editing software digital film-making has been blown open to the masses, allowing everyone to edit, prepare and distribute at a click of a button their film to a potential audience of millions with little cost. For Lynch, this means two fingers to the studios who for so many years tried to control his vision, making it available to the masses, but on their commercial terms. As an auteur Lynch in a digital world is completely free and don’t we know it.

Inland Empire is a film you can appreciate but not love, easy to respect as an experiment, hard to sit through. Without the outside perspective of a studio boss, Lynch’s freedom runs wild, his love of fractured identities, disjointed stories (Twin Peaks style) takes on an existentialist quality of its own, leaving even hardcore Lynch fans somewhat hungering for closure on at least one storyline.

Much like Mulholland Drive, Inland Empire started out as an experiment, a series of monologues with leading lady and Lynch favourite Laura Dern. Fragments which become feature.

Digital quality

What is lost with digital? The compressed nature of digital files means that the “warmth” of film has been coldly wiped away, one megapixel at a time. The richness that comes from analogue distortions has been replaced with cold technical silence (there’s no background click, buzz or whir or the camera in those “silent” moments). As an audience we de-value digital – it misses the “luxury” quality we associate with celluloid – we like our TV to look like film afterall (Sopranos, ER etc)

Digital distribution

With little cost involved with production, surely digital ensures a healthy profit when it comes to distribution? Inland Empire was distributed by Lynch but as with all new technologies not all cinema’s had caught up with the digital trend and as such as limited ways to show the film. Using the Internet to launch the marketing, Lynch has used viral, communities and blogs to his advantage to gather the force of hardcore fans to leave their home comforts and head for the cinema. But why? A digitally produced movie, using digital components to edit, produce and add a digital soundtrack, using digital mediums to drive traffic and interest and then ask people to leave their digital arena and watch it in a cinema? A holistic effort gone too far. These digital fans were already with Lynch, they were sat there waiting for the film, in an instant he could have uploaded the movie and in another instant millions could have seen it.

Digital reception

Nope. This is not how Lynch wants you to see the film. He’s old school at heart. The tiny nuances of his soundtracks, his imagery, his cinematography, the painstakingly hand-carved film sets are not there to be viewed on your MP3 or PC. Hell no. This is a “putrified, false” experience according to Lynch.

The freedom of digital comes with a price. Death of the auteur, in a digital world a director has even less freedom to control how people view his work. What makes movies great is the tension between artistic freedom and business between culture/ industry. Let’s face it, a I pod with great headphones will probably let you hear those tiny nuances better than an old cinema with fading Dolby surround sound.

The question is now, is Lynch done with film? Will he next turn full circle and with the artistic and financial freedom of digital return to “moving pictures” will the artistic ambitions of youth finally be realised?

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