Alan Clarke, Scum, 1979, 35 mm, color, sound, 98 minutes. Sands and Pongo (John Judd and John Blundell).


SCUM (1979), A CONTROVERSIAL, bare-knuckled UK prison drama directed by Alan Clarke, is set in a “borstal”—somewhere between a reform school and a juvenile detention center—populated by the type of irredeemable, heavily accented delinquents Morrissey romanticized in songs like “Suedehead” and “Last of the Famous International Playboys,” rakish street hoods with hidden (or merely imagined) sensitive streaks. But there is no glamour here, even of a roughneck or rough-trade variety (it is far from Genet), and boys who evince any kind of vulnerability tend to commit suicide, in one case, after being gang-raped.

In the Smiths/Morrissey corpus, Scum would be a cross between “The Headmaster Ritual” (“Belligerent ghouls run Manchester schools”) and “Barbarism Begins at Home,” with its refrain “Unruly boys / Who will not grow up / Must be taken in hand.” The borstal’s adult wardens, known as “screws,” are almost unbelievably brutal; the welcome that the main character Carlin (a young Ray Winstone) receives as he’s admitted are blows to the balls and stomach, as well as a bed in a four-boy dorm where they know he’ll get worked over by the reigning “daddy,” the top bully/gang boss of the wing whom Carlin forcibly unseats later in the film.

Clarke originally made a version of Scum in 1977, based on a script by Roy Minton, for the BBC’s Play for Today teleplay series, but it was banned for excessive violence and not aired, leading the writer-director team to remake the project as a theatrical film two years later. In the film, the uncensored intensity of the racism, homophobia, and general sociopathy displayed by the boys and screws alike is truly shocking; there is little mystery as to why the original teleplay was rejected, even though it was in many respects milder than the remake.

An exhaustive list of trigger warnings would fill several pages; borstals are the very antithesis of “safe spaces.” The sustained racism, in particular, is remarkable and virulent in ways often associated with the rural American South, and I imagined the film set as an extraordinarily hostile work environment for the young black actors (all of the screws are white). The self-selected teams for a rugby match (inside a basketball court!) initially break down along race lines, and the mutually applied violence during the game seethes with racial animus. If none of the boys were injured during the rugby scene, an unhinged, bone-twisting melee even by rugby standards (and on a wood floor, for fuck’s sake), I’d be very surprised; it is one of the moments that gives the film its air of documentary realism. Any Brits given to lecturing Americans on their country’s relatively enlightened approach to race relations need to see Scum.

Alan Clarke, Scum, 1979, 35 mm, color, sound, 98 minutes. Angel (Alrick Riley).


Winstone—in an ideal match of actor and role—is impressive, his expression of wounded defiance far subtler and more affecting than the bare-toothed grimace he pulls on the film’s poster. He is capable of explosive violence, but there’s a quiet decency about him, particularly compared with the wing’s previous “daddy” and his leering goons, one of whom is the wiry Phil Daniels, who starred as troubled mod Jimmy Cooper in Quadrophenia the same year. One can picture the screenwriters of Sexy Beast (2000) thinking of Winstone’s character Gal—a retired heist man reluctantly drawn back into the trade by a psycho-Cockney Ben Kingsley—as an adult version of Carlin.

Scum also recalls Lindsay Anderson’s If . . . (1968), an upper-class version of a similar narrative set at an elite English “public school,” and the more recent French prison film A Prophet (2009), especially in its detailed observations of the ever-shifting microhierarchies of prison populations and the symbiotic relationships the dominant inmates forge with the wardens. There are echoes too of Brute Force (1947), a grim, grinding prison noir starring Burt Lancaster and featuring Hume Cronyn playing, against type, an ultrasadistic warden, an atavistic archetype for the borstal’s screws.

Contemporary viewers may be surprised by the relatively bucolic surroundings of the borstal, which is a fairly grand, rambling, multibuilding institution flanked by fields and woods, reminiscent of a nineteenth-century sanitarium (Rikers Island, it’s not), but the creeping rot of the place is signaled by the sickly pistachio-green paint adorning the interior walls and the cheap earth-toned blazers of the screws.

The borstal has its own Morrissey of sorts in Archer, an effete, intellectual older boy who pines for his confiscated Dostoevsky novels and is the type of vegetarian who would rather go barefoot in the snow than wear leather boots. In a soliloquy he delivers to one of his minders, he reflects, “The punitive system does not work . . . More criminal acts are imposed on prisoners by screws than by criminals on society . . . The only thing I’ll take from borstal is evil.” Ultimately, beyond the filth and fury, Scum is a starkly powerful critique and condemnation of the very idea of imprisonment, rehabilitative or otherwise. In an age of mass incarceration, it is as relevant today as it was in late ’70s Britain. Bring thick skin.

Andrew Hultkrans

Alan Clarke’s Scum plays June 16 through 21 at the Metrograph in New York.

Ice Age

06.09.17

Bill Morrison, Dawson City: Frozen Time, 2017, black-and-white, 120 minutes.


BILL MORRISON’S DAWSON CITY: FROZEN TIME is the best new movie in town and the best movie of the year thus far. Though its title would suggest a focus on the mysterious fate of a little-known city, Morrison’s latest output actually functions on several planes and tells many stories, all of which spring from the accidental discovery in 1978 of hundreds of 35-mm film reels, decades after they served as landfill in a subarctic swimming pool: yet another bizarre reason that 75 percent of all silent films are lost.

In fact, these films were buried for a number of reasons. Two years past their initial release, they were no longer marketable to their distributors and were hazardous to store. All silent films had a nitrate base and were highly flammable, which accounts for why hundreds had already been dumped in the Yukon River—a fact that makes the films unearthed in 1978 a drop in the bucket. In addition, the city also wanted to provide a better ice rink for hockey games.

Less than two hundred miles from the Arctic Circle, Dawson became the center of the Klondike Gold Rush of 1896–97, which drew one hundred thousand prospectors to the region—forcing out the indigenous people who lived there for millennia—until the craze shifted to Alaska in 1899, taking with it a quarter of Dawson’s population. The town’s rise and fall is at the heart of Morrison’s movie, but even while Dawson’s importance faded, it unsuspectingly harbored another gold mine and another story—as a site where 372 films were unwittingly preserved from the fire, neglect, and nitrate decay that destroyed all other copies. Morrison’s movie includes clips from films by such major directors as D. W. Griffith, Maurice Tourneur, Tod Browning, Allan Dwan, Jack Conway, Lois Weber, and Alice Guy-Blaché, as well as footage from Thomas Edison’s studios.

Morrison uses a host of still images to tell the story, including astonishing iconic photographs of city life and of prospectors making their way through Chilkoot Pass—images we see in Chaplin’s The Gold Rush (1925). Many of these shots were taken by Eric Hegg, who opened a shop in Dawson during its boom and then exited in 1899, leaving behind thousands of glass-plate negatives that were published years later. These beautiful images are often scanned by the camera, in the familiar, underrated manner of Ken Burns’s best work, and are enhanced by the sustained ethereal tones of Alex Somers’s music.

One of the ironies and formal strategies of the movie, however, is Morrison’s “narrative reconstruction” of Dawson’s history through craftily edited excerpts from the movies’ fictional narratives as well as newsreels—most of them made between 1899 and 1921. No stranger to the transformative power of found early film, Morrison demonstrated his passion for decomposing celluloid in Decasia (2002), a mesmerizing fever dream comprising films in varying states of decay edited into a “narrative” about mortality. In an act of supreme irony, Decasia was selected for preservation by the National Film Registry in 2013, the first film of the new century to be so privileged.

Following suit in his new work, Morrison edits the films, in comparable states of decay, into sequences that dramatize the social dynamics of the town. For example, to illustrate the population’s obsession with gambling, he excerpts scenes depicting the activity from eight different films (all shot between 1899 and 1919), cleverly cutting from one to the next to suggest dramatic continuity, increasing tension, and even parallel gestures. These come to a climax with a dramatic scene from Clarence Brown’s The Trail of ’98 (1928)—based on a legendary novel of the gold rush—in which a distraught woman (Dolores del Río), weighing gold in both palms, laughs hysterically while mockingly contrasting its value to her unhappiness. The frenzied footage that follows nails Morrison’s point—that many who were lured to the Klondike came to a tragic end. Indeed, of the hundred thousand people who initially set out for gold, seventy thousand turned back or perished. Chaplin’s film didn’t tell the whole story.

Bill Morrison, Dawson City: Frozen Time, 2017, black-and-white, 120 minutes.


Morrison’s approach confirms not only that most fiction films, especially from Hollywood, followed often interchangeable conventions and patterns, but that such patterns illustrated equally predictable and consistent aspects of human behavior. The lust for gold comes off as merely the outward sign of the craven nature, unruly passions, and hopeless dreams that have always destroyed people’s lives.

Peppered throughout are glimpses of people who became huge celebrities years later: a newsboy named Sid Grauman went on to build Grauman’s Egyptian and Chinese Theaters in Hollywood; Alex Pantages, who with his partner, Kate, built Dawson’s Orpheum Theater, became one of the first movie tycoons in America. His Pantages Theater was where the Oscars were held. We learn that a man named Fred Trump opened the Arctic Hotel, a brothel-cum-bar-cum-restaurant in neighboring Whitehorse. William Desmond Taylor was a timekeeper on a dredge for the Yukon Gold Company (owned by the Guggenheim brothers) before he became one of Hollywood’s most successful filmmakers, acting in or directing sixty films before he was, it is alleged, murdered in 1922.

There is also remarkable newsreel footage of various fronts in World War I: of women making hand grenades in factories; of hundreds of Americans marching to stop violence against African Americans; of New York mayor Jimmy Walker introducing “talkies”; and of the country’s deportation of social “undesirables,” among them anarchist activist Emma Goldman. Morrison also found footage thought not to exist of the 1919 World Series, during which players for the Chicago White Sox were bribed by New York gamblers to throw the game.

Even in its decline, Dawson remained the final stop for a film distribution chain from 1902 until well into the 1920s. Movies were shown at the beloved Amateur Athletic Association and in theaters originally designed for live entertainment. Year after year, a percentage of these establishments burned down along with much of Dawson’s business district, but they were almost all rebuilt. Little by little, though, such venues were demolished. When the town’s last surviving theater—successively known as the Opera House, the Palace Grand, the Savoy, and the Nugget—was finally torn down in 1961, it was observed that a line of gold dust had settled just under where the bar had stood.

Of the many ironic motifs that weave, explicitly or implicitly, through Dawson City: Frozen Time—the contrast of fire and ice; the lust for gold recorded by a silver-coated medium—one goes unacknowledged: that the 35-mm films discovered and excerpted will probably never be seen in their original state, except by archivists, not only because of their vulnerability, but also because we live in the digital age—a fact reflected by Morrison’s movie, which is itself not film.

As a result, the very qualities that Decasia both celebrated and bemoaned—the pulsing rhythms of decomposition in progress and the intermittent flares that mark decaying celluloid—are here reduced to an icy sharpness more akin to the element that preserved the films until their day of resurrection than to the warmth of fire that threatened their survival.

Clearly sensitive to these realities, Morrison’s final excerpt is a scene from The Salamander (1916), which tells of a mythical creature believed by the ancients to be capable of surviving fire unscorched. As we watch a woman incarnating this figure, dancing, we note how her undulations cleverly avoid the crackling white flares that have damaged the celluloid while she also artfully moves amid them as if they, too, were uncannily animated by a dance of death.

Dawson City: Frozen Time opens Friday, June 9, at the IFC Center in New York.

Tony Pipolo

Twin Peaks: The Return, 2017, still from a TV show on Showtime. Season 3, episode 5. Becky (Amanda Seyfried).


“BLUE IS THE WRONG COLOR FOR ROSES,” says the crippled, disconsolate Laura in The Glass Menagerie (1944), my favorite Tennessee Williams play. “It’s right for you!” says Jim, her old high-school crush. They are about twenty-three years old and have been reunited in the one-sided hope that he’ll pick her out, pick her up, and carry her off. Once, all those years ago, she told him she was sick with pleurosis, which he misheard as “blue roses.” The mondegreen stuck. “The different people are not like other people, but being different is nothing to be ashamed of,” he says to her. “Because other people are not such wonderful people . . . They’re common as—weeds, but—you—well, you’re—Blue Roses!”

Though Laura is “pretty . . . in a different way,” she is apparently still more different than pretty. Jim wishes she were his sister, not his girl. He is engaged now to a chick named Betty, he says, dropping the bombshell like it’s a jacket on a chair. With about the same care, he lets fall a glass unicorn in the menagerie––its horn breaks, leaving it a mere pale horse. “I’ll just imagine it had an operation,” Laura makes herself say. “The horn was removed to make him less—freakish!” Meanwhile, Laura’s kid brother, who has facilitated this unblissful reunion, is at the movies, which makes sense for a boy who, in the words of Laura’s sister, doesn’t know anything. “You live in a dream,” she says, when he gets back. “You manufacture illusions!” When Jim leaves, she says, faintly: “Things have a way of turning out so badly.”

There is an old word for women who believe they can overturn fate, and the word, as an adjective, is “weird.” (Remember, in Macbeth, the “weird sisters.”) This was also the word, as a noun, for fate or destiny itself, and is now the word, as a verb, for alienating others. What makes the new David Lynch so weird, and at the same time traditional, sometimes ancient, is its ever more delayed, more inevitable reckoning with fate. Things in Twin Peaks have a way of turning out badly, and for women those ways are more predictable. “Blue Rose,” the designation lent by FBI Regional Bureau Chief Gordon Cole (David Lynch) to the few, weird cases we see him handle, seems to imply that the cases are unsolvable, or that the solutions lie in the paranormal. But in the case of Laura Palmer, what was left unresolved was something very physical, very sick, between her and her father. If biology is not destiny, and neither is identity, we can split the difference: it’s family that destines and thwarts us, family that buries the evidence for what we can and can’t do, and family that decides, still and so often, where we end.

At the end of the second, third, and fourth hours in Twin Peaks: The Return, we were left at the Bang Bang Bar, the long-standing roadhouse in Twin Peaks, listening to a new band each time: the Chromatics, the Cactus Blossoms, Au Revoir Simone. They played songs about darkness and seeing angels, about going down to shorelines, living evening to night. Before the end of hour five, we go again to the bar, where now the band Trouble is playing, and a guy with the face of a wolf raised by housecats is smoking under a No Smoking sign. This guy, we see in the credits, is Richard Horne (Eamon Farren). It would seem that Audrey Horne (Sherilyn Fenn), the baddest girl with the second-worst dad on the original Twin Peaks, has a son who’s just evil. (Having yet to see Fenn, we can’t be sure; he could belong to another Horne.) A girl who asks Richard for a cigarette gets choked out, name-called, and threatened with rape, or something like rape, instead. Trouble plays a song about wearing a new pair of cowboy boots to dance on the future grave of Kenneth Anger, next to the one for Johnny Ramone, in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery (the song has no words).

Twin Peaks: The Return, 2017, still from a TV show on Showtime. Season 3, episode 5. Richard Horne (Eamon Farren).


Over at the Double R Diner, where Shelly Johnson (Mädchen Amick) and Norma Jennings (Peggy Lipton) are still working, or where, I suppose, the women could have returned after second divorces, the daily lunch special is $8.95 and Shelly’s daughter needs $72 in cash. Becky (Amanda Seyfried) is wed to the weirdly hot asshole and coke dealer Steven Burnett (Caleb Landry Jones), just as her mother, in Twin Peaks, was wed to the weirdly hot asshole and coke dealer, also the woman-beater, Leo Johnson: “I’ve got one man too many in life,” said Shelly at the time, “and I’m married to him.” When her husband wound up in a coma, her real love, Bobby Briggs (Dana Ashbrook), believed she could cash in on the disability checks and change her life. Apparently not. “If you don’t help [Becky] now,” says Norma to Shelly, “it’ll be a lot harder to help her later.” Shelly says, “We both know that tune.”

Where sudden, unearned riches are an ultimate fairy-tale ending, the notion of being happy without money is no less fantastical. Even a little extra serves the purpose. Steven has thoughtfully saved a thimble of cocaine for his wife, a wee aperitif before he takes her to an unaffordable dinner, and she snorts it off his hand before putting on the song “I Love How You Love Me,” from 1961. We know this tune too, whether or not we’ve heard it before. Head tossed back to the sky, eyes so wide she’s like Joan Crawford playing innocent, Becky looks ecstatic, or should I quote the poet Harmony Holiday, in her new book Hollywood Forever, on “what hints at an ecstatic freedom of the mind but is actually our most tender disaster after birth” (I guess she means sex, heterosexually). Becky’s thrill is adamantine, ludic. Either the cocaine is also from ’61 or love is really the drug.

My friend Alan says that Twin Peaks: The Return is perfect because it manages to say exactly what David Lynch means: Our favorite auteur is funnier than ever, but he isn’t joking. My friend Fiona says he’s trying to get us all to transcendentally meditate, to slow down and stop thinking, which she’s into. As for me, the reason I feel so understood by Lynch is that, though like him I believe we do our best, and though sometimes our best is better than at other times, we can change very little besides ourselves, and our selves are in themselves not that significant. I believe in fate with every new year that repeats itself. I no longer believe that anything changes your life, your experience of life.

Sarah Nicole Prickett

Twin Peaks: The Return plays Sundays at 9 PM on Showtime.

Ruben Östlund, The Square, 2017, HD video, color, sound, 142 minutes.


FOR THE SECOND YEAR IN A ROW, a rare consensus emerged at the Cannes Film Festival. If the 2016 edition will be remembered for its farcical jury decisions, this year’s official selection stands a good chance of being barely remembered at all: Rarely does the Cannes competition, world cinema’s most pedigreed showcase, leave so little of a collective impression. In stark contrast to the ceremonial merriment of its seventieth anniversary, which occasioned a star-studded Cannes yearbook photo call and a gala evening of musical numbers (Isabelle Huppert warbling “Happy Birthday”) and speeches about the importance of the festival, the mood on the ground was palpably weary and irritable. Complaining about Cannes is a long-standing journalistic tradition—André Bazin was in 1955 lamenting the “ridiculously narrow” entrances that led to “a terrible crush going in and out”—but this year the grievances were especially loud and sustained. Heightened security measures (metal detectors and airport-level bag searches at the Palais des Festivals, soldiers armed with machine guns patrolling the Croisette) meant jangled nerves, extensive delays, and plenty of time in long lines for frustrated festivalgoers to grumble, ad nauseam and not without justification, that this was the weakest Cannes lineup in memory.

Hats off, though, to Pedro Almodóvar’s jury for anointing a most deserving—and surprising—Palme d’Or winner in Ruben Östlund’s The Square. Whether peeling back the brittle surface of Scandinavian liberal democracy (Play) or prodding the wobbly foundations of the nuclear family (Force Majeure), the forty-three-year-old Östlund is one of the sharpest and funniest satirists working today. The Square revolves around the well-heeled, well-groomed Christian (Claes Bang), a curator at a Stockholm contemporary art museum where the new exhibit (for which the film is titled) is a demarcated four-by-four-meter zone that announces itself as “a sanctuary of trust and caring.” The description proves somewhat at odds with the actual public square where Christian finds himself the victim of a pickpocketing scam that triggers an overzealous response and then a crisis of conscience. An analytical filmmaker with a taste for sociological critique, Östlund is sometimes likened to Michael Haneke (more on him later), but unlike Haneke, who engineers his scenarios like steel traps, Östlund enjoys scenes that play out in unpredictable and surreal ways. His manner of implicating the viewer is less didactic than empathetic, prompting open-ended questions of how one might react in similar situations, which lent The Square a site-specific mise en abyme effect in Cannes. Not least among its pleasures, Östlund’s wry dismantling of ego and privilege among the cultural class held up a mirror to the petty self-regard and herd mentality on routine display at the festival, which can itself resemble an elaborate behavioral experiment.

The Square is a film with plenty on its mind, tweaking art-world pretensions and liberal pieties, exploring the gap between belief and action, contemplating the relationship between the individual and the collective—all over a 140-minute duration that some found excessive. (Distended running times were a problem across the board, likely a factor of rush edits.) The film proceeds in fits and starts, constantly revising and complicating its ideas, veering in tone from jocular to sober and back. All of which made it a refreshing change from the white elephants—the solemnly respectable prestige films with clear intentions and predetermined meanings—that more frequently take festival prizes. Most conspicuous in this category this year were Haneke’s Happy End (the title is ironic) and Andrey Zvyagintsev’s Loveless (the title is very unironic). Haneke, a two-time Palme d’Or winner who left Cannes empty-handed for the first time since 2003’s Time of the Wolf, is working in a slightly more sardonic register here, but Happy End is otherwise business as usual—in fact, it’s a self-conscious reprise of his greatest hits, training its microscope on an extended bourgeois family in Calais, France, where a refugee crisis is unfolding under their oblivious noses. No less subtle—and winner of the third-place jury prize—Loveless is a handsome, wintry drama about a divorcing couple and their unwanted child that evolves into an allegory of soul-sick modern Russia.

Valeska Grisebach, Western, 2017, HD video, color, sound, 119 minutes.


The Cannes bubble no longer seems willing or able to keep the real world at bay. A striking number of films were billed as being “about Europe,” though, needless to say, some engagements are more meaningful than others. A German woman loses her Turkish husband and child to a neo-Nazi terrorist attack in Fatih Akin’s In the Fade, a by-the-numbers study of grief and vengeance that won Diane Kruger the best actress prize. Kornél Mundruczó’s slick high-concept fantasy Jupiter’s Moon grants a Syrian refugee superpowers and Christlike status after he’s pumped full of bullets. But the film with the most interesting vantage on the new Europe was also the one that made its geopolitical points most obliquely. Western, the first feature in more than a decade by the talented Valeska Grisebach (Longing), is set among a group of German workers who are toiling on a water facility project in rural Bulgaria. Cast entirely with non-actors, Western is, as the title suggests, a supremely intelligent rethinking of genre conventions, a gripping culture-clash drama attuned to new forms of colonialism.

Hailed by almost everyone who saw it as a festival highlight, Western screened in the parallel Un Certain Regard section, apparently a victim of the unstated yet plain-as-day Cannes policy to velvet-rope off the main competition exclusively for films with movie stars. If the competition was especially fatiguing this year, it may have been for the prevalence of a particular kind of feel-bad film that conjoins formal stylization with casual sadism, whether in the service of a would-be moral tale like Yorgos Lanthimos’s The Killing of a Sacred Deer or a one-note genre exercise like Lynne Ramsay’s You Were Never Really Here.

No coincidence that the few bright spots were literal signs of life, works that thrived on a messy vitality. Josh and Benny Safdie’s Good Time, which administered a needed dose of electroshock therapy to the moribund competition in the home stretch, is a crime caper with a committed Robert Pattinson performance, a propulsive Oneohtrix Point Never score, and a nuanced, indeed intersectional, understanding of class and race. Winner of the runner-up Grand Prix, Robin Campillo’s 120 Beats per Minute revisits the urgent early 1990s heyday of ACT-UP in Paris; it’s familiar terrain but brought to life with firsthand intimacy and a welcome attentiveness to the everyday labor of activism. Yoking together two New York stories separated by half a century, Wonderstruck, Todd Haynes’s characteristically personal and lovingly detailed take on a children’s movie, beautifully inhabits a skewed kid’s-eye perspective (which should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with his early short Dottie Gets Spanked). It’s also one of Haynes’s most exuberant demonstrations of his core belief that blatant artifice can engender overwhelming emotion.

Robin Campillo, 120 Beats Per Minute, 2017, color, sound, 140 minutes.


Even from its ivory tower, Cannes could not avoid the film industry’s continued hand-wringing and infighting over distribution methods, specifically the ascendance of streaming services. The inclusion of two high-profile Netflix productions—Bong Joon Ho’s Okja and Noah Baumbach’s The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)—dominated the pre-festival coverage and the opening jury press conference (Almodóvar declared that the Palme should be off-limits to films that will bypass theatrical exhibition, only to later soften his stance). Facing a backlash from French theater owners, the festival decreed, even before the first screening, that starting next year all films competing at Cannes must also screen in French cinemas. The embrace of TV, though new to this festival, was not much of a stretch, given the auteur imprimaturs of Jane Campion (Top of the Lake: China Girl) and David Lynch (Twin Peaks: The Return), former Palme d’Or winners and jury presidents, both reveling in the comparative freedom of serial television. In Lynch’s case, the first two hours of The Return, seen on the huge screen of the Grand Theatre Lumiere, were so singular, so uncompromising, so transporting, that they dwarfed everything else at Cannes.

The festival’s most overt gesture toward the future was Alejandro G. Ińárritu’s Carne y Arena, its first foray into virtual reality. This seven-minute piece, drawn from and simulating the experiences of migrants who made the crossing from Mexico to the US, will soon be on view at the Fondazione Prada in Milan. The Cannes iteration, limited to one thousand or so visitors, came with an incongruous (though very Cannes-like) veneer of exclusivity. Eligible guests were chauffeured a few picturesque miles down the coast to an airplane hangar: You sign a waiver and wait your turn—partaking of the Perrier and fruit on the snack table, should you wish—before entering, barefoot and one at a time, a dark room covered in sand. Donning an Oculus Rift headset and a backpack, with two technicians by your side, you’re granted the illusion of roaming through the Sonoran Desert, brushing up against the photorealistic avatars of immigrants who have endured the journey. (You move into them and see their beating hearts.) Before long, a helicopter beam blinds you, and border agents arrive, barking orders and pointing their rifles in your face. The widespread (and widely challenged) notion of virtual reality as “empathy machine”—as evident in the proliferation of consciousness-raising, humanitarian-themed VR works—merges here with Ińárritu’s shock-and-awe sensibility to create something at once brutalizing and trivializing, rife with irony and ripe for precisely the kind of satire that won the Palme d’Or. Indeed, the whole thing might have been devised by the well-intentioned, tone-deaf culturati of The Square, an invitation to get under the skins of actual refugees that was also among the most cossetted experiences available in Cannes.

Dennis Lim

The Seventieth Festival de Cannes ran May 17 through 28.

Ernst Lubitsch, Ninotchka, 1939, 35 mm, black-and-white, sound, 110 minutes. Ninotchka and Count Leon d'Algout (Greta Garbo and Melvyn Douglas).


ERNST LUBITSCH WAS BORN in booming Berlin in January 1892 and died much too young in Hollywood, California, in 1947. He was a German Jew of age to have served in one World War and to have been a likely civilian casualty of a second, but by dint of luck and talent he avoided both. While living through the multiple ructions that rocked the European continent in the first half of the twentieth century and the wider world-historical earthquake of these years, he remained almost single-mindedly committed to producing wry, light, sparkling comedies that reflect the values of graciousness and grace. If Lubitsch had a political ethos, it might have been described by a musing which another of the funniest men who ever lived, Evelyn Waugh, gave to his creation Ambrose Silk: “It is a curious thing, he thought, that every creed promises a paradise that will be absolutely uninhabitable for anyone of civilized taste.”

The creeds in question were, on occasion, addressed in Lubitsch’s films, including two of his best known, playing at Film Forum’s retrospective “The Lubitsch Touch,” which takes its title from the trade paper name for the certain effervescent je ne sais quoi that the director—very much a brand name during his lifetime—brought to each of his films. Ninotchka (1939) stars Greta Garbo as an envoy from the worker’s paradise of the USSR who arrives in capitalist Paris only to be seduced by aristocratic swine Melvyn Douglas and the ready availability of frivolous hats in the city’s department store vitrines—the free market means better millinery, which is all the justification it needs to be deemed superior in Lubitsch’s eyes. In To Be or Not to Be (1942), a troupe of actors in occupied Warsaw, led by Jack Benny and Carole Lombard, use the tricks of their trade to infiltrate the high command of the occupying Nazis, a victory for play and imagination against brute force. As for Lubitsch’s post–Great War melodrama The Man I Killed (aka Broken Lullaby, 1932), it is significantly better than its reputation, but also the film in which Lubitsch seems least himself—there isn’t a chafed cuckold or a triple-entendre in sight.

After beginning his career in Europe, Lubitsch came to Hollywood to stay in 1922, though there he would mostly make films with European settings. Among the few notable exceptions are the sublime Heaven Can Wait (1943), set among the Manhattan upper crust who are the nearest thing that America offers to the idle gentry who were his favorite subjects. The ballrooms and bedchambers that Lubitsch was building on the Paramount lot represented a continent that bore little resemblance to the actual thing, even to the point of laying the scene of some of his films in made-up Mitteleuropean countries—Sylvania in The Love Parade (1929) and Marshovia in The Merry Widow (1934), both featuring the teaming of eye-rolling music-hall horndog Maurice Chevalier and demure soprano Jeanette MacDonald. In fact, even when Lubitsch was working in Germany, he displayed a tendency toward fairy-tale settings: The Oyster Princess (1919) takes place amid a fantasia of American largesse replete with a bivalve baron smoking torpedo-size cigars, while The Wild Cat (1921) features an Alpine fortress that looks to have been made of gingerbread. As a young buck, Lubitsch had become infatuated with Budapest, and until the end of his life he retained a taste for acquiring crude Hungarian source materials and polishing them to a high luster, as with The Shop Around the Corner (1940), based on a play by Miklós László, its actions limited to the leather goods shop run by Magyar merchant Mr. Matuschek—among other things, the film may claim to have created the template for the workplace sitcom.

Ernst Lubitsch, The Shop Around the Corner, 1940, 35 mm, black-and-white, sound, 99 minutes. Klara Novak and Alfred Kralik (Margaret Sullavan and James Stewart).


Those unaccustomed to seeing James Stewart express almost painful ardor may be surprised by the eruption of emotion that concludes that marvelous film, though Lubitsch had a knack for drawing the unexpected out of his actors—Garbo’s drunk act in Ninotchka, say, or the combination of suavity and pussycat contentment radiated by Don Ameche in Heaven Can Wait. And while Lubitsch’s late works access depths of feeling not found in his fleet farces, the constant throughout his films is sex. Lubitsch was an early innovator in the musical with The Love Parade, which was apt, for he imagines desire as a tune caught in your head—sometimes quite literally.

Sexual longing in Lubitsch is not a harassing, dry-mouthed ordeal; it is delicious, delectable—has any man ever been as delighted at the anguished conundrum of extramarital temptation as Chevalier is singing “Oh that Mitzi” in One Hour with You (1932)? Lubitsch was a connoisseur of the multicourse meal of seduction, and he gives scrupulous attention to the preparation of every dish, from the pleasure of waiting on a woman to be ready for an evening on the town to the surrender of a key with implicit evening visitation privileges to the final goodbye, almost invariably genial—“It was lovely while it lasted” reads the farewell note that Claudette Colbert writes to Chevalier in The Smiling Lieutenant (1931), forced by circumstance to give up her man so that he can be with his own adopted social class. The premise was not an unusual one in films of the period—I recently watched, with pleasure, Lewis D. Collins’s Universal production Young Desire (1930), which revolves around a similar dilemma—but Lubitsch’s treatment was anything but the done thing. In the Collins film, the drama is only resolved by the woman’s suicide; in Lubitsch’s more amiable world, Colbert walks out on her own two feet, and not before getting together with her successor, played by Miriam Hopkins, singing a duet number called “Jazz Up Your Lingerie,” and essentially sitting the clueless gal down and teaching her how to fuck.

Though many of Lubitsch’s films—particularly the Chevalier musicals—are distinguished by a carefree boulevardier’s attitude toward affairs of the heart, Lubitsch was himself often unlucky in love, twice divorced, too monomaniacally fixated on his work to make much of a husband to anyone, and not precisely a dashing man to begin with: short, homely, and inclined to portliness. It was always remarked that he was impeccably dressed, however, as befitted the son of a prosperous men’s clothier, the milieu that he drew upon when making The Shop Around the Corner. Lubitsch’s father had hoped for the boy to follow him into the family business, but he became enamored of the theater instead, learning his craft by working as an actor under the legendary Max Reinhardt, whose heavily worked-through script annotations and attention to the minutest gestural detail he would imitate throughout his career.

Ernst Lubitsch, I Don’t Want to Be a Man, 1918, 35 mm, black-and-white, silent, 45 minutes. Ossi and Dr. Kersten (Ossi Oswalda and Kurt Götz).


In his earliest films, Lubitsch was often both director and star, playing variations on the role of Sally, a burlesque Jew and bustling little lecher seen to best advantage in Meyer from Berlin (1919), every bit excellent a showcase for his raucous talent as the same year’s I Don’t Want to Be a Man, which has Ossi Oswalda hitting Berlin in male drag to see how the other half lives. Lubitsch was a gifted farceur from the get-go, but it was as a director of historical spectacle that he became famous in America, thanks to the massive success of Anna Boleyn (1920), released in the States as Deception. Gay deceit would become Lubitsch’s stock in trade in time, with roundelay of infidelities The Marriage Circle (1924) introducing a blithe spirit into Hollywood pictures. Monogamy could be marvelous, of course, but lapses were to be expected and indulged—indeed, could even act as an agent of regeneration.

Lubitsch’s humor only became richer and deeper with time, and he was at the height of his artistic powers when he was felled by the last of a series of cardiac episodes, this one induced by making love on a full stomach. News of his early death was received as a tragedy by his Hollywood contemporaries. His last film, Cluny Brown (1946), a wet raspberry blown at the English class system that paired Charles Boyer and Jennifer Jones, the latter an exceptionally comely plumber, ranks among his very finest, though at the time of its release his output had already been slowed by his declining health. This marked the only slackening of the feverish pace he set through his long career, aside from a pause for recalibration in the mid-1930s, a period described by critic Andrew Sarris during which the director was reckoning with “the resurgence of censorship, the delayed realization that breadlines and Continental sophistication didn’t mix and that a wink was no match for a wisecrack, and the pervasive humorlessness of both the left and the right.” All of which sounds rather familiar, and which renders Lubitsch’s serious frivolity a near necessity today. He’s more blissfully irrelevant now than ever.

Nick Pinkerton

“The Lubitsch Touch” runs Friday, June 2, through Thursday, June 15, at Film Forum in New York.

Wild Thing

06.01.17

Twin Peaks: The Return, 2017, still from a TV show on Showtime. Season 3, episode 4.


LAWS IN THE WORLD OF DAVID LYNCH are unnatural but do not lead to order, and things disordered lapse into “thingness.” This should be one of Lynch’s favorite words, lent to him in that book by Dennis Lim: “In his own speech—and in the speech patterns of his films, with their gnomic pronouncements and recurring mantras—the impression is of language used less for meaning than for sound. To savor the thingness of words is to move away from their imprisoning nature.” Write down the “academic definition” of “Lynchian,” suggested and sent-up by David Foster Wallace in his notes from the set of Lost Highway, and then I’ll never say “Lynchian” again: “[It] refers to a particular kind of irony where the very macabre and the very mundane combine in such a way as to reveal the former’s perpetual containment within the latter.” Now say the word macabre over and over, silently or aloud to yourself, until the word has lost all definition to become a void, a nothing, a prenatal lump of sound. Now try it with human.

The man who taught us binomial nomenclature, as in Homo + sapiens, divided humanity into four squares, or “races,” extrapolated in a fucked-up way from the “four humors” of more ancient thought. He was a Swedish doctor and botanist who lived in the seventeenth century under the name Linnaeus, and he decided that Americans were Americanus (red, choleric, upright), Europeans were Europeaus (white, sanguine, muscular), Asians were Asiaticus (pale yellow, melancholic, stiff), and Africans were Afer (black, phlegmatic, relaxed). Four, the number of limbs, seasons, and elements, has remained the magic number of inter-human difference, as with the four major archetypes discovered by Carl Jung, and the four dichotomies, combining to make possible sixteen types, in the Myers-Briggs personality test. (Lynch would be, I think, a medium-rare type of person: Introverted, Intuitive, Feeling, and Perceiving, known for “revealing [his] beauty and [his] secrets through metaphors and fictional characters,” according to the third website that appeared to me when I googled “INFP.”) But Linné, as he was called after his ennoblement, in a codicil that basically deconstructed his legacy, added two absurd bonus types: ferus for the feral or “wild boys,” and monstorus for the deformed and the freaks found in folk tales. When I learned this, I felt the way Foucault says he felt when he read a Borges fable, a spoof on taxonomy, written as if excerpted from “a certain Chinese encyclopaedia” wherein animals are those “belonging to the Emperor,” or those who are “fabulous,” those who are “stray dogs,” those who “have just broken the water pitcher,” and so on. “In the wonderment of this [fictional] taxonomy,” writes Foucault, so beginning The Order of Things (1966), “the thing we apprehend in one great leap, the thing that, by means of the fable, is demonstrated as the exotic charm of another system of thought, is the limitation of our own.” We don’t have to read Foucault, or even Borges, though, to feel our limits, since they begin with our dreams.

Among the menagerie of pet theories I’ve kept from my childhood, a sentimental favorite is that dreams are just pieces of the day, unprocessed or left on the cutting-room floor, swept up and viewed in a kaleidoscope. Maybe the order is deranged, fragmentary, and synesthetic, but there can be nothing in my dream that wasn’t already in my head. As for dreams being illogical or strange, it’s simply a matter of being free from the unreasonable expectation that life, and the things in it, will make sense. The other day I bought in-ear headphones decorated with little skulls, and found that both headphones were marked R, requiring me to have two right ears. “Weird,” I thought. But in a dream, I would have thought nothing. This is why we say that works by Lynch are dreamlike, because sometimes we don’t know what to think. What, for instance, do we think about the one pale horse who appeared to Sarah Palmer in Twin Peaks before Madeleine died, and who appears again as a figure in The Return, once in the Black Lodge and once in Las Vegas as the namesake of the Silver Mustang Casino? Coincidence, dream-symbol, or mere déjŕ vu?

Twin Peaks: The Return, 2017, still from a TV show on Showtime. Season 3, episode 4. Regional Bureau Chief Gordon Cole and Agent Albert Rosenfeld (David Lynch and Miguel Ferrer).


Pale people, we can say with more certainty, are not woke but dreaming. In the funniest bit of Twin Peaks (1990), a lady named Gwen, sister of Lucy, surmises to Deputy Tommy “Hawk” Hill (Michael Horse, who, like his character, is American Indian) that given what they’ve done to his tribe, he must really hate whites. Hawk neither startles nor hesitates. “Some of my best friends are white people,” he says. A decade or two later, this would be an obvious joke. At the time it was perfect, part sincere. Lynch takes the stereotyped stoic American Indian and imbues his silences not with some mystic wisdom but with a down-to-earth amusement that befits a man burdened by history and tasked with protecting innocence in adults. That views on whiteness from elsewhere are entirely determined by the actions, behaviors, and thoughts of white people themselves is a ludicrous, too-common assumption. (It says more about the people who assume it, about their taste for vengeances, their grudges, similar to how what a critic says about a show can say more about the critic than the show, an old truism I haven’t found a reason to contradict.) This isn’t to say that Lynch’s views on nonwhite characters are unproblematic, rather that they are problematic in two senses, both the more current definition (offensive, troubling) and the more original one (merely troublesome), the additive effect being that his non-sense, unlike so much “white nonsense,” is worth thinking about.

Hawk is now deputy chief in the Twin Peaks sheriff’s department, and on the third and fourth hours of The Return, playing on Showtime, he grapples with a directive from the Log Lady (Catherine E. Coulson, may she rest in pines). “There is something missing,” says the Log, by way of the Lady. “Something,” that is, “to do with [his] heritage.” Puzzled and willing to play the game, Hawk unburies the box of case files and calls in Andy (Harry Goaz) and Lucy Brennan (née Moran, played with breathtaking continuity by Kimmy Robertson), who are deputy and secretary, respectively. Lynch and Frost’s scripts are like two-player games of word association, and the word here is clueless. “Your heritage,” says Lucy, slow and tremulous. “You’re . . . Indian?” Her particularly white way of being afraid that just saying a name is calling a name is, in this case, ironically justified. Hawk looks at her slowly. We see what he’s not saying. He says, “Yes.” It’s easy to make Anglo-Saxons, in the presence of a token or tokenized character, seem like the tolerant ones. Here the tolerance is all on Hawk’s side, and though the figure of him remains tokenized, a requisite nod to the precolonial history of town and country, the actor’s intelligence gives him an out-of-body aspect, and he glides above tokenization. When I said last week that almost no humans would seek representation in Lynch’s world, it was an exaggeration, and besides, the opposite is true about actors: Who wouldn’t want to be set loose on screen by this guy?

Twin Peaks: The Return, 2017, still from a TV show on Showtime. Season 3, episode 4. Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan).


The fourth hour of The Return, destined to be an all-time fan favorite, brings us the only child of Andy and Lucy. As Lucy tells it, Cooper wanted the son to be named Marlon Brando, after the legend whose love affair with the American Indian is never forgotten, and at birth the couple compromised and named him Wally, Wally Brando. Boy, does he (Michael Cera) live up to that choice. Showing up unannounced on a motorcycle, clad in a punk-ass black leather jacket, a white-and-navy ringer tee, and an oversize army beret, Wally has transcended the decades to embody at least a quarter-century of boy-teen rebellion. He has roamed the country, he has a strong sense of dharma, and his idiolect is a very fine whine. “From Alexandria, Virginia, to Stockton, California,” he nasally muses, “I think about Lewis, and about his friend Clark, the first Caucasians to see this part of the world.” He enunciates each morpheme in “Caucasian,” such that it rhymes with Abkhazian. Kaw-kay-zee-uhn. Try it. Try not to laugh. Also, Wally informs his parents, in the deposed-royal manner of a fifth-generation middle-class American, that he will permit them to turn his childhood bedroom, which he has not seen in years, into a study. The Brennans respond like listeners of a classic pop radio show who have just been informed they’ve won the keys to a timeshare in South Florida and two vouchers for dinner at P.F. Chang’s.

Wally is right about Lewis and Clark, who were among the first white people to belong in the Kaw-kay-zee-uhn era. Less than a decade before the two stepped all over America, one Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, a doctor and anthropologist in Göttingen, Deutschland, elaborated on the work of Carl Linné and reclassified as “varieties” the humans he saw. Unlike his more racist peers and successors, says Nell Irvin Painter in her empathetic, well-limned treatise The History of White People (2010), Blumenbach did not assort humans by race or assign to the races differing, unequal abilities, intelligences, and virtues, unless you count beauty a virtue: He chose, for the “variety” to which he himself would belong, the name “Caucasian,” because he felt that the people of Caucasus, a loose braid of mountains around Georgia, had the most elegant bones in their heads. Painter notes that the “unblemished young woman’s skull” from which he drew this conclusion had resonances with the old white-slave trade, one in which “the figure of the slave is invariably female, always young, emphatically white—sometimes even blonde—and invariably beautiful”––a real Laura Palmer, in other words, one who “usually comes from Georgia or the Caucasus.” An upside to his superficiality was that, having organized peoples by color, he began to see their differences not in squares but on a gradient, the way we’d later see sexuality, or sanity. Nevertheless, it was pure white entitlement. It wasn’t that Blumenbach was given the first choice of skulls, nor that he stole the skulls, exactly, only that he happened to pick out the prettiest skulls; he also liked that all skulls were themselves “white in color, which we may fairly assume to have been the primitive color of mankind.”

There is something morbid and wonderful, as well as dastardly, about Blumenbach’s choice. When I said that Lynch appropriates whiteness, rendering it less flesh than guise, a naive costume, I was remembering that more than once he gave white actors “whiteface” with old-fashioned pancake makeup, most memorably in Lost Highway (1997). I was thinking that the whiteness of Twin Peaks was something like a skull mask worn over the face, a skeleton worn over the body on Halloween. Had I spent much time as a teen getting oppressed on the basis of being white and bony, I would perhaps be offended. Today white knuckleheads are always logging on to different websites to fret about oppression that has yet to exist, especially “white genocide,” by which is meant the declining birthrate among descendants of European whites, and which sounds more like white suicide, to which we have been led by our freedoms, like the sexual ones. As a woman of childbearing age and ability, I have been accused by my own youngest brother of being too ambitious, self-absorbed, and vain to further my race by becoming pregnant with another white fetus. Unfortunately, it’s beyond me to care whether so-called Caucasians have plenteous futures. For my people to die in vainness and sterility, aided by pills, would be appropriate, desirable, and not bad. I welcome our fate.

Twin Peaks: The Return, 2017, still from a TV show on Showtime. Season 3, episode 4. Dougie Jones and Jade (Kyle MacLachlan and Nafessa Williams).


But before fate, nostalgia. Lynch, a shapeshifter who appears as a perfect square of a man, loves to pack and unpack the boxy, obsessive, even maniacal systems of classification (for identity, and thus for derangement) and storage (for pride, and for loss) that line the halls of the past, and to dwell on the backwardness that often now accompanies the nostalgic. Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan), after a long and stressful journey through consciousness, lands on earth in his body; his mind, and his shoes, are left on the plane. Worse, there are more than two Coopers, for lack of a better term. One, the real bad one, Mr. C, has failed to show up for his scheduled return to the Black Lodge, and is alive in a prison cell. Sent in his place is another one, a licentious and chintzy-looking real-estate agent named Dougie Jones, whose mortal coil is compressed into a tiny golden nugget, leaving only a significant jade ring. Yet the person of Dougie remains, husband to a stressed-out, underweight woman named Janey-E (Naomi Watts) and father to the eight-year-old Sonny Jim Jones (Pierce Gagnon).

We meet Mr. Jones on an exurban tract-housing project in a development named Rancho Rosa, the two Rs recalling the Double R Diner of yore, in a beige-carpeted bedroom where light falls through the slats like on the set of a black-and-white noir; the shot, however, looks like a recent photograph by Torbjřrn Rřdland. He’s in the arms of an extremely pretty prostitute named Jade (Nafessa Williams), posed like the Venus Anadyomene, her black skin all bared. What she brings is such stomach-dropping eroticism that I have no clue whether I’m meant to be shocked. I can only suggest that, in the moment, MacLachlan has never looked more like the kind of Caucasian who needs a pocket calculator to tally his Scottish, Welsh, Irish, and Cornish heritage. Jade, another tolerant professional of color, emerges from her post-work shower to find that Dougie, prostrate on the carpet, has been replaced by Coop. She’s at a loss to ascertain where her client got “that suit . . . and that haircut,” but assumes by his abandonment of most functions that he’s had a stroke and drops him off at the Silver Mustang Casino, saying, “Call for help.”

Long scenes transpire in which Cooper may as well be an alien. Like the brother from another planet in the 1984 John Sayles film by that name, he has an unexplained power over things that plug into the wall, and simply by pointing at the slot machines, he wins twenty-nine jackpots. Like the invading body snatchers in both the 1956 Don Siegel film and the 1978 Philip Kaufman remake, he seems fated, despite this life-changing fortune, to end up a pod person. It is to the bright, clean, well-appointed life of the Joneses that he returns. We can’t keep up, but neither can he. Unable to speak except to repeat what’s literally just been said to him, he lights up for the first time at the breakfast table in the spacious eat-in kitchen. “Here’s your coffee,” says Janey-E, handing him a mug that says, in block letters, THIS IS DOUGIE’S COFFEE. “Coffee!” he gasps. Watching this the first time I sighed with relief, thinking it was all a bad joke about not being yourself before that first cup of coffee in the morning. Alas—he takes one sip and, like a goddamn baby, spits it out.

Excerpt from Twin Peaks, 1991

By now I can see that it might be annoying to watch anyone, even Kyle MacLachlan, perform some enormous difficulty in being a straight, cissexual, employed, married, (relatively) able-bodied, blah blah blah white male. The more you dwell on it, the more perverse is the truth that white men discovered alienation. Better to think about white men’s greatest invention, other than Venetian blinds, lipstick in a tube, and the guillotine, and that is: romance. The beautiful scam! I’m obsessed. There is no more individuating force than romantic love, as I have said a thousand times or, at the very least, once. This is why we see on daytime soap operas decades-long plots revolving around the supposition that two identical white women, played by literally the same actress, are opposites on the inside. Lynch, in his soap-loving bones, is as romantic and Romantic as Blumenbach was. He’s a Double R romantic, we could say.

Case, point: Remember Denise, the top federal agent and trans woman with every reason to be proud, played with sly aplomb by David Duchovny? There was scant discourse on gender to greet her appearance in 1990, and there is discourse galore awaiting her reappearance now, yet the show needs no change. Anyone who self-actualizes and looks better doing it is fine and has always been fine by Lynch. “When you became Denise,” says Regional Bureau Chief Gordon Cole, who is Lynch himself, “I told all of your colleagues, those clown comics, to fix their hearts or die.” Unhelped by his hearing aid, Cole shouts this as he does most things, but here in a meter that edges on iambic, doubling the line’s sudden wham. Lynch in director mode can be less than present, relinquishing control to the aleatory and straying so far off the beat that the beat is a memory, so that when he does match a line to the pulse, it’s shockingly great.

Later, Cole and Agent Albert Rosenfeld (Miguel Ferrer), fresh from a visit to the imprisoned Mr. C., who is pretending to be an undercover Cooper, are standing outside. “Blue rose,” says Rosenfeld. “Blue rose,” as we know, is Cole’s code term for especially tricky and transmundane cases. The term first appeared in the literal, as a poly-silk corsage on a woman’s red dress in Fire Walk with Me, and no one could say what it meant, like how the proto-Romantic German poet Novalis, in Penelope Fitzgerald’s 2014 novelization of his life, The Blue Flower, knows only that it’s all he needs to know. “It doesn’t get any bluer,” says Cole. It really doesn’t. The anomalous, gelid blue that douses the frame doesn’t come from the sky behind the men, rather from the tinted window of the Lincoln Town Car, a tint known as Gasser, after a breed of 1970s muscle car, but to me recalling Gass, William Gass, and his On Being Blue (1975). Hell, he says in the book, has gas-blue flames, and on earth everything empty is blue, but so are human interiors. These connections weren’t planned for me, but sparked. Lynch does it again: a blue tuned to a frequency that cracks the protective glass between what you’re seeing and you.

Sarah Nicole Prickett