How two recent releases, ‘Under the Silver Lake’ and ‘Too Old to Die Young’, pay homage to the fever dream imagery of David Lynch, and his fascination for the city of Los Angeles
Sorry to disappoint you, but this column is not about innocents being hacked to death on the suspicion of bovine consumption. Rather, it is about two recent works of art that are heavily influenced by the collected works of David Lynch. For those who came in late, Lynch is the American master known for his cryptic, sometimes elliptic, narratives, with fever dream imagery compounded by ravishing soundtracks in works like Blue Velvet (1986), Twin Peaks (1989-2017), Eraserhead (1977), Lost Highway (1997) and Mulholland Drive (2001), to name just a few. The phrase ‘Lynchian’ exists to describe his narratives, and can be found in several dictionaries and analysis pieces.
Lynch is also an avid chronicler of that wonderland or cesspit, depending on your point of view (definitely the latter if you view his work), known as Los Angeles. David Robert Mitchell, hitherto known for The Myth of the American Sleepover (2010) and It Follows (2014), made what I thought was the ultimate Lynch homage with Under the Silver Lake (2019).
In the film, a luminous young woman, Riley Keough, who you may recall as the lead in the television spinoff of The Girlfriend Experience, makes an appearance swimming in an apartment complex’s pool, observed Rear Window-like from his balcony by the feckless Andrew Garfield, who does nothing at all for a living and can’t make rent, but has plenty of sex. Keough’s character promptly disappears, and Garfield, in an obvious quest to prove that he has left his Spider Man days far behind him, goes on a quest across Los Angeles to find her, and on the way encounters a series of weird and wonderful characters, pausing only for the odd Hitchcock tribute.
A casual Google will point you to several articles decoding Under the Silver Lake, but I urge you to not read them and, instead, let the lake wash over you uncluttered. As I was watching the film for the fourth or fifth time, Nicolas Winding Refn’s series, Too Old to Die Young, dropped on Amazon Prime. Refn, of course, is the Danish auteur known for The Pusher trilogy (1996, 2004, 2005), Drive (2011) and Only God Forgives (2013), but the series hews most closely to The Neon Demon (2016).
I know I have mentioned fever dream earlier, but there is no other way to describe the series, apart from maybe neon noir. Miles Teller (Whiplash, 2014), who Refn initially instructs to be as bland and still as possible (before gradually infusing him with colour) is an LA cop-turned-assassin who gets involved with the underage daughter of a billionaire and a Mexican cartel. There are pornographers and a high priestess of death in the mix, all set to a throbbing score by Cliff Martinez and shot ravishingly by the legendary Darius Khondji. Spread over 10 episodes, it is essentially a 13-hour feature film. But it is not for the impatient, or the faint of heart. The pace is hypnotically glacial, but once you are submerged in its Lynchian tropes, it is genius.
Naman Ramachandran is a journalist and author of Rajinikanth: The Definitive Biography, and tweets @namanrs
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