The iconic image of Henry Spencer from Eraserhead floats across the screen as the short film How To Make A David Lynch Film begins. For all the ways this man looks just like Henry, a true Lynchian fan knows it is not; this man is an impostor, and something is awry. This trickery is of course done on purpose by Director Joe McClean for this is a film about how to make a film like David Lynch makes a film, and what better way to begin such a fete than with Lynch’s illustrious main character from his first feature film.
With an incredible discordant musical jolt (that would make David Lynch proud) the film starts as a couple takes their seats on a couch; the familiarity of these two characters is uncanny to anyone who has seen the film Lost Highway. The set is nearly the same, the costuming spot on, and the angle of the camera, as well as the framing, gives an immediate clue that for all intensive purposes this is Lynch’s Lost Highway, as fabricated by an independent filmmaker.
These two character’s are not the “host” of the short; that title belongs to Jon Thomas, a man who appears on the television screen in all the glory of a 1950s era instructional video to document exactly how to make a David Lynch film–a video that even includes the flickering black lines down the screen a la an old, worn-out film or beaten up tape. The man and woman on the couch, as well as other characters who will be introduced as further examples, are his pawns to work with in demonstrating his point as outlines on his jumbo-sized white easel pad. And it is with great humor, inflection, and altogether sarcastic mirth that the lesson in David Lynch auteurism is reached.
During just over eight minutes the film gives such a breadth of detail, assemblages the staples of Lynch films impeccably, and never forgets that it is a mockumentary (of sorts)–crossing the line only briefly on occasion while always remaining true to the subject matter at hand with the insistence that each scene, or example of theme/tone/mood, etc., is done as close as possible to the actual David Lynch product. The seminal listing of elements does not read like a list but a joyous exploration of lunacy, resulting in more laughs than one would have ever expected but welcomes completely.
While Director Joe McClean is clearly providing commentary on the validity of Lynch’s uber-artistic legacy, he does so without negativity. One of the opening lines of the film, “I didn’t understand any of those movies” makes it clear that he is not trying to dissuade people from admiring, or praising Lynch’s work, he is simply himself, as a filmmaker, trying to understand the filmmaker’s work. There is a very defined line in the film world on whether David Lynch is a genius, or a plotless hack to whom narrative coherence does not exist. Some may go so far as to call Lynch an elitist artist, shamefully taking the side of “if you don’t get it then it’s not at your level.” It is with great relief that this “instructional” short makes no claims on the work of David Lynch except by showing what anyone who has seen his body of work already knows, for better or worse depending on what side of the line you fall.
How To Make A David Lynch Film is one of those rare treats for filmmakers, and film lovers alike. It will make you laugh at the Lynchian details McClean has included, and surely it will start a conversation. To quote the film one final time, and this refers to both the auteur-in-question David Lynch as well as this short film, “Why? Because that’s artistic.” Joe McClean’s work here is definitely an artistic endeavor, one that is executed far better than many full-length feature independent films, and by far more enjoyable to watch.
Watch the film now:
How To Make A David Lynch Film from Red and Tan on Vimeo.
–The film will be screening in Los Angeles at the Dances With Films film festival June 2 – 9th, 2011. For more information on the film, and to purchase tickets (something I highly recommend) visit the festival’s website here. For more information on Joe McClean and his production company, you may visit the website Red and Tan Productions.–
Jon Thomas as Your Host
Bruna Matsin as Patricia Rossellini
Dane Bowman as Bill Eraserhead MacLachan
Chas Mitchel as Robert Hopper
Phillip Kelly as Dean Blake
Barry Finnegan as Balthazar Watts
Joe McClean as Elephant Man
Sarju Patel as Man With head in Table
Director Joe McClean
Assistant Director Sarju Patel
Assistant Camera Rich Wong
Costumes Meghan Anderson
Make Up Deserae Barajas
Sound Designer Will Ogilvie
Visual Effects Michael Benni Pierce
Art Department Diana McClean
Original Score Travis von Cartier
Special Thanks to Debbie Lynn Elias