The Concubine and I come home from a night out on the town, spent doing the jitterbug and the jive for all we are worth, and there is a package sitting on the doorstep, a rectangular shape, wrapped in brown paper, no address shown.
On another night I would have been reminded of Haneke's Hidden, but on this night I think about David Lynch and Lost Highway, the video with which the madness is initiated, and as it so happens my intuition is right, because inside the parcel is a DVD of The Short Films of David Lynch.
The Concubine feeds the silver disk into the DVD player and we sit down on the couch and watch the first short film. It is called Six Men Being Sick (Six Times), and as far as it goes that's an accurate enough description - it's an animation in which there are six men and they are sick six times: I count them, four fingers and a thumb on one hand and another finger on the second hand, or maybe three fingers on each hand. Many combinations are possible. Throughout there is a siren wailing, but I have no idea what that's about. It all reminds me of Monty Python, the kind of sketches that were part of the show. Only with a siren, instead of the Pythonesque oompah beat.
The phone rings and The Concubine picks up. It's David Lynch calling. He wants to know what we think about the film, and she tells him that we're still watching and will get back to him. David's cool with that.
I ask The Concubine what she thinks the film was about, and she says that it was a metaphor for premature ejaculation. The six men represent the six inches of the average penis, their shiny heads the glans, and the involuntary nature of vomiting mimics pj, while the siren symbolises the approaching crisis of orgasm, all of which sounds somewhat fanciful to me, but I don't want to disagree with her when I have nothing of my own to offer. She says that all of Lynch's films represent some form of sexuality - Lost Highway is the search for the clitoris while Blue Velvet…
I tune her out before she gets onto The Elephant Man as I really don't want to know. Sometimes it seems to me that, in a nomenclature defines nature sort of way, The Concubine takes herself too literally, is willing to interpret everything in terms of her guiding principle. Of course, she doesn't really exist. She's a projection of my own sexuality. That much is a given.
The next short film is called The Alphabet, and just like Six Men and each of the following films it's introduced by Lynch himself. For a moment there's darkness filled with the sound of his voice, and I get confused, think that he has rung back and is talking on the speaker phone, but then Lynch's face appears, visage slightly craggy, hair slightly unkempt, just like mine after a shower. He's talking into a microphone that, from a certain angle, looks as if it could be the body of a telescope, one of those huge devices they have in observatories like Mount Palomar, and I think that Lynch is going to stop talking, hunker down and stare through the lens, look for heaven and see if everything really is fine, but he doesn't. What he does, is tell us that the film was inspired by a dream that his niece had in which she repeated the alphabet. It's an intriguing snippet of information, but not much use in making sense of what follows.
There are children chanting the alphabet and a girl sleeping in a bed, played by Lynch's then wife Peggy, but after a brief look at her we shift to the interior landscape of the dream, symbolised by yet more Pythonesque animation. There's a roof and the letters of the alphabet appear along the ridge, while an Italian sounding baritone sings, and then a close-up of a red lipped mouth seen through a grid, the tongue like a toad in a hole. More animation, images that bring to mind De Chirico and Magritte; more letters of the alphabet, spouted from the bulbous snout of a fast growing flower. A red screen, and then a female bust dissolving into blood. A woman, Peggy, tells us 'Remember this is a human form.' She is sitting up in bed, reaching out to catch the letters of the alphabet as they float away from her, and then flinging her head from side to side and projectile vomiting blood, the red forming letters on the white sheets, A and B and so on, or perhaps not, as the scene is over too quick to be sure of anything.
The phone rings. I pick up and David Lynch says, 'I'm round your house.' I say that I know, we've just been watching him on DVD, and then I hang up. The Concubine is looking like Patricia Arquette in Lost Highway, the scene where she strips down to black panties, and what I was about to say to her goes completely out of my head. She's reciting her own alphabet. A is for Anal. B is for Blow Job. C is… I can't imagine having a nightmare about the alphabet, though I seldom remember my dreams, so I wouldn't know even if I did. I wonder if Lynch doesn't remember his dreams, which is why he has to pirate those of his niece. The film was like the dark side of the saccharine hymnal that is 'Do-re-mi', as sung by Julie Andrews, yin to its yang, negative to positive, and all sorts of other opposed values. But of course letters make words and words can hurt, just as they can bring happiness or any of a multiplicity of other emotions. Aren't the stories I write intended to induce nightmares, and perhaps this is what Lynch is getting at with his take on the letters of the alphabet, their power to damage. Or maybe it's the dreaming that concerns him more, the idea that in dreams language is no longer our tool, a means of self-expression. Instead we become its victim.
A buzzing noise disturbs me. The Concubine has picked up a vibrator and is pointing it at the TV, flicking the ON and OFF switch. Her eyes are closed and beneath the lids I can detect the flutter of REM. I gently remove the vibrator from her grip and replace it with the remote control. Lynch returns to the screen, and tells us that the next film was funded by the American Film Institute. He tells us other stuff as well, but none of it is any more interesting than that.
There's a fairytale feel to The Grandmother, but more Grimm than Anderson. It begins with the usual animation, things going on deep in the earth, seeds getting watered and germinating, though the catalytic liquid is white and so makes me think of sperm. Tiny heads are formed and float upwards, trailing their bodies behind them like the white shrouds of a ghost, and now we are back in the 'real' world and viewing an untended garden. People pop out of the soil, a man and woman, then later a boy. We are witnessing the birth of the nuclear family, in the mode of the zombie resurrection. There's an interior, a set as bare as Act Three of an off-Broadway production of a kitchen sink drama, just mom and pop and sonny makes three round a table, an attempt to play happy families, but there's nothing happy here. Everything is dark, dark, dark, except the boy, who's white faced as a corpse, like a vampire on the wagon or Eddie Munster having a bad day. The parents don't speak; they jeer and bark. An orange pool when the boy wets the bed is the only splash of colour, and the father punishes him for it. The boy finds soil and seeds in the attic, decides to grow his own grandmother. The seed swells into a grotesque pod that disgorges a person, granny fully grown and black garbed like a crow, ideally suited to her role, which is to sit in a rocking chair and smile benignly. But this is Lynch, and so happiness doesn't last.
It's thirty eight minutes, the longest of these short films, and the one in which the sense of narrative, that a story is being told, is most evident. I ask The Concubine, who is now fully awake and playing with herself in the manner of Naomi Watts in Mulholland Drive, what she thinks, and she tells me that she thinks I'm only describing the films when I'm supposed to be reviewing them, which pisses me off because she is right and as a projection of my own sexuality she is not supposed to be this perceptive. I tell her that 'medium defines message', which is sufficiently vague and koan like to put her off the scent, and then the phone rings again. 'Medium doesn't define message,' says David Lynch, or whoever is impersonating him, because this can't be the real David Lynch. 'The medium is the message.' 'Whatever,' I say, and 'Fuck off', because his constant need for validation is beginning to piss me off. Are all creative people this needy? Of course we are. It's only some sense of civility, rightness, that prevents us ringing up people in the middle of the night to ask what they thought of our latest work. That and the fact that we usually don't have their phone numbers.