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David Lynch, Sparklehorse and Dangermouse: Dark Night of the Soul

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Post by Willy Blackmore/Special to LAist

Despite the fact that he is by far the most well-known and successful avant-garde film maker in the United States, David Lynch is rather notorious for sidestepping questions about any deeper meaning—or even the very basic logic—of his films. For example, Lynch described his last release, Inland Empire, as "a mystery about a woman in trouble,” which is far beyond an understatement, considering that the film arguably out-convoluted Mulholland Drive. This very pared-down synopsis, not to mention to the lack of director commentaries on his DVD releases, should tell you what kind of responses to expect from Lynch when faced with any common query—What’s in the box? What’s with the rabbits? What happened to Agent Cooper? Details should not be expected.

At a Q&A in Fairfield, Iowa a few years ago, an audience member asked the director if he could speak about the significance of the many shots in his oeuvre that show characters stepping out of shadows. Lynch replied: “I love to see people come out of the dark and into the light,” after which he paused briefly before asking for the next question.

So if we can’t depend on Lynch to provide us with any cues for interpreting his work, then maybe this interest of his—stepping out of dark into light—is a good point to begin a review of his collaboration with Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse, Dark Night of the Soul, the visual/aural pairing of photographs and an album of music featuring the likes of Iggy Pop, Julian Casablancas, Frank Black and David Lynch himself (the full album, currently in limbo at EMI, is available on npr.org).

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A few of the images: a hand reaching out of a black void, a small plastic sheep sitting in the palm; a girl wearing a dress and holding tongs, tending to a barbeque in the pitch black of night; the arm of a body prone on a green shag rug, blood running down to the palm, carpet fading to black at the edges—Lynch rehashes his favorite lighting in these images and a number of others included in the show, making for some of the most interesting and unsettling of the bunch. This kind of spot lighting brings to mind Lynch’s other recent photographic collaboration, the Fetish series he did with Christian Louboutin . The photo suite is of women’s legs, naked but for impossibly high or otherwise pain-inducing, movement-inhibiting heels—all with Louboutin’s signature red soles.

And if the lighting in these images recalls his films and artwork, the content of many of the Dark Night of the Soul photos is similarly Lynchian. Presented in groups of four, each quartet relates to a song on the album, the images combining to form a mini-narrative inspired by the song. The long-bearded old man with strange blue stains on his crotch and the double-exposure of a seemingly two-headed girl screaming and flipping the bird out of the back seat of a muscle car could have easily taken place in the parking lot of the Roadhouse in Twin Peaks. A blue light fell on this group of images whenever the song “Pain,” featuring vocals by Iggy Pop (in which he sings “I’m a mix of god and monkey.”), played over the gallery speakers, indicating that the two corresponded.

Even at their best, these images felt somewhat like screen shots from a film that’s never been seen—four quick glances and one cut from the soundtrack offered as a sneak peak, the plot largely undefined. Not that their is anything wrong with this, but by choosing to tell a stories with a series of images, Lynch doesn’t really step out of his comfort zone all that much, so viewers aren’t able to see a different side of him as an artist. And at their worst, the photos were, sadly to say, Photo 101-reminiscent—albeit technically immaculate. But regardless of technical chops, some of the work would not have been given the time of day by a gallery like Michael Kohn if it weren’t for artist’s film pedigree. The thee photos which went along with the bleeding arm on the shag rug—a glass of water, a pair of dice (lucky seven) and some buttons—were the ones we found most disappointing.

Other images in the show were in the middle of the spectrum, laying between the satisfyingly Lynchian and the disappointingly boring. An image of a happy, smiling couple outside of their home, their bed, the pile of prescription bottles on the night stand, the power strip on the floor—a quick peek at typical, middle-class life; the Straight Story of Dark Night of the Soul. Another group featured crates of apples and potatoes, a horse and a pig, a man on a motorcycle—massively tame in contrast to the Michel Gondry-esque photo of a family standing around the dinner table, a giant human as the centerpiece.

The collaboration is probably most successful and apparent on the two songs from the album that feature David Lynch on vocals, “Star Eyes (I Can’t Catch It)” and the title track. “Star Eyes (I Can’t Catch It),” is representative of the brighter side of Lynch’s films—the 1950s good-kid charm, all poodle skirts and sweater vests—that usually only lasts as long as it takes for someone to find a severed ear. “Dark Night of the Soul” has enough dusty pianos, reverb-laden guitars and twangy bass to fit into any of Lynch’s films, but tinged with a hip hop sensibility brought to the table by Danger Mouse. Lynch’s stuttering vocals bring on the creepiness to complete the song—a performance that could land them a gig as the house band at the Roadhouse or Club Silencio alike.

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Previously: Movie Review: Inland Empire, Inland Empire Screening Party