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Posts Tagged ‘“David Lynch”’

“MAKING WAVES: THE ART OF CINEMATIC SOUND” My rating: B

94 minutes | No MPAA rating

The cinema has always been dominated by its visual elements and the moving image…there’s a reason we refer to them as “the movies,” after all.

But as powerful as visual images may be, they can be enhanced immeasurably by the judicious and creative use of sound. Some filmmakers, in fact, argue that what we hear in the theater is as important — perhaps more important — than what we see.

Midge Costin’s documentary “Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound” — she’s a veteran sound and dialogue editor making her directing debut — is a little bit of everything: history, aesthetic exploration, technological geek out.

It is also, for the most part, a look at the careers of two of the still-living giants of movie sound: Walter Murch, whose sound designs have graced the films of Francis Coppola, and Ben Burtt, who brought his talents to George Lucas’ “Star Wars.”

The film opens with Murch, now 77, commenting on how even before birth we are accustomed to hearing our mother’s breathing and heartbeat, as well as voices and noises coming from outside her body. For that reason, Murch asserts, hearing is a much more profound experience than viewing.

The film picks out from cinema’s past special films that advanced movie sound. There’s “King Kong,” whose sound designer manipulated the roars of zoo animals.  There was the radio era, when entire worlds were fabricated from pure sound; artists like Orson Welles exploited the artistic possibilities of radio and then brought that some creativity to the soundtrack of his “Citizen Kane” (1941). Alfred Hitchcock was an advocate of pure sound, eschewing all music for his “The Birds” (1965) and relying heavily on electronically distorted avian noises.

But these adventurous souls were few and far between. Mostly the studios were run like an assembly line that avoided adventurous sound design; each studio had its own sound library of gunshots, trains, screeching tires, ricocheting bullets and other noises that were used over and over again.

Of course for most of the sound era — which began in the late ’20s — movie sound meant monaural sound, noises coming from one speaker directly behind the screen.  It wasn’t until Barbra Streisand demanded a full stereo presentation for her 1976 “A Star Is Born” that stereo soundtracks became the norm.

In films like “Nashville” Robert Altman got creative with dialogue, wiring up everyone in a crowded scene with their own microphones and recording each actor individually so that he could manipulate what his audience heard in the final print.

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Harry Dean Stanton

“LUCKY” My rating: B+ 

88 minutes | No MPAA rating

Late in the sublime “Lucky” our title character, an ancient desert-dwelling reprobate played by Harry Dean Stanton, informs the customers of his favorite watering hole that, in his opinion, all we have waiting for us is nothingness.

“What do we do with that piece of news?” someone asks.

Exactly. What do you do, how do you live your life, knowing  your time on Earth is limited and that there are no guarantees of a hereafter?

If that sounds heavy…well, it is and it isn’t.

“Lucky” is a deadpan comedy about small town eccentricity that morphs into a meditation on mortality.  It’s a classic case of laugh-sob-laugh storytelling.

The screenplay by Logan Sparks and Drago Sumonja is so solid that it would be a terrific vehicle for any mature actor. That the role of Lucky went to Harry Dean Stanton, who died in September at the age of 91, is one of those made-in-heaven movie miracles.

The script plays perfectly to Stanton’s physicality (sunken eyes, hopeless hair, wraith-like figure) and his tough-crusty demeanor.  How lovely… in an acting career that goes back a half century with films like “Alien,” “Repo Man” and “Paris, Texas,” Stanton’s last big role features what may be his greatest performance.

Add to this the wondrous directing debut of John Carroll Lynch, a much-in-demand character actor (he played Frances McDormand’s stamp-designing husband in “Fargo”), and you have a low-keyed, rib-tickling, heart-tugging wonder.

Lucky — who never married — lives alone on the outskirts of a small town (the setting looks like New Mexico or Arizona). He is a creature of habit.

That means getting up and doing yoga exercises in his underwear, pausing to take a few long drag on a cigarette.  Lucky’s closet contains  blue jeans and identical well-worn red plaid shirts. His diet appears limited to milk, caffeine and Bloody Marys (though he never eats the celery).

He’s got no car, so he walks into town, making the rounds of the diner, Post Office and shops before settling onto his stool at a bar where everybody knows everybody else’s name. He makes a point of baiting the chatty owner (the great Beth Grant), her pretty-boy squeeze (James Darren) and the philosophical bartender (Hugo Armstrong).

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David Lynch

“DAVID LYNCH: THE ART LIFE” My rating: B

90 minutes | NO MPAA rating

You’d expect that a documentary about David Lynch would concentrate on his substantial body of film work: “Eraserhead,” “Mulholland Drive,” “The Elephant Man”…even the disastrous “Dune.”

Heck, even Lynch’s failures are interesting.

But co-directors Jon Nguyen, Rick Barnes and Olivia Neergaard-Holm go in an entirely different direction.

Rather than concentrate on the films, “David Lynch: The Art Life” centers on Lynch’s work in the visual arts…and not on his technique or subject matter but rather on his ideas about art in general.

Then result is both a sort of biography of the artist as a young man (lots of photos and films of Lynch’s youth and college years), lots of stories from his formative years.  We see examples of his current visual works that directly reflect those youthful moments of excitement and trauma (mostly trauma, if the prevailing darkness of his vision is any indication.)

Big chunks of the film show Lynch, now in his early ’70s, working in  his home studio.  His output is simultaneously childish, sophisticated and disturbing. He works with his hands, smearing paint with his fingers (often accompanied by his 2-year-old daughter).

His images are ragged, blurry, dreamlike.

The man seems compelled to create at every opportunity. (“Keep painting. Keep painting. See if you catch something.”)

We get Lynch’s memories of a happy childhood (“I never heard my parents argue, ever”), his discovery of art as an outlet, his early dabbling in experimental films.

It’s a stream-of-consciousness trip through David Lynch’s brain.

Those who want a discussion of how he makes art and what it means will be disappointed.

Those willing to think about art  as a life choice will find the film a treasure trove.

| Robert W. Butler

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