During the final segment of his 1977 interview with Richard Nixon, British TV host David Frost pressed the disgraced 37th president one last time on the issue of his “mistakes.” Nixon’s face appeared twisted and labored as he answered, in part: “I let down my friends. I let down the country. I let down our system of government and the dreams of all those young people that ought to get into government but think that it’s all too corrupt.” The interview, dramatized in Peter Morgan’s 2006 stage play Frost/Nixon and in Ron Howard’s new film adaptation of the same name, shows a man beaten and on the cusp of admitting defeat, if not absolute guilt. Another recent Hollywood film, Oliver Stone’s W., depicts the current president’s answer to a similar question, albeit in a less historically accurate context, when, during a 2004 press conference, Time’s John Dickerson asked George W. Bush what his biggest mistake was following 9/11 and what lessons he had learned from it. Bush couldn’t think of one.
It took the world three years to coax a pseudo-confession from the lips of Tricky Dick, and while it’s unclear what kind of hindsight Bush might be granted in that amount of time, what is apparent is that the level of self-awareness and pathetic self-deprecation portrayed in Frank Langella’s Nixon is absent in Bush and those who have surrounded him during the last eight years. One need look no further than the administration’s Legacy Tour, which sounds more like some geriatric rock act’s nostalgic traveling stage show than an attempt at an overhaul of his political image. The administration has consistently defaulted to as-yet-unborn high school textbook writers to determine whether or not any of their actions were good or bad, but that hasn’t stopped Bush and his cronies from going on a whirlwind publicity tour in an attempt to shape that historical determination.
In order to fully comprehend the extent to which the administration fails to comprehend—or the extent to which it willfully obscures—its mistakes, it’s necessary to recognize just how early in Bush’s presidency those mistakes began. I remember being glued to the television in a friend’s dorm room on election night in 2000. It was the first time I had participated in our democracy, and a small group of us stayed up into the wee hours of the morning as, one by one, the networks—led by Fox News, whose Election Analysis Division’s John Ellis called the statistically too-close-to-call Florida, and thus the election, for his cousin George—declared that our new president would not be Al Gore after all. It would be weeks before all the recounts were completed (or not completed, as was the case) and the Supreme Court handed the presidency to the man who, even sans a proper tally, lost the popular vote by over half a million votes.
The electoral college, a system designed over two hundred years ago by founding fathers who believed the office should seek the man and not the other way around, men who still feared British political influence and who aimed to protect the Union from the encroaching powers of the biggest of its then-13 states, was designed at a time when not everyone could see a candidate up close and personal or quickly gain access to copious amounts of information about the men running for public office at the click of a button. Times have changed, though, and the failure of that system eight years ago had consequences far greater than even the biggest cynic could have imagined.
Legitimate or not, Bush’s election was the first profoundly and thoroughly squandered opportunity of his administration. Any other presidential candidate might have been humbled or even embarrassed by the lengths and depths to which he or she had to fight for the office; a more lucid politician might have recognized that a nation divided was not one on which a partisan agenda should be thrust. He or she might have made concessions to the left and reached out in compromise. Instead, Bush defined bipartisanship as the willingness of the opposition to support legislation that bolstered his neoconservative policies.
Bush’s biggest missed opportunity, however, came just a few short months later, when, after ignoring warnings that Islamic extremists were intent on using commercial airliners to attack the United States within its own borders and then they did just that, newspapers across the globe declared, “We Are All Americans!” Out of great tragedy came great opportunity, and for a moment in time, even Democrats rallied around the president. But Bush abused the goodwill he was given and, with the aide of Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, and the other chief architects of the Iraq invasion, he exploited the events of 9/11 in order to execute a plan that had been in the works for years: removing Saddam Hussein in the quest of creating a larger footprint in the region. The opportunities that the administration saw in the tragedy of the terrorist attacks was not unification or peace but the acquisition of power via the steady and deliberate dismantling of the country’s very founding principles.
Out of great tragedy also comes great responsibility. Bush’s cabinet appointments alone, from Alberto Gonzales (who presided over the most corrupt, ineffective, politicized, and discriminatory Department of Justice in U.S. history) all the way down to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s Edwin G. Foulke Jr. (who is, according to R. Jeffrey Smith at The Washington Post, a lawyer and former Bush fundraiser who used to defend companies cited by OSHA for safety and health violations), would tarnish even the most noble of American presidents’ legacies, to say nothing of the appointments he attempted, but failed, to make. But it was Michael Brown, who was appointed as director of FEMA despite having little to no experience, who shouldered much of the blame for the administration’s biggest domestic blunder: the federal response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005. A scapegoat for the administration’s failures, Brown would later claim that he warned Bush of the imminent dangers of a levee breach but that those warnings were dismissed and that the decision about whether or not to federalize the region was viewed as a political opportunity by those close to the president.
This history, of course, has been so well documented and accepted by the American people, finally, that repeating it here serves merely as context for what is, perhaps, the Bush administration’s most audacious enterprise to date: the rewriting of that history as orchestrated by Karl Rove via a series “exit interviews.” “I think I was unprepared for war,” Bush said when asked last month by ABC News’s Charlie Gibson what he was most unprepared for during his tenure in the White House. It’s a stunning, Nixon-sized admission coming from the man who once proclaimed, “I am a war president. I make decisions here in the Oval Office in foreign policy matters with war on my mind.” When asked if he would have gone to war with Iraq had the intelligence showed that Saddam Hussein did not possess weapons of mass destruction, he said he was unsure.
Rove himself launched his Bush Legacy Project by telling a New York audience that the U.S. would not have invaded Iraq if they knew there was no WMD. But he, like Condoleezza Rice, still stubbornly defends the decision to enter into the elective war, even if the reasons continue to be as disparate as the religious, political, and ethnic factions that comprise Iraq’s population. Rice thinks it was good for America: “[Hussein] was an implacable enemy of the United States,” she reasoned in a recent interview with Tavis Smiley. What’s good for America, then, is evidently good for the world, right? In 2005, at the height of the violence in Iraq, Pentagon advisor Richard Perle told The Pittsburgh Tribune Review that the Bush Doctrine of preemptive war was intended to promote democracy throughout the world: “This doesn’t mean imposing democracy by force. We can’t do that, and we know we can’t do that. But sometimes the obstacles to democracy can only be removed by force.” To quote Michael Knight from his piece “Empire America – Spreading Freedom, Democracy, Terrorism”: “Darling, I would never rape you. I am just tearing your clothes off so we can make love.”
This myopic view of the world is manifest in everyone in and surrounding the administration—no surprise considering that its namesake is seemingly incapable of looking inward or backward. Dick Cheney is, maybe, the only one not involved in some daft attempt at political revisionism, proudly telling ABC’s Jonathan Karl in early December that he did indeed authorize the use of torture, though he refused to use the word, and generously expressed astonishment on behalf of all of us who witnessed the attacks of 9/11 that there hasn’t been another one yet. The implication is, naturally, that the administration is due credit for subsequently preventing an attack like the one it failed to prevent in 2001.
“There can be no debate about the results in keeping America safe,” Bush told the U.S. Army War College, ostensibly the only audience he could find that would be unlikely to call him out on his rhetorical challenge. “We’ll never know how many lives have been saved,” he continued, citing failed attempts to bomb fuel tanks at JFK Airport, a plot to blow up international jets, and a plan to attack a Chicago-area shopping mall—effectively giving himself a hypothetical pat on the back for the hypothetical prevention of attacks that were essentially hypothetical (that is, merely aspirational and not operational). It’s like Osama bin Laden expressing a desire to bomb Smurf Village, realizing he’s not an animated cartoon character, and then Papa Smurf taking credit for preventing the attack.
For an even flimsier logic than Bush’s, look no further than a recent piece by Peggy Noonan (the title of which, “At Least Bush Kept Us Safe,” speaks volumes in and of itself): “It is unknown, and perhaps can’t be known, whether [the lack of another domestic terrorist attack] was fully due to the government’s efforts, or the luck of the draw, or a combination of luck and effort. And it not only can’t be fully known by the public, it can hardly be fully known by the players at all levels of government. They can’t know, for instance, of a potential terrorist cell that didn’t come together because of their efforts.” (The Wall Street Journal apparently now pays writers to talk in circles.)
Three weeks ago, White House Press Secretary Dana Perino released a statement in response to a New York Times article which placed the blame for the financial meltdown of 2008 squarely on Bush’s soldiers: “The Times’ ’reporting’ in this story amounted to finding selected quotes to support a story the reporters fully intended to write from the onset, while disregarding anything that didn’t fit their point of view,” she said. Ignoring for a moment both the veracity of the Times piece and the thanklessness of Perino’s job, one can’t help but notice the blatant hypocrisy with which the White House statement smacks. It’s reminiscent of Bush’s own countless missives, like his second inaugural speech, which was littered with hypocrisies about the “ideologies that feed hatred,” the “pretensions of tyrants,” and the “force of human freedom,” historical inaccuracies about the founding of the republic, and propaganda that summoned all of the most ignoble parts of our nation’s history. He was the tyrant of which he spoke.
And, at least starting in 2004, he became a demagogue, obtaining power by appealing to the fears of the people and then claiming it was absolute, first by dubbing himself “the decider” and then by laying claim to a “mandate” after winning reelection. “Now it is the urgent requirement of our nation’s security, and the calling of our time,” Bush said during that second inaugural, apparently unaware that his oath of office requires him to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States,” not the American people—the pretense under which the administration has waged its wars on sovereign nations and its own citizens’ civil liberties.
Addressing an audience at a Holocaust Museum last month without, miraculously, strapping himself to a board and pouring water down his own throat afterward, Attorney General and latest Bush lapdog Michael Mukasey said: “[L]aw without conscience is no guarantee of freedom; that even the seemingly most advanced of nations can be led down the path of evil.” Agents of the outgoing administration—both major and minor, direct and tangential—appear utterly oblivious to the self-damning hypocrisies that are falling from their mouths in their attempts at salvaging their legacy. In a recent DOJ court filing in which the U.S. is charging the son of former Liberian president Charles Taylor to 147 years in prison for torturing people in his own country, Assistant U.S. Attorney Caroline Heck Miller wrote that torture “undermines respect for and trust in authority, government and a rule of law,” exposing the tragic comedy behind a U.S. court prosecuting torture in other countries while the administration continues to retroactively redefine the word to mask its own crimes. It is the very definition of hubris, the product of a nation whose government has unequivocally become morally, ethically, and intellectually bankrupt on every level and in every branch. There isn’t a textbook big enough to record—nor a cynical political advisor savvy enough to conceal—a legacy as damning as that.
Through the Years: Madonna’s “Like a Prayer” at 30
To celebrate this sacred anniversary, we’re taking a look back at the single’s evolution over the last three decades.
This week Madonna’s iconic hit “Like a Prayer” turns 30. The song is, by all accounts, her most broadly beloved contribution to the pop-music canon, landing at #7 on our list of the Best Singles of the 1980s. Even the singer’s most ardent critics can’t help but bow at the altar of this gospel-infused conflation of spiritual and sexual ecstasy, a song that helped transform Madge from ‘80s pop tart to bona fide icon. To celebrate this sacred anniversary, we’re taking a look back at the single’s evolution over the last three decades.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on March 3, 2014.
Following a teaser that aired during the 31st Annual Grammy Awards in January of 1989, Madonna premiered “Like a Prayer” in a Pepsi commercial during The Cosby Show, the #1 rated series on U.S. television at the time. Part of a $5 million sponsorship deal with the soft-drink company, the ad, titled “Make a Wish,” was an innocuous bit of nostalgia that would soon be eclipsed by the scandal surrounding the single’s forthcoming music video.
Madonna dances in front of burning crosses and kisses a black saint in a church pew in this modern morality tale about racial profiling and pious guilt, prompting both the religious right and cultural critics, like bell hooks, to cry foul. Eventually, the mounting outrage caused Pepsi to pull out of their multi-million dollar deal with the Queen of Pop. The singer’s response was coyly defiant.
Blond Ambition Tour
Madonna’s first live incarnation of “Like a Prayer” was also her best. Sure, her voice was raw and unrefined (“Life is a misstaree, eve’one mus stan alone,” she heaves), but her 1990 tour performances of the song displayed a rapturous, almost possessed quality that she’s never been able to recapture.
Dutch Eurotrash group Mad’House’s claim to fame is their blasphemous take on “Like a Prayer” from 2002. The glorified Madonna cover band’s version is stripped of the original’s nuance and soul, a tacky, mechanical shell of a dance track. Regrettably, this is the version you’re most likely to hear on Top 40 radio today. (Only slightly less heretical, the cast of Glee’s rendition of the song peaked at #27 in 2010.)
MTV On Stage & On the Record
Then notorious for forsaking her older material, Madonna dusted off “Like a Prayer” in 2003 during the promotion of her album American Life. Thirteen years after her last live performance of the song, even Madonna’s comparatively reedier voice and noticeably more limited range couldn’t diminish its enduring magic.
Sticky & Sweet Tour
After performing crowd-pleasing but relatively anemic versions of “Like a Prayer” during her Re-Invention Tour in 2004 and Live 8 in 2005, Madonna reinvented the song for her Sticky & Sweet Tour in 2008, using elements of Mack’s “Feels Like Home” for an amped-up techno mash-up.
Super Bowl XLVI
Madonna closed her record-breaking Super Bowl XLVI halftime show in 2012 with “Like a Prayer,” and though she wasn’t singing live, it was the closest she’s ever gotten to her ecstatic Blond Ambition performances. (For those lamenting the lip-synching, she would go on to reprise this version of the song, completely live, during her MDNA Tour later that year.) And if there were any doubt, a stadium of nearly 70,000 football fans waving flashlights and singing along is a testament to the song’s transcendent, all-encompassing appeal. The performance’s final message of “World Peace” seemed attainable, if only for a brief moment.
Met Gala 2018
Last year, Madonna dusted off her old chestnut for an epic performance at Vogue magazine’s annual Met Gala. The event’s theme was “Fashion and the Catholic Imagination,” which seemed tailor-made for both the Queen of Pop and “Like a Prayer.” Madonna slowly descended the steps of New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art in a shroud, flanked on both sides by a choir of monks, as she sang a Gregorian-inspired rendition of the pop classic. The performance also featured a portion of a new song, “Beautiful Game,” and a cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”
Oscars 2019: Complete Winners List
The 91st Academy Awards are now behind us, and the telecast told us just about nothing that we don’t already know about AMPAS.
The 91st Academy Awards are now behind us, and the telecast told us just about nothing that we don’t already know about AMPAS. Which isn’t to say that the ceremony wasn’t without its surprises. For one, whoever decided to capture Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper’s performance of “Shallow” from A Star Is Born in one single take that would end with the pair sitting side by side, rapt in each other and framed in Bergman-esque repose, should hereby be responsible for every Oscar ceremony moving forward.
For some, though not us, Green Book’s victory for best picture came as surprise. As our own Eric Henderson put it in his prediction: “Those attacking the film from every conceivable angle have also ignored the one that matters to most people: the pleasure principle. Can anyone blame Hollywood for getting its back up on behalf of a laughably old-fashioned but seamlessly mounted road movie-cum-buddy pic that reassures people that the world they’re leaving is better than the one they found? That’s, as they say, the future that liberals and Oscar want.”
In the end, the awards went down more or less as expected, with the only real shock of the evening being Oliva Colman’s stunning upset over Glenn Close in the best actress race. (Glenn, we hope you are on the phone right now trying to get that Sunset Boulevard remake to finally happen.) Black Panther proved more indomitable than expected, winning in three categories (none of which we predicted), and Free Solo pulling a victory over RBG that was the first big sign of the evening that, then and now, AMPAS members vote above all else with their guts.
See below for the full list of winners from the 2019 Oscars.
Green Book (WINNER)
A Star Is Born
Spike Lee, BlacKkKlansman
Pawel Pawlikowski, Cold War
Yorgos Lanthimos, The Favourite
Alfonso Cuarón, Roma (WINNER)
Adam McKay, Vice
Christian Bale, Vice
Bradley Cooper, A Star Is Born
Willem Dafoe, At Eternity’s Gate
Rami Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody (WINNER)
Viggo Mortensen, Green Book
Yalitza Aparicio, Roma
Glenn Close, The Wife
Olivia Colman, The Favourite (WINNER)
Lady Gaga, A Star Is Born
Melissa McCarthy, Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Mahershala Ali, Green Book (WINNER)
Adam Driver, BlacKkKlansman
Sam Elliott, A Star Is Born
Richard E. Grant, Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Sam Rockwell, Vice
Amy Adams, Vice
Marina de Tavira, Roma
Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk (WINNER)
Emma Stone, The Favourite
Rachel Weisz, The Favourite
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
BlacKkKlansman, Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott, and Spike Lee (WINNER)
Can You Ever Forgive Me?, Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty
If Beale Street Could Talk, Barry Jenkins
A Star Is Born, Eric Roth, Bradley Cooper, and Will Fetters
The Favourite, Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara
First Reformed, Paul Schrader
Green Book, Nick Vallelonga, Brian Currie, and Peter Farrelly (WINNER)
Roma, Alfonso Cuarón
Vice, Adam McKay
Foreign Language Film
Cold War (Poland)
Never Look Away (Germany)
Roma (Mexico) (WINNER)
Free Solo, Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi (WINNER)
Hale County This Morning, This Evening, RaMell Ross
Minding the Gap, Bing Liu
Of Fathers and Sons, Talal Derki
RBG, Betsy West and Julie Cohen
Incredibles 2, Brad Bird
Isle of Dogs, Wes Anderson
Mirai, Mamoru Hosoda
Ralph Breaks the Internet, Rich Moore and Phil Johnston
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman (WINNER)
Cold War, Lukasz Zal
The Favourite, Robbie Ryan
Never Look Away, Caleb Deschanel
Roma, Alfonso Cuarón (WINNER)
A Star Is Born, Matthew Libatique
BlacKkKlansman, Barry Alexander Brown
Bohemian Rhapsody, John Ottman (WINNER)
Green Book, Patrick J. Don Vito
The Favourite, Yorgos Mavropsaridis
Vice, Hank Corwin
Black Panther, Hannah Beachler (WINNER)
First Man, Nathan Crowley and Kathy Lucas
The Favourite, Fiona Crombie and Alice Felton
Mary Poppins Returns, John Myhre and Gordon Sim
Roma, Eugenio Caballero and Bárbara Enrı́quez
BlacKkKlansman, Terence Blanchard
Black Panther, Ludwig Goransson (WINNER)
If Beale Street Could Talk, Nicholas Britell
Isle of Dogs, Alexandre Desplat
Mary Poppins Returns, Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman
All The Stars from Black Panther by Kendrick Lamar, SZA
I’ll Fight from RBG by Diane Warren, Jennifer Hudson
The Place Where Lost Things Go from Mary Poppins Returns by Marc Shaiman, Scott Wittman
Shallow from A Star Is Born by Lady Gaga, Mark Ronson, Anthony Rossomando, Andrew Wyatt and Benjamin Rice (WINNER)
When A Cowboy Trades His Spurs For Wings from The Ballad of Buster Scruggs by David Rawlings and Gillian Welch
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Mary Zophres
Black Panther, Ruth E. Carter (WINNER)
The Favourite, Sandy Powell
Mary Poppins Returns, Sandy Powell
Mary Queen of Scots, Alexandra Byrne
Avengers: Infinity War, Dan DeLeeuw, Kelly Port, Russell Earl, and Daniel Sudick
Christopher Robin, Chris Lawrence, Mike Eames, Theo Jones, and Chris Corbould
First Man, Paul Lambert, Ian Hunter, Tristan Myles, and J.D. Schwalm (WINNER)
Ready Player One, Roger Guyett, Grady Cofer, Matthew E. Butler, and David Shirk
Solo: A Star Wars Story, Rob Bredow, Patrick Tubach, Neal Scanlan, and Dominic Tuohy
Black Panther, Steve Boeddeker, Brandon Proctor, and Peter Devlin
Bohemian Rhapsody, Paul Massey, Tim Cavagin, and John Casali (WINNER)
First Man, Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montaño, Ai-Ling Lee, and Mary H. Ellis
Roma, Skip Lievsay, Craig Henighan, and José Antonio García
A Star Is Born, Tom Ozanich, Dean Zupancic, Jason Ruder, and Steve Morrow
Black Panther, Benjamin A. Burtt and Steve Boeddeker
Bohemian Rhapsody, John Warhurst (WINNER)
First Man, Ai-Ling Lee and Mildred Iatrou Morgan
A Quiet Place, Ethan Van der Ryn and Erik Aadahl
Roma, Sergio Diaz and Skip Lievsay
Makeup and Hairstyling
Border, Göran Lundström and Pamela Goldammer
Mary Queen of Scots, Jenny Shircore, Marc Pilcher, and Jessica Brooks
Vice, Greg Cannom, Kate Biscoe, and Patricia Dehaney (WINNER)
Live Action Short Film
Detainment, Vincent Lambe
Fauve, Jeremy Comte
Marguerite, Marianne Farley
Mother, Rodrigo Sorogoyen
Skin, Guy Nattiv (WINNER)
Documentary Short Subject
Black Sheep, Ed Perkins
End Game, Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman
Lifeboat, Skye Fitzgerald
A Night at the Garden, Marshall Curry
Period. End of Sentence., Rayka Zehtabchi (WINNER)
Animal Behaviour, Alison Snowden and David Fine
Bao, Domee Shi (WINNER)
Late Afternoon, Louise Bagnall
One Small Step, Andrew Chesworth and Bobby Pontillas
Weekends, Trevor Jimenez
Review: Someone Is in My House Showcases the Reach of David Lynch’s Obsessions
Lynch’s paintings are beautiful yet macabre, mysterious and rich in the tactility of the methods of their creation.
Though famous for being a filmmaker and co-creator of the TV series Twin Peaks, David Lynch works in many other mediums, including music, sculpture, photography, furniture-making, and painting, the last of which is the wellspring of his creativity. Lynch has painted since the 1960s, finding his voice among the ruinous squalor of a once-rough Philadelphia. Inspired by artists such as Francis Bacon, Lynch developed a style that’s rich in the irreconcilable contradictions that would drive his cinema. His paintings are beautiful yet macabre, mysterious and rich in the tactility of the methods of their creation.
At times, Lynch has been dismissed as a “celebrity painter” who nets prestigious exhibitions based on his fame as a filmmaker, as well as on the urge to utilize his other art as a kind of decoder ring for his films. These claims may be partially true, but this doesn’t mean that the art itself isn’t extraordinary, and there’s a concentrated effort underway to recalibrate Lynch’s reputation within pop culture. The documentary David Lynch: The Art Life featured hypnotic footage of Lynch in the studio of his Los Angeles home, smoking and creating new canvases. Last year, the book David Lynch: Nudes collected his empathetic, erotic, and astonishingly subjective photography of nude women. Now there’s David Lynch: Someone Is in My House, a gorgeous volume of Lynch’s painting, photography, sculpture, and short-film stills.
Someone Is in My House impresses one with the reach of Lynch’s ambitions and obsessions, affirming yet another contradiction of his art: that it’s vast yet repetitive and insular. Across the spectrum of over 250 stills, this volume spotlights the many techniques that Lynch utilizes. After perceptive essays by Lynch biographer Kristine McKenna, who places Lynch’s work in the context of legendary art at large, and Michael Chabon, who emphasizes Lynch’s grasp of the uncanny truth of the everyday, among others, Someone Is in My House offers a tour of Lynch’s work that’s divided by medium, starting with “Works on Paper” and continuing with “Painting/Mixed Media,” “Photography,” “Lamps,” and “Film and Video Stills.”
Each section is structured in chronological order, spanning five decades, so as to subtly assert Lynch’s ongoing evolution as an artist. The book ends with a brief biography, which will probably be well-known by anyone driven to buy it, and a list of Lynch’s exhibitions. If Someone Is in My House has one disappointment, it pertains to this structure, as a straightforward chronological organization of Lynch’s art might’ve more vividly emphasized the wild multi-pronged simultaneousness of his imagination. But this is a small issue, as this volume offers the gift of relative accessibility, allowing cinephiles and other aesthetes the opportunity to access a major and generally rarefied mine of Lynch’s workload.
To open Someone Is in My House is to plunge into landscapes of darkness inhabited by deformed humans and other creatures, who have distended, shrunken, or extended appendages, heads that are animalistic or brutalized, and bodies that are often either a collection of tumorous protuberances or are merely composed of a few lines like primitive stick figures. Among this darkness is bright color, usually red, which offers beautiful illumination that’s understood to exist at the cost of atrocity. Among darkness there’s a light of injury in other words, as Lynch is obsessed by the idea of people coming in contact with nightmarish entities and being destroyed or severely hurt in a manner that suggests enlightenment to be a kind of state of higher confusion.
In Lynch’s art, blood and other substances gush out of heads like geysers, and people’s faces are often twisted in knots of anxiety. As in his films, Lynch’s paintings are obsessed by the home as a symbol of our illusions of stability and how easily they can be violated. This art is surreal, in that it conforms to no requirements of literal representation, but it’s also overwhelmingly docudramatic in its emphasis on its own DNA. The lithographs on Japanese paper, for instance, which are some of the most starkly memorable of this book’s many unforgettable images, are driven in part by their sense of fragility. The ink appears to have been applied to the canvases in a frenzy, and seems as if it could quite easily be wiped away. Lynch’s multimedia work, particularly his mixtures of sculptures and paintings, are populated by lumpy figures that show the imprint of the artist’s fingerprints and are built from globs of materials, suggesting how easily they could be morphed again by another god. (Or by us, who could in turn by victimized by other gods such as Mr. Redman, a quasi-corporeal explosion of carnage that haunts Lynch’s oil and mixed media canvas of the same name.)
Lynch’s art is also driven by the preludes and aftermaths of events. In This Man Was Shot 0.9502 Seconds Ago, a phallic string of guts explodes out of a man with a characteristically vague and misshapen face—a Bacon-ish image that occurs against a symmetrical interior backdrop that would be at home in an Edward Hopper canvas. Acknowledging these influences, McKenna goes on to write one of the most profound things I’ve read about Lynch’s paintings: “They have a clumsy, accidental quality and come across as thwarted attempts to make oneself understood; they feel wrought rather than painted.” Rendering characters in the face of impending or concluding cataclysm, Lynch adapts techniques that mirror their awkwardness and alienation, and this chameleonic—at once assertive and self-effacing—style has probably been part of the reason for Lynch being taken somewhat for granted as an artist.
However, Lynch’s primitivism communicates robust emotional quandaries, especially an earnest yearning for a return to a normalcy that’s been shattered—a normalcy that never existed and which is embodied by houses that are composed of only a few skewed lines. These houses might be harbingers of nostalgia for Lynch’s characters, but they’re hollow or—in the case of Lynch’s lonely and forbiddingly poignant black-and-white photographs of snowmen—closed off and ridden with secrets that are impossible to know. Many Lynch characters also face their brutal reckonings with a becoming and majestic dignity, such as the nose-headed subject of an untitled 1971 pencil sketch.
Though Someone Is in My House is adamant that we take Lynch’s artwork on its own terms, without always connecting it to his films and TV, such an exercise isn’t entirely resistible. Lynch’s art clarifies to an extent what his films are also doing: valuing moments of privatized emotional experience, and often suspending plots in time so as to show how individual epiphanies can knock us off the course of our own “narrative”—that is to say, our lives.
Twin Peaks: The Return, which is clearly on Lynch’s mind in the art that’s included in this book from 2010 forward, is a collection of scenes and images that bind the existential cosmic with the domestic rituals of our lives. For most of us, finally connecting with a lost love at a coffee shop means more than considerations of the unknowable evil that may or may not pull the strings behind the curtains of eternity. Kyle MacLachlan’s Agent Cooper became unstuck in time because he took for granted the heaven of his kinship with the townsfolk of the hellish yet pastoral Twin Peaks. He failed to recognize what the subjects of many of Lynch’s paintings discover: that, to quote McKenna again, “Life happens through us, not because of us.” Throughout his career, Lynch has mined a vein of ecstatic powerlessness.
David Lynch: Someone Is in My House is now available from Prestel.
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