The City of Absurdity Papers & Essayes
David Lynch Keeps His Head  by David Foster Wallace


ASYMMETRICAL Productions' headquarters, as mentioned, is a house right near Lynch's house. As in much of the Hollywood Hills, Asymmetrical's street is more like a canyon, and people's yards are 80-degree slopes, and the HQ's entry/kitchen is actually on the house's top level, so that if you want access to the rest of the house you have to go down a vertiginous spiral staircase. This and other stuff satisfies all expectations of Lynchianism w/r/t the director's working environment. The HQ's bathroom's 11 cold" knob doesn't work and the toilet seat won't stay up, but on the wall next to the toilet is an incredibly advanced and expensive Panasonic XDP phone with what looks like a fax device attached. Asymmetrical's receptionist, Jennifer, is. a statutorily young woman who'd be gorgeous if she didn't have vampirish eye shadow and navy-blue nail polish on, and she blinks so slowly you have to think she's putting you on, and she declines to say for the record what music she's listening to on her headphones, and on her desk next to the computer and phones is one copy of Deleuze and Guattari's Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism & Schizophrenia and one copy each of Us and Wrestling World. Lynch's own office – way below ground, so that its windows must look out on solid earth – has a big solid gray door that's closed and looks not only locked but somehow armed, such that only a fool would try the knob, but attached to the wall right outside the office door are two steel boxes labeled OUT and IN. The OUT box is empty, and the IN contains, in descending order: a 5,000count box of Swingline® staples; a large promotional envelope, with Dick Clark's and Ed McMahon's pointillist faces on it, from the Publisher's Clearinghouse Sweepstakes, addressed directly to Lynch at Asymmetrical's address; and a fresh shrink-wrapped copy of lack Nicklaus's instructional video Golf MY Way (your guess here is as good as mine).

PREMIERE'S industry juice (plus the niceness of Mary Sweeney) means that I am allowed to view a lot of Lost Highway's rough-cut footage in the actual Asymmetrical Productions editing room, where the movie itself is going to be edited. The editing room is off the kitchen and living room on the house's top level, which could have been either a master bedroom or a really ambitious study. One wall is covered with rows of index cards listing each scene of Lost Highway and outlining technical stuff about it. There are also two separate KEM-brand flatbed viewing and editing machines, each with its own monitor and twin reel-to-reel devices for cueing up both film and sound.

I am allowed to pull up a padded desk chair and sit there right in front of one of the monitors while an assistant editor loads various bits of footage. The chair is old and much used, its seat beaten over what have clearly been thousands of hours into the form-fitting mold of a bottom, a bottom quite a lot larger than mine – the bottom, in fact, of a combination workaholic and inveterate doughnut eater – and for an epiphanic moment I'm convinced I'm sitting in Mr. David Lynch's own personal film-editing chair.

The editing room is dark, understandably, its windows first blacked out and then covered with large abstract expressionist paintings. The paintings, in which the color black predominates, are by David Lynch, and with all due respect are not very interesting, somehow both derivative-seeming and amateurish, like stuff you could imagine Francis Bacon doing in junior high. Far more interesting are some paintings by David Lynch's ex-wife that are stacked canted against the wall of Mary Sweeney's office downstairs. It's unclear whether Lynch owns them or has borrowed them from his ex-wife or what, but in Lost Highway's first act, three of these paintings are on the wall above the couch where Bill Pullman and Patricia Arquette sit watching creepy invasive videos of themselves asleep.

WHETHER LOST HIGHWAY is a smash hit or not, its atmosphere of tranced menace is going to be really good for Bill Pullman's career. From movies like Sleepless in Seattle and While You Were Sleeping and (ulp) Casper and Independence Day I've formed this view of Pullman the actor as a kind of good and decent but basically ineffectual guy, an edgeless guy. I've thought of him as kind of a watered-down version of the already pretty watery Jeff Daniels. Lost Highway – for which Pullman has either lost weight or done Nautilus or both (he has, at any rate, somehow grown a set of cheekbones) – is going to reveal edges and depths in Pullman that I believe will make him a True Star.

The most controversial bit of casting in Lost Highway, though, is going to be Richard Pryor as Balthazar Getty's boss at the auto shop. Meaning the Richard Pryor who's got muscular dystrophy that's stripped him of what must be 75 pounds and affects his speech and causes his eyes to bulge and makes him seem like a cruel child's parody of somebody with neurological dysfunction. In Lost Highway, Richard Pryor's infirmity is meant to be grotesque and to jar against all our old memories of the "real" Pryor. Pryor's scenes are the parts of Lost Highway where I like David Lynch least: Pryor's painful to watch, and not painful in a good way or a way that has anything to do with the business of the movie, and I can't help thinking that Lynch is exploiting Pryor the same way John Waters exploits Patricia Hearst, i.e., letting an actor think he's been hired to act when he's really been hired to be a spectacle, an arch joke for the audience to congratulate themselves on getting. And yet at the same time Pryor's symbolically perfect in this movie, in a way: The dissonance between the palsied husk onscreen and the vibrant man in our memories means that what we see in Lost Highway both is and is not the "real" Richard Pryor. His casting is thematically intriguing, then, but coldly, meanly so.

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