This paper explores the aesthetic importance, artistic style and appeal as well as other aspects of David Lynch’s three films Eraserhead, Lost Highway and Inland Empire basing on Michel Chion’s ideas and perspectives as well views of other critics and film enthusiasts with regards to Lynch’s use of sound in the films. It used the case study method to analyse the films Eraserhead, Lost Highway and Inland Empire from different time frames of Lynch’s career as a filmmaker. It was able to establish the various contributions, experimentation of Lynch on sound as an integral part of the visual film as well as introduce ways in creating messages with the use of sound or sound effects and background.
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Introduction & Rationale
This study will explore the role that theories of sound and music usage play in the aesthetics of the film. To do this, I have chosen in particular David Lynch who has introduced his own understanding of the symbiosis between audio or sound effects and film in a very artistic and particular manner. David Lynch is one of the most experimental and innovative film directors of his time. His films had been described as fantastic and real, romantic and perverse, postmodernist, surrealist and deviant, all at the same time. His movies are complex and elaborated to the detail, his use of symbolism enables us to see the world in a strange, new-found perspective contrary to the rest of humanity, through Lynch’s eyes.
This study will focus on 3 of the films of David Lynch, one from his early period — Eraserhead, one from his middle period — Lost Highway, and one of the most recent ones — Inland Empire, and see how he has evolved through time. I believe that analysing his films in such a manner will help to understand the message that he is trying to pass on to the world through his eccentric, shocking and poetic style where he applies metaphors to show a beauty that can at times be seen as brutal.
I find David Lynch’s films very interesting for several reasons. One of them is because he never talks much about his movies. He had mentioned in several interviews that he does not want to give any detail into the meaning of things, especially if something is abstract. He wants to show how much you are able to express without actually having to talk about concrete things. This is exactly the way he wants to express his art to the audience.
There is another reason that I have chosen these films. Today, sound is still a generally disregarded component of a film. Many industry productions do not give sound or audio enough importance and it would be left as a last-minute component of the whole production process with inadequate planning, if not used as a way to compliment the imagery.
Taking into account that Sound Design is a quite recent concept which developed in the 70s, growing with a more demanding complex visual design, there was a mandatory need for higher quality sound effects to accompany it. According to Mark Mancini (1985), it is possible to say that sound designers are the director’s ears and call them “Aural artists” (page 360).
The sound film generally understood as a motion picture with synchronized sound, or sound technologically coupled to image had its first known public exhibition of projected sound in Paris in 1900. Decades would pass, however, prior to the introduction of a reliable synchronization that was commercially practical. It was said that the first commercial screening of movies with a fully synchronized sound was in New York City in April 1923. The early years after the sound was introduced in films with fully synchronized dialogues had these called “talking pictures” or “talkies” with the first feature-length movie as “The Jazz Singer” released in October 1927.
The early 1930s saw the talkies become a global phenomenon securing United States’ Hollywood as one of the world’s top and most powerful cultural and commercial systems. Elsewhere including Europe, the new development was taken with suspicion by many filmmakers and critics who were already heavily influenced by silent movies. They worried that a focus on synchronized dialogue would lessen the impact of soundless cinema. Japan had the popular silent films integrated with live vocal performance and talking pictures were slow to take root. However, in India, sound was the transformative element that led to the rapid expansion of the nation’s Bollywood film industry which today is considered the most productive in the world.
This paper shall try to present the aesthetic importance, artistic style and appeal as well as other aspects of David Lynch’s three films Eraserhead, Lost Highway and Inland Empire basing on Michel Chion’s ideas and perspectives as well views of other critics and film enthusiasts with regards to Lynch’s use of sound in the films.
This case study will answer the following questions:
- What are the highly observable and unique characteristics of David Lynch’s movies based on the three films?
- How did the employment of sound — plain, effects, as well as other techniques and recordings that came with the films — affected the overall as well as partial presentations of the films?
- What are the advantages gained by Lynch’s films in employing the sounds he had in his mentioned films?
Importance of the Study
In bringing about to define as well as highlight the sounds employed by David Lynch, some forms of new standards, as well as measurement and techniques, will be established that could provide further development in the soundtrack, effects and sound manipulation in film production.
Likewise, learners like me as well as those interested to delve into the field may find insights that could be useful and practical to the improvement and experimentation of sound in film production. Inspiration may also be derived from this close analysis of David Lynch’s films that could perpetuate more experimentations and standards in the future of filmmaking.
Sound and Film Development
As in every other science or art innovation, sound design was not always readily and widely accepted, at least not from the beginning. There always has to be a learning process, established strong theories and also a change of generation for the new waves of creativity to be completely established and accepted.
Since Western Electric developed the “Vita Phone” (first 33 1/3 reversible turntable with an incorporated microphone, improved non-distortion amplifier and a good quality loudspeaker with the synchronising system) and released the first movie with synchronised music and sound effects in partnership with Warner Brothers: “Don Juan” in 1926; Countless experimental and technical innovations have since arrived and become a standard for most or many in the film and entertainment industries, there is being so much development and improvements in technology, although the mind of the film community does not grow at a proportional level.
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David Lynch is easily well-known amongst his passionate followers as a total artist. Born David Keith Lynch on January 20, 1946 (Ankeny, 2008) Lynch is an American filmmaker, painter, composer, video artist, and performance artist who have pegged the following:
Filmography features Eraserhead (1977), The Elephant Man (1980) of which he was nominated Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay in Academy Awards, Dune (1984), Blue Velvet (1986) of which he was nominated Best Director at the Academy Awards, Wild at Heart (1990) of which he won Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992), Lost Highway (1997), Straight Story (1999), Mulholland Drive (2001) of which he was nominated Best Director, and Inland Empire (2006). His short films include Six Men Getting Sick (1966), The Alphabet (1968), The Grandmother (1970), The Amputee (1974), The Cowboy and the Frenchman (1988), Industrial Symphony No. 1: The Dream of the Broken Hearted (1990), Lumière: Premonitions Following an Evil Deed (1996), Darkened Room (2002), Boat (2007), and The Short Films of David Lynch. His TV and digital works include Twin Peaks (TV series, 1990-91), American Chronicles (documentary television series, 1990), On the Air (TV series, 1992), Hotel Room (TV mini-series, 1993), Rabbits (Online series, 2002), Dumbland (Online Flash animation series, 2002), and Rammstein: Lichtspielhaus (video “Rammstein”, 2003) (Papillon, 2008).
Lynch has been nominated several times for Academy Award as Best Director for The Elephant Man, Blue Velvet and Mulholland Drive (Ankeny, 2008). Likewise, he has won awards at the Cannes Film Festival and Venice Film Festival and is best known for his movie Blue Velvet and as the creator of the Twin Peaks television series (Ankeny 2008).
Lynch attended the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (PAFA) while a resident at the Art Museum neighbourhood. He made a series of complex mosaics in geometric shapes called “Industrial Symphonies”. During this time, Lynch has started work on films and his first-ever was done in 1966, the Six Men Getting Sick said to have won the institution’s annual film contest (Ankeny, 2008). H. Barton Wasserman commissioned him to do a film installation in his home afterwards but it resulted in a completely blurred print of which Wasserman simply dismissed, allowing Lynch to keep the remaining portion of the commission. It was said that the amount was used to create The Alphabet (Papillon, 2008).
Through years of passion film-making, Lynch employed a distinctive and unorthodox approach to narrative film making which critics have called “Lynchian”. The films’ characteristics are surreal, almost always nightmarish as well as featuring dreamlike images with detailed sound accompaniment (Ankeny, 2008). Since Eraserhead is considered his debut, he has maintained a strong cult following although a majority of his films have not achieved commercial success (Papillon, 2008).
Lynch started to focus his attention away from fine art and on film by 1970 after winning a $5,000 grant from the American Film Institute to produce The Grandmother, the story of a neglected boy who cultivated a grandmother from a seed. The short film introduced many elements that would become Lynch trademarks. Already, the film was accompanied by disturbing sound and surrealistic imagery that focuses on subconscious desires through nonlinear story-telling (Papillon, 2008).
Lynch moved in 1971 to Los Angeles to attend the M.F.A. studies at the AFI Conservatory where he was granted $10,000 to use on his first feature-length film, Eraserhead. However, the budget was not enough to complete the film so that Eraserhead was filmed intermittently until 1977 (Woods, 2002).
The film was released through the efforts of the Elgin Theatre distributor Ben Barenholtz and soon became a cult classic that launched Lynch as an avant-garde filmmaker.
After Eraserhead, Lynch directed The Elephant Man, a biopic of deformed Victorian era figure Joseph Merrick which became a huge commercial success. The Elephant Man also established Lynch as a probable commercial Hollywood director. It was said that George Lucas offered Lynch to direct Return of the Jedi but Lynch apparently he refused (Nochimson, 1997).
Lynch directed two De Laurentiis-financed projects, the Dune and Blue Velvet. Blue Velvet was said to have introduced Lynch into the mainstream as a huge critical and commercial success (Hughes, 2002). The film also introduced some of the common elements of Lynch’s works such as abused women, the dark underbelly of small towns as well as the use of vintage songs as background music. The film today is still considered as one of the greatest as well as influential American films ever made (Hughes, 2002)
In the late 1980s, Lynch collaborated with television producer Mark Frost for Twin Peaks, which was about a small Washington town that is the location of several bizarre occurrences. The show centred around the investigation by FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper played by Kyle MacLachlan into the murder of a popular high school student and the series also achieved cult-following.
Lynch also had a comic strip The Angriest Dog in the World that featured a chained dog in a yard full of bones. It was syndicated in alternative publications from 1983 to 1992 (Hughes, 2002).
His 1997 film Lost Highway co-written by Barry Gifford and starring Bill Pullman and Patricia Arquette was a commercial failure but its soundtrack of popular rock artists/bands David Bowie, Marilyn Manson, Rammstein, Nine Inch Nails and The Smashing Pumpkins brought new sets of Lynch audiences.
Lynch has won two times France’s César Award for Best Foreign Film and served as President of the jury at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival. He also had won the Palme d’Or in 1990 and received a Golden Lion award on September 6, 2006, for lifetime achievement at the Venice Film Festival (Papillon, 2008). Lynch has been honoured by the French government with the Legion of Honor as Chevalier considered as the country’s top civilian honour. He was conferred Officier in 2007 (Ankeny, 2008)
Theoretical Background & Methodology
Early studies relating to the sound dimension in film emerged during the 80s. Film theorists were then focusing on the ways that representation worked out, in which levels it could be decomposed, in the ground in which it was, and drawing the boundaries around it.
In analysing Lynch films I will be mainly using Michel Chion’s theories on Audio Vision. Chion is a French composer, who was Pierre Schaeffer’s assistant, as well as a critic, chronist, writer and teacher in different universities. He published many studies and several theoretical books studying cinematographic sound and its aesthetics. He was the first person to theorize and argue against the idea that sound is not as important as the image, and to show through his numerous articles and books how important is the interaction of the image and the sound in creativity, psychology and aesthetics of the film.
Chion absorbed Schaeffere’s ideology, such as “Acoulogie” a theory that describes sounds as objects, but he was still considering the contradictions that can arise in the area of research and creation. This discipline analyzes how one hears a sound in all its aspects.
As he describes in his AudioVision the image is enhanced with the sound in a way that creates an audiovisual illusion, this is why it is called added value (Chion 1994: page 5). If they are not together they turn into an abstract independent form, with different meanings, but together they cause a stronger impact on the message reception.
The human voice recording is of tantamount importance in this context of “added value to the text.” It is treated like a solo instrument (Chion 1994: page 5) we say that cinema is ‘vococentic’ and the main aim of the synchronism in the image was originally to focus on speech synchronisation and the major purpose was to get the best sound quality possible in order to understand the words spoken. This will be turning vococentrism into verbocentrism. Voice always calls our attention before any other noise, once we have good fidelity and consequently a good understanding of speech, we will be able to focus our attention on other sounds and music. When the image speaks by itself, it is what we call ventriloquism, meaning that we can gather what it is happening without the need for words.
There is so much Chion did to understand the theories of aesthetics of sound and voice in cinema.
As human beings, we are very much influenced by the sounds of the world around us. Most types of sounds have emotional connotations (Västfjäll, 2002). These connotations will influence the way we perceive sound. By stimulating our auditory system, either by everyday sounds or by music, we unconsciously generate emotional responses. This added to the visual experience makes for a more interesting film experience.
This will be the basis for my multiple case study. I have chosen among all the David Lynch Filmography 3 films of different periods of his career to try to gauge his development as an artist and the appropriations of his art to aesthetics of films.
Eraserhead: was his first movie and probably the most surrealist post-modern movie of his entire Filmography. At this production he was:
- music department:
- sound effects
- special effects
- production designer
- art director
Lost Highway (1997)
- music department:
- composer: additional music
- sound designer
- sound re-recording mixer
Inland Empire (2006)
- music department:
- sound designer
- sound re-recording mixer
- soundtrack writer:
- “Ghost of Love”,
- “Polish Night Music No. 1”,
- “Polish Poem”,
- “Walkin’ on the Sky”
- “Ghost of Love”,
- “Polish Night Music No. 1”,
- “Walkin’ on the Sky”
- camera operator
- art department: construction team, sound designer and sound re-recording mixer.
“Sound energy transformation”
“Another perspective on how sound works d on looking at the relationship between the film, the theatre and the audience. The 3 unidirectional sequential stages:
Where the sounds are coming from, how are deliver, and the effect that has upon perception and sensation.” and “ have all the different parallel levels of qualities the sound is transmitting to the audience:
- Physical: The mechanical, electronic, technical aspects interacting with our bodily, biological functions.
- Emotional: Story, emotional identification with the character of their goals, creating empathetic reactions (like laughing or crying)
- Intellectual: structural, aesthetic considerations that are the most often conveys verbally in the context of human interaction.
- Moral: ethical or spiritual perspectives and dilemmas alerting us to possible choices beyond our own personal fulfilment or survival.
All these parameters help to define the function of sound design in telling the story of the film.” (Sonnenschein, David, 2001).
- From now to the end of January I will focus on reading the books I had already selected as well as looking for new articles if relevant.
- I will book a tutorial every 2 weeks to have a follow up of my work and make sure that I am going in the right direction.
- I will watch the movies I have chosen taking notes of the most relevant uses of sound & image.
- Draw a map of those symbologies identified in the movies and try to find the theoretical approaches of Chion and other theorists.
- End of January I shall structure the project and write about the history of film and sound aesthetics origins.
- Dedicate 2 weeks to each film to theorize about all the findings.
- Written a conclusion and how Lynch can be influencing new moviemakers as a pioneer of this metaphoric use of sound and how he has revolutionised through his career and what aesthetic apportation has brought over to the Film.
- Explain why other moviemakers are not using these aesthetical theories
- Proofread & tidy up the project.
The Case Study as a Research Method
Case studies are one of several ways of doing social science research or a research strategy often said to be used involving in-depth and a limited number of variables or the subject. Likewise, a case study could provide an understanding of a complex issue or object as well as extend and add strength to what is already presented in previous research. Yin (1984, p 23) defined it as “the case study research method as an empirical inquiry that investigates a contemporary phenomenon within its real-life context; when the boundaries between phenomenon and context are not clearly evident; and in multiple sources of evidence are used.”
Some critics, however, argue that the study of a small number of cases offer limited reliability of generality of findings while some others dismiss it as useful only as an exploratory tool. Despite these, researchers still use the case study research method, often with success as carefully planned and crafted studies bring out practical and useful insights for real-life situations, issues and problems.
This paper s chosen the case study method for the same reason that a focus on a limited subject, and that is the sounds employed by David Lynch in only three of his films, could bring out insight to style, appeal and effective use of sound in movies.
Yin (1984) proposed six steps to follow in doing a case study which shall be taken in conjunction with this study:
- Determine and define the research questions. In this process, I had to establish a firm research focus on David Lynch and his use of sound in making films. Through the guide questions posted in chapter 1, I was able to limit my purpose on the research topic.
- Select the cases and determine data gathering and analysis techniques. The approach I have chosen has been to include one film from Lynch’s early works, another film during the middle of his career, and one of his few latest works. Through this process, I have amply sampled David Lynch’s works using the time and gap parameters. With these three works, I will try to analyse how the sounds used were presented through the understanding of Michel Chion.
- Prepare to collect the data. In preparation, I have listed down and bought the films I needed. Likewise, I started gathering book materials about Filmography, sound and film, movie reviews, among other things.
- Collect data – In collecting data, it is necessary that I have to watch the films several times. At the time, I started taking down notes which I find to be unique about the film, specifically on the use of sound in films as well as literature about David Lynch. Reviews about the films would also be useful as these would give me an overview, comparison, and more sweeping information about the techniques, appeal, and aesthetics applied by Lynch on the said films.
- Evaluate and analyse the data. The whole process of reviewing the films and placing in relevant data, observation and collating all materials made me evaluate the data and analyse them. The evaluation I would make will also be compared to the rest of the reviews I can gather about Lynch’s works.
- Prepare the report.
The Films and their Accompanying Audio
Phenomenal art to some and extremely absurd to others, David Lynch’s Eraserhead still is one of the groundbreaking independent films to emerge within the thriller/horror genre. Following a very vague plot base, Eraserhead presented a surreal mix of confused and uncanny characters, an atmospheric dreamscape almost like a mad psychoanalysts vision and a string of weighty messages about sexuality, identity, brutality, and loss. In fact, filmmaker/auteur David Lynch aptly and often described this feature-film debut, Eraserhead, as “a dream of dark and troubling things.”
The film is situated in a seemingly, post-apocalyptic landscape – almost like a deserted and decrepit industrial town. We find the disintegrating locale, sparsely inhabited by people who are left with no other alternative option for shelter. This setup reveals how the tale accepts the decay and bleakness of a nightmarish landscape together with the cold and sterile atmosphere.
In this milieu, we find Henry Spencer who just learned over dinner that his girlfriend, Mary, just gave birth to an offspring believed to be his. Like natural progression, the parents of Mary pressure Henry into marrying their daughter. Also upon the elders’ insistence and as typical of any marital set-up, Mary and the peculiar worm-like creature offspring must soon move into Henry’s apartment. But the inconvenience that the strange offspring is causing – loud cries and incessant outbursts – made Mary, the mother, decide to abandon the prospect of marriage, moving in and being a family with Henry. Thus, she assumes the role of sole caregiver and parent to the infant but eventually is weakened by the burden of responsibility.
Despite this, Henry insists on taking a share of the parenting for the sickly child. This ordeal will eventually take Henry to his limits. As the sickness escalates, the inexorable cries pop Henry’s patience meter to hit over the top. A moment of madness and violence ensue, causing him to cut the offspring’s wraps and stabs them to death. This event, though gruesome and brutal, shatters his world but at the same time releases him to his vision-woman in heaven.
Laced through this narrative are dream sequences that preview surreal, grotesque and almost perverse images that take viewers to a darker and bleaker world which evidently displays the obsessively introspective tone of the film. Seemingly all too linear and banal, the story of Henry surprisingly presents bizarre twists that shatter the usual familiarity.
His visual metaphors are also the gems embedded in the strange flashes of images and unlikely sequences. Like for instance, the radiator as Henry’s vision for heaven, the sexless woman, the worm-like creature that is his son. At the onset, the radiator image will seem left of centre, but as the film progresses its relevance is made more prominent. Lynch, in Eraserhead, takes viewers back and forth, the real and the surreal, and makes the experience leave a viewer a bit displaced.
And though there seems to be very little happening within the narrative, there is always that seemingly momentous event about to come. And the cues are delivered by the characters, keeping the viewer-in-adventure, back on track. This has been commented on as a way to deciphering Lynch’s impenetrable production. Coherence is without a clear narrative format, but quite internal allowing dream-like images and fantasies to represent a number of things at one single moment or event with unclear meaning and sometimes invalidating preconceptions. It was said that Lynch has found ways “to capture the processes of dream consciousness with remarkable precision,” (Kaleta, 1995, see Appendix for more details).
On another note, another film critic observed that Eraserhead is about corruption-the corruption of the natural world and of man as a part of that world. At the root of this corruption is man: the human mind, or intellect, or consciousness-that part of man which causes him to perceive himself as apart from the rest of nature, a separateness which causes him to believe that he is free to interfere with and alter nature in any way he desires, with impunity,” (Godwin, 1985, refer to Appendix for details).
In the film, Henry ends up killing the burdensome child and then killing himself. This final act creates the conceptual statement of the story. Henry, or man, in the general sense, is the creator and destroyer of himself and all the other elements around him – i.e. the baby, the place he inhabits, et cetera.
The Sound Story
As a spectator, the most apparent audio layer in this debut outing, obviously, was the constant “hum” provided by the room tone. Perhaps, in Chion’s Audio-Vision, it may very well refer to the “territory sound or ambient sound” that envelopes a scene or inhabits a space. The hum has defined the room of Henry which is the location of most of the scenes in the film. Not only was it successful in providing an ambient landscape for a dark and dreary industrial habitat.
It also created a metaphor for the drone-like cycle in which life is lived there– continuous and disturbing all at the same time. As a counterpoint, Henry’s dream-like encounters with the lady in the radiator was aurally presented with melodies and lyrics. As an audience, it made a sweet impact on me and reinforced the idea of the “alternative life” and the possible options out of his present reality. Music and melody played a vital element to draw this difference as well as the grotesque but friendly image of the white lady on stage.
Worth mentioning too is the sound textures that Lynch used to highlight, for example, foreboding events, like the appearance of the worm-like creatures in Henry and Mary’s bed. Prior to the actual scene, Mary was twisting and turning in the squeaky bed and she would also grind her teeth and rub her eyes incessantly. Sound effects highlighted these movements and helped build tension to the climax of the scene applying most of the acousmatic, audiovisual contract, materialising sound indices, as well as anempathetic sounds described by Chion in his paper.
David Lynch did not only manifest his brilliance in the picture but also magnificent artistry and technical skill in the sound department. Adding another layer to the lushness of the film narrative is the element of sound. Eraserhead, shot in superb, atmospheric black and white is remarkably enhanced by an intricate and expressionistic soundtrack.
Aurally, most apparent in the film Eraserhead was the background noise that was not supported by visual images aptly described by Chion as acousmatic. This noise or sound was utilized not to reinforce and support visual images but instead created a layer of texture that suggested an industrial scenario and the presence of disfigured machines. Since one of the trademarks of this cult film is the random and highly unusual imagery, it may appear to the viewer that the scenes happening one after another have nothing to do with each other. However, the audio layer creates a different set of dynamics for the film as it carries a strong narrative altogether as author Michel Chion describes as “a precise function, propelling us through the film, giving us the sense of being inside it, wrapped within its time span,” (Chion, 1995)
Though never visually identifiable, the audio content of the film is always an active element – responsible for creating the atmosphere, the tension, or drama, the intensity and the action, grief and relief as a form of choreography. In many ways, this has affected (me) the viewer as it has emotionally hit the lead character Henry throughout the film creating an understanding and immersion between the character and the viewer.
“Room tone” was an aural phenomenon that was also introduced to the audience of Lynch’s films. Room tone as described in Chris Rodley’s book Lynch on Lynch is the “sound of silence that you hear in between sentences and spoken words.” (Rodley, 1997) Though subtle and almost close to none, the effect of this soundscape is a feeling of isolation and tension, an imaginary discomfort and distance. This same silence also brings for a mood set for introspection, for thinking and, even, dreaming.
This strong aural texture was able to reinforce the nightmares and dreams that were playing through Henry’s mind. This also helps the viewers deepen their understanding of the narrative.
“This dream theory allows one to gain some understanding of the importance of an audio narrative, for if the film is the depiction of a dream then the imagery is going to be disjointed and almost nonsensical… There is no sense of surety in narrative conventions.” Kenneth Kaleta (1993).
The audio and visual relationship in the film allowed us to see how Lynch sees a much deeper relationship between the two elements. This peculiar, yet very significant way of seeing / hearing results in impressive effects that have defined a trademark of its own in Lynch’s body of work.
Lynch characterizes himself as a “radio” tempting to tune in to ideas and images and in his ‘divining’ process, a form of contemplation has produced startling results. (Rodley, 1997)
Uniquely, Lynch successfully played up the sound of silence in Eraserhead and has created a representation of the sound itself. Something so clear that even in its absence it can define, set or even modify the visual impact of the film. It reinforces the moving pictures and shuttles back and forth, relaying between foreground to background, through feeling and thinking, through the real and surreal.
Lynch has just presented through his film Eraserhead, the interaction and perhaps a deeper inter-relation of sound and images. Michel Chion further expounds on the relationship of these two elements: “one perception influences the other and transforms it. We never see the same thing when we also hear; we don’t hear the same thing when we see.” Chion also concludes that people have a natural tendency to bring together the images and sound into one, to be able to make sense or meaning and this one life theory extends to even in the way people view films. As this fusion occurs, the interpretation that is seen by one sense highly influences the one perceived by the other (Cooley, ____).
Going further, another branch of sound is music. In the film Eraserhead, Lynch will also be noted for having found a lot of creative inspiration among American pop songs. In fact, a very charming ditty “In Heaven” sung by the woman in the radiator, is one of the most highly remembered trademarks of Lynch’s debut film. Similar to the way he prefers to lay in his sound, Lynch also exhibits a kind of uncanny preference for his music bed. A distinctive voice, a provocative mix, almost a certain kind of abnormality is apparent. These elements were observably embedded in a very melodic pattern, with a strong emotional message as well as naïve sincerity. Mazzulo (1995) aptly wrote, “On the final render, this musical element is juxtaposed to a surreal image/environment, which creates another layer of tension and though strange – understanding.”
In Lynch’s peculiar attack in layering sound and music, we are able to take a peek into the way he perceives these elements — alone and together. He gives the spectator another problematic outside of the regular narrative, an area of discomfort that will push him to see and re-imagine, interrogate and question the way we view and interpret. As a result, this seemingly strange way brings to fore a radical approach to viewing as well as transformations to sound and music, not just one-dimensional layer to film. Negation or anempathetic is also very evident.
“Here, the perceivers bring external associations with the songs into their engagements with the film. Of course, viewers of a film by Lynch may indeed have associations with the songs that he uses; the relevant point, however, is that the context in which they are used violently disrupts any such familiarity. Unlike films in which popular music “grounds the entire narrative in the everyday” and in which the viewers’ affiliation is capitalized upon…” (Mazullo, 2005).
Though Eraserhead was crafted three decades ago, the approach that Lynch employed in filmmaking much more to his sound design is a very significant feat for contemporary cinema. His technique of prolonged silences, abstract noises, and use of music, is a technical skill that brought forth a tremendous adventure in sound and to this date, a constant challenge to those filmmakers who are keen on developing and discovering its significance in their own works. Through his unique approach, visual experience is heightened by the one of a kind sonic sensation. He has shown that meanings can be altered and manipulated by sound vis a vis moving pictures and that it can definitely bring more depth and beauty to a plain visual feast. Most of all, sound and image in the Eraserhead, was a breakthrough out of the box approach that also carries the power to unleash the spectators’ imagination to become more dynamic and more engaged.
Lynch worked with Alan Splet in a garage studio that was very small yet with a very huge console and two or three tape recorders. Together they utilized and extracted sound elements from various sound libraries to achieve organic effects. Then they took the sound materials to the console. In its pure form, devoid of synthesizers and electronics the two made several experimentations with the graphic equalizer, reverb, a Little Dipper filter set for peaking certain frequencies and also attempted to dip out or reverse or cutting things together. Speed variation was also another device that they played with.
When David Lynch created Lost Highway in the nineties, the gifted auteur did not get all positive feedback from his critics. In truth, a great majority of film experts have pinpointed its lack of coherence and too much ambiguity in meaning. However, these are not new but in fact, classic trademarks of a Lynch film. Still in this outing, David Lynch showcased an array of contradictory and jumbled images and throws his premise to a dreamlike / trance adventure.
Fred Madison, the main character in Lost Highway, lives nightmarish life. He is consumed by his anxiety, his mind is racked by suspicion, paranoia. The cause of which is the racing issue of the fidelity of his wife, Renee. She is a dark-haired sex kitten decked out in Betty Page-styled fetish attire. Sensuous as she may appear to be, Renee is emotionally stone-cold and distant. And despite the fact dark, good-looking, talented thirty-something Fred can equally match his wife’s oozing power looks, he falls short in their sexual relationship. This predicament becomes a mindful burden to Fred who also works as a jazz musician.
As if this dilemma is not enough, a strange twist adds up to the already twisted thoughts of Fred. One day, the Madison couple began receiving unmarked videotapes. The cassettes were left by their front steps and contained documentation of how the couple spend their nights together. Freaked out and terrorized, the couple immediately calls the authorities for help but the investigation did not yield any evidence of a break-in neither did it lead them to a suspect who would violate their private space.
Unsettled by the violation of their private space, Fred remains baffled, afraid and paranoid. This mind and emotional trap get him falling into a twitchy, zombie-like state. When the third videotape arrives, Fred sits down to view it. To his shock, he frantically screams out in horror upon seeing that the video reveals Fred looking into the camera’s eye and beside him is Renee’s savagely bloodied corpse. Tragic and disturbing, Fred ends up as the culprit for this gory and terrifying crime.
For this case, Fred is sentenced to execution for the murder of Renee. Immediately, he is put on death row; a cramped and isolated primitive 19th-century-styled prison cage. Try as he always would, Fred painstakingly recounts what happened on the night he “supposedly” murdered his very own wife. Non-stop insomnia, agonising headaches and incessant hallucinations still could not bring him to remember how this could happen. In another bizarre twist, a new character emerges from the prison cell. Just like Fred, Pete Dayton could not recall how he mysteriously materialized in the cell to replace Fred. Eventually, Pete was able to get out of prison and live a normal life.
He is welcomed back to normal life and settled back to his regular work routine at the auto garage. Mr Eddy, who owns the vintage luxury car shop, delightfully employs Pete. Mr Eddy whose shady profile includes a close association with gangsters has a tarnished record for having violent outbursts. One day, Mr Eddy brings in for repairing a Cadillac from the 50s and Alice Wakefield, the very attractive and seductive bombshell that immediately catches Pete’s eye. Soon after, Pete was doing his best work on Alice. The affair was furtive but too intense to escape Mr Eddy’s attention. Noticing the ire of danger is coming, Alice devises a plan to escape and takes advantage of the heightened passion of Pete to get things done.
However, Alice’s hasty plans go awry and everything spirals toward disaster. Pete is horrified when he discovers that his object of desire is a selfish mercenary and a corrupt porn queen. In the fit of madness and confusion, Pete’s story intersects with Fred’s as he re-emerges from Pete. Another important character, the so-called Mystery Man also plays a significant role, urging Pete to kill Mr Eddy. The heat of action leaves the cabin engulfed in flame and the spectator of Lost Highway, with many questions.
Did Lynch really withhold the answers to keep to the elusiveness of the plot? Or was it really a major flaw of the picture. Perhaps, the state in which the film leaves its viewers are the most critical points being marked by reviews as a flaw and yet perhaps from the viewpoint of Lynch, the author, it is an intentional proposition for which he poses again his forward and sometimes bizarre artistic philosophies.
The two stories happening in Lost Highway exhibit one key storyline and that is the obsession of a man to possess the wrong woman. The dualities are merged by the similarities. Fred and Pete, though distinct characters of their own, can now be understood as a representation of man’s same self. Renee and Alice, as was portrayed in the film by the same actress links this representation back to the couple. Fred’s hallucination results in encounters with the compliant temptress but ends up in just the same, with catastrophic results.
Though many critics express their negative impression on the bedlam of confusion that rests in the narrative, Lynch argues narrative logic is not his foremost concern and in fact, instead of the usual chronological story or a linear plot, he utilized a theme and variation narrative which is non-linear and uses the subject material as a thematic source in developing variations on the central theme, in the case of Lost Highway, mirroring (Rhodes, 1998).
This makes evident that the theme manifested itself on many levels as seen in the devices such as duplication, repetition, and opposition of the lives and characters of Pete and Fred. Even in the aspect of sound via dialogue, Lunch has experimented on these devices as well. The same design took effect quite noticeably in the character of the Mystery Man who repeats the same dialogue as he appears in the lives of Fred and Pete.
The Sound Story
Upon viewing Lost Highway, it is striking that it opens and closes with the imagery of the road, the yellow dotted lines that flicker rapidly in the darkness as cars zoom past. It is a metaphor for man’s journey to himself and his dark side. And the reflection recedes and rest in the rearview mirror where drivers are reminded that his uncanny double might emerge from a distance. This very powerful imagery poses a challenge for Lynch’s sound skills.
The fast-paced image on the screen is even made more exciting by the audio accompaniment with the use of materialising sound indices, use of hard and fast rock music. As an introduction, it already created a high emotional impact that put me at the edge of my seat. This articulates very well the successful usage of music with images. Also in the ending chase scene, music also played a significant role in intensifying the moment.
However, Lynch also played with layers toward the end where the car collides. The actor is seen screaming in fear, while music is the one that blasts in full volume, the scream was almost “unheard” perhaps in the bottom of the layer– but the quality or the impact of it aurally was still apparent. Towards the end, the music fades out and the scream on the last few frames go up. It was a play of dynamics/volume that fully captured the blasting ending. Throughout the film, a melodic pattern is also layered with a sound effect that becomes a motif in “suspense”.
The characteristic of Lynch is his striking images and excellent sound design that are upfront audiovisual contracts. For Lynch, sound and music are elements that act as binding agents in the production of his films. They are like the finishing in interior decoration, the icing for a pastry chef’s gourmet cake. It is also a window that makes visible pictures that are invisible. “When you see your picture you start building sounds that amplify a mood that has already started, and then when all the elements are together the thing jumps and it becomes a kind of magical,” Hasall (2002) noted.
Also quite notable in the sound design of Lynch’s films would be his collaboration with composer/musician Angelo Badalamenti. Badalamenti has been part of Lynch’s many film projects and many of their collaborations have produced surreal but effective and magical results. Lynch and Badalamenti have ventured into many experiments and openly explored various possibilities of progressing the art of sound. They have also allowed each other to break tendencies they have as artists which carved an opening to see new avenues in the creation of sound.
Lost Highway is an example where Lynch and Badalamenti have collaborated musically, but have ended up with a soiree into sound design, which enforces Lynch’s notion of sound effects as a musical score, but also makes Lost Highway unique. The lack of a Badalamenti musical motif in some way generates a new emotion for those familiar with Lynch’s films, in that the ear will be more aware of something missing, which allows the pre-existing songs used in the film to be heard with full effect.
For example, David Bowie’s ‘I’m Deranged’ (used at the beginning and end of the film) appears to be an ode to the plight of the film’s protagonist, Fred Madison, whilst ‘Song to the Siren’ by This Mortal Coil highlights superbly the passion and mystery between Alice and Pete. But throughout the film, it is Badalamenti’s abstract and subverted pieces that convey the overall mood of the film and carry the twisted narrative as has been suggested by Hasall (2002).
In Lost Highway, we become witness to how Lynch’s appropriates varying sounds to be able to come up with an alternative narrative for the viewer; this he hopes would be an audio narrative that will work hand in hand with the visual story yet at the same time unfold a story from a different, often abstract perspective.
In Lost Highway, the presence of American pop music can also be felt. Albeit, in typical Lynch fashion, the songs featured more or less were not used the way a regular Hollywood film would. For instance, the way he utilized the song “This Magic Moment”—a pop hit in the 60s music charts, Lynch opted for the song to be re-rendered by Velvet Underground frontman, Lou Reed. The new texture from Reed’s vocals combined with the new musical arrangement for the song was key for it to capture the emotional landscape of Lost Highway and encapsulated the existential essence of the film. Seen with more impact, the song lies right at the scene where Pete sees the alternate-reality version of his wife and is made more dramatic in seductive slow motion. Right away, the sound and the image are together positioning the narrative perhaps not in a logical manner, but it distinctly captures and sets the mood for the riveting moment that is most vital to the story.
More than just to update the sound of the 60s pop ditty, Lynch opted to use Reed’s version to be able to give more depth and insight to the cultural progression of the times. Via this quasi-minimalist rendition, Lynch is presenting a musical symbol that would most appropriate the changes in time and space that the characters undergo. Much more, he is also embedding a commentary on transformation. At the level of the story, Pete’s radical evaluation of his grim past and on the more cultural level, the new rendition of the song is poking viewers to question the history of this American pop classic, which was created at a time, when pop culture was also in a major transition as noted by Rhodes (1998).
Lynch and Badalamenti achieved with utmost clarity via sound design and score the aural complement of a tumultuous and hard to pin down the complex plot. Badalamenti’s compositions formed the backbone of the film’s audio content, sometimes altered and incorporated throughout the sound design of the film. It became a seamless audio interface that was found in many experiments and collaborations. And though it is an undertone, Badalamenti’s work remains a significant layer and texture to the whole creation. Regardless of placement, it is still a significant content without which, will cause the final mix to falter.
It was suggested that the drones and pervading darkness of Badalamenti’s music in Lost Highway is entirely uncharacteristic of his orchestral themes and sweeping synthesizer orientated pieces of Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks. Lynch’s experimental techniques have influenced as well as scattered away Badalamenti’s music and transformed it into a texture that befits the on-screen imagery. Lynch was said to have described it as having a modern noir feel to it (Rodley, 1997).
Scenes of darkness within the character Fred Madison’s home are given extra depth by the malevolent drones of Badalamenti’s subverted score; they act texturally as an accompaniment to that particular scene. Lynch describes this process thus, “When you see your picture you start building sounds that amplify a mood that has already started, and then when all the elements are together the thing jumps and it becomes a kind of magical,” (quoted from Hasall, 2002).
Interestingly, Badalamenti has allowed Lynch to redirect the usual functions of music in film. Traditionally, background music is mainly utilized to heighten suspense or romantic mood in the background sound. The relevance of these sounds in the picture in truth does not really have any corollary sounds in reality, only, it becomes an aid to the emotional impact of film and animation. These melodic sounds can relate to the moving pictures in either an analogous or a complementary way.
It can be, for instance, a slow and languid score that will be analogous to scenes that typifies grief, sadness and sorrow. There are scenes and images of sadness on one hand that can be heightened by contrast with upbeat wild and blaring music as well. This so-called phenomenon is labelled as simultaneous contrast or what Chion calls anempathetic sound. The rule of simultaneous contrast (often used in colour theory) states that whenever two things are seen or heard simultaneously, the differences between them are emphasised.
If red is seen next to green, the red will be perceived as being more intensely red and the green more intensely green than the same two colours would be perceived seen next to a neutral tone. Similarly, scenes of sadness will be perceived as more sorrowful when accompanied by joyful music than they will if accompanied by no sound or an emotionally neutral sound. This relationship between sounds and scenes is sometimes referred to as complementary, polyphonic, or contrapuntal (Sound as film Language).
Lost Highway opens and closes with the imagery of the road, the yellow dotted lines that flicker rapidly in the darkness as cars zoom past. It is a metaphor for man’s journey to himself and his dark side. And the reflection recedes and rest in the rearview mirror where drivers are reminded that his uncanny double might emerge from a distance. This very powerful imagery poses a challenge for Lunch’s sound skills.
Critique, Michel Chion demands that we do not only view Lynch’s films but also hear them, as a layer of virtuoso is also being showcased in the aural front. That in fact as we see the visuals unfold before our very eyes, another layer to watch out for is the sound that accompanies every scene unfolding. The conscious effort we put into listening will make a world of a difference and will help further understand the artistry of the filmmaker. David Lynch once said of the sound work he has rendered for Lost Highway:
“Half the film is a picture, the other half is sound. They’ve got to work together. I keep saying that there are ten sounds that will be correct and if you get one of them, you’re there. But there are thousands that are incorrect, so you just have to keep on letting it talk to you and feel it. It’s not an intellectual sort of thing,” (Hartmann, 2008).
“No element, in other words, serves more forcefully as depiction and commentary on the psychological dimension of the authentic self-experience”… These songs, whose cultural function is largely understood in terms of nostalgia and entertainment value, are revealed, through a foregrounding of their uncanny sound, to be implicated in this process of de-realization. As Zizek puts it, but again with reference to music: “In Lynch’s universe the psychological unity of a person disintegrates into, on the one hand, a series of clichés, and on the other hand, outbursts of the “raw”, brutal de-sublimated real of an unbearably intensive, (self) destructive, psychic energy. Mid-century pop songs for Lynch, function both as the cliché and as the catalyst for such brutal energy,” (quoted from Mazullo, 2005)
Inland Empire opens with a woman and a man in a hallway, then, in a hotel room in a Baltic country which could be Poland. A deal has been made and both of their faces are digitally blurred and obscured. Then, the audience sees a young woman played by Karolina Gruszka staring tearfully at a TV screen showing women in rabbit mascots played by Naomi Watts and Laura Harring. The scene segues to creepy, eerie and nosy old woman neighbour Grace Zabriskie on her way to new neighbour Nikki Grace played by Laura Dern’s house. Nikki was married to a wealthy businessman played by Peter J. Lucas and due to unspecified reasons needed an outlet.
As she was an actress, she decided to return to acting and at that time, was waiting for a casting call. The call came, prior to the creepy neighbour’s nosy heard rumour Nikki was going to play the role of director Kingsley Stewart’s — played by Jeremy Irons — new movie “On High on Blue Tomorrows” which per se is a warning.
During the set, the director warned the cast of the gipsy tale of the condemned or cursed script, which was Polish of origin. Kingsley’s assistant, Freddie played by Harry Dean Stanton, in addition, has claimed to have seen someone lurking on the unfinished set. Nikki’s co-star Hollywood heartthrob Devon Berk played by Justin Theroux, himself a womanizer, was also warned. Fox (2006) commented:
“Like MULHOLLAND DR. — which played with many of the same visual themes, characters and ideas and also unfolded in the Escher-like interior of the haunted Hollywood dream factory — the film can easily be read as one long dream dreamt by that very first lost girl seen watching the empty TV screen. Or not, and it doesn’t really matter. Lynch lays out a number of oblique themes that may serve as keys to the film’s hermetically sealed meanings, but it’s never entirely clear where he’s hidden the locks. In the end, it’s best to make peace with the film’s essential and deliberate inscrutability…”
The film within the film progressed with the characters blurred within several seemingly un-connected narratives as reality merged with the reel. Nikki has lost her role between the character she was playing and her real self so that madness has started to build on her. Other notable entrées to the film are the rabbit-head family of three, a sitcom-like insertion from nowhere of which the melancholic woman watches. It is in part interpreted as promoting the other enterprises of Lynch as much as it is a much-needed break of the heady plot of the film, as much a distraction, a respite from whatever it was she was crying about, as much as an integral part of the woman’s viewing.
One has to recall, however, that rabbit was used in Alice in Wonderland, as well as in Matt Groening’s Life in Hell series, among other notable popular fiction. As McWeeney (2006), wrote “I’d go so far as to call this a masterpiece, a word I don’t throw around lightly. It feels like a summation of an artist’s full career […]this is a delirious high that will take days to wear off […]Enjoy the way Lynch takes the notion of “it’s all a dream” and demolishes it completely. Listen for Lynch’s hilarious cameo as “Bucky,” a lighting grip. But more than anything, indulge yourself in the pure cinema that INLAND EMPIRE has to offer.”
Another narrative layer embedded in the movie is the small group of partying young women, one dancing like a robotic mannequin, two chattings, one asleep (and would soon awaken) and another eating. This group will re-emerge in another setting, most probably in Hollywood California. This stuff could only be interconnected with their presence and insertion as their own, creating another story altogether which could or could not be related at all to the central story of Nikki. Travers (2006) noted that “INLAND EMPIRE is arguably his most ambitious mind-bender yet — in a futile effort to grasp what’s there and what isn’t.”
While it is left on the audience to understand as perceived, challenges as to the interpretation and connotation of what the scenes, images and sounds actually want to arrive to make Inland Empire another labyrinthine piece of Lynch. Even reviews no matter how well-meaning they tried o serve as a warning to potential viewers:
“There are, in the movies, few places creepier to spend time than in David Lynch’s head. It is ahead of where the wild things grow, twisting and spreading like vines, like fingers, and taking us in their captive embrace […]” Dargis (2006) wrote, and it seemed with trepidation. (Refer to Appendix for details).
The Sound Story
One thing is easy to establish when it comes to David Lynch and any of his films: a treat to a total artists’ piece that uses a collage of mixed media: moving visuals and a cornucopia of audio mixed integrally to produce one which is indistinguishable from the other.
Inland Empire opens with a static sound accompanying a light, then segues to an old needle on a vinyl disc, zoomed in with the accompanying drone of magnetisation that is what may be called by Chion as audio vision where the acousmatic sound brings constantly a series of effects, a feeling of melancholy without actually showing any sad visuals as well as the source of the sound. The soundtrack that followed added a continuing sadness, of the David Lynch piece, that lingered with the droning acousmatic sound while the camera focusing on the black and white room. An abrupt change of sound using synchresis, rendering the mental fusion between the immediate silence and the visual to feature three rabbit-heads inside their home followed the teary-eyed woman scene. The changes occurred exactly at the same time.
Nevertheless, a droning sound, almost, if not static in perception came in during the time Grace Zabriskie was introduced. Although it may appear that it is another ordinary scene, it is an anempathetic sound that seems to exhibit conspicuous indifference to the plot where danger and eerie things start clouding up a rather fine life for lead character Laura Dern, or Nikki.
It is very notable, though that certain sounds are used by Lynch for every change of scene or mood. In areas where the melancholic pretty face of the crying woman was panned, the background music is played acousmatically. Whereas a change of scene on the rabbit-heads provide a deletion of all other sounds as well as provision of canned laughter of background.
Stasis as sound in Inland Empire that provided a state of equilibrium or inactivity caused by opposing equal forces was often used to indicate anempathy as a guard against too much anticipation of an impending thrill by the audience. This was used in most scenario transitions in the movie where the various collages of the present life of Nikki to the small group of partying women to the rabbit-heads were presented. This also adds pathology as well as stagnation in the flow of the film.
An acousmatic sound described by Chion as a sound that one hears without seeing their originating cause is well-used in Inland Empire, from the beginning where there was light, a needle on the vinyl, the monologue of physically abused Nikki conversing with the bespectacled overweight man.
Acousmêtre was used in several scenes such as when the group about to take a shoot are having a preliminary discussion as well as the scene in the theatre while Nikki looks at the stage… a kind of invisible voice-character with mysterious powers were heard. Certain continuity and narrative, too, is achieved as the soundtrack returns to its last cut when the video shows the same storyline such as the film-making group of the director and staff. This is also achieved with the woman crying. Then, ultimately obvious are the deliberate disappearance of background sound during the rabbit-heads appearances.
As Dargis (2006) observed, “…Most dance while lip-synching “The Loco-Motion.” […] Each room brings new moods, visual textures, threats and sometimes even a crime, as well as such familiar Lynchian flourishes as a buzzing electric light and velvety red curtains.”
All in all, sound pervades within the stories as an integral part of the whole film. The removal of which definitely would produce an entirely different meaning as may be intended. As Rothkopf (2006) wrote, “Mystery enshrouds David Lynch’s latest—which is a bit like saying steam enshrouds the latest sauna. Inland Empire comes well supplied with seismic audio rumbles, blurry close-ups of lips and dark hallways, and absolutely nothing to do with the California region that lends it its name.”
The soundtrack used in the film and their artist/artists are David Lynch – Ghost of Love, David Lynch – Rabbits Theme, Mantovani – Colours of My Life, David Lynch – Woods Variation, Dave Brubeck – Three to Get Ready, Bogusław Schaeffer – Klavier Konzert, Kroke – The Secrets of the Life Tree, Little Eva – The Locomotion, David Lynch – Call From the Past, Krzysztof Penderecki – Als, Joey Altruda – Novelette Conclusion, Beck – Black Tambourine,
David Lynch – Mansion Theme, David Lynch – Walkin’ On The Sky, David Lynch and Marek Zebrowski – Polish Night Music No. 1, David Lynch/ Chrysta Bell – Polish Poem, and
Nina Simone – Sinnerman. These are a combination of complementary music with Lynch showcasing an almost similar pattern to Beck’s love for bass, drone and funk while the others provide an apparent contrast but nevertheless complementary to the rest of the tracks included. McWeeney (2006) observed that,
“As low-tech as the visual end of the film is, the sound design is incredibly sophisticated. The film’s score is as much a sound effect as it is music that you actually notice. It’s almost score as subtext, designed to affect you without you actually hearing it. There are a few places where the music actually leaps to the foreground, like a dance number set to “The Locomotion” or, most memorably, the incredible end credits that use Nina Simone’s “Sinnerman” so well that I will never be able to hear the song without picturing that sequence again. But for the most part, the score just sorts of hovers right at the edge of conscious hearing, getting into your head and under your skin, adding to the almost unbearable claustrophobia of the last third of the film.”
The added value of Inland Empire’s sounds proved the hard work of Lynch on music scoring as well most specifically with Ghost of Love. Overall, with the complete list of the soundtrack, the listener-viewer finds the expressive and informative value with which a sound enriches an image, an Audiovisual Contract in the terms of Chion which is an agreement that makes the viewer forget that sound is coming from loudspeakers and picture from the screen but an integral part of the scene.
But when it comes to the anempathetic sounds described as music or sound effects exhibiting conspicuous indifference to what is going on in the film’s plot, one could point at Lynch’s scores as well as Beck’s Tambourine Man and Little Eva’s The Loco-Motion overlapping with other scenes of confusion. The rabbit-heads, too, with its lack of relevant sound, specifically the canned, out of timing laughter could at once provide distraction on the narrative. But then, the viewer is encouraged to perceive the film as a whole, not in part. Lynch challenges the viewer to a reality of several interconnected events happening at once that actually have a direct and indirect impact on the self.
Discussion & Analysis
The merging of two elements doesn’t quite guarantee a formula for success. Sound and image combined and synchronized can also be a double-edged sword for a filmmaker. Once overused, sound can kill the beauty of the image it is trying to represent or reinforce. Lynch once was quoted saying, “Sound is almost like a drug. It is so pure that when it goes in your ears, it instantly does something to you.” On the other hand, if used properly and appropriately, sound has the capacity to enrich and vivify images presented in the film. It can even create scenarios in our imagination that are not even presented literally.
It is a merit of the language of film that it has created a space for sound to unfold in itself yet ironically together with the moving images. Therefore, sound, whether it be ambient or music should be carefully layered into the picture to create a more metaphorical use for it. This manner allows the meanings to be more flexible and productive. The less literal it is, the more it will engage the audience into seeing the film in a deeper sense.
Then, it is therefore important to understand what can sound do when put together as layers and layers to a film image. Sound arranges itself in relation to the frame and its content. Some are synchronized on screen and others are left to float, on the surface or at the edges off-screen. Overall, sound on film will always be classified to the images that we see (Chion, 1994)
Lynch’s Eraserhead successfully fused the two elements and even introduced a new way of seeing and hearing a sound. There emerged strong and arresting representation it has created vis a vis the actual scenes and images as envisioned by the author of the film.
The process of how the sound design of Eraserhead was made was also similarly pioneering. The result was a sound as unique and distinct as the images in the film. As Chion discussed, the audio and video together resonate with the surreal and industrial feel of the entire movie:
“… the figurative value of sound is in itself is usually non-specific. Depending on the dramatic and visual context, a single sound can convey very diverse things. For the spectator, it is not acoustical realism so much as the synchrony above all, and secondarily the factor of verisimilitude (verisimilitude arising not from truth but from convention) that will lead him or her to connect a sound with an event or detail. The same sound can convincingly serve as the sound effect for a crushed watermelon in a comedy or for a head blown in smithereens in a war film. The same noise will be joyful in one context and tolerable in another. (Chion, 1994)
This process of creation reveals how Lynch pays high regard to sound in the making of a film. Lynch was quoted in Chion’s book saying: “People think of me as a director, but I really think of myself as a sound man.” Proof enough is the number of hours and labour he puts into making this element as cohesive as possible. Lynch personally believes that sound is responsible for painting the “mood” within the scenes. It sketches images in our minds, those we do not literally see on screen and it can allow us to travel through space and time.
Sound is also vital to a moving image as a brush is to a painter. It delivers the poetic accent and emotive aspects of a narrative in the same way lighting can highlight mood thru tones. If lighting is dark and brooding in a movie, then most likely, the audio accompaniment will carry the same dark and brooding feeling. The sound is a layer of an element that makes the undertones and completes the vibe as the pictures recreate their own reality and take the audience to a certain culture, place and time. To the contemporary movie audience, the sound is as important as lighting and carries some of the same storytelling burdens as lighting.
On a utilitarian level, natural sound is as much a part of the filmic record as natural lighting. Sounds of birds chirping may document an outdoor scene as much dappled light coming through leaves of trees. In filmmaking, the director still has the liberty to decide what kind of aural layering will work best to be able to bring forth the kind of emotion and picture and narrative that he intends. Again, Lynch would be a great example of how he made use of sound a variated the levels and its typical functions to be able to drive the major point of his dark and dreary film, Eraserhead. He may have not used sound in the conventional sense, yet he was able to effectively make it a coherent element fused with his surreal visuals.
Lynch in Lost Highway as well as in his other films, apply the technique of simultaneous contrast. There are images in his films that are not necessarily in congruence with the sound. However, it still becomes a potent combination to articulate a mood or a tone or emotion that the scene s trying to deliver. A choice like this is made by the director in consideration of the other elements still present in the picture: such are dialogues, pacing and the natural tempo of the scene. Lynch as a director, orchestrates this balance in order to hit the emotional note.
Whether it is in Lost Highway, or Eraserhead, or his other controversial works like Blue Velvet, and Inland Empire, Lynch would always draw upon the diverse and popular American music to lend his films a Lynchian trademark of expressive sound signature that is combined with the brilliant sound design for each landscape.
Likewise, the prevailing musical motif was the hard-edged rock that scores perfectly against the urban set design and the psyche of dualities and alternating realities. Incidentally, and not intentionally, the chosen genre to represent the film has also a great significance to the music trend during the time it was produced. With artists like Marilyn Manson and Trent Reznor in the soundtrack, Lynch also captures the sound of the times not only in his film but also within the period of its production. In so many layers, sound design Lynch-style has touched on so many levels, within and outside of the film of its origin. It is then proof that the relevance and relationship of sound and image are to a great extent, can go beyond the film’s narrative.
Lost Highway’s labyrinthine construction enables Lynch to subordinate traditional cinematic concerns with dialogue and plot to a visual language that communicates moods and emotions. Although the dialogue in the film is spare, the drama of a man driven mad by his obsession with the woman he loves has an extraordinary emotional vividness that is punctured by more by the score and the ambient atmosphere. Lost Highway is man’s nightmare…a bad dream that every man would not dare want to have. And though it is a scary ordeal for the softhearted, it is a grip, a pullback reminder of the realities and the tyranny of logic that takes a spectator to an adventure, a journey that leads us beyond the reason and rational—a highway where we can get ourselves deeply lost.
Perhaps, chaotic and to some, unfathomable, Lost Highway, is still a testament to the seer in David Lynch, his visionary ideas and virtuoso sound design. It is a reference to man’s dual realities, the changing times and the experimental breakthroughs of the period achieved through effective use of sound and video.
Already able to provide mastery on audio and video, what is presented to the last film in this study of David Lynch is a testament. The various elements of sound from noise, silence, background music and the abrupt as well as the subtle transition have provided the ability to present a chronology, continue non-a linear series of events as well as connect them fully to make one film presentation is a feat. e
It is a matter of saying that success is achieved fully in the Inland Empire where artist and administrator David Lynch merged audio and video as an integral part of each other in the film. But the process per se is another contribution if not a development in the industry to explore possibilities of sound use for a visual scene that either is connected entirely, representative, or opposition to the viewers’ as well as the characters’ feelings.
Emotion is a strong factor in film narrative. Lynch affected the emotion of both viewer and character using audio and video in very surprising manners incomparable to traditional and current standards. While the film itself is drama and mystery which is very much factual when taken as a whole, Lynch has exorcised the psyche of both character and viewer to make the latter relate and unite with the character.
While it cannot be easily acknowledged that the stories — audio and video presented — actually happens to an ordinary person, or individual, when taken as a part of a bigger scenario that is the world, the viewer will be surprised to analyse that these things actually happen and affect him or her as a whole. The music, the sounds, the silence, the droning, emptiness, the melancholy and everything else in-between actually exists that make up the conscious and unconscious part of the individual. Of which cannot be at all achieved in the absence of a defining as well as contrasting sound concocted by Lynch.
The highly observable and unique characteristics of David Lynch’s movies based on the three films include:
- His use of non-linear narrative in presenting both audio and video.
- While certain sound or the lack of it usually supported the emotion of the scene or the character (audiovisual contract), sound or the lack of it in Lynch’s movies were exploratory, experimental in a sense that it is almost mystical. In these instances, much use of added value, as well as materialising sound indices, were very evident.
- Other forms of sounds which Chion calls anempathetic are also very useful in Lynch’s three movies.
The employment of sound — plain, effects, as well as other techniques and recordings that came with the films — affected the overall as well as partial presentations of the films as an integral whole. In the process of which sound was eliminated during viewing, there is a lack of understanding if not total disconnection to what is seen on film. At most, the scenes are but visual collages without a theme, accidental in nature and there is a lack of connection if any is established at all.
The advantages gained by Lynch’s films in employing the sounds he had in his mentioned films include:
- Coherence of the differing apparently varied layers of visuals or scenes and characters that were presented
- Exorcising deeper emotions, even the sub-conscious of both character and viewer
- Mind-opening avenues that educate the viewer about known and unknown realities as part of an individual, acceptable or otherwise
- Growth and development in film narrative elevating the medium from entertainment to a higher form of art and psyche exploration.
As a whole, the aesthetic importance, artistic style and appeal as well as other aspects of David Lynch’s three films Eraserhead, Lost Highway and Inland Empire basing on Michel Chion’s ideas and perspectives as well views of other critics and film enthusiasts are as follows:
- provide the film production industry insight into experimentation
- use of the conscious and sub-conscious avenues to impact a chronology and narration
- integration of audio and video in varying levels of relations that could be both apparent and hidden to bring out a more effective presentation
- the exploration of both internal psyche and external subconscious to impact the realities that surround an individual, as a film character or viewer, for humanity’s sake.
To conclude, Lynch is a total artist-administrator who has introduced new ways to create and process film narration and entertainment elevation with both heart and mind. He creates visuals and sounds that challenge not only his actors but his viewers to explore a reality that exists but is somehow previously ignored by the majority, which needs to be felt and acknowledged, for the sake of art and the self.
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Eraserhead is not simply a fantasy related to us and labelled dream; it is the dream experience itself. But who’s a dream? The film itself presents us with no one who stands outside the events of the dream. Henry, at the centre, is not the dreamer but rather the dreamer’s dream identity (it is very much a male dream). Perhaps it is this absence of the dreamer which makes the film so immediate and so disturbing: the viewer becomes the dreamer. Looked at in this way, the film’s meanings begin to emerge clearly. Lynch’s debut film much reflected his own aesthetic preferences as the young David. In his younger years, he was known to have been fascinated with the fantastic as well as dark thoughts. It would also be worth knowing and possibly helpful to be able to relate to the film that at a very young age, Lynch had a heightened liking for the forbidden. Therefore, it is not surprising that his early works carry this same theme and string of ideas.
In the film, the consequences of this meddling well up in vivid nightmare terms. The world of Eraserhead is a dead one, bleak and sterile. Man’s interference has made it actively hostile to life, and this process has rebounded on him in the form of a perversion of the most basic of life’s forces: sex. The symbolic progress of the film reveals an ever-deepening fear of sex (as the agency by which life perpetuates itself), leading ultimately to disgust that can only be remedied by a complete escape from it into death. (Godwin, 1985).
Dark as pitch, as noir, as hate, by turns beautiful and ugly, funny and horrifying, the film is also as cracked as Mad magazine, though generally more difficult to parse. […]The spaces function as way stations, holding pens, states of mind (Nikki’s, Susan’s, Mr Lynch’s), sites of revelation and negotiation, of violence and intimacy. They are cinematic spaces in which images flower and fester, and stories are born. Then again, this is a filmmaker who probably doesn’t need to tap his unconscious to let loose his demons; one suspects they are lurking right there in the open. Inland Empire” isn’t a film to love. It is a work to admire, to puzzle through, to wrestle with.”
Inland Empire notations
Polish girl with the man.
She is left alone in the bedroom crying and watching the TV noise, but she is seeing something else. The “Polish Dream” soundtrack is playing in the background. As it fades out the “Rabbits” soundtrack fades in.
Scene 3: The rabbits
The rabbits soundtrack, some wind-like
Scene 4: Maria Ouspenskaya (Graze Zabriskie) comes to visit Nikki Grace (Laura Dern)
The background rumbling ambience start growing back from se 10 just when she starts saying where she lives… from the starts growing louder… It seems to always have an accent note in this gloomy ambience when there is a change of plane from Nikki Grace to her new bizarre neighbour, Maria Ouspenskaya
The camera very trembly approaches the cups of coffee while an environmental sound creates a suspense stranger of uncertainty and tenebrous feeling
Since she said after midnight (00.00.16.05), we can hear a subtle church Bell just before a change of scene (00.00.17.05 another accent just before moving to the future tomorrow. (00.00.17.25) a gong comes along to give space to the future. The background noise starts growing as a sound like wind, added to the ambience and grows it quite disturbingly. After that, the butler announces that the agent is calling, and the change of plane introduces a new stirring sound (00.00.17.45). As it fades slightly out until she calls Greg (her Agent) and the second time (00.00.18.00) another gong kicks out and is sustained with the other background noises having grown in loudness and richness until the change of scene comes along, from Nikki’s house to the HOLLYWOOD letters until it finally disappears when Jeremy Irons comes to the screen.
Scene 5: Meeting in Hollywood studios to greet & introduce main Actors that have made it through the casting
We can hear hiss noises very subtlety introduced, fading in and out, completely gone when Devon talks. Then introduced back when the Director assistance announces caviar and Champaign are on their way. Then a sound of applauses occurs before the change of scene, and a sound like Walt Disney introduction to the tale occurs fading to the next scene.
Scene 6: Reality Show
An exaggerated change in volume right until the reality shows presenter starts talking, as the volume goes down to a normal considerate volume. After a sleazy talk, she menaces to spy on them and “report anything she finds out” then the Walt Disney sound appears again so loud, to close this scene.
Devon’s dressing room
As his friends gave him advice, about Nikki’s husband, you can hear a low 3 notes bass guitar sound. 00.23.59
On High in Blue Tomorrows Scene (Lawrence Ashton) 00.23.59
An introductory sound from the previous scene, as the camera goes up to the sun in Studio 4, a melody starts. We can hear Nikki’s voice before we see her, (just while the camera is shooting the Script).
The melody of “colours of my life” starts fading out as a background obscure like wind sound comes in, creating tension and adding value to the worried face of Nikki’s watching the not finish set of Smithies house.
00.28.23/24 they have discovered someone behind the set. Devon goes to check who is there. You hear the noise of hills first walking, and then running faster as he also starts running, you cant see who is running (sound without seeing the source). A sustained obscure dark pad sound is on the air, some string sound grows the tension and a lead note lead the sequence back to the meeting/rehearsing.
00.32.51 Polish Parents/Friends of Nikki’s Husband
00.33.19 a wind sound is introduced at the end of the scene that changes to a moon shoot and back to A woman (Devon’s wife, but we still don’t know who she is), going to speak to the police to confess that she is being hypnotised and she is going to kill someone with a screwdriver. A sort of electricity sound (David loves electricity sounds) happens (2 tones) as she exposes her tummy and, we see she has the screwdriver stabbed to hers. The sound background increases in volume and a low tone is added that grows as the scene changes and fades out the resonant sound already in the next scene.
00.35.40 Garden Shooting Scene:
As that pad sound fades out Birds singing comes in (David also loves the singing of birds), you hear the birds but you can’t see them.
Freddy talks non-sense inside the studio
There is a hiss sound in the background, you can still hear the birds singing.
00.39.43 Shoot of Nikki’s lips
(blurry at the beginning, while u hear Irons Talking to her, then blur starts to become focused and she might be getting her make-up done for the next scene, we never see Irons there. some sort of hair-drying sound is also heard.
0.40.09 Nikki’s house-
Opening with a dark pad bass sound, cricket. “Mansion Theme” Nikki’s and the service, her husband talking to Devon and advising him to be careful and leave his wife alone. This soundtrack carries on until the next scene in the shooting studio.
00.42.40 Irons talking to Barky. You hear Barky but you never see him.
00.43.38 Ceiling light zooming down, pad dark sound comes in again. Hear crew talking in the background, sustained sound still there.
00.44.25 Shooting Scene in the fireplace, there is some weird sound like an electric hum coming in and out. When she agrees to stay for a drink, “colours of my life” soundtrack starts.
00.47.30 Director is talking to the crew “alright” cue to “THREE TO GET READY” soundtrack.
Devon and Nikki talking, as she goes, the humming sound is back.
00.49.35 as Irons says “action” “Colour of my Life” soundtrack starts again.
00.50.55 as a scene change. They are back to the fireplace. The obscure resonant sound is back. Then Nikki’s confuse reality with the movie script. “Woods Variation” Soundtrack plays along, as it fades out when a String stirring sound as a scene goes off.
Nikki is in the Dark (hum pad noise is here growing as they start kissing (in very slow motion). Then plane change they are under the sheets of the bed in Smithies set house; having sexual intercourse for the first time. Then she does shh sound and the image freezes for a few seconds’ 00.53.54 to 58. As motion comes back to place she says “look at me” then a change of plane comes as somebody is walking through the corridor of the house towards the bedroom, you can’t see who is it, but you can already gather is her husband, he stays there hearing and looking.
Then she starts talking non-sense about something that happened yesterday but that is tomorrow in reality, she seems to be having a flashback. Some resonant sound there introduced and husband leaves the room and change of scene…
00.57.04/23 Previous Non-sense talks to a real scene
At the back of the studios: the sound goes away and we can hear the birds singing again, some sound of somebody working, something like hammering something. Some wind sounds then occurs as she walks into the door with the strange symbols and arrows a new low freq sound. While she walks inside this electric hum sound in the dark. As she walks all of a sudden there is like a flash, like a camera flash, and then as she comes to the light and she is back into the past when they meet up for rehearsal for the first time, and she can she herself so, she freaks out. Devon goes to see who is wandering about. Then she starts walking off, there is a room tone 00.59.20, from the blur, Devon comes following, and as she walks off, and crosses a black curtain she starts running. She turns around as she is approaching Smithies house and she sees her husband at the other side of a window. “Klavier Concert” Soundtrack cue (I think) plays along
Devon starts running, the room tone is increasing in volume and richness, then she starts calling Billy, A strong light comes on as she runs into the door, looks back to her, her husband looking menacing she opens the door and closes it and the sound goes off as she closes the door. She tries to open the door but it’s locked. Then she looks through the window and Devon is there, she calls Billy, he is trying to look through the window but he can neither see her nor hear her.
Abruptly the tension sound goes away, and she is looking through the window and there is a garden, she is not at the studio anymore 01.01.05 bird singing sounds, she opens the door and there is some windy sound. She walks out, and look around and then she is back in we hear that windy sound again. Then some dark frequency sustained sound starts growing in the air, as she is walking around the house.
Winds and choir-like sound, as she gets into the bedroom she sees her husband getting into bed (camera shakes) and he switches off the lights. She walks off and keeps going around the house. She opens a door and a striding sound happens, a red light comes out of the room. 01.05.24 a hearth beat like sound (HB-S) starts growing into the atmosphere, she remembers Devon’s face in the first shooting of the Garden, and a striding sound comes again, as she fades out the memory HB-S goes louder.
She looks so disturbed 01.05.40 Electricity flashes and sounds, surprises and quite loud. At that moment the light changes to blue, and there is a bunch of women sitting in the shadow as some lights coming of lanterns illuminating her face randomly. HB-S carries on but slower beat. Prostitutes start asking her freaky questions, and she cries. 01.07.29 “Strange” soundtrack starts. Prostitutes tell her to close her eyes and when she opens them again she will see someone she knows. She does it when she opens her eyes; she is in the middle of a snowed street somewhere in Poland. These two prostitutes are just wearing summer clothes in the middle of the snow.
As the “strange soundtrack fades out this suspense sound comes in, as she closes her eyes, she comes back to one of the first scenes of the movie, this B&W record spinning, and then she sees the girl watching the TV static and crying as she sees the old record spinning and Nickki’s face suddenly looking at her. The girls start talking to her with a voice filter like white noise, she asks her if she wants to see, she must wear the watch, light a cigarette and push it back through the silk, fold the silk over and then look through the hole. 01.10.50 a bang sound, Back to colour and the room, this mad striding sounds go crazy, make you feel quite uncomfortable, then she looks up and sees herself, looking down to her. As this one turns her head back, at 01.11.21 HB-S is back then Prostitutes show her through the window, she looks, and there is a snowed street.
Change of Scene, She is back in the bed of the Smithies house sleeping along with her husband. A second later she is making breakfast in the kitchen.
Next scene: 01.13.06. She is coming back home at night; comes along, so melancholic. Then is suddenly daytime and she starts following the instructions she was given before by the girl in the record. She wears a golden clock that is there, lights up a cigarette and as she goes looking through the hole, this sound comes in, leading to a new scene. She sees the Polish girl with a man, having an argument, thereafter she sees a man that looks like her husband as a girl who does not show her face, and he leaves the house. The Fighting scene of the girl of the record comes back, she is getting beaten up by this guy, he might be her husband…
The guy like Nikki’s husband is waiting in the street looks like he is awaiting someone. It is 9.45 when somebody asks for time for him. Then back to the Polish girl crying while watching TV, and seeing this man waiting in the street. Back to the Rabbits, everything goes red and a fire appears in the wall like a match has been introduced in the wall and it burns but not burning anything it’s just there, you can hear the noise of fire (David loves also the sound of fire), and a train sound is there fading out in a reverberation distance. Then some wind-like sound comes along with the other rabbit coming to the room holding candles and waving them in the air.
Change of Scene: 01.17.25 the male rabbit is sitting at an office table, this HF hiss electricity sound is there. Then Nikki appears to be in a place with red curtains and a woman’s hand wearing red silk is waiving her to the direction she needs to follow. As she walks through the curtains, this suspense sound comes and goes as she goes through…
Next scene she is looking at some dirty stairs in an old building. She goes up the stairs. Slow background low freq ambience sound at very low volume. The rabbit is not a rabbit anymore. It is a man tapping the table as he reads a paper. Electricity noise is there again, he hears someone coming. There she is, with a screwdriver. Dark pad in the background, resonating menacing and stops as she sits down and starts telling the story, just the electricity sound is there. It looks that Nikkie is just impersonating the girl that was beaten up before. The man does not talk at all, he just listens.
She is back to the flat “The Secrets of the Life Tree” comes back briefly, she sees the cigarette in the ashtray. Then back talking to the prostitutes, a Train sound is back in as it passes.
Some hiss sound in the background and then the “Locomotion starts” as all the prostitutes start to dance a choreography and all of a sudden blackout.
After she announces to her husband that she is pregnant, she goes back to a room and all prostitutes are dancing to “At Last” from Etta James. As the song fades out into the new scene, Nikki is getting up of the bed in the middle of the night (song still fading out) and some background dark sounds at the background, very low volume… then she makes a call, the phone rings at the rabbit’s house. Then the rabbit picks up and she calls Billy.
Back to the room with that guy that listens and she is still confessing the story. The electricity noise is strongest than ever before. He asks her something for the first time. 01.29.0?? Abrupt change sound to New Scene at the back garden of a country house. You can hear the birds again, but also crows this time, and a windy disturbing sound It looks like there is a BBQ
01.41.11 “Walking on the Sky Soundtrack” starts along as she is back to the apartment with the prostitutes along, looking out of the hole. she leaves the apartment and drives to Devon’s house. She is got a key, she walks up and there is Billy wife, with the children, she calls her Susan. some bell sounds are in the background.
02.01.?? “Black tambourine” Soundtrack: in Hollywood boulevard
Prostitute laughs and scene changes back to the snowed street of Poland with all prostitutes standing outside and the “Novelette Conclusion” soundtrack starts along then back to Hollywood Boulevard, Susan is running around and finds a theatre and comes in, a Burlesque act is taking place with a kind of Jazz track.
She goes back where she was before, goes through the red curtains, talking to that weird man, telling about her husband leaving and she lost track of time doesn’t know what was before or after, or what will happen tomorrow. She is back on the street with the prostitutes that ask her where she has been. Someone is there… Then she goes back to watch this move, and prostitutes freak out and leave as “Novelette conclusion” comes back in, then Billy’s wife comes from her back takes the screwdriver and stab her and leaves running as the prostitutes do, like a stamped. She runs through the middle of the road and then she lands between a black woman sleeping on the street and a young Chinese girl taken by their shoulder by a very much older black guy.
02.23.?? Shooting is finish, as she stands up seems very much disturbed, out of herself, she is lost it. She leaves out on her dressing gum.