The Short Films of David Lynch

A review of an obscure indie film (courtesy of HuluPlus’ choice selection of films from the Criterion Collection), some film history & Eric Michael Kochmer. Read on to find out why indie filmmakers should care. Every #TBT.


David Lynch is a rare thing: A surrealist director, who for a time, directed films funded by the mainstream production studios and produced by powerful players like Dino Delarentis and Mel Brooks. This doesn’t happen so much anymore but its more of a sign of the times than it is a fault in his art. In other words, Lynch never went Terry Gilliam on Hollywood (going completely over budget and out of control). Sure he had his failures (Dune, Lost Highway and Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me), but his success in film (Elephant Man, Blue Velvet, Wild at Heart, The Straight Story and Mullholland Drive) and television (Twin Peaks) surely overrides those slight errors. Truth is even some of these “failures” have turned into cult successes, so Lynch is a Hollywood success story. In recent years he’s been more focused on producing music and shooting short films. After putting up his own money for the fan favorite Inland Empire, he hasn’t made a feature film. That was almost ten years ago, but Showtime has announced that one of Lynch’s greatest mainstream accomplishments, Twin Peaks returning to television in 2016!!

davidGrandmother (1970) 34 minutes Color

The American Film Institute funded this film with a grant based on Lynch’s previous work. “Grandmother” is simply about a boy who lives with his dog-like parents who bark at him and beat him into the yellow spot on the bed. One day he finds a room above his room that looks exactly like his room. The room has a bag of seeds and on that very bed before him, he grows himself a grandmother. A grandmother who will comfort him from the dogs that bark and the bullies that beat. A grandmother who will love without question. This is Lynch true to form. At this point in his career this was the closest thing he had made to a feature film and honestly the material works so well he could have continued it. As it is, it’s perfect. There is no dialogue and all of the sound was recorded in post production by Lynch and Allen Splet, and the music and sound design was created by the band Tractor. Though it’s easy to label as abstract, this work is highly simple to grasp. Or at least like all of Lynch’s work, it’s easy to come away with an idea of what we were supposed to take away from it. Either way it takes you on a roller coaster of emotions like all of Lynch’s works, and leaves you in purgatory.

The Amputee (1974) 5 minutes and 12 seconds Black and White

While “Eraserhead” had to stop filming for financial reasons (one of the many times this occurred through the several years of it’s shooting), AFI was testing different 35mm black and white film stock and Lynch basically convinced them to let him help them test the film by making a 5 minute short in one take. It’s about a woman with no legs writing a letter while a nurse tends to her bandages. This is my least favorite piece.

alphabetThe Alphabet (1968) 4 minutes Color

This was his follow-up to “Six Men Getting Sick”. This is a nightmare of what the childhood is… kind of almost taking apart our most purist innocence and turning it over and showing a rotting piece of flesh. This is disturbing and childlike at the same time. That’s all there is to say.

The Premonition of An Evil Deed (1995) 1 minute 16 seconds Black and White

This was a project with 40 acclaimed film directors working with the Cinematographe, which was invented by the Lumiere brothers in the 1890’s. Most of the films in this project don’t work — but tell David Lynch to come up with something atmospheric and original and BAM. This film is like a black and white acid trip version of Ordinary People meets Invasion of the Body Snatchers with a touch of Bride of Frankenstein. Lynch has a great way of conveying a 1970’s punk rock sensibility through a 1915 lens. Literally. I’ve seen some of the other shorts that came out of this project… they don’t touch the master.