Do you know who I like?
I like David Lynch. I like him a lot.
I hate his films, though. Hate them. I hate his films a lot.
I liked The Elephant Man and The Straight Story, I guess, but those are the least ‘Lynchian’ films.
So, it’s fair to say I don’t like David Lynch’s films.
But I do like David Lynch.
I like him a lot.
I like him as an artist, I don’t like his art, but I like his career. And here’s what I like about it. I think he’s progressive. I think he grows as a filmmaker and I think he keeps a certain vitality. His films remain provocative, original and challenging. I really wish I liked them, to be honest. The other things his films always are is contemporary. He’s an artist who lives and works in the now. No two films of his are particularly similar and he never seems to look backwards or even sideways. He marches ever onward, making his films in the now and moving on to the next.
As a consumer, I’m not even as progressive as Lynch is as a filmmaker. My favourite films remain those of the late seventies to the early nineties. My tastes are pretty simple and probably in a rut. Like how you imagine Jeremy Clarkson could dismiss any music since ELO disbanded and probably considers Def Leppard’s Hysteria as best exemplifying modern British music, that’s kind of me and film. I don’t understand why anyone would need to see the latest Judd Apatow defecation if they’ve never seen The Odd Couple.
I love my 70’s/80’s/90’s films. I’m still in love with Spielberg, Joe Dante, Ridley Scott, John Landis, James Cameron, the popcorn directors of my day. Incredibly, they’re all still working. Depressingly, they’ve all been a bit naff for a while.
Spielberg was progressive for a while, he moved away from the child-like wonder of his early films to a harder, more thoughtful, historical drama era – Schindler’s List, The Colour Purple, Empire of the Sun, Amistad, and then got a bit ploppy. The Terminal, War of the Worlds, Minority Report, Catch Me if You Can. Work that was beneath him, very average, mediocre films.
Joe Dante dropped off the radar, Matinee, Loony Tunes back in action, lots of TV stuff.
Ridley Scott got less and less interesting, developed a baffling infatuation with Russell Crowe and has been making rotten, overblown tripe with that big horrible ham for more than a decade now.
John Landis just vanished, although last year’s Burke and Hare was kind of a surprising gem of a film.
James Cameron found he had a heart and went from being the world’s greatest intelligent tough guy director to creating insanely overblown mawkish crap a la Titanic and Avatar.
That’s all OK. I’m not against decline. I don’t think they should be held to account for this. The mighty fall. Robert De Niro has fallen very far. He’s probably only one more ‘Fockers’sequel (‘Motherfockers’?) away from the Earth’s core right now. But they have to make their livings, it’s fine. Let’s be thankful for what they have given us. The early stuff, at least. We’ll always have the early stuff.
It started in 1997 and it seemed like a good idea. George Lucas, remember him? Before we hated him? George Lucas released a ‘special edition’ of Star Wars and we were all damned excited about it. Until we saw it. It was special, alright. He fucked it. He took the film we loved and tweaked, changed and CGI’d it until it lost all of the charm it has possessed. He told us that this is what he’d always intended it to be. Which made us like him a little less. The slight but palpable betrayal we feel when a friend acts so out of character, we realise they might not be the friend we thought they were.
A year later, John Landis decided to make a sequel to The Blues Brothers. 18 years after the first. The only sequel that had appeared so long after the first before this had been Psycho 2 and it hadn’t been Hitchcock’s idea – he was safely tucked up in his grave. Psycho 2 was actually rather good, as other people’s takes on original source material sometimes can be. The Blues Brothers 2000 (released 1998) was not good. Rather than emulate or build on the spirit of the original, it clutched desperately to match it, to beat it, an exercise in pointless overcompensation. The irreplaceable John Belushi was replaced by THREE men, John Goodman (who trusted and left to his own devices might have been a wonderful alternative, never replacement), the bloke from Terminator 2 and that most insidious of things – a precocious child. There were ghosts, voodoo queens, they all got turned into zombies at some point. It was horrible, and although it didn’t ruin the first film – how could it? It stained it a little. It was official canon. For a while, if you wanted to buy the original on DVD, you had to accept it’s tawdry little brother for free and you couldn’t throw it away because they shared a box and cover artwork. John Landis had the decency to not direct another film for 12 years and came back sharper. God Bless him.
George Lucas didn’t go away. He dug his heels in, folded his arms and declared to his slightly miffed devotees ‘if you didn’t like that, get a load of this’ and spent a decade making a trilogy of Star Wars prequels which seemed almost designed to urinate over all of our childhoods. ‘You like the enigmatic menace of Darth Vader?’ he shouted at us from his big hill ‘here he is as a fucking child!’ ‘Please, stop!’ we begged ‘You’re ruining it! Why do you want to ruin it?’ ‘BECAUSE IT’S MINE!’ he shouted back ‘Meet Jar-Jar Binks! BOOM! Boba Fett as a child! BAM! The Force? It’s not a mystical force, it’s a…. BACTERIA! Fuck it! KA-BOOM!’ He shat over everything that had once been good and then, as VHS moved to DVD and then on to BLU-RAY, petulantly refused to remaster the original trilogy as we had grown up with it. Refused to even let us have what we had fallen in love with as children. Even for money. And if this wasn’t bad enough, he had opened the floodgates. It was now OK for film-makers, now in their autumn years and long off the boil, to revisit the films that had made their names and digitally remove the charm.
Spielberg made a special edition of ET. Replacing the Eponymous character in many shots with a rubbish computer graphic version who looked like a cartoon turd. Has any animatronic character ever been as beautiful and believable as ET? Why replace that with an obvious cartoon? Anyway, he did, and then he digitally removed the guns from the chase sequence. The reason that ET made the bikes fly. Just took them out, replaced them with walkie talkies. Guns apparently seemed harsh now. Were Hitchcock alive today, he’d probably have replaced the knife in the shower scene with a banana. Probably.
Then Spielberg and Lucas decided to work together on exhuming and corpse-fucking Indiana Jones. A film which was ultimately not entirely awful but certainly pointless. Definitely pointless. Ironically the one film of this shameful period where directors decided to needlessly pilfer their own pasts, which was intelligent and worthy came from the most unexpected place. Rocky Balboa. Sylvester Stallone, who had done nothing but fill video shop walls with mindless, inoffensive beefcake for the best part of a quarter of a century, suddenly delivered one of the most perfect cinematic musings on the passing of time. Rocky Balboa, whilst by no means a perfect film, is one of the most thoughtful, devastating, philosophical and uplifting films that has graced a multiplex for decades. But that was a blip in this train crash.
Ridley Scott, probably one of the greatest commercial film directors ever, has been rubbish for a while now. His last groundbreaking, brilliant film was Thelma and Louise 20 years ago. You know what he’s making right now? A prequel to Alien. And you know what he’s doing next? A sequel to Blade Runner.
Oh, you poor misguided old men. Life moves ever forward. You must move with it. Don’t look back. Stop looking back.
A very long time ago, Thomas Wolfe wrote a book called ‘You Can’t Go Home Again’ about a writer who writes a novel about his hometown, only to upset its residents as his memories of it bore little relation to the reality. At the end of the book, the main character declares:
“You can’t go back home to your family, back home to your childhood … back home to a young man’s dreams of glory and of fame … back home to places in the country, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time — back home to the escapes of Time and Memory.”
The past should be left as is, there is a beauty in imperfection and a futility in trying to re-engage with the creative mind of so long ago. We change as people every day, so the markers, as dated and embarrassing as they may be, are important. Don’t fuck with them. I imagine George Lucas’s personal photo collection as being photoshopped to hell. CGI underpants covering his modesty in his bathtime baby photos, subtle muscle definition added to his gawky teenage frame, modern haircuts to replace his 1970’s shame. Maybe he’s just gone out, as a fully grown adult and reshot all of those photos, the originals consigned to the flames, never to be seen again.
You Can’t Go Home Again was actually published posthumously. Which is probably for the best, who knows what Wolfe might have done to it thirty years down the line.