Not Coming to a Theater Near You | 2006 in review

by Jenny Jediny

I don’t anticipate annual compilations anymore, perhaps in the same way I inwardly groan when anyone asks my plans for New Year’s Eve. This perfunctory gathering of thoughts, and the frustration when the past 300+ days simply doesn’t add up to old expectations. I saw good films this year, even great ones, but will refrain from a list that will mirror many of the ones posted already in print and online. Beyond this (short) list, the most memorable cinematic moment of 2006 was an amalgam of not merely a specific film, but the experience of watching it.

2006 began and ended with David Lynch taking unexpected residence in my brain. The early part of the year, I re-visited the town of Twin Peaks in preparation for this site’s exemplary examination of that seminal television series. Viewing the show, particularly the second season for the first time in over a decade, it was both pleasing and a bit startling to realize Lynch was the first director I recall from adolescence, when my auteur list was nothing more than Walt Disney and Steven Spielberg, (save that traumatizing experience of catching of The Seventh Seal on PBS). Considering this was circa 1991, we’ll just call it a period of saddle shoes and bobby socks, an appropriate outfit for viewing Mr. Lynch’s work, if not quite the right age.

But what is? The images are both as alluring and arcane as they were then; perhaps the difference lies in my reluctance to unpack them. I prefer the ambiguity, particularly when too many films I saw this year went out of their way to loudly trumpet their intentions to my dispassionate ear. Inland Empire belongs to the realm of John Cage piano pieces, its clunky, jagged images and its rhythm rising and falling, fascinating in moments and barely registering in the next. Multiple viewings help, if only to grasp a better memory of the images, while liberating the craving to unravel them.

Stepping away from Lynch for a moment, Jacques Rivette’s L’Amour fou was undeniably the best film for me not released this year. A prelude to the infamous thirteen hour Out 1, I was exhausted, frightened, and endlessly fascinated by Rivette’s play on fiction and non fiction, as well as the lead performance by Bulle Ogier, the paranoid, detached actress in the play within the film who quits moments into the opening rehearsal, and proceeds to spend the remaining four hours of the film contemplating her husband’s possible infidelity and her own role in their relationship to a nearly nauseating degree. Ogier’s performance mirrored Inland Empire’s Laura Dern, both a complex unraveling of persona. I doubt I will easily forget Dern’s manic ramblings on the weaknesses of men, her staggered, bloody walk down Hollywood Blvd., and her fluid changes between two, perhaps three characters in a film that ultimately depends on her performance, while simultaneously lauding her talent.

Lynch’s startling close-ups on Dern, with all their unflattering light and terrifying magnification, elicited my attention and wonder, as well as raised my interest in the changing state of digital filmmaking; it’s a dividing force, between those who embraced Lynch’s giddiness over his experimentation and those who found it almost self-indulgent, a near parody of the very essence of the director himself. It’s an understandable dividing line, and yet I have to admire the director who has managed to open himself up to reinvention after three decades of work.

The cyclical movement of Inland Empire folds back on itself as the film winds its way back to that hanging moment between Nikki and now a vision her another self, suggesting possibility, perhaps another wormhole, an alley that Nikki has yet to discover. This scene, and the feisty end credits (complete with the voice of the marvelous Nina Simone) tie together my overall experience watching Inland Empire; in a rather irrational way, the film draws out an emotional reaction I more often experience only through live music, where my rapt attention combines with an adrenaline high that I only wish accompanied me during so many other films, similar to the ones I’ve so often read about during the avant-garde and midnight screening madness of the 1960’s – 70’s. Despite any flaws (and I have yet to find any), Inland Empire stimulated my senses and my mind most strongly in ’06.