Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Lady Blue Shanghai (2010) A Short Film by David Lynch

Remember David Lynch's vehement disapproval of all things product placement in the past? Well, given that apparent sense of outrage at the notion of whoring one's art to the advertising industries, there is more than a strong whiff of hypocrisy at the crux of his latest short film endeavor, Lady Blue Shanghai, a project designated as a vehicle for Dior's new accessory line. In it, Marion Cotillard does her best Laura Dern "woman in trouble" impression by staring uncomfortably at a fogging, radiating purse in the middle of a Shanghai hotel room (blatant allusions to Mulholland Drive's blue box in its transportive, otherworldly power), inexplicably recalling past traumas (or are they peaceful memories?), and trudging through fantastical spaces in hysterical fits of emotion. Her spacey character eventually recites poetry (written by Lynch) in front of a pair of Chinese bellboys about the Oriental Pearl Tower, leading her to an epiphany involving a blue rose. If it sounds like a cheap entry-level tour through the wonderfully surreal sights and sounds of Lynch's oeuvre, that's because it really is. And with its jittery, unpolished, intimate digital video stamp, it comes closer to a 16-minute abbreviation of INLAND EMPIRE.

At first glance, the film appears to be fixated on a typically Lynchian universe of dark hallways, glowing patches of light, and stilted dialogue, as if this was really a passion project for Lynch to begin with that got tagged with a Dior purse late in the game. Yet there's also an overwhelming impression by the end that this is a mere novelty item whose lone motivating force is the appearance of an ominous Dior product in a few incarnations, the most prickly being an utterly gratuitous shot overlooking the Shanghai cityscape where a video billboard plays a bit that feels lifted straight from a more television-ready commercial. I can admire Lynch's ability to suffuse the mass market with his trademark sensibility (unsettling, dead-end dialogue, low-frequency drones, opaque narrative), but I wonder if it's worth it if it means downgrading it at the same time, sugarcoating his fine-tuned tics to fit into a nice "weird" envelope while simultaneously maintaining a degree of allure and trendiness, because, after all, this product has to sell. It's likely that Lynch had to update his bank account after a few years of inaccessible experimental work, which seems fair enough, but I would hate to see Lynch get stuck in a creative impasse. Of course, be sure to check out the film yourself over at Lady Dior's official website, and weigh in with your own thoughts.


K said...

This was painful to watch. Lynch is using the same tropes and images as always but they are so cheapened by this...there is no "mystery" or ambiguity - the product is the only mystery! And the dialogue and the poem itself are painfully bad. And Marillon Cotillard can't pull that role off, however short. This shows how "weird" and "alt" have become the most effective selling strategies, because this film is, in effect, no different than any other perfume ad I have seen recently. The whole thing is embarassing.

Loren Rosson III said...

Let's hope he's not selling out and will soon get back on track. I wouldn't have expected this from Lynch anymore than Kubrick, who never watered down to please the masses.

Ceci said...

I'm quite appalled at seeing this...I agree with K it is quite bad and painful to watch - the pretended poetry, the bag, Marion Cotillard's face, everything seems fake! (I have a personal dislike for Cotillard, I can't see her anymore, it's too much! French bias, surely... :)

I hope for Lynch this will be quickly forgotten!

Carson Lund said...

Thanks for the comments, guys!

K, I don't necessarily agree with your mention of the "pain" inflicted by this short. Sure, maybe the idea of it is somewhat irritating in the scope of Lynch's career, but I thought that it was a very tolerable viewing experience. I always like how Lynch can induce a mystery purely through the soundtrack, and switching from the eerie drone to the old-timey music was never less than compelling. I guess I just find Lynch's style so affecting that even his weak efforts are still interesting trifles.

Loren, I doubt Lynch is selling out. If so, this short would have looked a lot different. As it is, there's simply a sense of slight artistic compromise weighing it down. Don't expect Christian Dior's ghost to make a guest appearance in his next feature!

Ceci, and K, I would be careful not to put any blame on Cotillard, or say that she "can't pull the roll off". I think she's a strong actress but she was given weak material. Seriously, there is hardly any character personality, let alone progression, in this. Give her another shot in a Lynch feature and I think she could fit like a glove. Although, Ceci, I can't argue with French familiarity!