As regular readers of this blog will be aware and also hinted by the banner photograph at the top of this page I have always maintained an unhealthy infatuation with the work of Samuel Beckett. This week we began work on the first of two Beckett plays, Endgame, which started me reflecting on how I reacted when first encountering Beckett and how a very similar reaction was caused by another artist, this time working in cinema; namely American writer and director David Lynch.
Standing at this vantage, several years after initially encountering their work, I have to concede I now see as many differences as similarities between them and began to examine why I link these two artists in my mind at all. It would seem it can be isolated to the same feeling of a certain level of incomprehension, strongly associated with enough understanding to know, as Beckett puts it, ‘something is taking its course’ (Endgame: 98). Martin Esslin writing of the Theatre of the Absurd suggests;
‘The spectators see the happenings on the stage entirely from the outside, without ever understanding the full meaning of these strange patterns of events, as newly arrived visitors might watch life in a country of which they have not yet mastered the language.’ (5)
Both Beckett and Lynch engage with the seemingly darker elements of human experience which intersected greatly with my own particular aesthetic and philosophical tastes at the time. As an audience member their work still resonant strongly as those leanings remain with me. They both attempt to find the life within life, what lies beneath, the internal. They both create arresting interiors with unusual aesthetics, bare rooms with strange lightening and stranger characters. Lynch’s films and Beckett’s plays are always captivating in a linked visual sense.
Despite these surface similarities the deeper I look the more I find both artists differ significantly in process, form and content. Lynch, not unexpectedly considering his training as a painter, relies heavily on the visual and audio impact of his work, highly skilled cinematography married with innovative sound design and music. Beckett is much man of literature and language, it is with the use of the written word and speech that he is concerned. It is in the manipulation of language and the theatrical paradigm where his genius lies.
The form of each artist’s work is also markedly different. Beckett painstaking constructs both his prose writing and theatrical output with an exacting rigour, every word in its correct place. Nothing superfluous remains in his work. Lynch’s approach is much looser, being more concerned with the subconscious, stating that his ideas come to him from out of the ether in the form of images around which he then frames the narrative.
‘When you’re an artist, you pick up on certain things that are in the air. You just feel it. It’s not like you’re sitting down, thinking, ‘What can I do to really mess things up?’ You’re getting ideas, and then the ideas feed into a story, and the story takes shape. And if you’re honest about it and you’re thinking about characters and what they do, you now see that your ideas are about trouble. You’re feeling more depth, and you’re describing something that is going on in some way.’ (1997)
- The famous dancing dwarf of Copper’s Dream – Twin Peaks
Linked to this is the related issue of content. Critics from Adorno to Esslin have essentially argued either it is impossible to take any meaning from Beckett’s work or it has no singular meaning, forcing the audience member to assign their own interpretation onto the drama they have witnessed. In effect Beckett is challenging the audience to come up with their own meaning, if there is any. Lynch, on the other hand, always insists that there is a central coherent meaning to his work. There is a single true reading of his films. Evidence of this can be found by a list of clues issued with the DVD release of Mulholland Drive to help with interpretation. While I retain some doubts about whether Lynch is being completely honest here still the intention of creating a central meaning remains.
But returning to similarities in a broader sense Lynch seems to be heavily influenced by theatre, meta-theatre and performance in general. While these concerns permeate all his work striking examples exist in Mulholland drive and Inland Empire, whose central protagonists are actors within films slipping between perceived artifice and reality. This echoes Beckett’s meta-theatrical concerns as evident in, Endgame and Waiting for Godot amongst other dramatic works. Scenes of theatre, stages and performance are also central to many of Lynch’s cinematic and television output including Eraserhead, Blue Velvet, Twin Peaks, Mulholland drive and Inland Empire.
Dark suits and impressive hairstyles apart there is much to link as well as separate these two masters of their medium. Suffice to say I have taken great enjoyment from both of their weirdly dark, innovative, challenging approaches to creating art on stage and screen. I urge you to step into these strangely compelling worlds. Great rewards await you.
Beckett, Samuel. The Complete Dramatic Works. London: Faber and Faber, 1986. Print.
Esslin, Martin. The Theatre of the Absurd. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1961. Print.
Lynch, David. Lost Highway. Interview by Mikal Gilmore. Lynchnet.com. 6 Mar. 1997. Web. 2 Dec. 2012.
Lynch, David, dir. Mulholland Drive. Studio Canal. 2007. DVD.
Twin Peaks – Cooper’s Dream – Dance Of The Dream Man. Youtube.com. 9 Jul. 2012. Web. 2 Nov. 2012.