GOOD DAY TODAY: David Lynch Destabilises the Spectator
By Daniel Neofetou
Zero Books, 2012
93 Pages, $14.95 (buy it at Amazon)
The initial conceit of Neofetou’s Good Day Today is one that I inherently agree with, and one that I think should be considered in larger terms of not only film studies, but an understanding of how to watch movies in general. As a theoretical construct it was first introduced to me in Cinema and Sensation: French Film and the Art of Transgression by Martine Beugnet, a brilliant study of affect found in the mileu of the “new french extremity,” the art house mavericks Bruno Dumont, Philippe Grandrieux, Catherine Breillet, and so on. While Beugnet’s book does lose itself to a final chapter devoted to a Deleuzean study of film & embodiment that, in my opinion, adds nothing to the first two-thirds of the study, overall the book presents and articulates, with careful, pointed examples, what cinema can do for the spectator.
Neofetou’s book, while seemingly not indebted to Beugnet’s book at all (something that I would argue is, in a sense, unfortunate) takes certain theories that have formerly been applied only to experimental (non-narrative) cinema, and looks at David Lynch’s films within this context. His thesis is that these modes of cinema, particularly within the diegetic sway of a narrative & representational film, serve to–as the title would suggest– destabilise, disorient the spectator, the viewer of the film. As such, the book offers a very close reading of a number of Lynch’s films–though the titles of note are, of course, Inland Empire, Lost Highway & Mulholland Drive–& the scenes therein, showing the reader just exactly how Lynch manages to simultaneously play with affect while still insisting upon the “rules” of narrative/figurative/”realist” cinema to the point where when the rules are broken, we are destabilised not because said scene doesn’t make “sense,” but because the scene violates the inherent logic of the film & undermines the authority of an omniscient narrative position.
And the book does this well. Neofetou, throughout the book, takes examples from a number of canonical experimental films (Meshes of the Afternoon, Flaming Creatures, Gidal’s Epilogue) and compares their techniques to the techniques of certain scenes found in Lynch’s films, highlighting both the similarities between the scenes & the differences that arise out of the context of the films as a whole. There’s also a brilliant chapter near the end of the book dedicated to the idea of Lynch’s use of pop-music, absent dialog, and sound, that is a great chapter in its own capacity in looking at the way audio works toward the viewer in a cinematic exegesis.
Another strong point of the book is that within his examination of Lynch as a filmmaker who works with affect more than representation, Neofetou does an excellent job of both rejecting and explaining this rejection of the idea that Lynch’s films are “puzzles” to be solved–closed films where there is a literal solution. This, of course, is ridiculous, and a repeated mode of viewing that I personally find insufferable because, as Neofetou points out that Sontag mentions in her essay Against Interpretation, this mode of viewing “blinds [the spectator] to the work’s sensual facets”.
The book is not perfect, however, and there are two major faults that certainly don’t kill the book, but strike me as perhaps frustrating. The first being a short 7 page look at Lynch’s films through the eyes of the ‘Bechdel Test,’ ultimately considering accusations of Lynch’s films as misogynistic. Unfortunately the chapter ends up sounding apologetic instead of actually engaging with the idea, as its idea loses itself in a self-aware politically correct feedback loop that undermines any sort of look, thus rendering the chapter as blank space in terms of critical thought. I’m curious as to its place in the book, as there are repeated comments regarding Lynch’s ostensible a-political stance.
Which, in a way, leads to my other complaints–the subtitle of the book, the copy on the back, leads one to believe that after introducing (& proving) the idea that Lynch destabilises the spectator, there is little suggested beyond this in the text itself. There are a lot of directions that this could be taken, and the copy suggests that the book will take this idea in the direction that it helps to shake the politically hegemonic mode of representation, which helps to destabilise the idea of binary, simplicity, homogeneity.