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Finding DumbLand

Down the rabbit hole with David Lynch

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Missoula-born film director David Lynch has resurfaced, and he’s now a weatherman. In the same spirit as Russ Thomas and Mark Heyka—well, sort of—he’s delivering daily weather reports from what looks like a dark jail cell somewhere in Southern California. “Not many clouds today,” he said one day recently, glancing back and forth from a web cam to, presumably, a window. “It’s warm. Very nice again outside Los Angeles,” Lynch reported.

Since releasing his last feature-length film, Mulholland Dr., in 2001, Lynch has been quiet on the directorial front. While he’s recently spent considerable time publicly stumping for his beloved practice of transcendental meditation (he’s donated $400,000 to building TM institutes across the country in the belief that widespread om-ing will engender world peace), his only public creative output has come online, at www.davidlynch.com. The site charges a $9.97 monthly subscription fee to access his short films and original music via streaming media, artwork, discussion forums and countless other oddities (like weather reports) coming straight from the director. Earlier this month, the site’s online store began selling a new DVD of Lynch’s latest project, DumbLand, a minimal and crudely animated (if not just crude altogether) collection of vignettes about a three-toothed, wife-beater-wearing ogre with a serious flatulence problem, and his family.

DumbLand doesn’t look like much, but for hungry Lynch fans it does provide some sustenance before his next big project is complete (he’s reportedly in post-production with INLAND EMPIRE, a digitally-filmed mystery starring Laura Dern already two years in the making). The eight episodes on the DumbLand DVD range from three to five minutes long and were entirely written, illustrated and scored by Lynch on his computer. Although the childlike line-drawing style isn’t nearly as aesthetically engaging as his films, the animated series is, at least, a more straightforward rendition of some of Lynch’s favorite symbolic targets, most notably small-town America and suburbia.

“DumbLand is a crude, stupid, violent, absurd series,” Lynch writes in the DVD’s opening disclaimer. “If it is funny, it is funny because we see the absurdity of it all.”

Randy is the head of DumbLand’s household, a cross between Homer Simpson, Beavis, Butt-Head and an ape, and he spends the majority of his time farting, watching television, cursing and hitting things. His wife squeaks and ticks like a haggard heroin addict in the second week of withdrawal and seems to exist solely to provide each episode with a character as annoying as a car alarm. Their son, Sparky, looks like a walking tadpole with big eyes and, as kids are wont to do, persistently repeats the obvious (“Get the stick! Get the stick! Get the stick!” and so on) until his father finally responds to him. Throughout the series, we see this white-trashy suburban family interacting with neighbors, the mailman, Randy’s intimidating mother-in-law and each other in relatively mundane activities.

In perhaps the most clearly conceived episode, “My Teeth are Bleeding,” the family is in their living room on a ho-hum evening. The traffic outside buzzes along, Randy watches wrestling on the television, the wife yaps incoherently across the room and Sparky jumps on a trampoline in the corner. The constant suburban static—on which Lynch thrives, as he did with “Twin Peaks” and Blue Velvet—is then ramped up to a hysterical crescendo. The traffic outside turns into a police chase, Sparky jumps so hard his teeth start bleeding, and the volume of the wife’s ranting peaks. Meanwhile, Randy, who spends the whole time just taking the scene in, gets sidetracked by a fly in the room and takes his frustration out on it. End of episode. As with most of Lynch’s work, there’s the impression that something almost poignant is lurking slightly below the surface, and he’d prefer if you figured it out on your own.

But Lynch’s disclaimer at the beginning of DumbLand suggests humor as much as meaning, and the series in fact contains some of his wry, sick slapstick. Randy’s long, ponderous pauses before inane knee-jerk reactions are the most reliable sources of laughter, but occasionally it’s the ridiculous one-liners, mostly without context, that steal the show. There’s the neighbor who announces over the fence, “I am a one-armed duck fucker”; the cowboy who explains over a beer that “sheep are fun to have around—and I like to kill them”; and Sparky’s mellowly-delivered news flash to his dad that “Uncle Bob bit his foot off.”

On its surface DumbLand could be taken as a mindless exercise in artistic ranting, re-kicking the anti-suburbia dead horse that Seth McFarland already adequately booted with “Family Guy” and “American Dad.” But McFarland never went as far as Lynch does here. Lynch has made his home on the edge—starting with the industrial daze of his debut, Eraserhead, and continuing through the puzzling dramatics of Mulholland Dr.—and DumbLand stakes its tent on a muddied corner of that same plot of land.

It’s not especially meaty, but Lynch fans don’t have much to choose from when it comes to new content. It’s DumbLand or weather reports, and as the Indy goes to press the latter is offering this message: “The Daily Report Will Return Soon.” One hopes more substantial work from Lynch will as well.

DumbLand is available on DVD at www.davidlynch.com for $27.52. Also available for purchase through the site is a remastered version of Eraserhead, and the newly repackaged Short Films of David Lynch. Lynch’s daily weather reports can be downloaded from his website for free.

arts@missoulanews.com

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