Sunday, May 27, 2012

Clown Genius

There were these two guys I knew from school. Well, knew of. I wasn't friendly with either one of them. One was Ronny Sparks. Ronny spent much of sixth grade slouching and staring out from some remote location in his adolescent head. He'd make these intermittent sounds, a kind of m-boo! Gone unnoticed, he'd just make them progressively louder. I don't know if anyone ever noticed apart from me. I suppose there was a purpose to it. A form of vocal cutting, a sounding-off to prove to himself he was still there. He spoke slow, with no sense of humor and no real charm. The only reason I remember him at all was because of the vocalizing. He had thick light brown hair that stuck out like ornamental grass and a sprinkle of freckles. I also had freckles and was often appalled by the general quality of the other freckle-faced kids at school. He wasn't bad looking, Ronny, he just seemed to be lacking a certain social aspect. He would've been a great candidate for bullying. I don't know how much taunting he endured but I do have a memory of him facing some in class one day. His wounded voice and tone, the skin flexing around his eyes—well, it's stuck with me all these years. The subtle pain and desperation in his unskilled response were feelings clearly attached to a long cord, going back who knows how long. He might've had ADHD or borderline Aspergers or some such thing. In those days schools didn't analyze much, just pushed through. (Thanks to I see that Ronny would make a career in the navy. It appears his coping mechanism was the military-industrial-complex. Good for him.)

The other guy was Mark Weber. He had a gym locker next to mine in tenth grade. He was short and thick, hirsute, and undeodorized. He had hair that looked destined to fall out soon. For those who remember Dr. Demento, Mark was big fan—a telling point. He made an eight millimeter film for an assignment in our Social Studies class. Basically, it was a long batch of snippets of him doing mundane things along with random images all edited into a 60s quick-cut, headache panned, and whiplash close-up salad. The effect was a sort of artless slapdash surrealism, something a young Roger Corman might've done with a Fisher-Price camera and case of Red Bull. And when I say young Corman, I mean like in his kindergarten years. Apart from the editing, contentwise Mark's film style was remotely Lynchian. (According to Mark himself tells us he never married and has no kids. He loves magic trickery, became a "Druid Master and Ordained Minister," and is part of some vampire-costumed bard group. He's now bald and bearded in a way you'd expect from a Druid Master, Demento devotee, and garden gnome.

(While on the subject of Lynchian, here are two video winners of a Lynchian contest.)

Anyway, I suspect there is some Ronny Sparks and Mark Weber in David Lynch too. He too was an adolescent outsider, his cinematic quirks are too authentic for him not to be. If only Ronny and Mark had as much zany intelligence, charmingly awkward social skills, full shocks of rockabilly hair, and the ability to snag girlfriends like Isabella Rossellini. Besides his film geekiness, Lynch has an autistic's obsessiveness to detail. In a way he out Tarantino's Tarantino. And much unlike Mark and Ronny, Lynch was savvy enough to mold his quirks into industry success in quantities large enough to earn his own namesake adjective.

Lynch made his first film, Eraserhead, barely out of film school and with virtually no industry experience. He finessed the film out of pocket and with a $10,000 AFI grant along with the largess of family and friends—including a childhood pal who served as production designer who also happened to be Sissy Spacek's husband. Spacek was also one of his investors.    

After his essentially amateur film became a cult success, Lynch was awarded the opportunity to direct a big budget studio feature with a cast of stellar Brits, The Elephant Man (a critical and financial success and academy award nominee). He followed this with a ridiculously huge budgeted project, Dune (Lynch's claim that he lacked artistic control over this "obscenely homophobic" and ceremonious flop is given some credence by the fact of its Toto soundtrack). Besides being the creator of a number of highly successful films as well as acclaimed TV shows, Lynch also paints, draws comics, writes, designs nightclubs, and makes music.

The self-directed video for "Crazy Clown Time," the new single from the multi-talented director and songwriter David Lynch.

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