None of the extras on INLAND EMPIRE unknot the movie’s mysteries, but they do make one thing window-clear: David Lynch loves – loves – shooting on digital video. Spirit fingers working overtime, the director tirelessly preaches the post-analog gospel across a clutch of interviews. “Film is beautiful, but I would die to go that slow again,” he tells fellow DV acolyte Mike Figgis. “I’m never going back.” Lightweight and cost-effective, consumer digi-cams make movie-craft “available to a far greater number of people,” the director explains elsewhere on the DVD to a rapt French audience. “Stories that would never have been able to be told will now be told...”
But whether they should be told is a whole other matter. Self-financed, self-distributed and self-shot (on a Sony PD-150), INLAND EMPIRE proves the freedoms of the New Digital Age to be a mixed blessing. On the one hand, this is the most challenging, convention-rattling opus Lynch has ever conceived. On the other, it feels like three hours of a wayward genius messing about with his favourite new toy. After the inflamed, sustained intensity of Mulholland Drive (whose fixations on fluid identities and Tinseltown’s underbelly are echoed again here), this film gives off the clinical chill of an experimental exercise.
Scripted on the fly, the overall effect of IE’s non sequitur-fuelled, longueur-heavy (enough with the corridor tracking shots!) anti-narrative is numbing, narcotic. Nonetheless, it still flickers with cracked brilliance, from insidious soundscape to bunny-suited sitcom. But it vexes that the extras on this two-discer are so auteur-oriented when the film’s arguable linchpin is Laura Dern. Playing an actress whose new role sends her crashing through a series of fractured realities (segueing in an eye-blink from Hollywood to Poland and back again), Dern’s turn runs the gamut: embittered, watchful, fearful, frightening... The star’s spoken of the joys of DV (faster set-ups, longer takes – see the interview, right), which have plainly fed back into her Oscar-overlooked tour-de-force. Going digital may allow maverick movie-makers to indulge themselves to the hilt, but those fuzzy visuals can also bring an underrated actor into sharper focus.