There has been some talk on the web very recently in regards David Lynch. That he is the last and penultimate of our great, working filmmakers.
And this may well be true. But, of the critiques I read or listened to, I found the same pseudo-intellectual artspeak babble that so confuses art in all mediums. “He did this for this and that reason, the hidden narrative behind this is actually that, or at least how I interpret it”, etc. This sort of talk. Now ingrained so deeply in our relation to art, the “hidden narrative”, “open to interpretation“, we can’t accept good art at face value. Objective beauty, or in cinema’s case, objective engagement in storytelling.
But even to our best and brightest idealogues, cerebral art remains when everything alludes to something else, to hidden messages. That lynch is a genius because what he was saying in a certain part of Blue Velvet or Lost Highway, when in fact his genius lies more in his eye for catchy visuals, his understanding of his medium, and specifically his ability to piece together an interesting scene.
His storytelling skill, as perhaps best seen in Twin Peaks, lies in a refusal to tie up loose ends. He leaves the viewer hanging, story lines unresolved, and moves into a new distraction. It works in the sense of keeping the audience in a state of tension, and interest, although unfulfilled. But where he goes wrong, and we all know this, is when he abandons the story altogether to reverse characters, create random moments, and devolve into the abstract. He works best when an outside source, such as writers, force him to stick to the story, as is the case with Dune and Twin Peaks (writers Frost and Herbert). Even where these shows have weaknesses, they are complete and cohesive, whereas films such as Lost Highway, though they have memorable individual scenes, devolve into arthouse Modernism and a certain degree of wankery.
Lynch has that duality about him, part old-fashioned American art deco fan, part devotee of Francis Bacon (debased Modernist). But it his not his penchant for the abstract that makes him great. That is generally his weakness. If you follow his work (his solo work, unrestricted by writers) you see the early and great Wild at Heart, where he managed to keep closely enough to a coherent story, and then a gradual progression into more and more Francis-Bacon-abstraction until we have Inland Empire, which I personally fell asleep watching, which becomes just a series of disconnected scenes open for interpretation.
He is one of our greatest, but he works best when he is restrained from sacrificing the story for his every whim.