The James Clayton Column: Lend your ears to Herzog and Lynch

With maverick filmmakers Werner Herzog and David Lynch collaborating on My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done, James ponders what could come from this creative pairing in the future…

Ladies, gentleman and man-eating bears, lend me your ears. (When I’m finished with them I’ll leave them in a field on the outskirts of town. I suggest you get there quick before some nosey young man with an urge to play detective finds them, starts snooping and drags disturbing stuff out into the open.)

I have a film pitch for you and it goes straight on the list of ‘Films You Never Thought You’d See or Thought You’d Ever Want To See’. It’s a mash-up of concepts in the style of old composite monster flicks (Frankenstein Meets The Wolf-Man, Godzilla vs. The Smog Monster, etc.) featuring stunning Alaskan country scenery, terrifying hairdos, jarring ambient sound effects and astounding wildlife. It’s called ‘Grizzly Man Meets Eraserhead’ and it’s the love story of an excitable eco-warrior and a tormented young fellow confronted by carnivorous mammals and subconscious dread.

Not captivated? How about ‘Aguirre, Wrath of Mulholland Drive’, in which a crazy conquistador with delusions of divinity ends up in Hollywood and goes through two dream existences that ultimately come undone because no one can work out what the blue key means and who the dwarf with the prosthetic limbs is.

It’s a surreal quest for El Dorado in which no one finds gold, the Spanish Empire is beaten by the absurdity of the New World and where Klaus Kinski may not be what he seems. He’s just a lesbian fantasy projection, and in the end, monkeys and the scary tramp hiding behind the diner are going to get him.

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If that’s too much, try ‘The Curious Enigma of Kasper Hauser’s Blue Velvet Dungarees’, in which a young boy is raised in isolation by Dennis Hopper then abruptly freed from his dungeon and left to face the strange ways of suburban society in rural Germany. When they first meet the unenlightened man all he can say is, “Heineken?! Fuck that shit!”, which is an indication of just how hard they have to work to civilise the poor soul.

These may all seem farfetched and unlikely, but now that directors Werner Herzog and David Lynch are creative collaborators, there’s the slightest of slight chances that they could be realised and crafted for the consumption of arthouse cinema audiences.

The promising hint is there on the poster for the German director’s movie, My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done?, (now finally out in the UK) in the tag, “Presented by David Lynch”.

Admittedly, this just means that the director of Eraserhead and Dune is the producer and has a big enough name to help promote the flick. He and Herzog haven’t sat together cooking up a murder story, and Lynch isn’t credited for any writing or directing. Nevertheless, watch it through and you can feel the weird one’s presence in the movie, like a phantom filter on the Fitzcarraldo director’s San Diego-set Greek tragedy.

It’s like Werner Herzog has made a David Lynch film, and all the characters act like they’re in one (the doomed mother played by Grace Zabriskie is the scariest Lynch character since Blue Velvet‘s Frank Booth). It works brilliantly – a tale of darkness beneath the surface of sunny America, yet moulded by the Rescue Dawn helmer who brings his eye for the absurdity of reality (whereas Lynch is more devoted to the surrealism of nightmare non-reality).

In Michael Shannon, utterly astounding as the killer son Brad McCullum, you can see the sparking spirit of Klaus Kinski and parallels to other Herzog protagonists possessed by inner turmoil and in conflict with their environment. Where previous central characters have attempted to haul steamships over South American mountains or reach El Dorado, in My Son, My Son… McCullum is moved by an inner voice to reject God (manifest in a box of Puritan Oatmeal) and murder his overbearing mother.

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Herr Herzog is always worth watching anyway, but there’s something very interesting in this odd venture and I’d like to see more. I don’t know if the director of My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done? was actively trying to impress his producer by making a Lynchian flick, but regardless, the combination of two highly unique visionaries is appealing.

Initially, they seem like odd bedfellows. One’s a bleak European who believes that the universe is cruel, unhappy and chaotically indifferent, whereas the other is a bizarre American with floppy hair and sidelines in transcendental meditation and coffee.

Nevertheless, dwell on it deeper and take My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done? as a sample of the sort of affecting madness that could result and you see that great things could come from the continued collaboration of the strange couple.

They could be like Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez for pretentious film students and the über-sophisto arthouse crowd. Even if the Grindhouse-style B-movie fantasy mash-ups I listed above are unlikely and idiotic (except Grizzly Man Meets Eraserhead. That’s a keeper) I see invigorating and exciting outcomes coming from this unholy union of auteurs.

This paragraph contains an iguana dancing with a roast chicken dinner. I have no idea what this means or symbolises.

Perhaps the best way to proceed with this filmmaking relationship would be for Lynch to return the tribute and make his ‘Werner Herzog film’. It’d be nice to see the man behind Wild At Heart and Twin Peaks make a nature documentary like Grizzly Man or Encounters At The End Of The World.

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I can see it now: a landscape of flamingos stood silently, looking strangely artificial and plastic while constant churning industrial sounds provide the aural backdrop. Grace Zabriskie then shows up with a terrifying, overzealous smile, screams, “I’m in love with my animal friends!” and hugs one of the big birds. In return, the assaulted flamingo pecks her ear off.

Ah, now we’re straying into the world of fiction and repressed subconscious desires (while watching My Son, My Son… I just wanted something to take away Zabriskie. Every time I close my eyes I see her haunting horror smile).

Forget documentaries. Let’s have Lynch’s remake of Fitzcarraldo where an opera enthusiast tries to bring classical music to the rainforest. It turns out to be a futile endeavour because Dennis Hopper has already chopped off everyone’s ears.

Maybe I shouldn’t watch these obscure, deeply disorientating movies.

Here, you can have your ears back. My inner voice is telling me to stop this lunacy, leave you be and go and find comfort by hugging the man-eating bear in the backyard.

James’ previous column can be found here.

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James’ movie-spoof comic strips are right here.