I’m going to hell for laughing at this. Really, there’s nothing funny about the desperation of young aspiring opera singers — or really any kind of musician — scrambling to get the cheese. Well, maybe a bit funny, in a black-comedy way. (As Homer Simpson says, it’s funny because I don’t know that guy.) The plot arc of hustle, failure, and desperation is the other great showbiz narrative — the Satanic inversion of A Star Is Born. You’ve all seen Sunset Boulevard. Desperation is cinematic, because it is so ripe with possibilities. The desperate also-ran, the has-been, the never-was, hanging by the director’s door; the hopes, the inevitable disappointment, and then . . . who knows? Where do these people come from? How did they get to this point? What innocent childish dreams did they nurture, only to see them crushed by the brutal indifference of evil men? And when those dreams are crushed, what dark energies will they release? Admit it: it’s a great story.
Among modern directors, David Lynch owns this bit of psychological real estate. Mulholland Drive wasn’t only about showbiz desperation, but that was part of what made it so awesome. This morning’s New York Times had a big review of Lynch’s new film, Inland Empire, which apparently covers the same ground. Every time a new David Lynch movie comes out (about once every five years), I feel like someone living in the 19th century getting ready to hear a new Wagner opera. Yes, I’m just that psyched. David Lynch is my co-pilot.
Anyway, while we’re all waiting until Dec. 29 for Inland Empire to be released nationally, enjoy this slice of genius Lynchiana, from Lost Highway. Fred is a free-jazz saxophonist. Fred suspects his wife has been stepping out on him. Fred is getting drunk at an LA party while his wife flirts with this shady porno-looking dude. Fred has been getting sent videotapes someone has been taking of him and his wife sleeping. Fred’s under a lot of pressure. And now this.
It’s worth noting that Fred’s tormentor is played by Robert Blake, who in real life may or may not have killed his wife, Bonnie Lee Bakley. A hustling bottom-feeder trawling for cash by sleeping with C-list celebrities, Bakley wanted to be in showbiz, and, failing that, just wanted to be around showbiz any way she could, and she died for it. Bakley stepped straight out of film noir. As Oscar Wilde said, life imitates art.