Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Over The Rainbow

David Lynch's fascination with sex is no secret. His films portray some of the most provocative sexual imagery in American cinema. But unlike standard Hollywood fare, sex in a Lynch film is not just an ecstatic physical sensation but "the key to some fantastic mystery in life". Lynch himself comments on how he sees sex as a "vast realm with many different levels, from lust and fearful, violent sex, to the real spiritual thing at the other end."

"It's like jazz: you can listen to one pop song just so many times, whereas jazz has so many variations. Sex should be like that. It can be the same tune, but there are many variations on it."

Out of all Lynch's films, Wild At Heart provides the most explicit exploration of the sexual relationship. But perhaps the most intriguing aspect to the film is the way Lynch colour codes the various sexual positions. It's as if in these various sex montages Lynch is seeking to create a tonal mapping of the sexual act.

We begin with RED.

In a Lynch film, RED indicates fantasy. Think of the association of Billy with the red lamp shades in Inland Empire or the red suit worn by the mysterious Man From Another Place in Twin Peaks. The passion of RED suggests the ecstacy of coming as close as possible to the fantasy object. In Lynch's mapping of sexual positions, RED is sex while sitting up, both partners facing each other. Since the sexual relationship can never be equal (there is always some sort of power imbalance or some sort of fantasmatic distance), RED is the closest sex can come to achieving an impossible equality with the least fantasmatic distance. Of course, the fantasmatic distance tends to reassert itself just before it breaks down.

When that occurs we have GREEN.

GREEN is an eroticisation of the sexual object. It places the object at a certain distance which enables us to enjoy it. The position also often entails looking up at the image in awe or admiration. In Wild At Heart, Lynch equates GREEN with the woman being on top, allowing the man to desire her at a distance.

The opposite of this position is BLUE, which depicts penetration from behind.

Whereas GREEN looks up at the object, BLUE looks down. In contrast to the presence evoked by GREEN's fantasmatic distance, BLUE recalls a sense of absence constitutive of desire itself. In some cases this position can be a response to the enigmatic desire of the Other. By enjoying the absence in the Other's desire one relieves oneself from the trauma of its unreadable presence.

What makes these scenes exceptional though is the way Lynch varies the degrees of shading and even mixes colours up. A blend of reds, oranges and greens often penetrate a white haze as depicted below.

The ambiguity of these filters perhaps indicates the relatively neutral status of the position they depict. The typical sexual act always involves a power imbalance and it usually favours the man on top. The white/yellowish haze registers this imbalance as standard while also invoking the influence of other shades. For example, Lynch shows an awareness of the fantasmatic distance involved in the woman's position here when he adds a slight dash of green on a close up of Lula's face.

What's most interesting about Wild At Heart's colour coding however are the connections to Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut. Kubrick famously revered Lynch, regarding Eraserhead as the one film he wished he had made, and it seems Lynch's artistic treatment of sex influenced Kubrick's sexual exploration in Eyes Wide Shut. A quote made by Lula after one sexual sequence ("Sailor, sometimes you just about take me right over that rainbow") is echoed in Eyes Wide Shut. When two beautiful women tempt Bill at Zigler's party they ask him "Don't you want to go where the rainbow ends?", while the dress shop Bill visits is named Rainbow Fashions. Kubrick even employs similar lighting to Wild At Heart with vibrant use of reds, yellows, greens and blues. The colours seem to draw as much from Christmas decorations as they do from the spectrum of the rainbow, and, indeed, both films share a connection in their references to Christmas: Lula tells a story about her cousin Dell who is obsessed with Christmas; Kubrick's film takes place during the holiday season and is replete with Christmas decorations. For both films Christmas works as a symbol of enjoyment while also suggesting the anxiety of achieving full enjoyment.

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