9 August 2009

SURVEILLANCE (Dir. Jennifer Lynch, 2008, US/Germany) - 'There's only one way to unfold a note...'

Julia Ormond and Bill Pullman as benign FBI Agents in 'Surveillance'.

'Surveillance', the second film from Jennifer Chambers Lynch, the daughter of America's preeminent cinematic surrealist David Lynch, is a schizophrenic and demented hybrid of the road movie and serial killer sub genre. I haven't seen Jennifer Lynch's debut 'Boxing Helena' but the hysteria that enveloped the film on its release seemed to put a premature end to a career which hadn't even got started. Some films can be easily and quickly obscured by a vitriolic critical reception, relegating them to a kind of cinematic wasteland - such was the case with the controversial 'Boxing Helena'. I feel Jennifer Lynch was somewhat disadvantaged by two quite discriminating factors - her gender and status as David Lynch's daughter. Some critics have been unfair to judge her reputation on the basis of the one film which she directed. I would put forward the argument that to be able to fully appreciate her new film, it must be viewed in the context of her first feature yet the reviews have simply dismissed 'Boxing Helena' as a misstep, even a mistake. This seems like a fairly easy way of rejecting the mediocre films in a film makers oeuvre so that one can obsess over a select few, consequently canonizing anything and everything.

The influences of David Lynch are strikingly apparent in the offbeat tone - the film could have just easily been transformed into a pilot for a new Lynchian TV series or formed the basis for an extended Twin Peaks episode. The quirky mannerisms embodied in the other worldly FBI Agents of 'Twin Peaks' resurface in the figures of Julia Ormond and Bill Pullman who arrive at an unidentified town in Nebraska to investigate a series of grisly murders. Though the film is predictable, what I felt worked particularly well was the emphasis placed on the perceptive figure of an intelligent young girl who witnesses the brutal slaying of her family. In the midst of all the macabre killings, her quietly controlled confidence and resilience are impenetrable, underlining her superior intellect when compared to the incompetent adults around her. Another aspect of the film in terms of genre is the clear lineage it has with the noirish dimensions that permeate the best work of David Lynch. The unclouded intensity with which Lynch explored the motif of the doppelganger in both 'Lost Highway' and 'Mulholland Drive' also features prominently in 'Surveillance', generating an especially disturbing tone.

I still get Bill Pullman confused with another under rated American character actor, Bill Paxton.

Examining the trauma of an event from a series of differing perspectives is liable to challenge the expectations of the spectator. I'm not sure if we can continue to call this the 'Rashomon' effect considering Kurosawa's film was released in 1950. Nevertheless, I guess it's one of those euphemisms that sounds sophisticated and arty at the same time. Inter cutting via flashbacks as we listen to ambiguous personal testimonies it falls upon the audience to determine which of the eccentrically realised characters is the unreliable narrator. Both Ormond and Pullman are surprisingly on form as the two diligent FBI Agents - both have also collaborated with David Lynch before; Ormond in 'Inland Empire' and Pullman most famously in 'Lost Highway'. Though 'Surveillance' is a minor film, it seems to offer a view of America that is overly familiar but nevertheless prescient in its depiction of the unsaid tensions between children and adults.

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