Do you like David Lynch? Me too. I’m pretty sure that Calvin Lee Reeder, Director of The Oregonian, the film that caused quite a stir at Sundance in 2011, is a big fan. As previously stated, I also enjoy a David Lynch picture although I am partial to his earlier, more accessible work if you want to call movies like Eraserhead and Blue Velvet accessible. I also do not have a problem with folks trying to push the boundaries of story telling, sensory perception and complex visual concepts, but what we have here is a failure to communicate.
Basic story line: The Oregonian (Lindsay Pulsipher) leaves her horse farm, gets into a car accident and then spends the remainder of the picture trying to find help for some injured people in said accident. She tries to figure out how she came to be on the farm, why she left and just who are the strange people that begin to appear to her throughout her knowledge quest. An overall circadian din of bat shit craziness ensues not limited to but including mind altering urination and a guest appearance by the bastard son of the Philly Fanatic (really).
First off, this film attacks your auditory senses. People walked out of the screening during Sundance, and after spending just ten minutes with the film I understood why. Glaring sound out of nowhere and then dead quiet followed by endless minutes of a drone or hum or static or a life monitor pulsing. The use of ultra-vibrant sound reminded me of YellowBrickRoad, but it’s more haphazard; less focused and without the same direct meaning. The sound serves to disorient and disturb as opposed to be an element of the story. That’s not to say that it bothered me. It’s wasn’t used as a jump scare device, but if you’re going to make one of the chief cinematic elements punchy, bull rushing sound please make its meaning more apparent and less of a robust audio mind fuck. There are two audio clips used repeatedly through the film that are worth mentioning: the Pomp and Circumstance March with gain levels set to overdrive and the Old 97’s meets Jewel in a reverb duel with just a hint of the Ravonettes.
The production value felt very old. I’m not entirely certain that Reeder was going for a retro film experience as much as he was trying to display something bleak; something cold. Having been to the Pacific Northwest on a few occasions I can tell you that the lighting and overall color tone felt honest to that experience. Of course in true grunge country fashion we have a pile of flannel shirts and jeans. The film tries to transcend time and there are more than a few occasions when you’ll be asking yourself if you left your DeLorean has enough gas to get you to 88 mph.
In true David Lynch fashion this film is nightmarish and seemingly non sequitur. Scene after scene offers shock followed by a completely different almost metaphorical parallel that I can only imagine was an attempt to connect the entire picture to the Oregonian’s psyche. I think they missed the boat on this. I think David Lynch misses his own boat sometimes so Reeder is in good company. That doesn’t make the random jump cut smiles and overdriven noise any less startling. I was left feeling very Lost Highway which pretty much means that I must not be smart enough to figure out what this film is trying to tell me, but at least I know the film is trying to tell me SOMETHING. It comes off like a bad game of telephone. I watched the film twice and that’s about all I could stand. Sometimes its just better to be ignorant of such things.
It’s nice to see Lindsay Pulsiphier get out of the True Blood crowd and stretch her legs. She does a fine job. Blood smeared across her face is a good look for someone that pale. Speaking of the blood, I enjoyed it. There’s not much to go around, but nice color. Nice consistency. You can tell a lot about movie just by knowing what visual quality they give their blood. The Oregonian loves contrast; that being the contrast between what you’re seeing and what the film is actually about. Something to watch out for: urine and all the colors there of. It’s a fairly startling image, but one that you might fine a bit humorous as well. No more on that as I don’t want to ruin it. Oh and one last warning, whatever you do, don’t eat an omelet before watching this movie. Just listen, okay?
The Oregonian fails to get its bug in my ear. The symbolism falls apart but hey, that might be great if you want to give it some serious analysis. It’s not a casually watched film which I think represents a good 85% of David Lynch’s work. Without a message the disturbing images might as well be short clips strung together from various music videos. Have you ever heard the Dead Kennedys’ song “Night of the Living Rednecks” in which Mr. Biafra proclaims, “Let me tell you about the last time I was in Portland,” and then goes on to churn a tale of strange bullying and violence as well as a general disregard for human well being? Well that’s just about what you might expect from The Oregonian. “And I thought, so this is Oregon, huh? Tolerant Oregon?”… I guess strange things come from Oregon; strange films too.