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Why ‘Hotel Room’ is the key to the work of David Lynch

April 11, 2015

Hotel room 3

For no reason in particular tonight I became obsessed with tracking down the introduction to David Lynch’s Hotel Room. Actually, now I come to write this sentence the particular reason presents itself without too much trouble – this was a short series made by Lynch in 1993 for HBO, the cable network whose long-time rival, Showtime, seemed set to pull off the miracle resurrection of Twin Peaks until just last week.

I love the introduction to Hotel Room. I mean, I love a lot of Lynch’s work, but I love this in particular, and in spite of the fact that the show itself is, you know, fine – all the limited aesthetic range of early ’90s TV that gave Twin Peaks its fuzzy transportive warmth and, well, none of that transportive warmth.

Lynch once said that Blue Velvet was “a song, and a texture”, and there is a richness to this introduction that makes it feel like something I should be able to put in the palm of my hand and stroke. It lays out a concept for the show so beautifully realised that it feels tactile – the anxious surges of Angelo Badalamenti’s music, the clipped boyscout notes of lynch himself.

What fold this into a perfect weighted whole for me is that the introduction is itself about capturing ideas, casting the evolution of cities and the construction of buildings – the kind of solid, industrial acts of creation that Lynch is drawn to repeatedly – as a process of pulling space from the air so that people might play out their mysterious dealings and dramas inside.

And this idea of the Hotel Room, a private performative space, a crossroads of human activity – a place we “pass through” – is a perfect Lynchian mix of drama and mystery. Of course Lynch loves hotel rooms, these borrowed stages in which we step out of our normal selves, where we might “brush up against the secret names of truth” (which, by the way, is a description so a-fizz with the textured, concentrated process of what Lynch’s work is about – showing us something essential and yet intangible – that it almost hurts).

These spaces wrought with public-private tension, with a loosening of the constraints of identity turn up all over Lynch’s work: John’s hospital quarters in the Elephant Man, a healing white space interrupted by gurning guided tours, Dorothy’s apartment in Blue Velvet, a stage of voyeurism and twisted sado-masochism, the Great Northern Hotel in Twin Peaks, Fred’s apartment in Lost Highway, a private place somehow permeated by an videotaping observer, and Betty’s aunt’s apartment in Mulholland Dr, which becomes the meeting ground for Betty, a would-be actress embarking on a life of becoming other people, and Rita, a star who’s lost herself and become someone else instead.

These are all different framings, stagings and sightings of the same idea – different rooms in the same hotel. And that’s why I love the introduction to Hotel Room so much, because it’s as close as we will ever get to Lynch saying “This is what my work is about” which is terrifically exciting even if – and because! – saying something is about “the secret names of truth” isn’t really saying what it’s about at all.

But watch it, though. And listen to it. And feel it. It’s wonderful.

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