Monday, January 30, 2012

With “It” Being a Very David Lynchy Sense of Hollywood Tragedy

So there’s a singer named Lana Del Rey. Perhaps you’ve heard of her?

In the interest of full disclosure, I didn’t put this one together until Spencer alerted me to a particularly insightful comment on a Del Rey-centric Gawker post. But yeah — now that you mention it, she’s like a character who spiraled straight out of Mulholland Drive, hobbled onstage and started singing a little dirge ditty.


Consider this her name: Lana Del Rey, with the first name presumably intending to evoke the old Hollywood glamour of Lana Turner and the two-part last name skewing very Los Angeles — the Del Rey neighborhood of Culver City or Marina del Rey or Playa del Rey over on the far west side. That’s Lynchy in itself, if you think about his Los Angeles-focused Mulholland Drive period, but it’s also a trick he’s tried before: the FBI agent that Chris Isaak plays in Fire Walk With Me is Chet Desmond — half jazz musician Chet Baker and half Sunset Boulevard character Norma Desmond. (And that’s all ignoring those Hollywood stand-ins for Los Angeles, Chinatown’s Hollis and Evelyn Mulwray.)

In one sense, you could view Lana Del Rey as a Camilla Rhodes figure — the blonde on the top left, the girl whose dreams of show business success come true for no good reason. Like the character in Mulholland Drive, it has simply been deemed that “this is the girl,” without any real explanation. She’s selected by the powers that be to be the one basking in the spotlight instead of anyone else who might be more deserving of the attention. But on the other hand, there’s also a sense that Lana Del Rey is a version of Mulholland Drive’s Rebekah Del Rio — the woman on the bottom with the painted-on tears, the singer whose entire persona is an illusion. Think about it this way: In the Club Silencio scene in Mulholland Drive, Betty and Rita watch Rebekah sing on stage, and they’re incredibly moved by the performance. Before she can finishing singing her Spanish-language take on “Crying,” however, she falls to the ground, as if dead. The song continues anyway. Her whole thing — her presence on stage, her schtick as a singer, her song itself — doesn’t really need her. She’s just one part of an elaborate show. In my head, anyway, this works because her performance on Saturday Night Live revealed that the physical existence of Lana Del Rey, live and in person, pales in comparison to the reputation that precedes her. Watching her fumble through “Video Games” on SNL was sort of like watching her slump over dead on live TV, only we all knew that the song would keep playing no matter how lifeless she seemed.

Aside from all that, the lighting alone in this one shot I’ve found would totally make David Lynch smile. And, of course, if it turned out that Lana Del Rey were both Camilla Rhodes and Rebekeh Del Rio at the same time? That would make David Lynch even happier.

David Lynch, previously:

9 comments:

  1. I actually find this whole Lana Del Rey PhenomenonTM quite interesting, I have to say. Yes, I know her name, persona, etc., are "made up," but I can't help wondering if that's the point? I have to imagine most pop stars today are "fake" in the sense that the looks and personalities they display in public aren't the same as they are in private. (Ex: Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, etc.) Maybe Del Rey and her people decided to play up and even thumb their noses at that fact while also cashing in on it? Anyway, all that said, I can't help but find myself somewhat attracted to Del Rey (not that way, obviously) despite her rather terrible live performances.

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    1. Hey Bryan. For the purposes of my explanation, I'm adopting the voice of an indie-loving music snob who thinks that other genres are somehow "fake." (This, I understand, is a very Lana Del Rey way to go about doing this.)

      People are up in arms about this woman and her stage persona because she's attempting to Gaga indie rock. It's one thing to be a factory-processed, wholly manufactured singer in pop music -- like Lady Gaga or Katy Perry -- but the difference between those pop tarts and a singer or band that skews more towards indie is artistic credibility. Basically, someone that more or less fits into the "indie" category can boast a shred of artistic integrity and kind of gets to hold that above silly, substance-lacking pop singers whose target audience are idiotic teenagers that haven't learned to think properly yet. People who like pop music just aren't mature or intelligent. Indie stuff comes from a unique part of the music industry where the motivation isn't only economical: They're also doing this because they're good. And because this is a genre where singers like Amy Winehouse and Beth Ditto have become respected artists, it's insulting to think that Lana Del Rey's creators are going to doll her up in low-fi, edgy drag and expect that she'll succeed based on good looks alone. She doesn't have the talent to make it as a indie singer, and her existence is an outrage to my sensibilities.

      Okay, now I'm Drew again. That, my friend, is why people are angry. That's not to say that I don't on some level believe bits of what my "music snob" persona just said, but I agree that pretty much every singer projects a "curated" version of themselves when they go onstage. That said, Lana Del Rey does make for a handy way to express notions such as the conflicts between indie and mainstream, internet buzz and real talent, manufactured and authentic.

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    2. Oh, and aside from the divide between "real" singers and the Katy Perrys of the world, I'm hesitant to ascribe much agency to Lana Del Rey. Maybe time will prove me wrong, but I'm currently viewing her as a kind of industry marionette -- on the level with the various pop music icons and in a way that you don't see to this extent in the indie genre.

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    3. I guess I come from a different perspective, Drew, although I think I know why that is: I've never viewed Lana Del Rey as "indie;" rather, I've always viewed her more as "pop." Sure, she leans indie, and she's trying to fake indie, but I think she's pop at heart. As such, it's easy to see her and even appreciate her for what she is--or at least it is for me. Don't think I'm defending her because I'm some kind of huge fan, by the way; I rather like "Video Games," but that's about it. Also, as far as I can tell, she's got a one-note schtick--every dirge-like song of hers sounds eerily similar to me--and that doesn't much appeal to me. I guess we'll see shortly if she has the chops/talent to back up her quick burst of fame or if she fades away.

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    4. If someone were to ask me what, exactly, puts her in the indie category, I wouldn't have a great answer, honestly. But I've come to define indie artists as acts who could play at Coachella (in a non-headlining position and it wouldn't be weird) or would play on Morning Becomes Eclectic (which is the music-heavy NPR affiliate morning show here in LA, and it plays a pretty good spectrum of acts that are not Top 40). Regardless of what her sound is, Lana Del Rey is clearly being marketed at indie kids who, perhaps wanting to fill the tragic, deep-voiced songstress void left by the death of Amy Winehouse, would settle for Del Rey as a substitute.

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  2. Kyle MacLachlan10:02 AM

    You forgot to explain how Lana Del Ray relates to the tiny munching TV static people from Mulholland Drive -- oh wait, it can't be done BECAUSE THAT MOVIE IS SUCH RIDICULOUSLY OBTUSE SELF-FELLATIATING GARBAGE THAT IT IS PRACTICALLY A PARODY OF ITSELF.

    In all seriousness, you raise interesting points about this phenomenon and I generally agree with you, but I can't defend Mulholland Drive in any way. It's a fragment of a TV series made into a movie to defray the costs of a failed endeavour.

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    1. Personally, I love Mulholland Drive, and I think Lynch reworked that failed pilot into something rather profound, but I admit it's not for everyone. I learned long ago that it's pointless to convince people to see that movie from my perspective. That said, it's been very generative for me, as far as discussing art, film, music and literature go.

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  3. "Del Rey" actually just makes me think of the publisher of that name.

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    1. Well, I should probably note that my etymology of her name is just a guess -- or at best a reading of the connotations I think it has. I believe she picked up the name in Miami somewhere. Or at least that's the story she gives.

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