Cinema, Disappearance and Scale in David Lynch’s Inland Empire

Inland Empire

In the lead-up to and long shadow following cinema’s centenary in 1995, film has increasingly been understood and defined in terms of its disappearance or demise. Over the past decade, film studies conferences have been regularly peppered with papers on cinema’s passing, journals have run special issues on the medium’s anticipated death, and leading film theorists have bookended their publications with critical reflections on the demise of celluloid, cinema’s precarious and/or unknown future in the digital era, and on the future of film theory itself as a discipline. Cinema, the very idea of cinema, has become seemingly inseparable from the image and idea of its disappearance.

Certainly there is no question that cinema has transformed in significant ways in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Cinema has dispersed into other media forms more dramatically and substantially than it has done during other periods of technological change, and what we commonly think of as films or movies have left the cinema theatre for other venues and media forms at a startling rate. As celluloid loses its status as the primary form of moving image production, distribution and exhibition, film theory’s assumed object has become less and less anchored in what has increasingly been understood as its material base—the photochemical image and its theatrical projection.

No less significantly, the last decade has highlighted the precarious life of celluloid itself, as issues around film preservation and archiving have become pressing concerns. Vulnerable to both time and touch, films themselves undergo their own forms of disappearance and decay, each celluloid print always in the process of disappearing, its surface carrying the history of its storage and its projections. [1] Cinema, so often discussed in terms of its origins in and relation to secular magic, now seems to be performing its own vanishing act. And as with all good vanishing acts, its disappearance—real or imagined—leaves its audience pondering what it was that they actually saw.

Not surprisingly, much of the discussion around film and cinema’s proclaimed disappearance in contemporary film and media theory has revolved around identifying what is vanishing. Are we primarily dealing with the demise of a specific form of moving image production (lens-based cameras and the photochemical, analogue, image)? [2] The waning of a cultural form (principally narrative-based cinema)? Or are we also dealing with the demise of a form of spectatorship and particular kinds of affective investments—forms of spectatorship that have largely been based in theatrical cinemagoing? Identifying the deceased has been a central concern in many of the critical discussions that have either proclaimed cinema’s (pending) death or responded to such claims and, in the process, ontological debates around cinematic specificity have become increasingly significant. As D.N. Rodowick has commented in his book The Virtual Life of Film, this (re)turn to questions of cinematic specificity has not only brought a renewed attention to the question that has so often been at the heart of film theory – the question, that is, of what is cinema? – but has increasingly posed that question in the past tense, asking instead what was cinema? (p.31).

What is it about the very idea of cinema’s disappearance—regardless, for the moment, of whether that disappearance is pending, past or imagined –that has been, and indeed continues to be, so enthralling for film theorists and filmmakers alike? After all, during the same period that cinema’s disappearance has been heralded and mourned, television has undergone changes just as radical, and just as far reaching, as those that have affected cinema. The demise of broadcast television—the passing of television as we have known it—has, however, failed to capture the imagination in the same way as the idea of film’s disappearance. Part of the fascination with the idea of film passing lies in the very possibility, the scandal, of the projected image being stopped in its track, the flickering play of light and movement being arrested and extinguished. As transfixing as the projection of burning celluloid caught in the projector’s gate or a close-up that hovers at a limit point between motion and stasis, cinema’s disappearance foregrounds the immateriality of the film image. But cinema’s (imagined) demise is intertwined with ideas of cinematic scale: cinema’s passing is also understood as the passing of a particular experience of scale—the experience of being before an image, and a screen, that is bigger than us.

Regardless of whether one understands cinema as fading, as already a thing of the past, or as mutating into other moving-image forms and practices, there is little question that it has become increasingly intertwined with the idea or image of its own disappearance. Here I want to shift the focus from the disappearance of cinema to the place of disappearance in cinema or, at least, the place of disappearance in a particular idea or experience of cinema. How might (the possibility of) cinema’s disappearance—and the critical discussion and debate that has taken place around the idea of its disappearance – enable us to better understand cinema’s relation to disappearance? And how might it enable an understanding of the forms of disappearance that characterise particular experiences of cinema?

Rodowick writes that “periods of technological change are always interesting for film theory because the films themselves tend to stage its primary question: What is cinema?” (p.28). One may well argue, of course, that one’s own take on and interest in the question what is cinema? will inevitably determine which films one sees as staging and engaging with this question. Rodowick, for instance, discusses a cycle of popular Hollywood films from the late 1990s that thematically addressed the relations between the digital and the analogue image, such as The Matrix (Larry & Andy Wachowski, US, 1999) and eXistenZ (David Cronenberg, Canada/UK, 1999). [3] My interest here lies with a film that also stages the same question, and answers it by aligning cinema with a particular kind of spectatorial experience.

David Lynch’s Inland Empire (US/France/Poland, 2006), produced nearly a decade after the films that Rodowick discusses in the opening chapter of his book, aligns cinema with a form of spectatorship that is characterised by a sensation of disappearance. My interest in this film is not in terms of its place in Lynch’s œuvre. What intrigues me most is the way that it summons cinema as (to borrow Rodowick’s phrase) a “modality of desire” that is characterised first and foremost by aphanasis, a Lacanian term for the disappearance or fading of the subject. In Inland Empire, the spectator finds him/herself drawn to a blind field—a space that one can look at but that cannot look back at you—a spectatorial space that is primarily constituted by the film’s engagement with ideas of cinematic scale.

Inland Empire situates itself on the fringes of the film industry as well as on the fringes of what we think of as cinema. Running for an uncomfortably long three hours, calling for repeated viewings, and slipping over into additional scenes on Lynch’s website and on the DVD release (also incorporating earlier short films by Lynch that were posted on and made for his website), Inland Empire also largely bypassed the traditional theatrical exhibition route with Lynch distributing the film and DVD (at least in the US and Canada) himself. It is also the first film that Lynch has shot entirely in digital video. And while Lynch’s decision to shift to digital is certainly significant, more interesting is the kind of camera he used. Rather than turning to high-end digital video for this project, Lynch used a low-resolution domestic quality camera. As Amy Taubin writes in her essay, “The Big Rupture: David Lynch, Richard Kelly, and the New Cinematic Gestalt”:

Lynch shot the film on a PD-150, which is not merely an outdated low-end digital camera but one that doesn’t run at 24p (a mode designed to deliver an image that looks somewhat like film). The PD-150 produces images that look like nothing but video. The visuals in Inland Empire look as if they’re decomposing before your eyes, as if any minute they are going to disappear into a void, and the extreme lighting adds to the effect of the film’s porous borders. [4]

Lynch transferred the digital files to 35mm and, while the PD-150 may produce images that look like nothing but video, the visual terrain of Inland Empire has a tremulous richness—not so much in intensity of colour, but in vibration and texture. As Dennis Lim writes in his review of the film: “Lynch makes little attempt to disguise the harshness of the medium—its pixels, flickers, and shadows – and the unconditional embrace means his DV images are about as tactile as his celluloid ones”. [5] Lynch himself has explained his choice of camera as being based in part on the way that it could produce an image similar to 1930s Hollywood films with their low-grade emulsion. [6] Whatever the intention, the result is a rich but precarious image, hovering on the edge of legibility.

Inland Empire revolves around an actor, Nikki Grace (Laura Dern), and the tumultuous journey of her performance in a film that bleeds into and out of both the film that we are seeing and the film being made. But the porous borders between story worlds do not end there: the film that is being made, On High in Blue Tomorrows, is itself ghosted by an earlier absent and unfinished work, 47. In familiar Lynch style, this journey sees the character unfold and fracture into various other characters and identities—with Dern’s diverse, split characters slipping, sliding and being flung between these various interlocking stories. “I thought of it as playing a broken or dismantled person, with these other people leaking out of her brain,” Dern said in a telephone interview. [7] And with a sizeable portion of the action taking place on/through Dern’s face as Nikki and the character she is to play in the film-within-the-film (Susan) and a host of other fractured characters hustle for appearance or find themselves thrown into visibility, this sense of people “leaking out of her brain” seems to be a particularly apt description of both Dern’s relation to her part and of Inland Empire itself.

While Inland Empire relentlessly refers to and dissipates into other media forms and positions itself on the margins of cinema in terms of both its modes of production and distribution and in its narrative form, it is nevertheless driven by a particular idea of cinema: in many respects what anchors it, what gives it a centre around and through which it fractures, loops, and dissipates, is precisely the idea of cinema that it summons—an idea of cinema that crucially involves ideas of scale and an experience of disappearance.

Certainly many critics have commented on the film’s relation to (ideas of) Hollywood cinema. In a roundtable discussion about the film with Peter Rist and Randolph Jordan, Donato Totaro comments that at “every point there’s always references to the cinema, to light, and to Hollywood itself.” [8] Others have commented on the film’s relation to earlier works about the passing of Hollywood—in particular, to Billy Wilder’s 1950 US Sunset Blvd. (see Shaffner, 286). Wilder’s film is one of the most well known of Hollywood ‘aging actress’ cycle—a cycle that plays out cinema’s (repeatedly) anticipated demise through the figure of the female star. This cycle is always, at some level, about cinema and light. [9]

In many respects, Inland Empire can be seen as the latest instalment in this long-running cycle. And as with so many of its predecessors—most notably Sunset Blvd. and What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (Robert Aldrich, US, 1963)the woman at the centre of this film, precarious though that centre may be, is a woman in trouble (and A Woman in Trouble is also, in fact, its official subtitle). As much a eulogy for cinema as a homage to film acting –and female performers in particular—the two are inextricably bound here and are bound through the ways that the latter has served to articulate an idea of cinema that is tied to an experience of scale. Cinema appears in this film as both a lost object and in, and as, its possible futures—when Dern/Nikki states early on in the film that “this is a story that happened yesterday but I know it’s tomorrow”, the story she is referring to could well be that which the film is telling about cinema itself.

In his recent book The Film Paintings of David Lynch, Alistair MacTaggart writes that Inland Empire

is a commentary upon and eulogy for Hollywood—a lover’s nostalgic lament for the passing of time as well as a manifesto for a renewed means of seeking to capture that essential aesthetic of cinematic dreaming that digital technology might also provide, if used imaginatively. [10]

While for MacTaggart what the film seeks to capture is the “essential aesthetic of cinematic dreaming”, what interests me is the way that the experience of cinema that it offers is a sensation of disappearance crucially tied to an idea of cinematic scale. Here cinema is inseparable from disappearance and, in this respect, it is not only a commentary on the disappearance of cinema but also on the ways in which cinema—cinema as we have known it and cinema as we may yet experience it in its new and possible forms—can offer a particular experience/sensation of disappearance.

Like its predecessor Sunset Blvd., Inland Empire summons and stages cinema through a seemingly endless array of what I would describe as spectatorial scenes, in which characters are depicted watching scenes and events that they do not always comprehend. Psychic precariousness is staged and narrative precariousness produced through scenes of spectatorship in which characters and their doubles are relentlessly hailed by—or find themselves located within—a blind field, a space that cannot see into or call towards its bordering space. This is largely achieved through the way it uses the shot/reverse shot structure. In scene after scene, Nikki fractures into versions of herself and versions of her character that she does not recognise in sequences that seem to endlessly delay or trouble a reverse shot. This dynamic is established in opening scene when Nikki is visited by the mysterious so-called neighbour (Grace Zabriskie). In scene after scene, Nikki fractures into versions of herself and versions of her character that she does not recognise, in sequences that seem to endlessly delay or trouble a reverse shot. This dynamic is established in the opening scene when Nikki is visited by the mysterious “neighbour” (Grace Zabriskie). After a number of shot/reverse shots of the two women’s faces in distorted close-up, we move to a close-up of Nikki’s face as she turns to look at the place where (she is told) she will be sitting tomorrow. Nikki slowly turns her head and looks off-screen, and this look is answered by a long shot of Nikki and some of her friends seated on a sofa in the far distance of the palatial room. The shot/reverse shot structure here serves to fracture any sense of a coherent narrative space or time, instead throwing our attention to the blind fieldthat it traces. This establishes the particular shot/reverse shot structure or logic that the film will be structured around, one in which the reverse shot always problematises the ‘here’ of the shot. [11]

One of the most striking features of Inland Empire is its excessive use of facial close-ups in tandem with its shot/reverse shots—two of the most recognisable features of classical Hollywood cinema. But this is striking because of the ways that the film renders both uncanny—in many ways these techniques seem to be saying to the spectator much the same thing that Nikki/Susan says to those that she comes across in her space/time travels: “Look at me and tell me if you’ve known me before” (a request that is usually met with uninterested amusement in those to whom she addresses it). If the film’s shot/reverse shot sequences end up operating as something more like spectatorial scenes, it is in large part because the characters, or rather Dern’s characters, see themselves not seeing and not being seen—precisely because their gaze is not returned or, at least, not returned in and from the spatio-temporal realm in which the character imagines she is located. The shot/reverse shot structure serves to map out a blind field: the characters’ experience of the visual field is one in which a return of the gaze is impossible. In these failed shot/reverse shots, Nikki/Susan becomes a spectator to her own non-recognition: she experiences herself as a stranger.

This effect is produced in various ways. The lack of any clear demarcation between the film being made, the film that haunts it and the film we are watching, plus the ways in which characters from one diegesis find themselves alongside or before characters from another diegesis, clearly play a role in displacing and refusing the shot/reverse shot structure’s familiar function of creating a coherent spatio-temporal realm. So, too, does the frequent use of close-up to medium or long shot in a shot/reverse shot sequence, with no establishing shot to ground the relations between the two. The resultant temporal disorientation of each of these aspects of the film—heightened by the frequent presence of a sonic hum throughout much of the proceedings that counters the sense of temporal direction in a shot—serves to create, as it were, a temporal blind fieldthat is constantly brought forward. This temporal blind field traces and activates spectatorial space as a space of disappearance – a space in which the spectator experiences him/herself as a stranger. [12]

Siegfried Kracauer discusses a similar kind of spectatorial estrangement in his writings on film reception and aesthetics. In both Theory of Film and History: The Last Things Before the Last, he repeatedly turned to what could be described as a spectatorial scene to lay out his arguments about –and understanding of—photographic vision and what he called “film experience”. This scene is neither a film scene nor an account or description of a social viewing experience, but rather a passage from Marcel Proust’s Guermantes Way in which Proust outlines the distinction between the photographic image and the memory image (a distinction that Kracauer goes on to complicate and critique). Nearly all discussions of Theory of Film have used this passage at some point to address various aspects of Kracauer’s work—in particular, his proposal of the redemptive capacity of photographic vision and the differences between his and Proust’s understandings of the relations between memory image and photograph. My concern is to draw out the affinity between film and disappearance that underlies Kracauer’s discussion.

I was in the room, or rather I was not yet in the room since she was not aware of my presence … Of myself … there was present only the witness, the observer with a hat and travelling coat, the stranger who does not belong to the house, the photographer who has called to take a photograph of places which one will never see again. The process that mechanically occurred in my eyes when I caught sight of my grandmother was indeed a photograph. … I, for whom my grandmother was still myself, I who had never seen her save in my own soul, always at the same place in the past, through the transparent sheets of contiguous, overlapping memories, suddenly in our drawing room which formed part of a new world, that of time, saw, sitting on the sofa, beneath the lamp, red-faced, heavy and common, sick, lost in thought, following the lines of a book with eyes that seemed hardly sane, a dejected old woman whom I did not know. [13]

Kracauer refers to this passage no less than five times in Theory of Film, and returns to it again in his final, unfinished book, History: The Last Things Before the Last. [14]

If the passage from Proust seems uncannily cinematic, that is largely because it is organised around a kind of failed shot/reverse shot structure. It is the scene of a double disappearance: of both the object of vision (the image of the loved grandmother, the memory image, here being overwritten by the image of the grandmother as unrecognisable) and of the viewer (who experiences himself as a stranger—as being, quite simply, not in the picture).

If this scene serves to indicate what, for Kracauer, film viewing can entail and enable, then it would seem that disappearance—both the sensation of disappearance in and for the subject and the work of time itself in its relentless passing – is a central concern. This scene, revolving around (mis)recognition and estrangement, dramatises a form of spectatorship is fundamentally based in an experience of disappearance and invisibility.

At first view, few conceptions of spectatorship seem more alien to our understanding of the cinematic experience than this scene from Proust. If, as Rodowick has suggested, one of the hardest things to impart to students today is the idea of a cinema that is not predicated on the possibility of interactivity, then it would seem that what Kracauer finds in the Proust passage—a form of spectatorship in which the viewer experiences his or her own contingency, fading, and insignificance to or for the scene—would presumably be even more foreign. But even for those whose spectatorial mode (and pleasure) has been shaped by celluloid and theatrical cinema-going, the image of spectatorship that Kracauer evokes through this passage is unexpected, at least in terms of the more familiar theories of cinema spectatorship. This unfamiliarity is largely because (as Miriam Hansen and others have commented) the aesthetics of reception that Kracauer sketches here are at odds with—almost diametrically opposed to—the ways that cinema spectatorship has been theorised in the mainstream of spectatorship theory. Kracauer’s account of film reception is not based in a sensation of imaginary plenitude but, rather, in an experience of contingency—and this account is less unfamiliar to many of our experiences of cinema. The form of disappearance outlined is, for example, a recognised feature of the classical ‘woman’s film’ (as theorised, for instance, by Stanley Cavell). [15]

Kracauer’s interest in the Proust passage partly lies in the sensation of time that it describes, a disjunctive temporality that arises from the interruption or stalling of the anticipated exchange of looks. For it is not only the memory image of the loved grandmother (which is here overlaid with the photograph-like objective image) that is interrupted here. So too is the narrator’s image of himself. Proust’s pacing of the disclosure of the now unrecognisable (and all-too-recognisable) grandmother is complimented by Marcel’s own recognition of himself as another. Whereas the description of the grandmother follows the contours of an eye tracing its way over a readable image (“sitting on the sofa, beneath the lamp, red-faced, heavy and common, sick, lost in thought, following the lines of a book with eyes that seemed hardly sane, a dejected old woman”), the description of Marcel mimics the shutters of a camera, with Marcel appearing (to himself) in and as a series of poses and identities (not one of which, of course, is “loved grandson”).  Marcel appears first as witness, then as a more impartial observer, then a stranger and finally a photographer—one who (according to the photographic technology of the time) would him/herself become temporarily invisible, slipping behind the black sheet for the taking of the photograph itself. In this (non) exchange of looks, Marcel acquires the form of vision that characterises the outsider, the stranger, the exile. It is the vision of one who is not included in the picture, of one who sees only from a seemingly unbridgeable distance.

This passage, and its place in Kracauer’s understanding of the photographic media, has primarily been discussed in terms of its importance for understanding his conception of the photographic image and photographic vision. More specifically, it has been addressed in terms of his interest in the photochemical image’s inscription of an instant in time—its status as an indexical image—and the ways that this inscription entails and generates a form of temporal disjunction. As such, this scene –and its place in Kracauer’s work—is tied to understandings of the photochemical image as material trace. But this scene can also be regarded as staging the two aspects of the indexical image—the material trace (the aspect which has most dominated recent film theory debates) and deixis, the process (borrowed from linguistics) of ‘pointing’ to something beyond the frame of an immediate reference. In many respects, it is the latter that would seem to be of more significance. The grandmother appears in and as a close-up and, like the cinematic close-up, the grandmother-as-close-up seems to extend to the limits of the visual field. It is this relation between the close-up’s forms of deixis and the ways in which it can be mobilised in the shot/reverse shot structure to generate a sensation of disappearance in the spectator that Lynch’s film explores.

In her essay “The Close-Up: Scale and Detail in the Cinema”, Mary Ann Doane writes:

The close-up, more than other types of shots, demonstrates the deictic nature of the cinematic image, its inevitable indexicality. Mimicking the pointing finger, it requires no language and is not comparable to it. With the gesture of presenting its contents (making them actual), it supports the cinema’s aspiration to be the vehicle of presence. [16]

As Doane argues, in both classical and contemporary film theory debates there has been a tendency to treat “the close-up synchronically rather than diachronically, as stasis, as resistance to narrative linearity, as the vertical gateway to an almost irrecoverable depth behind the image.” This understanding of the close-up, she reminds us, “is more adequate to the memory of the film that to its experience. In memory, it is possible to believe that the gaze of the face in close-up is directed at me, whereas in reality, given the strictures of the classical cinema, it is more often caught up in a network of other gazes.” (p.97). As she argues, while the close-up is usually credited with the ability to “look at us”, to “extract its object from all spatiotemporal coordinates” and to constitute “a momentous pause in the temporal unfolding of the narrative’ (pp.97-98) in narrative cinema, close-ups are usually “mediated … by the lines of the force of the gaze” (p.104). In classical cinema the close-up (in particular the facial close-up) usually appears within a shot/reverse shot structure—even if that never fully resolves the force of the close-up.

In Inland Empire, classical cinema is frequently summoned but its structures are held suspended. The close-up is rarely anchored in the shot/reverse shot sequence because this does not serve to produce a coherent sense of narrative space or time. As a result, the “momentous pause”—or what I would describe as a temporal breach—associated with the memory and affective experience of the classical close-up plays a central role in the film’s temporal logic. Certainly, one could argue that the film’s broken shot/reverse shot structure serves to signal the fractured and fracturing identities and stories (the film’s form seems to be before all else themes and variations) and therefore that the close-ups (and their place in a thwarted shot/reverse shot structure) are primarily serving narrative ends. But, by fracturing narrative time and space into elsewheres and elsewhens, the resultant failure of these shot/reverse shots to constitute a coherent sense of time and space means that the space that the film most firmly and forcefully traces is a blind field, and it is to and in this blind field that the spectator must find a place/recognise him/herself.

Doane argues that one of the reasons why “the memory of and desire for the close-up as an autonomous entity [is] so overwhelmingly strong” (p.105) is based in “an implicit politics of cinematic scale, most visibly incarnated in the close-up” (p.105). “The experience of photogénie, of a cinéphilia intimately bound up with the practice of the close-up, is indissociable from the experience of the big screen, the ‘larger than life’ phenomenon of the cinema.” (p.105) It is here, I would suggest, that Inland Empire’s answer to the question what is cinema? can most clearly be sensed. Certainly questions of cinematic scale surface, in various ways, from start to finish. The film’s running time blows out our conventional sense of expected duration for both experimental and feature films, and the ways in which its low-end digital camera image has been transferred/blown up to a 35mm print troubles our sense of detail, image and screen scale.

In a particularly disturbing promotional image for the film, Dern is pictured sitting in medium shot on a chair, a lunch-box sized camera and Lynch’s forearm bearing down over her face as if preparing to undertake root-canal surgery: it is not only the marked lack of distance between this toy-like camera and Dern’s face that is disturbing in this production shot, but the fact that the camera is so much smaller than her face. The sheer scale of Dern’s performance (which grew out of a seventy-minute monologue Dern performed with Lynch—a production that was originally intended for the internet) also pushes to the limit our familiar understanding and expectations of (female) performance, even in the cycle which has granted more space to female screen performance than many others—the Hollywood aging actress films. In Inland Empire our sense of scale, of cinematic scale—and thereby our ability to locate a sense of our bodies in relation to the screen—is set adrift but, in the process, the very relations between cinema and an experience of scale come to the fore.

The deictic force of the close-up calls us to a space that is always precarious, highlighting the relations between an experience of scale and a sensation of time; in so doing, it also foregrounds spectatorial space. (As Doane writes: “The experience of photogénie, of a cinéphilia intimately bound up with the practice of the close-up, is indissociable from the experience of the big screen, the ‘larger than life’ phenomenon of the cinema” (p.105).) Through its use of the close-up and its troubling of the shot/reverse shot, Inland Empire ‘returns’ cinema as a particular experience of scale, one in which the spectator experiences his/her own dissolution and becoming before, and through, the series of oppositions that the cinematic close-up both mobilises and collapses – “the oppositions”, Doane writes, “between detail and totality, part and whole, microcosm and macrocosm, the miniature and the gigantic” (p.108), along with proximity and distance, and temporal movement and temporal arrest. That Inland Empire returns such an experience of cinema through a low grade DV image is perhaps not that surprising—as Lim writes in his review of the film for Cinema Scope, the “dingy video of Inland Empire is a world—and many millions of dollars—awayfrom the screensaver night skies of Michael Mann’s Miami Vice [2006]”; here, “video is to film as dreams, or nightmares, are to reality”. As with the closing scene of Sunset Blvd., cinema is inseparable from an experience of scale in which the spectator is held before a visual field that is always on the brink of disappearance, always about to give way to formlessness, always summoning a blind field.

I would like to thank Therese Davis for her valuable feedback on this essay and the two anonymous readers for their comments and suggestions for further research in this area.

[1] See Paolo Cherchi Usai, The Death of Cinema: History, Cultural Memory and the Digital Dark Age (London: British Film Institute, 2001). It is worth noting that this form of disappearance is not, of course, exclusive to celluloid film. Video, too, quietly disappears.  In Laura Marks’s essay “Loving a Disappearing Image” she discusses the ways that experimental film and video makers have used the fading of the image’s legibility as the basis for an aesthetic practice, producing films that foreground a “diminished visibility.” See Laura U. Marks, “Loving a Disappearing Image.” Cinémas: revue d’études cinématographiques/ Cinémas: Journal of Film Studies 8:1-2 (1997): pp.93-111.
[2] “To say that film is disappearing”, Rodowick writes, “means only that photochemical celluloid is starting to disappear as the medium for registering, distributing, and presenting images”. The Virtual Life of Film (London and Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2007), p. 10. Further references to this text appear as page numbers in brackets.
[3]Rodowick: “The digital versus the analog was the heart of narrative conflict in these films, as if cinema were fighting for its very aesthetic existence. The replacement of the analog world by a digital simulation functions here as an allegorical conflict wherein cinema struggles to reassert or redefine its identity in the face of a new representational technology that threatens to overwhelm it” (p.4).
[4] Amy Taubin, “The Big Rupture: David Lynch, Richard Kelly, and the New Cinematic Gestalt”, Film Comment 43.1 (Jan/Feb 2007): pp.54-59, 57.
[5] Dennis Lim, Review “Inland Empire (David Lynch, US/Poland/France),” Cinemascope 29 <>
[6] In relation to his use of this digital camera, Lynch has said: “The quality [of the digital image] reminds me of the films of the 1930s. In the early days, the emulsion wasn’t so good, so there was less information on the screen. The Sony PD result is a bit like that; it’s nowhere near high-def. And sometimes, in a frame, if there’s some question about what you’re seeing, or some dark corner, the mind can go dreaming. If everything is crystal clear in that frame, that’s what it is – that’s all it is. And high-def, unfortunately, is so crystal clear.” Cited in Anna Katharina Schaffner, “Fantasmatic Splittings and Destructive Desires: Lynch’s Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive, and Inland Empire,Forum for Modern Language Studies 45.2 (2009): pp.270-291, 282-83.
[7]Dennis Lim, “David Lynch Returns: Expect Moody Conditions, With Surreal Gusts,” New York Times, October 1 2006 <>
[8] Donato Totaro, Peter Rist and Randolph Jordan, “Roundtable on David Lynch’s Inland Empire Part 1 – The Independent Spirit,” Offscreen 13.9 (Sept. 30 2009) <>
[9] See Jodi Brooks, “The Lure of the Breach”, Screening the Past 22 (2007) and Brooks, “Performing Aging/Performance Crisis (for Norma Desmond, Baby Jane, Margo Channing, Sister George—and Myrtle),” in Figuring Age: Women, Bodies, Generations, ed. Kathleen Woodward (Bloomington & Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1999). Reprinted on-line at < >.
[10] Allister MacTaggart, The Film Paintings of David Lynch: Challenging Film Theory (Bristol and Chicago: Intellect/ Chicago University Press, 2010), p.142.
[11] The initial exploration of the ideas of the ‘here’ of the shot and the blind field within cinematic vision was undertaken by Pascal Bonitzer in the 1970s. See, for example, “Here: The Notion of the Shot and the Subject of Cinema” (trans. Bill Krohn), Film Reader 4 (1979), pp. 108-119.
[12] “The visual impact of Inland Empire is matched by one of Lynch’s most realised soundscapes. Most of the action is accompanied by a drone that occasionally resolves into sombre chords”. Dominic Power, “‘This is a Story That Happened Yesterday But I Know It’s Tomorrow’: David Lynch’s Inland Empire”, The Soundtrack 1.1 (2007): pp.53-55, 54.
[13]Siegfried Kracauer, Theory of Film: The Redemption of Physical Reality with an introduction by Miriam Bratu Hansen (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1997, p. 14
[14] Siegfried Kracauer, History: The Last Things Before the Last, completed by Paul Oskar Kristeller (Princeton: Markus Wiener Publishers, 1995).
[15] See Stanley Cavell’s discussion of Stella Dallas in his book Contesting Tears: The Hollywood Melodrama of the Unknown Woman (Chicago and London: Chicago University Press, 1996), Chapter 5.
[16] Mary Ann Doane, “The Close-Up: Scale and Detail in the Cinema”, Differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies 14 (Fall 2003):pp. 89-111, 93. Further references to this text appear as page numbers in brackets.

About the Author

Jodi Brooks

About the Authors

Jodi Brooks

Dr Jodi Brooks is Senior Lecturer in the School of English, Media and Performing Arts at University of New South Wales. Her essays have appeared in Screen, Continuum and Senses of Cinema.View all posts by Jodi Brooks →