Directed by: David Lynch
Featuring: Laura Dern, Nicolas Cage, Julee Cruise, Michael J. Anderson, Josh Bell.
What is one to make of Industrial Symphony No. 1? The “story” begins with Laura Dern and Nicolas Cage on the phone with each other (they look they are dressed like Lula and Sailor, but I don’t think they’re really playing them). Cage breaks up with Dern, who cannot believe what she is hearing, and does not want to accept it. From there, we are transported to a stage – filled with strange, industrial machinery, where the bulk of the action will take place. Julee Cruise, a very talented singer, is playing the “dream self” of the heartbroken woman – and she’ll spend most of the rest of the movie singing love ballads to the one who broke her heart. The music was written by Angelo Badalamenti and Lynch, and features some music from Twin Peaks, as well as wholly original music.
The story of the movie is simple – and fits in with much of what Lynch has done before. He has often made films that spend time inside of dreams and nightmares. Here, he has a made a lament of a woman with a broken heart – and it features some beautiful, sad music, well performed by Cruise. Lynch and Badalamenti are among the best director/composer duos in film history – working together on every Lynch feature from Blue Velvet to Mulholland Dr. (as well as on Twin Peaks, and in various shorts, etc). The two are just in synch with each other – with Badalamenti’s haunted melodies a perfect fit for the dreamlike worlds created by Lynch, but whose music can turn equally dark and nightmarish. The best thing about Industrial Symphony No. 1 is the music.
The actual “movie” though is another story. It’s only 50 minutes long – and it was a filmed play, that was staged only twice in Brooklyn in 1989, before Lynch shot it and put it out of Laserdisc and VHS the following year. I have to give Lynch credit here – the film never just looks like a photographed play. Lynch tries very hard to make it all visually interesting by the way he shoots and edits it all together. But it’s not easy to make a stage play – especially one that is this visually dark – interesting when filmed, and Lynch doesn’t really succeed in doing so with the film.
Like much of Lynch’s non-feature work, Industrial Symphony No. 1 is never less than interesting, but also not quite satisfying. As an avant-garde stage experience, this may well have worked. As a film, it doesn’t. Yes, the music is haunting, and beautifully performed – and Lynch fans will enjoy it more than non-Lynch fans. But even for me, at 50 minutes, this one felt long – felt like it repeated itself too often - musically, visually and thematically. It’s a curiosity piece to be sure – but not much more.