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Work of the Week: David Lynch’s ‘Fire (Pozar)’

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The filmmaker has released an animated short he made in 2015, in collaboration with composer Marek Zebrowski

I’m not prone to nightmares and can’t remember the last time I had one. But living in the weird societal mania of lockdown is its own kind of nightmare: the paranoid dance of people avoiding each other, the empty streets and sullen shops marked-up with two-metre warnings. And there’s no immediate prospect of waking up.

Which is why, paradoxically, an artist’s invented nightmare is a welcome break. Filmmaker David Lynch, himself keeping indoors at home in Los Angeles, this week released an animated short he made in 2015, in collaboration with composer Marek Zebrowski. Fire (Pozar) is a ten-minute descent into a recognisably Lynchian macabre – a wordless, angst-ridden string of consequences sparked by the lighting of a match by a tall, emaciated figure in a barren landscape. Loaded with the symbols of primal terror which seem to haunt Lynch’s work – fire, a house and a tree on a skyline, floating parts of bodies, orifices giving birth to misshapen monsters, and the sinister, destructive energy of nature. Zebrowski’s grating, angular score, meanwhile, harks back to an older era of avant-garde atonal expressionism.

Fire has the relentless, inescapable illogic of consequences of every worst nightmare. The conflagration set by the gaunt figure is countered by water; first in the form of a black rain falling on the burning landscape, and then in the shape of the tears of a hollow-eyed, open-mouthed figure (who might bear some family resemblance to Edvard Munch’s The Scream). As this creature fades away, a desolate view is populated by dancing, antlered anthropoids. A sense of anxiety and unstoppable disaster are the film’s abiding atmosphere.

Fire closes, just as it opened, with the scene framed by the proscenium arch of a theatre, or more likely, a cinema. Cinemas, as Lynch well knows, are where we (used to) go to exit normal life, entering into a space in which that normality is questioned, unpicked and reinterpreted – a place where what lies under its surface gets drawn up into full view. But one of the strangest aspects of civil confinement – ‘lockdown’ – is the experience of not experiencing normal social life for oneself; and how we are wholly enthralled, and (as in a nightmare) compelled, by images and messages broadcast from elsewhere. The difference is we don’t yet have a way out of our picture-house.

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