Monday, 20 April 2009

David Lynch's Industrial Symphony No. 1

It begins with a phone conversation - a guy breaks up with his girl (both played by Nicholas Cage and Laura Dern who were making Wild At Heart at the time), then we are transported to a space filled with various detritus, where a floating angel (Julee Cruise) sings a lament, and below her a girl, naked save for black panties writhes about on a wrecked car...

Eccentric even by Lynchian standards, Industrial Symphony No. 1, subtitled The Dream of the Broken Hearted is a 50 minute piece of experimental theatre featuring songs from Julee Cruise's first two albums and various soundscapes by long time Lynch collaborator Angelo Badalamenti. The action filmed on stage features plenty of familiar Lynch iconography - pipes, bits of discarded metal, sinister light bulbs, and as a nod to Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks, a log that is sawed by none other than Michael J. Anderson who played The Man from Another Place in Twin Peaks. The songs are mostly exquisite - with Cruise's ethereal vocals given a dark power by Badalamenti's subtle post-rockish guitar licks. The songs are separated by short interludes of dark ambient washes of sound, and the atonal noise of machine guns and wailing sirens.

Industrial Symphony No. 1 premiered at the Brooklyn Academy of Music as a part of the New Music America Festival on November 10th 1989. As a piece of performance art Industrial Symphony No. 1 would have been quite an experience to see - there are at least two startling scenes - a 12ft skinless deer appears onstage, and towards the conclusion of the piece, dozens of naked baby dolls are eerily lowered from the ceiling. As a piece of film, its less successful, with its minimal lighting (mostly lit by spotlights) the visuals are often obscure and difficult to make out. It’s probably best to see the film in a darkened room to savor the various color filters and strobe effects.

Industrial Symphony No. 1 briefly made an appearance on VHS and laserdisc in the early 90's, before going out of print. The film is now once again available as part of the mammoth 10-DVD David Lynch retrospective The Lime Green Set.


  1. I did a lot of 'Lynch watching' for my dissertation at uni and managed to get a copy of this way back and I have to say it's my least favourite Lynch piece.
    To be fair I haven't seen it in 10 years, but I remember feeling that it felt too much like a vanity project (he was riding a pretty high wave of popularity back then) and even by Lynch's standards was wilfully obscure and obtuse to the point that the whole performance felt more like an endurance test than anything. Maybe, just maybe I should give it another go after 10 years of maturation?!

  2. I think you're absolutely right Phil, it really is a vanity project, but I thought it was fascinating nonetheless, another strange transmission from the Lynch universe. I must say I do like these kind of extra curricular activities of David Lynch, like the various albums of Lynch music (the droning Air Is On Fire is my favourite) and the new age-y spoken word thing Catching the Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness, and Creativity. For what it's worth Eraserhead is stil one of my all-time favourite films.

  3. Man, it's been YEARS since I've seen this. I picked up a copy on VHS about ten years ago and watched it more than was strictly necessary. As a piece of abstract theatre I found it fascinating. Like Phurious, maybe I too should check it out again to see how I feel about it. I'm currently going through a little Lynch phase at the moment and have been re-watching Twin Peaks. It has been heavenly! :)

  4. Yeah, I go thru phases of Lynch as well, I think that's how most people experience his films. My favourite Lynch is still Eraserhead and I doubt that will ever change - it's simply one of my all time favourite films, and a permanent fixture on any Desert Island Disc selection. In fact the only David Lynch film I don't really like is Lost Highway, the others I love, including the extraordinary Fire Walk With Me, which seems to get more extraordinary on each viewing. The one I need to revist soon is Inland Empire...

  5. I am a Lynch fan as well - fave: Blue Velvet, for many reasons. I would give this a go - as I love Julee Cruise's voice and Badalamenti's compositions. There is a really cool Blue Velvet retrospective documentary in the can, but the director seems to have gone off the rails in the editing room and the film sits uncompleted (for like three years now).

  6. Yep, what a combination - Laura Palmer's Theme is one of the most fantastic pieces of music ever crafted... That's a shame about the Blue Velvet documentary... magnificent film... I seem to remember a documentary in the works about The Keep that was due to be completed for the film's 30th anniversary but I don't think it ever surfaced...