IN 1995, PBS ran a lavish ten-part documentary called American Cinema whose final episode was devoted to "The Edge of Hollywood" and the increasing influence of young independent filmmakers – the Coens, Carl Franklin, Q. Tarantino, et al. It was not just unfair, but bizarre, that David Lynch's name was never once mentioned in the episode, because his influence is all over these directors like white on rice. The Band-Aid on the neck of Pulp Fiction's Marcellus Wallace – unexplained, visually incongruous, and featured prominently in three separate setups – is textbook Lynch.
As are the long, self-consciously mundane dialogues on foot massages, pork bellies, TV pilots, etc. that punctuate Pulp Fiction's violence, a violence whose creepy-comic stylization is also Lynchian. The peculiar narrative tone of Tarantino's films – the thing that makes them seem at once strident and obscure, not-quite-clear in a haunting way – is Lynch's; Lynch invented this tone. It seems to me fair to say that the commercial
Hollywood phenomenon that is Mr. Quentin Tarantino would not exist without David Lynch as a touchstone, a set of allusive codes and contexts in the viewers midbrain. In a way, what Tarantino has done with the French New Wave and with Lynch is what Pat Boone did with rhythm and blues: He's found (ingeniously) a way to take what is ragged and distinctive and menacing about their work and homogenize it, churn it until it's smooth and cool and hygienic enough for mass consumption. Reservoir Dogs, for example, with its comically banal lunch chatter, creepily otiose code names, and intrusive soundtrack of campy pop from decades past, is a Lynch movie made commercial, i.e., fast, linear, and with what was idiosyncratically surreal now made fashionably (i.e., "hiply") surreal.
In Carl Franklin's powerful One False Move, his crucial decision to focus only on the faces of witnesses during violent scenes seems resoundingly Lynchian. So does the relentless, noir-parodic use of chiaroscuro lighting used in the Coens' Blood Simple and in all Jim Jarmusch's films . . . especially Jarmusch's 1984 Stranger Than Paradise, which, in terms of cinematography, blighted setting, wet-fuse pace, heavy dissolves between scenes, and a Bressonian style of acting that is at once manic and wooden, all but echoes Lynch's early work. One homage you've probably seen is Gus Van Sant's use of surreal dream scenes to develop River Phoenix's character in My Own Private Idaho. In the movie, the German john's creepy, expressionistic lip-sync number, using a handheld lamp as a microphone, comes off as a more or less explicit reference to Dean Stockwell's unforgettable lamp-sync scene in Blue Velvet. Or consider the granddaddy of inyour-ribs Blue Velvet references: the scene in Reservoir Dogs in which Michael Madsen, dancing to a cheesy '70s Top 40 tune, cuts off a hostage's ear – I mean, think about it.
None of this is to say that Lynch himself doesn't owe debts – to Hitchcock, to Cassavetes, to Robert Bresson and Maya Deren and Robert Wiene. But it is to say that Lynch has in many ways cleared and made arable the contemporary "anti"-Hollywood territory that Tarantino et al. are cash-cropping right now.