Undiluted Weirdness

Spelunking for the early or unreleased work of a filmmaker often isn't worth the effort. Not so with David Lynch, however, as the lovingly detailed DVD collection of his short films reveals. Previously only available through his website (www.davidlynch.com), this retrospective reveals that his trademark sensibilities emerged from his brain (or some other drippy, unimaginable alien orifice) fully realized from the very beginning. A warning, of sorts: Although essential to anyone with more than a passing interest in the director, viewing all six entries in a row may come at a headachy, nauseating price. For those who cherish Lynch's knack for infusing hackneyed conventions (Blue Velvet's boy-detective story, the seamy small-town underbelly of Twin Peaks, etc.) with an undercurrent of ineffable oddness, this collection may very well be too much of a good thing. If, however, your tastes run more toward the undiluted weirdness of Eraserhead, nirvana awaits.

Intercut with a typically flat, aw-shucks interview with the director, the program begins with 1966's art installment Six Men Getting Sick, a sparsely animated, intentionally irritating puke-o-rama that nevertheless declaims Lynch's enduring fascination with severe bodily distress. 1968's live-action/animation combo The Alphabet represents a considerable technical leap forward, with a central singsongy lullaby that would send even BOB himself running for the hills. Made on a grant from the American Film Institute, 1970's The Grandmother stands as Lynch's first masterpiece, an oozing deconstruction of family life that clearly prefigures Eraserhead, while also maintaining its own uniquely distressing identity.

After that early peak, unfortunately, things downgrade noticeably with the next two entries. Filmed on the fly as part of a videotape testing session, 1974's Amputee is a one-note sick joke saved only by the appearance of future Log Lady Catherine Coulson and some incredibly glorpy sound effects. Not even the estimable sight of Harry Dean Stanton in a beret, meanwhile, can rescue 1998's The Cowboy and the Frenchman, an overlong, barn-broad spoof that recalls the awkward Wild at Heart era when Lynch seemed to be imitating himself.

Thankfully, the crown jewel of the collection finishes things up in high style. Excerpted from 1996's Lumiere and Company, a decidedly uneven experiment in which 40 directors submitted micro-shorts using an antique camera, Lynch's Premonitions Following an Evil Deed stands out as a work of unqualified, shivery genius. Seamlessly transitioning between a number of hellish tableaux in a single take, it manages to bring on night sweats in under a minute of running time.

One major caveat, however, and what keeps this disc from being a definitive, comprehensive collection is the omission of Rabbits, an eight-episode apocalyptic sitcom (currently only available to paid subscribers to Lynch's site), which may be his most unsettling work to date. Featuring Naomi Watts and other Mulholland Dr. vets in bunny ears, Rabbits proves Lynch isn't content to kick back and rest on his freaky laurels. Hard as it is to believe, he's getting stranger, all the time.