Alex SothUntitled from Looking for Love (1996)

I saw Blue Velvet for the first time over the summer of 1997; I was 19 and I HATED it.

I was somewhat familiar with Maestro Lynch at that point; I’d seen The Elephant Man, Dune and Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me–I enjoyed the former, was underwhelmed by the second and the sequence from the latter in The Pink Room is one of my favorite scenes in any Lynch film.

And even though I disliked Blue Velvet, I could admit that my issue with it had less to do with it’s quality and more to do with it’s tropes.

The primary reason I loathed was more a function of my perception than anything on the part of the film itself. By that I mean: I saw Pulp Fiction something like seven times while it was in theaters. It had thrust me deeper into ‘art house’ fare and I watched everything (not an exaggeration) that had any sort of link to either Tarantino himself or was categorized as being Tarantino-esque. (I spent a lot of time watching a lot of rubbish.)

My quarrel with Blue Velvet was that I had seen almost everything in it in other things. I felt that it was unoriginal.

I know, I know… it was partly because it looked so thoroughly modern and fantastic, I failed to realize it predated most of the stuff I thought it was ripping off by almost a full decade.

Luckily, I was forced to watch Eraserhead for a class and was thoroughly transfixed by both how weird it was/how beautifully it was made to look. I saw Wild at Heart (mixed feelings), The Straight Story (I feel like this and Eraserhead are the most truly Lynchian as far as it pertains to aesthetic vision), Lost Highway and Mulholland Dr. (LH and MD both share the same structural form–a Möbius strip and I’ve always felt like in the context of the latter that Adam Kesher is a stand-in for Lynch himself and that LH is the movie that The Cowboy insists Kesher make but MD is the film he really wanted to make in its place.)

(We don’t discuss Inland Empire–I have interacted with Lynch twice in my life and both times I’ve started arguments with him; the second time I may have told him the second hour of IE was entirely unnecessary and that had he still shot on film he would’ve made a better project for having to make decisions instead of throwing things at the wall and then leaving it up to the audience to decide whether or not they stick…)

Anyway–and I swear this all pertains to Soth (which he says rhymes with ‘both’ but why would you not say rhymes with ‘oath’, I mean really…)–I actually did go back and watch Blue Velvet again. The second time I was blown away by it. I may be partial to Eraserhead and Mulholland Dr. will likely go down as his crowning achievement but really, Blue Velvet is a cinematic masterpiece of truly rare acuity.

How all this relates to Soth is: I am not a fan of his work. But I try to remain mostly civil as far as this project–like I despise the work of Gregory Crewdson (spoiler alert: he’s not particularly well liked by those who had a hand in training him or who are his ostensible peers) and Fox Harvard and Brooke Shaden are godawful… but mostly I keep it constructive.

I have actually changed my opinion on Soth. He work doesn’t especially resonate with me but I now see that what I read before as vapid vacuity, is actually much closer to the form of fine art photography rendering meditations on disaffection and loneliness banal. I don’t really think this is exactly the best tact but it is a code I can read now.

And I think that’s really what I’m getting at: if you are doing the work you are supposed to be done correctly, i.e. with the appropriate degree of rigor and attention, then you are going to realize frequently that you’re wrong more than you are right.

I know this blog comes across as persnickety and I realize there are things I say that seem preposterous–but this is a way I’ve found of pushing myself to do the work.

I was wrong about Soth. It doesn’t mean I’m gonna rush out and buy his work it just means that I had not yet found the right photo to draw me into his work. The photo above was what I needed.

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