The Straight Story – 4 – The Amputee

As I mentioned prior, Eraserhead took a great damn while to make (almost as much as I took to finally start this post… I had an extended period of despondency after witnessing two works of mine for this blog become lost, but I digress. I’m back in the saddle now), like five fucking years.

Those five years were growing with gaps in time where David Lynch and his crew ran out of funding for the time being and needed to start digging for more money. In the meantime, Frederick Elmes was enlisted by the American Film Institute to test out two different black-and-white stocks for the school’s usage. Lynch got ahold of this as a friend of Elmes’ and asked if he could create a short film for them to test out the stock with.

Thus, it would make sense that The Amputee, which became Lynch’s fourth short film (and arguably fourth film overall), would be entirely made up of one shot. Not just one shot, in fact, but one composition with little alteration, save for a character entering the frame to get placed in a certain position and then never moving away from that position anyway.

The Amputee featured a woman (Catherine Coulson, who also co-wrote the short) who was in a condition that left her as the title’s namesake writing a letter to her friend as a nurse (whom we are meant to believe is female, but it’s very recognizably Lynch himself that plays her) enters and tends to her stumps.

That’s it. The only dialogue comes in the form of voiceover recitation of the letter the Amputee writes.

It’s pretty fully experimental in its visual style, it’s just not abstract. It’s nothing really of too much personality for Lynch. It is a complete blank. It does its job solely as a test for the stock (with two different versions in existence) and nothing else is there to comment on beyond the form of observation.

We have a single light source off-screen leaving both brightness and blackness to compare and contrast between the items on-screen (the chair, the pencil and paper, the woman, the nurse, etc.) in consideration of different textures. In the meantime, the woman’s letter has some amount of that subtle extremity in tension that Lynch’s works usually give off. Calm storms of anger without the presentation of violence. It’s certainly a bit of a one-woman soap opera as she describes a date gone wrong at the beach, verbally sets up a love triangle (one that I would certainly entertain the idea that it is a false fantasy the woman is solely concocting for her own indulgence in a normal life), and even giving her own twist ending to her life.

Really, it’s about a woman who can’t go anywhere, so she lets her mind go places and the only way it can be transported is through her letter. It’s not that hard to read and it’s certainly not that demanding a watch either in each format. If I were more versed in stock detail, I’d probably note a big shift in the stock differences, but instead I am going to assume that save for an additional action by Lynch on-screen and possibly a change in frame rate between the stocks, the two shorts seemed evidently the same entirely.

But in the end, it was just a little project of Lynch’s and something to get his mind relaxed before diving into Eraserhead again.

Anybody else find it funny that Lynch’s daughter’s first feature just happened to also focus on fantasy indulgence and amputation?

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One thought on “The Straight Story – 4 – The Amputee

  1. Good point about Boxing Helena. I love this one – it’s one of my absolute favorite Lynch short – because by showing us the same scene twice he conditions us to look at it differently each time and notice new details. Which is really the perfect primer for how to watch any Lynch film.

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