Tati’s Influence on David Lynch

I’m grateful to have Kristin Thompson’s detailed and useful report on the Jacques Tati exhibition at the Cinémathèque Française, which closes on August 2nd and which I won’t be able to attend myself. But there’s one very small point in her account with which I disagree. I’m not referring to her spelling of Playtime as Play Time – a long-standing position of hers, based (I believe) on the styling of the film’s ads and opening title credit — because it’s possible that she’s been right about this while I and virtually everyone else have been wrong. (For me, the cinching argument either way would be how Tati spelled the title himself. I’m sorry that I never thought to ask him, during the brief period in 1973 when I worked for him.)

No, my disagreement has to do with the influence exerted by Tati on David Lynch, which Kristin deals with only parenthetically by noting that Lynch “might conceivably be said to reflect a Tatian influence only in The Straight Story.” I’m not disputing whether or not The Straight Story reflects Tati’s influence; as nearly as I can recall, this hadn’t occurred to me when I saw the film, and she might well be correct. But I do contest her “only”. The only time I’ve ever interviewed Lynch, during the writing of Midnight Movies with Jim Hoberman,  was when I conducted a phone interview with him about Eraserhead in 1982, which I believe I did from Jim’s apartment. I brought up the possible influence of Tati myself to him because it seemed quite evident to me at the time in at least a couple of instances: more generally in the use of industrial noise in the background of several scenes, and more specifically in the comic articulation and timing of a moment when Henry (Jack Nance) is waiting inside the elevator in his dingy apartment house for the doors to close, and finally they do slide shut, with a dull thud.

For whatever it’s worth, Lynch confirmed my hypothesis after I cited this elevator scene to him: “You know, I feel like in a way he’s a kindred soul,” he said to me. “That guy is so creative, it’s unbelievable. I think he’s one of the all-time greats.” [7/22/09]

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