Animation: Dumbland (2002) - Reviewed

If there is one common shared trait among the villains of David Lynch’s films, it is their mutual propensity for absurdly over the top fouled mouthed and violent antics.  Take Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper) for instance from Blue Velvet, the first character in the film to swear.  Unleashing a torrent of insane, funny, scary and increasingly bizarre profanity, you’re not sure whether to laugh or scream in the presence of such a character. 

That same sensibility showed up again with Bobby Peru (Willem Dafoe) in Wild at Heart and once more with Mr. Eddy (Robert Loggia) in Lost Highway, notably in an unforgettable profanity laden attack on a tailgater as Loggia hurls pistol whippings in between full throated F-bombs.  There’s also, beginning with Eraserhead and continued with Wild at Heart, a penchant for absurdly violent slapstick comedy including a shared moment where a severed head bounces across the screen before crashing into a bloody mess upon hitting the ground.
Ordinarily Lynch strikes a balance between achieving a mood of uncertainty, confusion and unease before unleashing a caged animal of lunacy out of the bag to upend the proceedings and disrupt the flow of the story.  But in his crudely drawn 2002 flash animation web-series Dumbland, Lynch takes all that pent up maniacal rage, vulgarity and pure unadulterated idiocy and crams it all into roughly eight four-minute episodes totaling thirty minutes in length.  With all the animation, voicework and music done by Lynch himself on Apple iMac, the aforementioned antagonists in Lynch’s previous films teamed up with the director and took a long, slow defecation in what is arguably the auteur’s one and only 100% Dadaist work to date.

Concerning a violent redneck baldie in a wife-beater named Randy living with his mousy son and perpetually terrified wife, Dumbland follows the daily exploits of this foul mouth bastard in between belching, flatulence, violent beatings, alcoholism, vomiting and feces.  Some episodes are more disgusting than others, including one where a man with a stick caught in his mouth is turned inside out and another involving an uncle who vomits uncontrollably.  There are references to bestiality involving a one-armed man with a fetish for ducks, a man farting a sledgehammer out of his ass and a musical number involving ants singing about what an “asshole” Randy is. 

Underneath all of this intentionally poorly hand drawn flash animation grotesquerie and intellectual septic field is Lynch’s recurring portrait of the absurdity of small town America at it’s worst.  That gives Lynch’s acerbic and nihilistic creation some gravity but it doesn’t necessarily justify it either.  Initially intended to coincide with his website alongside other webseries including Rabbits and Interview Project, Dumbland is a taxing watch for both Lynch and animation fans.  Considering the depth of Lynch’s professionally rendered 35mm film images over the years, to receive such shoddy animation from the director is as shocking to some as it is infuriating for others.  Some have written it off as pretentious ego stroking, seeking justification for a work deliberately miles below his ability as an artist.  It doesn't help that the style of animation closely resembles the animation of Don Hertzfeldt, whose own animated work eclipses anything in Dumbland.

Lynch completists are inclined to view Dumbland online for free as they’re likely to get a laugh and provide an outlet for all of the director’s pent up rage and juvenile humor.  For those only used to the auteur’s masterworks such as Mulholland Drive, Lost Highway, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me and Eraserhead, Dumbland is kind of like taking a periscope up the director’s ass to see what’s inside.  Unclear of it is intended as some kind of cosmic joke on the fans, Dumbland seems poised to intentionally mock and undermine the critical acclaim of his feature film work.  But then again, you can see some of this really very stupid sketch comedy in some of the more ridiculous episodes adorning Wild at Heart and Eraserhead.  


- Andrew Kotwicki