If some piece of media is an any way Twin Peaks-adjacent, I’m going to check it out. That’s true of movies, live performance installations, burlesque shows, you name it. Even operas.
The latest project of that sort wasBlack Lodge, the world premiere of which I attended in early October in Philadelphia. Part of Opera Philadelphia’s Festival O, and specifically its Opera on Film program. Black Lodge was also part of the Philadelphia Fringe Festival.
What is Black Lodge? It’s an “industrial rock opera,” and also a film, although it was originally created as a staged opera.
What is Black Lodge?
The opera, featuring music by David T. Little and a libretto by Anne Waldman, existed first, with the film’s story written and directed by Michael Joseph McQuilken. It draws on the work of David Lynch, as well as that of William S. Burroughs.
It’s hard to describe the plot, so I refer to the program:
“Set in a nightmarish Bardo, a place between death and rebirth, a tormented writer faces down demons of his own making. Forced to confront the darkest moment in his life, he mines fractured and repressed memories for a way out. A woman is at the center of all the writer’s afterlife encounters. She is the subject of his life’s greatest regret, and she materializes everywhere in this Otherworld. The writer cannot detach any thoughts of his life from her.”
The director, elsewhere in the program, describes the film as “non-narrative,” and shares that the music was completed before he began work on the film.
To call it surreal, in other words, would be an understatement. For a show premiering just blocks away from the “Eraserhood” that was once Lynch’s home and is said to have inspired Eraserhead, the Lynch influence is hard to miss, although it’s more a vibe, and occasional dialogue, than specific visual cues from the Lynch canon. The Burroughs influence, I would say, is more pronounced.
In the premiere, which I saw at the Philadelphia Film Center on October 2, the film showed along with live accompaniment from an eight-piece band, lead by the artist known as Timur — also the star of the film — and his band the Dime Museum, who were joined on stage by members of the Opera Philadelphia Orchestra.
The term “rock opera” is often used to merely describe a stage or movie musical that involves rock music. Black Lodge, though, actually incorporated the opera tradition, starting with Timur’s operatic singing. It was a mashup of musical styles that absolutely worked together.
The result isn’t the sort of film that I would likely enjoy if I watched it as a standalone film, especially if I’d watched it at home alone (it is headed, later this month, to Opera Philadelphia’s TV channel). But live and in person, with the musicians? Glorious.
There’s no word on when Black Lodge might get another live staging, but it’s worth checking out whenever it does.
CULTURE (counter, pop, and otherwise) and the people who shape it.