One pretty interesting thing about this new David Lynch movie is the fact that he's distributing the movie entirely on his own, with no help from a major or an independent distributor. He's been moving towards this for a while- his company has been releasing short films and his early works on DVD through his website- but I think it says a lot about why he makes movies in a way that is applicable to my struggle against the word 'pretentious'.
There are two basic views of movies: one holds that movies are a form of art and the other holds that they are an entertainment medium. For some reason, people have trouble seeing eye-to-eye on this issue. The 'art' people tend to see mainstream blockbusters as banal and unchallenging, and the 'entertainment' people see more personal and impressionistic films as being 'pretentious' and 'self-indulgent'. However, if you see movies as entertainment, you're not looking to be 'challenged' by something like Finding Nemo, and if you see films as art, you expect a film-maker like David Lynch to be 'indulging' his own artistic inclinations.
For me, I absolutely love Finding Nemo, and I absolutely love Eraserhead; but for very different reasons. Finding Nemo is an expertly-crafted work of entertainment that succeeds in being funny, exciting, heartwarming, and all of the other things that I look for in entertainment films. Eraserhead is a film that challenged how I understood movies. The first time that I saw it, I hated it, frankly. But, a month later, I was having nightmares about its deeply disturbing images. So, I re-watched it, and realized how much the imagery, and even the structure of the film works on a subconcscious level in imitation of nightmares. I have no idea how David Lynch found this stuff in his own subconscious and brought it into the light; but I appreciate the film in a very different way than I do a work of entertainment.
So, Eraserhead isn't exactly entertaining, and it's definitely not heartwarming! And Finding Nemo isn't intellectually and artistically challenging. But, they're both fantastic movies. And I think the 'art' camp and the 'entertainment' camp could learn to broaden their horizons a bit. There are so many great cultural productions out there, and one of the things I love about writers like Dargis or Roger Ebert is that they take films on their own terms. This is a skill.
As for the word 'self-indulgent', it just doesn't hold up in the case of films that weren't really made solely for the entertainment of the audience- to get the most butts in the seats as they say. And the word 'pretentious' doesn't work at all for David Lynch- his vision is not a pretense and it's not in imitation of anyone else. It's singular. For me, the ideal "David Lynch scene" takes place in a very beautiful and banal environment and, during the scene we discover that something is very horribly wrong. And when I see scenes like that in movies now, I think: "Wow, this is just like David Lynch". But, he's one of our great artists because of his singularity and fanatical devotion to his own obsessions, and for that, he should command our respect.