“This is my pasta cluster-fuck” --- Jennifer Chambers Lynch
Somewhere in 2008, Jennifer Lynch (daughter of Blue Velvet director David Lynch) accepted an offer from Bollywood producer Govind Menon to direct a bizarre genre kludge where a fertility goddess returns to her reptilian form, leaving behind bodies and apparently some dancing Indians. The actual story is never fully detailed in Penny Vozniak’s behind-the-scenes documentary – which is rather strange, if not a bit sloppy – and the focus is almost exclusively on capturing whatever problems and profane tantrums Lynch is experiencing during the prolonged 6-month shooting period spanning pre-production through principal photography in Mumbai, India.
Onscreen, Lynch comes off as a whiner, and Menon even notes her daughter Sydney – present during the entire shoot - seems to have more maturity than her mother, but while it’s easy to ridicule Lynch, it’s clear Menon’s concept of bringing an American director to India proved a disaster. Besides obvious clashes in working and social cultures, Lynch is trapped in a disaster that no one could’ve fixed. The original script for what ultimately emerged as Hisss [M] two years later may have been of her own design, but the delays, weather issues, non-existent schedules, strikes, being an on-set mother, and a producer who clearly wants to step in and direct the film himself pushed Lynch to a level of distress that would’ve made anyone crumple.
She does break down at one point, but it’s a moment where it’s frankly justified, and although she tried to make the best film under the circumstances, her final cut failed to please the producers. Not invited back for any reshoots or editing, Menon reportedly trimmed the film for a faster pace, and Hiss was eventually released to unimpressed critics in South Asia.
Vozniak, originally hired to look after Lynch’s daughter, managed to assemble Despite the Gods from the on-set footage, although with the exception of a quick, trailer-like montage at the very end, there’s no finished footage of Hisss, while severely limits the doc’s visual scope and robs us of any comparison between the material Lynch was struggling to create amid the chaos, and the final material.
What emerges with Gods is a semi-interesting profile of Lynch struggling with Indo-Western cultural and professional clashes, being a single mother, and a drive to prove herself a filmmaker after her disastrous 1993 directorial debut, Boxing Helena. Because Lynch’s involvement with Hiss ended when she returned back to the States, Vozniak’s doc has no conclusion, so the compromise is a tacked-on coda that shows Lynch, sporting a bad pink hairdo, at home with her new boyfriend and a much older Sydney. The material doesn’t add anything new except it closes Lynch’s Indian adventure showing the director more at peace with herself, content she’s moved on to other projects, and sharing no bitterness for the experience of making Hisss nor producer Menon.
Also available: Audience Q&A with director Penny Vozniak during HotDocs 2012.
© 2012 Mark R. Hasan