In director Sandro Miller’s 17-minute short, Psychogenetic Fugue, actor John Malkovich portrays a selection of characters from David Lynch films, reenacting the scenes that made them famous.
For viewers, it’s a spine-tingling journey through the mind of a genius, a surreal exhibition of audiovisual madness, and a trippy tour of historic cinema. For Miller, it’s the latest work in a collaboration with the actor that has spanned two decades.
“The Steppenwolf asked me to do a portrait of him,” he recalls about his first meeting with Malkovich. “I saw something in John. John saw something in me. It ended up becoming a twenty year project.”
Their efforts have produced eerie, beautiful and thought-provoking drama over the years. 2014’s Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich: Homage to Photographic Masters is a series of images featuring Malkovich as Hemmingway, Che, Hitchcock and several other recreations of iconic historical photographs, all shot by Miller. It also inspired David Lynch to call.
“When David saw this work, he called us and said, ‘Sandro I love what you did with the Malkovich homage,’” says Miller. “He wanted me to do it with John recreating characters from his favorite films.”
To determine which characters to include in Psychogenetic Fugue, Miller consulted an online survey of fan favorites. “We put it out to the world through social media: Who are your favorite characters?” he explains. “We got a list of people around the world’s ten favorite characters.”
All the good ones are there: Agent Cooper, Henry Spencer, the Lady in the Radiator, the Log Lady, Elephant Man and more. The collection is introduced and narrated by Malkovich as Lynch himself.
“The world is as you are,” he begins. “Dive within.”
“John pulls off an amazing Frank Booth,” says Sandro. “And he brought tears to the crew’s eyes when he recited the Lord is My Shepherd from Elephant Man.”
The Lynch/Malkovich character reappears occasionally throughout the film, reciting a script that quotes heavily from Lynch’s book, Catching the Big Fish, an autobiography inspired by his experience with transcendental foundation.
Lynch is an advocate of the meditative style, and the film was created to support his Transcendental Foundation, which helps underprivileged children and soldiers with PTSD. Miller not only approves of the organization, but he is also a practitioner of its method.
“I started transcendental meditation when I was 17-years-old,” he says. “It’s a great way to start the day and a great thing for people who have lived very troubled lives.”
Psychogenetic Fugue was shot over five days in the Redmoon Theater’s former 10,000 square-foot Chinatown studio.
Columbia College professor and set designer David Kraus, who Miller calls a “genius,” built eight different sets to resemble the originals from Lynch’s films.
Throughout production, Malkovich remained as pleasant and professional as Miller has always known him to be, even during the six hours that it took to fit the Elephant Man prosthetic.
“He’s a nice man,” Miller says. “He helps out the whole crew. He’ll help the stylist. He’ll help the makeup person. It’s always a great few days when we have John in the studio.”
Post was handled by Utopic, where Miller cuts most of his work. “They really give a damn,” he says. “Editor Craig Lewandowski is so innovative. I’ve never worked with a guy who has had more passion. He is the real deal.”
Although the film has screened to rave reviews, was shortlisted at Cannes Lions and, most recently, thrilled guests at AICP’s Next Show in Los Angeles, Miller is still humbled by the man who inspired it.
“When you take time to study David Lynch’s films, starting way back from Eraserhead, you realize how much of a genius he is,” he explains. “The lighting, makeup wardrobe, camera work, sets … we were in awe.”
To learn more about the work of Sandro Miller, click here.