Did David Lynch Watch the Czech New Wave?

Just came home from Václav Vorlíček’s Kdo chce zabít Jessii? (1966), or “Who’s Trying to Kill Jessie?” (not “Who Killed Jessie?” as it’s mistranslated in some of the program notes). It’s bouncy and lightly absurdist, like Zazie dans le métro, and has an allegorical condemnation of totalitarian socialism so flagrant that it’s hard to imagine how it got past even the wilting censors of late 1960s Czechoslovakia: a lady scientist has devised a serum that will improve workers’ productivity by removing unruly elements from their dreams. The unintended side-effect, however, is that these unruly elements then materialize in the waking world, where they are provokingly curvaceous, steal the milk bottles of infants, and bite the plumbing.

But before she injects her husband, who to her dismay does not dream of her, the lady scientist first injects a cow. The cow’s dreams are visible on a large cathode ray tube (prefigurations of Minority Report). Before: the cow in a nightmare is stung by gadflies and dances herky-jerkily across a pasture. After: the same cow is rocked in a hammock, munching on flowers, while a string ensemble plays Handel. Among the scientists invited to witness the experiment is a supposed Brazilian, but in fact, when the Brazilian speaks, his voice is recorded Czech, played backward. It’s just one of the movie’s silly, throwaway jokes, but it felt a little uncanny, because the “Brazilian’s” gibberish is translated by one of his colleagues as a question about the integrity of dreams, and the whole sequence—a dream, recorded speech played backward, speculation about the fragile border between reality and dreams—reminded me of the “Red Room” scene in the first season of Twin Peaks. It would be a rather esoteric source, but I wonder if Lynch ever saw it.