Trump photographed at the time of his first weekly handle, January 28, 2017. Public domain photograph courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
“We’ve met earlier than, haven’t we?” – The Mystery Man in Misplaced Freeway
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David Lynch just isn’t a horror director. With the attainable exception of Eraserhead, his films will not be often thought-about horror films. Despite this reality, no other director has ever horrified me fairly so completely. As a young person, I first encountered Lynch’s unusual cinematic universe after stumbling upon a VHS copy of Blue Velvet at my native rental store. Since then, the pictures and sounds from his macabre physique of work have continued to hang-out me. Even now, greater than 20 years since my initial discovery of them, his films – and particularly his monsters – are by no means removed from my thoughts, and I think about his crew of hideous villains to be rather more unsettling than the horror genre’s standard parade of killer clowns, flesh-eating zombies, and chainsaw-wielding maniacs. You’ll be able to think about my shock, then, once I all of the sudden realized in November 2016 that the country of my start, america of America, had elected a Lynchian monster for president: Donald J. Trump.
For my part, Trump is the strolling, respiration embodiment of all that’s scary about Lynch’s darkish visions – the authoritarianism, the crude sexuality, the excessive violence, the unapologetic bigotry, the toxic masculinity, the infantile rage . . . even the Baron Harkonnen’s loopy orange hair. Thus, on the morning after the election, I felt like that character from Mulholland Drive who wanders behind a Los Angeles diner solely to come across the monster from his goals. Like him, I awakened that fateful autumn morning and found that a demon from my nightmares had equally adopted me into the realm of the dwelling. Since then, I’ve sometimes asked myself, would the world be any worse if we had elected certainly one of Lynch’s precise movie monsters as an alternative? Forty-fifth president: Frank Sales space. Forty-fifth president: Bobby Peru. Forty-fifth president: Mr. Eddy. Forty-fifth president: Donald Trump. The convenience with which Trump’s identify rolls off the tongue alongside Lynch’s roster of rogues must be enough to offer all of us nightmares.
To make certain, Lynch is just not the only artist to have anticipated the election of this dangerous charlatan, but whereas the prescience of other pop-culture phenomena – starting from the dystopian fiction of Octavia Butler to the comedic hijinks of The Simpsons – has been widely known, the modern political relevance of Lynch’s films has yet to be sufficiently acknowledged. Certainly, when Lynch’s politics are mentioned at all, they are often derided. For many critics, Lynch is a moralist and a misogynist, a patriot and a puritan. The notable film critic Robin Wooden labeled him a nihilist, and another considered one of Lynch’s outspoken detractors wrote a whole e-book dedicated to his denunciation, Pervert in the Pulpit.
These and different accusations of the director’s retrograde politics appeared to be confirmed when he was quoted as praising Donald Trump in a 2018 interview, telling The Guardian that “he might go down as one of many biggest presidents in historical past.” Lynch shortly walked again these feedback and claimed they have been taken out of context. Nevertheless we choose to interpret this incident, I don’t assume Lynch’s interviews with the press are the most effective place to probe his stance on Trump and Trumpism. Lynch is a filmmaker, in any case, and no matter what specific politics he might verbally articulate, his movies will all the time present us with a richer, more profound source of concepts.
Since his earliest shorts, Lynch has been obsessive about the dark underbelly of Americana, and for over four many years, he has crafted characters and narratives that forcefully subvert the dominant, self-celebratory imagery and iconography of U.S. mythology. Whether or not Lynch is absolutely conscious of it or not, his films have persistently warned us concerning the specter of American fascism and the risks of right-wing populism. As such, Lynch is a director who manages to compellingly seize that surreal, it-can’t-happen-here quality of the modern moment, demonstrating not solely that it could possibly happen here, but that it does happen here – and even more, that it has been occurring right here for a really long whereas. I subsequently consider that in this current age, the age of Trump, the time is ripe to return to Lynch’s movies once again and to observe them with recent eyes.
To make certain, Trump is hardly the only monster to have emerged out of the Black Lodge of U.S. electoral politics. There isn’t a shortage of warfare criminals and Wall Road swindlers in Washington, and even Trump’s essential contender within the 2016 presidential race, Hillary Clinton, is sort of a monstrous figure. But Clinton is just not a Lynchian monster. If her warts are hidden behind a smile – the continued, established order horror of drone massacres, for example, safely hid behind the rhetoric of progress and liberal civility – Trump wears his warts with delight. Like the Baron Harkonnen from Dune, who makes no try and disguise the nauseating illnesses festering on his face, Trump’s monstrousness is overt, callous, and crude. Indeed, it is his very monstrousness that received him elected. His supporters love him for it, they usually rally round his vulgarity like the lecherous thugs cheering on Frank Sales space in Blue Velvet. If we once analyzed the operations of power on the delicate, micropolitical degree, immediately things have changed. On this brave, new Trumpian world, the mechanics of oppression are often plainly visible, on the market for the entire world to see. Trump’s monstrousness isn’t a secret; it is an asset.
So what makes Trump specifically Lynchian – or, for that matter, what makes Lynch’s monsters particularly Trumpian? To unravel this query, we should always start by turning to a special era: the lengthy 1950s. Crucially, this isn’t the terrible 1950s of Emmett Louis Until and the No Gun Ri bloodbath however a unique 1950s, a counterfeit 1950s. What I’m referring to is that bucolic, fairy-tale version of the 1950s that also permeates conservative thought. This decade is imagined to have been an idyllic time of nuclear families and wholesome Judeo-Christian values – a harmonious time immortalized by Norman Rockwell paintings and Father Is aware of Greatest. It was in the 1950s, in any case, that God’s identify was added to the Pledge of Allegiance and Cecil B. DeMille’s biblical epics have been breaking data at the field office. Within the right-wing creativeness, this superb interval was torn asunder with the arrival of the turbulent 1960s and its numerous emancipatory actions – from civil rights to Stonewall. The housewife in the kitchen was changed by the bra burner in the streets, the clean-cut Boy Scout by the pot-smoking protester. Beaver Cleaver had reworked into Abbie Hoffman, Uncle Remus into Malcolm X. For conservatives, the political and cultural currents of the 1960s ruined every thing, and the nation has yet to recuperate. As Trump put it in one among his apocalyptic jeremiads, “The ’60s have been dangerous, really dangerous. And it’s really dangerous now. People really feel prefer it’s chaos again.”
Not coincidentally, this fabled epoch in U.S. history also overlapped with the childhood of the two figures that concern us right here: David Lynch and Donald Trump. They are each baby boomers, in any case – born just some months aside from each other in 1946, and the romanticized beliefs and values promulgated within the age of their adolescence appear to have left fairly a mark. Now in their seventies, each figures have been unable to exorcise this legendary image of the country from their minds. Certainly, Trump’s whole presidency may be thought-about a part of a continued conservative backlash towards the 1960s – a mantle he inherited from Ronald Reagan. At his rallies, Trump repeatedly refers again to the salad days of his youth as “the great previous days” – the prelapsarian age before the 1960s when individuals supposedly knew their place and authority was revered. When protesters interrupt his speeches, Trump wistfully reminisces about these good previous days and encourages open violence: “Within the good previous days this didn’t happen because they used to treat them very, very tough. And once they protested once, they wouldn’t do it again so easily”; “You see, in the good previous days, regulation enforcement acted lots quicker than this. So much quicker. Within the good previous days, they’d rip him out of that seat so fast – however at this time, everyone’s politically right”; “I really like the previous days. You realize what they used to do to guys like that once they have been in a place like this? They’d be carried out on a stretcher, people.”
Like Trump, Lynch can also be captivated by this fanciful golden age. The 1950s permeate his films – from the apparent (e.g., the Elvis Presley songs in Wild at Coronary heart) to the not so obvious (e.g., the Montgomery Clift poster adorning Sandy’s bedroom in Blue Velvet). Whereas none of Lynch’s films truly happen within the 1950s, the deceitfully easy, small-town settings and characters of Blue Velvet, Twin Peaks, and even The Straight Story are infused with all the scorching coffee and cherry pie-flavored goodness that one often associates with that decade’s choice of healthful household sitcoms. Even those Lynch films that appear a world away from that bygone period still harken again to it. Mulholland Drive, for example, opens with a jitterbug dance contest; the forged consists of classical-era Hollywood star Ann Miller; a essential character takes her identify from Rita Hayworth; and an instrumental pop ballad that plays through the film’s tragic denouement is a track co-written by Lynch referred to as “Fairly 50s.” Even the title of Mulholland Drive is an homage to the 1950s, particularly to Billy Wilder’s film noir masterpiece Sunset Boulevard.
For all of these causes, Lynch has typically been seen as a hawker of nostalgia, and on this basis he has sometimes been disparaged as a backward-looking conservative, as someone who uncritically glorifies the whitewashed America of yesteryear. For my part, such a dismissal does an extreme disservice to Lynch. While he undeniably dips his cinematic brush into the same nostalgic waters dredged by reactionaries like Trump, the image he paints is way from harmonious. Something is horribly fallacious in Lynch’s America. Recall here the opening of Blue Velvet. We see a blue – impossibly blue – sky as the digital camera slowly tilts down and focuses on some pink – impossibly purple – roses located in front of a white – impossibly white – picket fence. The ensuing tableau of sensible colour, some of the enduring and instantly recognizable photographs from your complete movie, is nothing lower than Lynch’s model of the American flag. We then see a parade of idyllic pictures – an ideal image of peaceful, small-town bliss, full with a waving fireman and his obedient Dalmatian.
Earlier than we will absolutely loosen up in these tranquil scenes of nostalgic reassurance, nevertheless, Lynch throws us a curveball. The archetypal suburban father watering his manicured lawn all of a sudden collapses from an apparent stroke. As his physique convulses on the ground, Lynch’s digital camera takes us deep into the grass beneath him and divulges the world beneath our world – a dark, hidden world of grotesque bugs and cannibalistic bugs. Blue Velvet’s unsettling opening suggests a theme that Lynch will return to throughout the rest of the film and certainly, all through the remainder of his profession. It suggests that the bedrock of U.S. society is rotten and that there’s something corrupt and perverse at its core. The fantasy of the American Dream is pervaded by odious nightmares, and it’s exactly this shadow world – this hidden however all the time present place – that’s house to Lynch’s monsters.
Like Trump, Lynch’s most memorable monsters are baby boomers. This consists of Blue Velvet’s Frank Sales space and Wild at Heart’s Bobby Peru. The latter is even a former Marine who carried out massacres during that era’s bloodiest army fiasco, the Vietnam Warfare. Killer Bob, the demonic spirit from Twin Peaks, additionally hails from this era, and the third season of that collection reveals the exact date of his arrival into this world: July 16, 1945, the day the U.S. army detonated the world’s first nuclear bomb. In Twin Peaks, this ominous event not only launched us into the so-called Atomic Age, it also inadvertently ripped a hole within the material of the universe, a tear in area and time via which Killer Bob entered. Thus, even Lynch’s most otherworldly monster of all is just not actually so otherworldly. He’s simply one other all-American product – as much a part of those fabled good previous days as Mr. Potato Head or colour tv. In Lynch’s movies, the 1960s didn’t destroy American innocence; the corruption and taint have been already there.
Lynch’s monsters and Trump’s presidency subsequently crawled out of the same American swamp, but the traits and traits they share aren’t restricted to generational id or geographical origin. They are additionally related to a standard class. Aside from the Baron Harkonnen and Mr. Eddy, Lynch’s monsters are proletarian monsters. Frank Sales space, as an example, is a blue-collar felony. His condominium is situated on the economic aspect of city, and when he makes an attempt to cross class strains and cross himself off as a “well-dressed man,” his ill-fitting disguise appears ridiculous. However Booth’s most memorable tie to the working class is expressed by means of his taste in booze. At one level within the film, he violently rejects imported beer in favor of a cheaper, native product: “Heineken?! Fuck that shit! Pabst Blue Ribbon!!”
Frank Booth just isn’t Lynch’s solely working-class monster. In Twin Peaks, Killer Bob is played by Frank Silva, an actual below-the-line laborer who had initially been hired as the collection’ set decorator. It was only after he by accident appeared in a shot that Lynch determined to forged him within the position. Other proletarian monsters embrace Bobby Peru from Wild at Coronary heart and Randy from the animated net collection DumbLand. Even one in every of Lynch’s extra typical films, The Elephant Man, depicts evil as emanating from the working courses, and in that film, it is the night time porter who most grotesquely exploits the pitiable protagonist, promoting tickets to the town’s underclass to return and gawk at his deformed physique.
What are we to make of Lynch’s association of evil with these inhabiting the decrease rungs of the capitalist hierarchy? Whereas some critics have seen this as a case of bourgeois elitism on the a part of Lynch, an occasion of a child from Montana growing as much as hate his own humble origins, I don’t assume this is the perfect interpretation. In Lynch’s movies, not all working-class characters are monsters. Indeed, lots of his protagonists are working-class heroes, together with the inhabitants of Twin Peaks, as well as certainly one of Lynch’s most compelling characters of all, Alvin Straight from The Straight Story. Furthermore, in Wild at Coronary heart, Sailor is played by Nicolas Cage, an actor who seems to have intentionally cultivated a star persona that screams white everyman.
Thus, I do not assume Lynch’s remedy of working-class tradition quantities to bourgeois contempt or conceited self-hatred. Relatively, for my part, Lynch is figuring out a specter that has lengthy haunted america: the danger of right-wing populism and the threat of the mob. Lynch’s monsters aren’t just working-class monsters. Crucially, they’re white working-class monsters. Recall the place where Bobby Peru first emerges in Wild at Coronary heart: a trashy Texas trailer park populated by a motley crew of beer-guzzling rednecks, Confederate flag-waving bubbas, and novice porn performers. I know this crowd properly; they’re the great previous boys I grew up with in East Texas. As one in every of Missoula’s native sons, I assume that Lynch is aware of this crowd nicely, too. These are the same people who in the present day watch Fox Information until they are frothy at the mouth and consider that white Christians are the country’s most persecuted minority, the identical people who reacted to the election of a Black president by organizing Tea Social gathering protests and perpetuating outlandish conspiracy theories relating to his nation of start. Working class they could be, however they definitely aren’t the revolutionary proletariat as envisioned by Marx. Relatively than attacking injustice, they have indulged in white supremacy. Quite than appearing as a drive for emancipation, they have turn out to be the status quo’s stalwart henchmen – guardians of a socioeconomic pecking order that also sarcastically victimizes them.
To make certain, when it comes to class, Lynch’s monsters anticipate Trumpism more than they anticipate the precise president himself. Trump, in any case, is a billionaire con artist, and economically talking, he is much less akin to blue-collar criminals like Frank Booth or Bobby Peru than he’s to moneyed monsters just like the Baron Harkonnen or Mr. Eddy – the previous a hideous dictator, the latter a harmful mob boss. But Trump understands his brand. He is probably not the brightest individual to ever occupy 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, however he is aware of how one can gauge his voters and manipulate their misplaced class resentment. Thus, whereas liberals typically ridicule Trump for his incessant typos on Twitter or for his uncouth dietary habits – just as they as soon as derided George W. Bush’s Lone Star accent – they achieve this at their very own peril. Trump is enjoying his audience like a fiddle, utilizing the battleground of tradition to impress his white (supremacist) working-class base. Indeed, simply think of the time when Trump hosted a football workforce on the White House and handled the athletes to a feast of fast meals. Liberals have been aghast on the spectacle of Massive Macs and French fries being served on silver platters, however his base beloved him all the more for it. Trump knew what he was doing. One might easily think about him defending his culinary decisions within the voice of Frank Sales space: “Haute cuisine?! Fuck that shit! McDonald’s Pleased Meals!!”
Another defining function of Lynch’s monsters is their penchant for sexual violence. All of them are sexual predators. In Dune, the Baron Harkonnen seems to maintain a harem of boys as sexual slaves; in Twin Peaks, Killer Bob causes a person to rape and homicide his own teenage daughter; in Misplaced Freeway, Mr. Eddy forces ladies to strip naked for him at gunpoint; and in Inland Empire, the Phantom is the ghost of an abusive husband. It is Frank Sales space, nevertheless, who remains Lynch’s preeminent sexual monster. Sexual violence is Sales space’s deeply perverse method of expressing love, and he blackmails, beats, and abuses Dorothy Vallens in an attempt to realize her adoration. Reflecting on his character, the actor Dennis Hopper put it this manner: “his love is so intense that he’ll kidnap her husband, he’ll reduce off the husband’s ear, he’ll take the child, he’ll do whatever he has to to keep the love and respect of this lady.” Frank Booth, as it turns out, is the unique incel terrorist.
Bobby Peru can also be a sexual predator, and in one of the crucial troublesome scenes to observe in Lynch’s whole filmography, he assaults a weak, pregnant Lula in her motel room, grabbing her between the legs and refusing to go away till she mouths the words “fuck me.” One might hardly find a extra startling anticipation of the leaked 2005 Access Hollywood tape during which Trump infamously bragged about using his fame and fortune to molest ladies. Thus, in Wild at Coronary heart, Bobby Peru merely performs on display what the current U.S. President boasts about doing privately. “Seize ’em by the pussy” – the phrases belong to Trump, however they might have been lifted from any of Lynch’s scripts. As of this writing, greater than twenty ladies have publicly accused Trump of sexual misconduct, together with assault.
The excessive sexual antics on the part of Lynch’s monsters level us to a secret they are all making an attempt to cover, maybe even from themselves. Lynch’s monsters are impotent monsters. By way of their violence – and especially their sexual violence – they’re trying to compensate for their own insecurities and failures. Certainly, how else are we to know Frank Booth’s exaggerated, single-minded concentrate on sex? He toasts to “fucking,” he addresses individuals as “fuck,” and he loudly proclaims, “I’ll fuck something that moves!” And yet, despite all of this, his pants by no means come off. His sadistic rape of Dorothy quantities to a vicious dry humping session. Such violent conduct is nothing greater than a ruse, a pathetic attempt by Booth to masks his personal elementary weak spot and inadequacy. Frank Sales space is a clown, a fact that’s made plainly visible in the unusual, surreal scene through which he applies makeup to his own face. Bobby Peru, too, is a sexual predator who by no means truly has intercourse. Even after Lula submits to his will, he finally backs down. Furthermore, in Misplaced Highway, Mr. Eddy’s sexual possession and management of Alice likewise turns out to be nothing greater than a misogynist fantasy. His phallic brandishing of a gun is as shut as he gets to sexual virility. Mr. Eddy turns out to be as impotent as all the rest.
Like Lynch’s assortment of impotent monsters, Trump is perpetually appearing out. This can be a man, in any case, who places his identify on every thing in huge, bold letters, a person who is obsessed with the dimensions of his arms and who even bragged concerning the girth of his penis at a nationally televised Republican debate. From Frank Booth to Donald Trump, all of those monsters are deeply insecure males with fragile egos – white patriarchs who’re making an attempt to compensate for their very own lack of authority. In a method or another, actually or symbolically, they are all impotent creatures, and the lesson we should always derive from them is the precise reverse of the prevailing knowledge of the 1950s; father doesn’t know greatest.
Impotent or not, Lynch’s monsters all exhibit an unencumbered, unimpeded enjoyment. They are figures of extra, destructively dwelling life to the fullest. In Freudian terms, they are pure id, beings that operate with out the censorship of the superego. This uninhibited conduct attracts sure followers, admirers who stay vicariously by way of their wild and flamboyant actions: the Baron Harkonnen’s devoted servants, Frank Booth’s seedy entourage, Mr. Eddy’s muscular posse. I consider that is precisely how we also needs to make sense of Trump’s enduring help amongst the white Christian Proper. Conservative Evangelicals – individuals who have supposedly devoted their lives to Jesus – have positioned their faith in a billionaire braggadocio who compulsively lies, treats his charity as a private slush fund, and sleeps with porn stars. Trump enjoys so that they don’t should. This is the reason, with each new headline about his numerous schemes and corruption, his reputation doesn’t diminish in any respect in these quarters; quite the opposite, it even grows. Trump’s base lives vicariously by way of him. His actions and conduct correspond to their own repressed fantasies. Certainly, this also explains why his campaign slogan has been so efficient. The literal words are “Make America Great Again,” but the message conveyed is relatively totally different: “Make America White Again,” “Make America Straight Again,” “Make America Masculine Again,” “Make America Christian Once more.” In this means, Trump arouses his supporters’ identitarian wishes; he supplies them with a fantasy, a fantastical narrative during which they will think about themselves to be an aggrieved group, righteously preventing to convey again the harmonious order of yesteryear.
Nevertheless much we’d wish to distance ourselves from such shenanigans, issues are by no means fairly so easy. Regardless of their excessive, extreme conduct, none of Lynch’s monsters are aberrations. As is the case with the more refined examples of horror cinema, these villains aren’t unique, alien others. They’re inherent features of normality itself. Just like the all-too-normal Norman Bates from Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, just like the lumbering zombies of George Romero’s Dwelling Lifeless collection, like the tethered doubles of Jordan Peele’s appropriately titled Us, Lynch’s monsters characterize our basest impulses and wishes. Certainly, even the damaging forces that Killer Bob unleashes – incest, rape, and homicide – have been already current within the sleepy Twin Peaks group earlier than his arrival, lurking simply beneath the surface. Bob’s energy is just not the power to show the innocent into evil; quite, Bob’s energy is his potential to deliver out the evil that’s already there, the submerged evil that already exists. This is the last word fact behind all of Lynch’s monsters. There isn’t a Lumberton, USA, without Frank Booth, no nice American street trip without Bobby Peru. The Mystery Man is just not someplace out there; he is somewhere in here, already in our house.
I feel for this reason Lynch’s films have been so necessary throughout my own means of political radicalization. I grew up in a really conservative setting. It wasn’t the 1950s, nevertheless it may as nicely have been. Whilst a young person, I keep in mind considering of my small hometown as a modern-day Mayberry, the fictional setting of The Andy Griffith Show. It was the era of Reagan, another president who peddled reactionary nostalgia and promised a return to the storybook 1950s. On this and in lots of different methods, Reagan stays a model for Trump – a B-list Hollywood actor for a B-list reality tv star. Let’s not overlook that Trump instantly plagiarized his rallying cry from Reagan’s 1980 campaign slogan, “Let’s Make America Nice Again” – the “once more” in both instances pointing back to these legendary good previous days.
My probability encounter with Lynch’s movies subsequently deeply unnerved me. By no means before had I seen the patriotic myths of my youth so profoundly shattered. Lynch’s monsters frightened me as a result of – attempt as I’d – I couldn’t disavow them. Frank Sales space is neither from distant Transylvania nor from some remote galaxy. Frank Booth is from right here! He’s in me and throughout me. As Sales space himself perceptively tells Blue Velvet’s gee-whiz protagonist in between inhalations of narcotic stimulants, “You’re like me.” As the reality of this perception sunk in, my world slowly changed, and I regularly recognized the decay on the core of my own values and fantasies. The bottom beneath my ft started to crumble, and my social universe started to dissolve. Briefly, my Mayberry fable was broken.
This symbiotic relationship between Lynch’s monsters and the society they inhabit points us directly to the current U.S. president. Like some other Lynchian monster, Trump isn’t some unusual fluke. His election and continued fashionable attraction can’t be solely blamed on these pesky Russians or some other conveniently overseas scapegoats. Trump is the logical consequence of those impulses and tendencies which have long characterised this genocidal, settler-colonialist venture often known as america. Like Killer Bob, Trump represents an previous spirit, a demonic wraith that has accompanied America since its very inception – and even before. This spirit was right here when Christopher Columbus first came ashore and immediately began slaughtering the native Arawaks. It was right here when a vessel referred to as the Good Ship Jesus landed within the Americas and commenced unloading its human cargo, thus inaugurating the Atlantic Slave Commerce. In newer many years, this spirit has incited lynch mobs, agitated for conflict, and locked youngsters up in cages alongside the U.S.-Mexico border. This dark pressure I am referring to is identical one invoked by James Baldwin, a writer who sometimes turned to the supernatural so as to elucidate the atrocities of the current. “For, I have seen the devil, by day and by night time, and have seen him in you and in me.” “The satan,” Baldwin continued, “does not levitate beds, or idiot around with little women: we do.”
Alas, Trump is not any anomaly. Like Lynch’s monsters, he’s completely pink, white, and blue. He is – to borrow a phrase from H. Rap Brown – “as American as cherry pie.” Thus, if the true horror of Lynch’s first function, Eraserhead, is just not the monstrous baby itself however the information that that monstrous baby is ours, the identical goes for the remainder of Lynch’s monsters. It additionally goes for that other monstrous baby, the hideous toddler in the White House. In a word, Trump is us – and that’s maybe his most Lynchian facet of all.
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All pictures are screenshots from the DVDs, permitted for copy underneath the Truthful Use doctrine of copyright regulation.