Six Men Getting Sick

Watch Six Men Getting Sick

  • TV-PG
  • 1966
  • 4 min
  • 5.6  (6,437)

Six Men Getting Sick is a 1967 experimental animated short film that represents one of the earliest known cinematic works of acclaimed filmmaker David Lynch, notorious for his surrealist style and unique approach to storytelling. This piece, also known colloquially as Six Figures Getting Sick, is an avant-garde exercise that showcases the embryonic stages of Lynch's rich visual and thematic aesthetic, which he would later develop in his feature films.

The film runs for approximately four minutes and is structured around a continuous loop that plays six times with minor variations. It was created while Lynch was a student at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia, where he originally trained as a painter. Reflecting on his background in the visual arts, Lynch’s work on this film was an exploration of a new medium, allowing him to transition from static imagery to motion pictures, something he had begun to envision his paintings achieving.

In Six Men Getting Sick, Lynch fused painting and sound to create an animated experience that is more about conjuring a visceral reaction than about narrative storytelling. The piece is essentially an animated painting, made by Lynch himself, with sculpted figures and an experimental sound design that accentuates the disturbing imagery. The visuals are of humanoid figures, brightly colored against a stark, siren-red background, which appears to pulse and mutate over time—this abstraction suggests a nightmare taking form.

The six figures depicted in the short film each have a visible internal structure, which includes a simple representation of the human digestive system. The animation illustrates these figures sequentially suffering from an apparent case of sickness, as indicated by the title, resulting in each one's stomach growing increasingly red until an eruption occurs from the mouth. This eruption coincides with the blaring of a siren—its rhythmic wailing playing a crucial part in contributing to the piece's unsettling atmosphere.

One of the central elements of Six Men Getting Sick is its repetitive, hypnotically disturbing, and discordant soundtrack—a collaboration between Lynch and his friend Jack Fisk, who later became a well-known production designer. The throbbing, siren-like sound complements the visual loop perfectly, enhancing the unease that the imagery provokes. The loop, along with its abrasive soundtrack, creates a sense of tension and impending uneasy release.

Despite the film's absence of a traditional plot or character development, it serves as an important precursor to the themes and motifs that would permeate Lynch's later work. The piece touches on the abject, bodily horror, and the disquietude that comes from the malfunctioning of the human form, deeply resonating with evocative sensations of dread and sickness. In terms of technique, Lynch combines elements of sculpture, painting, and sound design, blurring the lines between static art and motion pictures, leading him to further pursue film as his primary artistic medium.

When Six Men Getting Sick was first presented, it was part of an experimental mixed-media installation at an art gallery. Lynch coupled the film loop with a daunting siren sculpture, incorporating 3D elements and painting that, when illuminated by the projection of the film, gave the impression that the figures were actually protruding from the canvas. This further accentuated the grotesque and anxiety-inducing experience for the viewers, making it a precursor to his multidisciplinary approach to art and film.

Although Six Men Getting Sick might be seen as little more than a curio, especially when compared to Lynch's more developed works like Eraserhead, Blue Velvet, and Mulholland Drive, the short nonetheless has a significant place in the director's body of work. It acts as an early exhibition of Lynch's fascination with the grotesque and the unsettling, and his talent for crafting immersive and disconcerting environments. But its more critical function is evidencing Lynch's transition from static expression through painting to dynamic storytelling through film, marking the moment he discovered his unique voice as a cinematic auteur.

The film was not widely distributed or commercially successful, but it served an invaluable purpose for Lynch. It was a project that allowed him to bridge the gap between two different art forms while exploring narrative structure, sound design, and the moving image. Today, Six Men Getting Sick is considered an important footnote in the history of experimental film and a significant glimpse into the formative creative expressions of one of the most distinctive filmmakers of modern cinema.

Six Men Getting Sick
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  • Release Date
  • MPAA Rating
  • Runtime
    4 min
  • Language
  • IMDB Rating
    5.6  (6,437)