David Lynch

blue velvet

David Lynch (b. 1946) is an American filmmaker known for his surrealist films. He has developed his own unique cinematic style, which has been dubbed ‘Lynchian,’ characterized by dream imagery and meticulous sound design. The surreal, and in many cases, violent, elements contained within his films have been known to ‘disturb, offend or mystify’ audiences.

His work often exposes dark undercurrents in seemingly mundane people and places: ‘My childhood was elegant homes, tree-lined streets, the milkman, building backyard forts, droning airplanes, blue skies, picket fences, green grass, cherry trees. Middle America as it’s supposed to be. But on the cherry tree there’s this pitch oozing out – some black, some yellow, and millions of red ants crawling all over it. I discovered that if one looks a little closer at this beautiful world, there are always red ants underneath. Because I grew up in a perfect world, other things were a contrast.’

Born to a middle-class family in Missoula, Montana, Lynch spent his childhood traveling around the United States, before going on to study painting at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia, where he first made the transition to producing short films. Deciding to devote himself more fully to this medium, he moved to Los Angeles, where he produced his first motion picture, the surrealist horror ‘Eraserhead’ (1977). After ‘Eraserhead’ became a cult classic on the midnight movie circuit, Lynch was employed to direct ‘The Elephant Man’ (1980), from which he gained mainstream success. Then being employed by the De Laurentiis Entertainment Group, he proceeded to make two films: the science-fiction epic ‘Dune’ (1984), which proved to be a critical and commercial failure, and then a neo-noir crime film, ‘Blue Velvet’ (1986), which was critically acclaimed.

Next, Lynch created his own television series with Mark Frost, the highly popular murder mystery ‘Twin Peaks’ (1990–1991); he also created a cinematic prequel, ‘Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me’ (1992), a road movie, ‘Wild at Heart’ (1990), and a family film, ‘The Straight Story’ (1999) in the same period. Turning further towards surrealist filmmaking, three of his subsequent films operated on ‘dream logic,’ non-linear narrative structures: ‘Lost Highway’ (1997), ‘Mulholland Drive’ (2001) and ‘Inland Empire’ (2006). Meanwhile, Lynch embraced the internet as a medium, producing several web-based shows, such as the animation ‘Dumbland’ (2002) and the surreal sitcom ‘Rabbits’ (2002).

Lynch found this transitory early life relatively easy to adjust to, noting that he found it fairly easy to meet new friends whenever he started attending a new school. Commenting on much of his early life, Lynch has remarked that ‘I found the world completely and totally fantastic as a child. Of course, I had the usual fears, like going to school … For me, back then, school was a crime against young people. It destroyed the seeds of liberty. The teachers didn’t encourage knowledge or a positive attitude.’ Alongside this schooling, he joined the Boy Scouts, although he would later note that he only ‘became one so I could quit, and put it behind me.’ He rose to the highest rank of Eagle Scout. It was through being an Eagle Scout that he was present with other Boy Scouts outside of the White House at the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy, which took place on Lynch’s birthday in 1961.

Lynch had become interested in painting and drawing from an early age, becoming intrigued by the idea of pursuing it as a career path when living in Virginia, where his friend’s father was a professional painter. At Francis C. Hammond High School in Alexandria, Virginia, he did poorly academically, having little interest in school work, but was popular with other students, and after leaving decided that he wanted to study painting at college, thereby beginning his studies at School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston in 1964, where he was a roommate of R&B musician Peter Wolf. Nonetheless, he left after only a year, stating: ‘I was not inspired AT ALL in that place,’ and instead deciding that he wanted to travel around Europe for three years with his friend Jack Fisk, who was similarly unhappy with his studies at Cooper Union. They had some hopes that in Europe they could train with the expressionist painter Oskar Kokoschka at his school. Upon reaching Salzburg, however, they found that he was not available and, disillusioned, returned to the United States after spending only 15 days of their planned three years in Europe.

Back in the United States, Lynch returned to Virginia, but since his parents had moved to Walnut Creek, California, he stayed with his friend Tony Keeler for a while. Before he decided to move to the city of Philadelphia, he decided to enroll at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, after advice from Jack Fisk, who was already attending it. He preferred attending the college far more than his previous art college in Boston, claiming, ‘In Philadelphia there were great and serious painters, and everybody was inspiring one another and it was a beautiful time there.’ It was here that he began a relationship with a fellow student, Peggy Reavey, and they were married in 1967. The following year, Peggy gave birth to their daughter Jennifer. Later describing this situation, Peggy stated that ‘[Lynch] definitely was a reluctant father, but a very loving one. Hey, I was pregnant when we got married. We were both reluctant.’

As a family, they moved to the Fairmount neighborhood of Philadelphia, where they were able to purchase a large 12-room house for a relatively low $3,500 due to the high crime and poverty rates in the area. Later describing living there, Lynch stated that ‘We lived cheap, but the city was full of fear. A kid was shot to death down the street … We were robbed twice, had windows shot out and a car stolen. The house was first broken into only three days after we moved in … The feeling was so close to extreme danger, and the fear was so intense. There was violence and hate and filth. But the biggest influence in my whole life was that city.’ Meanwhile, in order to help financially support his family alongside his art studies, he took up a job printing engravings.

It was at the Philadelphia Academy that Lynch made his first short film, which was titled ‘Six Men Getting Sick’ (1966). He had first come up with the idea when he developed a wish to see his paintings move, and he subsequently began discussing the idea of creating an animation with an artist named Bruce Samuelson. When this project never came about, Lynch decided to work on a film alone, and so purchased the cheapest 16mm camera that he could find in order to do so. Taking one of the abandoned upper rooms of the Academy as a working space, he spent $200 – which at the time he felt to be a lot of money – to produce ‘Six Men Getting Sick.’ Describing the work as ’57 seconds of growth and fire, and three seconds of vomit,’ Lynch played the film on a loop at the Academy’s annual end-of-year exhibit, where it shared joint first prize with a painting by Noel Mahaffey.

This led to a commission from one of his fellow students, the wealthy H. Barton Wasserman, who offered him $1000 to create a film installation in his home. Spending $478.28 of that on purchasing the second-hand Bolex camera ‘of [his] dreams,’ Lynch produced a new animated short, but upon getting the film developed, realized that the result was simply a blurred, frameless print. As he would later relate, ‘So I called up Bart [Wasserman] and said, ‘Bart, the film is a disaster. The camera was broken and what I’ve done hasn’t turned out.’ And he said, ‘Don’t worry, David, take the rest of the money and make something else for me. Just give me a print.’ End of story.’

Using this leftover money, Lynch decided to experiment on making a work that was a mix of animation with live action, producing a four minute short called ‘The Alphabet’ (1968). The film starred Lynch’s wife Peggy as a character known as The Girl, who chants the alphabet to a series of images of horses before dying at the end by hemorrhaging blood all over her bed sheets. Adding a sound effect, Lynch used a broken Uher tape recorder to record the sound of his baby daughter Jennifer crying, creating a distorted sound that Lynch felt to be particularly effective. Later describing where he had got inspiration for this work from, Lynch stated that ‘Peggy’s niece was having a bad dream one night and was saying the alphabet in her sleep in a tormented way. So that’s sort of what started ‘The Alphabet going.’ The rest of it was just subconscious.’

Learning about the newly founded American Film Institute, which gave grants to filmmakers who could produce for them both a prior work and a script for a new project, Lynch decided to send them a copy of ‘The Alphabet’ along with a script that he had written for a new short film, one that would be almost entirely live action, and which would be named ‘The Grandmother.’ The Institute agreed to help finance the work, initially offering him $5000, out of his requested budget of $7,200, but later granting him the further $2,200 which he needed. Starring people he knew from both work and college and filmed in his own house, ‘The Grandmother’ revolved around the story of a neglected boy who ‘grows’ a grandmother from a seed to care for him. The film critics Michelle Le Blanc and Colin Odell later remarked that ‘this film is a true oddity but contains many of the themes and ideas that would filter into his later work, and shows a remarkable grasp of the medium.’

In 1971 Lynch moved with his wife and daughter to Los Angeles, where he began studying filmmaking at the AFI Conservatory, a place that he would later describe as being ‘completely chaotic and disorganized, which was great … you quickly learned that if you were going to get something done, you would have to do it yourself. They wanted to let people do their thing.’ He began writing a script for a proposed work titled ‘Gardenback,’ which had ‘unfolded from this painting I’d done.’ In this venture he was supported by a number of figures at the Conservatory, who encouraged him to lengthen the script and add in more dialogue, something that he reluctantly agreed to do. He became fed up with the Conservatory and announced that he was quitting. Attempting to prevent this, many of the teachers at the center asked him to reconsider, believing that he was one of their best students, and he finally agreed, albeit on the condition that he could create his own project that would not be interfered with. Feeling that ‘Gardenback’ was ‘wrecked,’ he instead set about on a new film, which he called ‘Eraserhead.’

Despite the fact that the film was planned to be about forty-two minutes long (it ended up being eighty-nine minutes long), the script for ‘Eraserhead’ was only 21 pages long, and some of the teachers at the Conservatory were concerned that the film would not be a success with such little dialogue and action. Nonetheless, they agreed not to interfere as they had done with ‘Gardenback,’ and as such Lynch was able to create the film free from interference. Filming, which began in 1972, took place at night in some abandoned stables, allowing the production team, which was largely Lynch and some of his friends, including Sissy Spacek, Jack Fisk, cinematographer Frederick Elmes and sound designer Alan Splet to set up a camera room, green room, editing room, sets as well as a food room and a bathroom. Initially, funding for the project came from the AFI, who gave Lynch a $10,000 grant, but it was not enough to complete the work, and under pressure from studios after the success of the relatively cheap feature film ‘Easy Rider,’ they were unable to provide him with any more. Following this, Lynch was also supported by a loan given to him by his father, and by money that he was able to bring in from a paper route that he took up delivering the ‘Wall Street Journal.’ Not long into the production, Lynch and his wife Peggy amicably separated and divorced, and so he began living full-time on set. In 1977, Lynch would remarry, this time to Jack Fisk’s sister Mary.

Filmed in black and white, ‘Eraserhead’ tells the story of a quiet young man named Henry (played by Jack Nance) living in a dystopian industrial wasteland, whose girlfriend gives birth to a deformed baby whom she leaves in his care. The baby constantly cries, eventually leading to its accidental death, at which the world itself begins to fall apart. Lynch has consistently refused to either confirm or deny any interpretation of ‘Eraserhead,’ or to ‘confess his own thinking behind the many abstractions in the film.’ Nonetheless, he admits that it was heavily influenced by the fearful mood of Philadelphia, and referred to the film as ‘my Philadelphia Story.’

Eraserhead was finally finished in 1976, after five years of production. Lynch subsequently tried to get the film entered into the Cannes Film Festival, but while some reviewers liked it, others felt that it was awful, and so it was not selected for screening. Similarly, reviewers from the New York Film Festival also rejected it, though it was screened at the Los Angeles Film Festival, where Ben Barenholtz, the distributor of the Elgin Theater, heard about it. He was very supportive of the movie, helping to distribute it around the United States in 1977, and ‘Eraserhead’ subsequently became popular on the midnight movie underground circuit, and was later described as one of the most important midnight movies of the seventies. Acclaimed filmmaker Stanley Kubrick said that it was one of his all-time favorite films.

After the cult success of ‘Eraserhead’ on the underground circuit, Stuart Cornfeld, an executive producer for Mel Brooks, saw it and later remarked that ‘I was just 100 per cent blown away … I thought it was the greatest thing I’d ever seen. It was such a cleansing experience.’ Contacting Lynch, he agreed to help him with his next planned project, a film titled ‘Ronnie Rocket’ for which Lynch had already written a script. Nonetheless, Lynch soon realized that ‘Ronnie Rocket,’ a film that he described as being about ‘electricity and a three-foot guy with red hair,’ was not going to be picked up by any financiers, and so he asked Cornfeld to find him a script written by someone else which he could direct. Cornfeld went away and found him four possible scripts, but upon hearing the title of the first, ‘The Elephant Man,’ Lynch was already sure that that was the script for him, going on nothing but the title.

‘The Elephant Man’ script – written by Chris de Vore and Eric Bergren – was based upon a true story, that of Joseph Merrick, a heavily deformed man living in Victorian London, who was held in a sideshow but was later taken under the care of a London surgeon, Frederick Treves. Lynch wanted to film it, but at the same time also had to make some alterations that would alter the story from true events, but in his view make a better plot. However, in order to do so he would have to get the permission of Mel Brooks, whose company, BrookFilms, would be responsible for production; subsequently Brooks viewed ‘Eraserhead,’ and after coming out of the screening theatre, embraced Lynch, declaring that ‘You’re a madman, I love you! You’re in.’

The resulting film starred John Hurt as John Merrick (his name was changed from Joseph), as well as Anthony Hopkins as Frederick Treves. Filming took place in London, and Lynch brought his own distinctively surrealist approach to the film, filming it in color stock black and white, but nonetheless it has been described as ‘one of the most conventional”‘ of his films. ‘The Elephant Man’ was a huge critical and commercial success, and earned eight Academy Award nominations, including Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay for Lynch personally.

Following on from the success of ‘The Elephant Man,’ the film maker George Lucas, himself a fan of ‘Eraserhead,’ offered Lynch the opportunity to direct the third film in his ‘Star Wars’ trilogy, ‘Return of the Jedi.’ Lynch however refused, arguing that Lucas should direct the film himself as the movie should reflect his own vision, not Lynch’s take on it. Soon after however, the opportunity to direct another big-budget science fiction epic arose when Dino de Laurentiis of the De Laurentiis Entertainment Group asked him to create a film adaptation of Frank Herbert’s science fiction novel ‘Dune’ (1965). Lynch agreed, and in doing so was also contractually obliged to produce two other works for the company. He then set about writing a script based upon the original novel, initially with both Chris de Vore and Eric Bergren, and then just by himself when De Laurentiis wasn’t happy with their ideas. Lynch also helped build some of the sets, attempting to create ‘a certain look” for the film, and he particularly enjoyed building the set for the oil planet of Giedi Prime, for which he ‘used steel, bolts, and porcelain to construct’ it.

‘Dune’ is set in the far future, when humans live in an interstellar empire run along a feudal system. The main character, Paul Atreides (played by Kyle MacLachlan), is the son of a noble who takes control of the desert planet Arrakis which grows the rare spice melange, the most highly prized commodity in the empire. Lynch however was unhappy with the work, later remarking that ”Dune’ was a kind of studio film. I didn’t have final cut. And, little by little, I was subconsciously making compromises’ to his own vision. He produced much footage for the film that was eventually removed from the final theatrical cut, dramatically condensing the plot. Although De Laurentiis hoped it would be as successful as ‘Star Wars,’ Lynch’s ‘Dune’ (1984) was a failure; it had cost $45 million to make, and grossed a mere $27.4 million domestically. Later on, Universal Studios released an ‘extended cut’ of the film for syndicated television, containing almost an hour of cutting-room-floor footage and new narration. The changes were not representative of Lynch’s intentions, but the studio considered it more comprehensible than the original two-hour version. Lynch objected and had his name struck from the extended cut, which has ‘Alan Smithee’ credited as the director and ‘Judas Booth’ (a pseudonym which Lynch himself invented, inspired by his own feelings of betrayal) as the screenwriter.

Meanwhile in 1983 he had begun the writing and drawing of a comic strip, ‘The Angriest Dog in the World,’ which featured unchanging graphics of a tethered dog that was so angry that it could not move, alongside cryptic philosophical references. It ran from 1983 until 1992 in the ‘Village Voice,’ ‘Creative Loafing’ and other tabloid and alternative publications. It was around this period that Lynch also got increasingly interested in photography as an art form, and travelled to northern England to take photos of the degrading industrial landscape, something that he was particularly interested in.

After ‘Dune,’ Lynch was contractually still obliged to produce two other projects for De Laurentiis: the first of these was a planned sequel, which due to the film’s lack of success never went beyond the script stage. The other was a more personal work, based upon a script that Lynch had been working on for some time. Developing from ideas that Lynch had had since 1973, the resulting film, ‘Blue Velvet,’ was set in the fictional town of Lumberton, USA, and revolves around a college student named Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan), who finds a severed ear in a field. Subsequently investigating further with the help of friend Sandy (Laura Dern), he uncovers that it is related to a criminal gang led by psychopath Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper), who has kidnapped the husband and child of singer Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini) and repeatedly subjects her to rape. Lynch himself characterizes the story as ‘a dream of strange desires wrapped inside a mystery story.’

For the film, Lynch decided to include pop songs from the 1950s, including ‘In Dreams’ by Roy Orbison and ‘Blue Velvet’ by Bobby Vinton, the latter of which was largely inspirational for the film, with Lynch stating that ‘It was the song that sparked the movie … There was something mysterious about it. It made me think about things. And the first things I thought about were lawns – lawns and the neighborhood.’ Other music for the film was also produced, this time composed by Angelo Badalamenti, who would go on to produce the music for most of Lynch’s subsequent cinematic works. Dino de Laurentiis loved the film, and it achieved support from some of the early specialist screenings, but the preview screenings to a mainstream audience were instead highly negative, with most of the audience hating the film. Although Lynch had found success previously with ‘The Elephant Man,’ Blue Velvet’s controversy with audiences and critics introduced him into the mainstream, and became a huge critical and moderate commercial success. The film earned Lynch his second Academy Award nomination for Best Director. Woody Allen, whose film ‘Hannah and Her Sisters’ was nominated for Best Picture, said that ‘Blue Velvet’ was his favorite film of the year.

During the late 1980s, Lynch had begun to work in television as well as cinema, directing a short piece titled ‘The Cowboy and the Frenchman’ for French television in 1989. Around this time, he met the television producer Mark Frost, who had formerly worked on such projects as the television police series ‘Hill Street Blues,’ and they decided to start working together on a biopic of singer and actress Marilyn Monroe based upon Anthony Summers’s book, ‘The Goddess: The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe.’ While this project never got off the ground, the duo went on to work on a comedy script named ‘One Saliva Bubble,’ but that did not see completion either. It was while they were talking in a coffee shop that Lynch and Frost both had the idea of a corpse washing up on the shore of a lake, and using this image as a basis subsequently set about on their third project, which they initially named ‘Northwest Passage’ but which would eventually come to fruition as the television series ‘Twin Peaks’ (1990–1991). A drama series set in a small Washington town where popular high school student Laura Palmer has been raped and murdered, ‘Twin Peaks’ featured FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) as the investigator trying to unearth the killer, and discovering not only the supernatural elements to the murder but also the secrets of many of the local townsfolk – as Lynch himself summed it up, ‘The project was to mix a police investigation with the ordinary lives of the characters.’

A second season went into production soon after, which lasted for a further 22 episodes. In all, Lynch himself only directed six episodes out of the whole series due to other responsibilities, namely his work on the film ‘Wild at Heart,’ but carefully chose those other directors whom he entrusted with the job. Meanwhile, Lynch also appeared in several episodes of the series, acting in the role of deaf FBI agent Gordon Cole. The series was a success, with high viewing figures both in the United States and in many nations abroad, and soon spawned a cult following. Nonetheless, the executives at the ABC Network, believing that public interest in the show was decreasing, insisted that Lynch and Frost reveal who the killer of Laura Palmer was prematurely, something that they only begrudgingly agreed to do, and Lynch has always felt that agreeing to do so is one of his biggest professional regrets. Following a ratings drop the show was cancelled. Lynch, who disliked the direction that the writers and directors had taken in the previous few episodes, chose to direct the final episode, which he ended on a cliffhanger, later stating that ‘that’s not the ending. That’s the ending that people were stuck with.’

While ‘Twin Peaks’ was in production, the Brooklyn Academy of Music asked Lynch and the composer Angelo Badalamenti, who had been responsible for the music in ‘Twin Peaks,’ to create a theatrical piece which would only be performed twice at their academy in New York City in 1989 as a part of the New Music America Festival. The result was ‘Industrial Symphony No. 1: The Dream of the Broken Hearted,’ which starred such frequent Lynch collaborators as Laura Dern, Nicolas Cage, and Michael J. Anderson as well as containing five songs sung by Julee Cruise. David Lynch produced a fifty-minute video of the performance in 1990. Meanwhile, Lynch was also involved in the creation of various commercials for different companies, including perfume companies like Yves Saint Laurent, Calvin Klein and Giorgio Armani and for the Japanese coffee company Namoi, the latter of which involved a Japanese man searching the town of Twin Peaks for his missing wife.

‘1990 was Lynch’s annus mirabilis: ‘Wild at Heart’ won the Palme d’Or at Cannes, and the television series ‘Twin Peaks’ was proving a smash hit with audiences across the world. The musical/performance piece ‘Industrial Symphony No. 1,’ which Lynch had staged with Angelo Badalamenti at the Brooklyn Academy of music, had spawned the album ‘Floating into the Night’ and launched singer Julee Cruise. Five one-man exhibitions between 1989 and 1991 emphasized Lynch’s roots in fine art and painting, and a rash of ads (including a teaser trailer for Michael Jackson’s ‘Dangerous’ tour) confirmed the demand for the Lynch touch … In an unlikely scenario for the maker of ‘Eraserhead,’ Lynch had become an influential and fashionable brand name.’

While still working on the first few episodes of ‘Twin Peaks,’ Lynch’s friend, Monty Montgomery ‘gave me a book that he wanted to direct as a movie. He asked if I would maybe be executive producer or something, and I said ‘That’s great, Monty, but what if I read it and fall in love with it and want to do it myself?’ And he said, ‘In that case, you can do it yourself.” The book was Barry Gifford’s novel ‘Wild at Heart: The Story of Sailor and Lula,’ which told the tale of two lovers on a road trip, and Lynch felt that it was ‘just exactly the right thing at the right time. The book and the violence in America merged in my mind and many different things happened.’ With Gifford’s support, Lynch set about to adapt the novel into a film, with the result being ‘Wild at Heart,’ a crime and road movie starring Nicolas Cage as Sailor and Laura Dern as Lula. Describing his plot as a ‘strange blend’ of ‘a road picture, a love story, a psychological drama and a violent comedy,’ he altered much from the original novel, changing the ending, and incorporating numerous references to the classic film ‘The Wizard of Oz.’

Following on from the success of ‘Wild at Heart,’ Lynch decided to return to the world of the now-cancelled ‘Twin Peaks,’ this time without Mark Frost, to create a film that acted primarily as a prequel but also, in part, as a sequel, with Lynch stating that ‘I liked the idea of the story going back and forth in time.’ The result, ‘Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me’ (1992), primarily revolved around the last few days in the life of Laura Palmer, and was much ‘darker’ in tone than the television series, having much of the humor removed, and dealing with such topics as incest and murder. Lynch himself stated that the film was about ‘the loneliness, shame, guilt, confusion and devastation of the victim of incest.’

In 1997 he released the non-linear, noiresque ‘Lost Highway,’ co-written by Barry Gifford and starring Bill Pullman and Patricia Arquette. The film failed commercially and received a mixed response from critics. However, thanks in part to a soundtrack featuring David Bowie, Marilyn Manson, Rammstein, Nine Inch Nails, and The Smashing Pumpkins, it helped gain Lynch a new audience of Generation X viewers.

Following ‘Lost Highway,’ Lynch went on to work on directing a film from a script written by Mary Sweeney and John E. Roach. The resulting motion picture, ‘The Straight Story,’ was based upon the true story of Alvin Straight (played in the film by Richard Farnsworth), an elderly man from Laurens, Iowa, who goes on three hundred mile journey to visit his sick brother (played by Harry Dean Stanton) in Mount Zion, Wisconsin, riding the whole way there upon a lawnmower. Commenting on why he chose this script, Lynch would simply relate that ‘that’s what I fell in love with next,’ and displayed his admiration for Straight, describing him as being ‘like James Dean, except he’s old.’ Once more, Angelo Badalamenti produced the music for the film, although he created instrumentation that was ‘very different from the kind of score he’s done for [Lynch] in the past.’ Having many differences with most of his work, particularly in that it did not contain any profanities, sexual content or violence, ‘The Straight Story’ was rated G (general viewing) by the Motion Picture Association of America, and as such came as ‘shocking news’ to many in the film industry, who were surprised that it ‘did not disturb, offend or mystify.’ However, as Le Blanc and Odell stated, the plot made it ‘seem as far removed from Lynch’s earlier works as could be imagined, but in fact right from the very opening, this is entirely his film – a surreal road movie.’

The same year, Lynch approached ABC once again with ideas for a television drama. The network gave Lynch the go-ahead to shoot a two-hour pilot for the series ‘Mulholland Drive,’ but disputes over content and running time led to the project being shelved indefinitely. However, with seven million dollars from the French production company StudioCanal, Lynch completed the pilot as a feature film. The end result, a non-linear narrative surrealist tale of the dark side of Hollywood, stars Naomi Watts, Laura Harring and Justin Theroux. The film performed relatively well at the box office worldwide and was a critical success, earning Lynch his third Academy Award nomination for Best Director.

With the onset of popularity of the internet, Lynch decided to utilize this new medium, releasing several new series that he had created exclusively on his website, davidlynch.com. In 2002, he created a series of online shorts named ‘Dumbland.’ Intentionally crude both in content and execution, the eight-episode series was later released on DVD. The same year, Lynch released a surreal sitcom via his website – ‘Rabbits,’ which revolved around a family of humanoid rabbits. Later, he showed his experiments with Digital Video in the form of the Japanese-style horror short ‘Darkened Room.’

In 2006, Lynch’s feature film ‘Inland Empire’ was released. At three hours long, it was the longest of Lynch’s films. Like ‘Mulholland Drive’ and ‘Lost Highway’ before it, the film did not follow a traditional narrative structure. It starred Lynch regulars Laura Dern, Harry Dean Stanton, and Justin Theroux, with cameos by Naomi Watts and Laura Harring (voices of Suzie and Jane Rabbit), and a performance by Jeremy Irons. Lynch described the piece as ‘a mystery about a woman in trouble.’ In an effort to promote the film, Lynch made appearances with a cow and a placard bearing the slogan ‘Without cheese there would be no Inland Empire.’

In 2010, Lynch began making guest appearances on the ‘Family Guy’ spin-off, ‘The Cleveland Show’ as Gus the Bartender. He had been convinced to appear in the show by its lead actor, ‘Mike Henry,’ who is a fan of Lynch and who felt that his whole life had changed after seeing ‘Wild at Heart.’

Lynch says that his work is more similar in many respects to those of European film makers than American ones, believing that most films that ‘get down and thrill your soul’ were by European directors. Lynch has commented on his admiration for such filmmakers as Stanley Kubrick, Federico Fellini, Werner Herzog, and Jacques Tati. He has also stated that Billy Wilder’s ‘Sunset Boulevard’ (1950) is one of his favorite films, as is Kubrick’s ‘Lolita’ (1962).

There are several recurring themes within Lynch’s work, leading film critics Le Blanc and Odell to state that ‘his films are so packed with motifs, recurrent characters, images, compositions and techniques that you could view his entire output as one large jigsaw puzzle of ideas.’ One of the key themes that they noted was the usage of dreams and dreamlike imagery and structure within his works, something they related to the ‘surrealist ethos’ of relying ‘on the subconscious to provide visual drive.’ This can be seen in John Merrick’s dream of his mother in ‘The Elephant Man,’ Agent Cooper’s dreams of the red room in ‘Twin Peaks’ and the ‘dream logic’ of the narrative found in ‘Eraserhead,’ ‘Mulholland Drive,’ and ‘Inland Empire.’ Discussing his attitude to dreams, Lynch has stated that ‘Waking dreams are the ones that are important, the ones that come when I’m quietly sitting in a chair, letting my mind wander. When you sleep, you don’t control your dream. I like to dive into a dream world that I’ve made or discovered; a world I choose … [You can’t really get others to experience it, but] right there is the power of cinema.’ His films are known for their use of magic realism.

Another of Lynch’s prominent themes include industry, with repeated imagery of ‘the clunk of machinery, the power of pistons, shadows of oil drills pumping, screaming woodmills and smoke billowing factories,’ as can be seen with the industrial wasteland in ‘Eraserhead,’ the factories in ‘The Elephant Man,’ the sawmill in ‘Twin Peaks’ and the lawn mower in ‘The Straight Story.’ Describing his interest in such things, Lynch stated that ‘It makes me feel good to see giant machinery, you know, working: dealing with molten metal. And I like fire and smoke. And the sounds are so powerful. It’s just big stuff. It means that things are being made, and I really like that.’

Another theme is the idea of a ‘dark underbelly’ of violent criminal activity within a society, such as with Frank’s gang in ‘Blue Velvet’ and the cocaine smugglers in ‘Twin Peaks.’ According to Lynch, ‘I look at the world and I see absurdity all around me. People do strange things constantly, to the point that, for the most part, we manage not to see it. That’s why I love coffee shops and public places – I mean, they’re all out there.’ The idea of deformity is also found in several of Lynch’s films, from the protagonist in ‘The Elephant Man,’ to the deformed baby in ‘Eraserhead,’ as is the idea of death from a head wound, found in most of Lynch’s films. Other imagery commonly used within Lynch’s works are flickering electricity or lights, as well as fire and the idea of a stage upon which a singer performs, often surrounded by drapery.

With the exception of ‘The Elephant Man’ and ‘Dune,’ which are set in Victorian London and a fictitious galaxy respectively, all of Lynch’s films have been set in the United States, and he has stated that ‘I like certain things about America and it gives me ideas. When I go around and I see things, it sparks little stories, or little characters pop out, so it just feels right to me to, you know, make American films.’ A number of his works, including ‘Blue Velvet,’ ‘Twin Peaks,’ and ‘Lost Highway’ are intentionally reminiscent of the 1950s American culture even though they were set in the later decades of the 20th century. Lynch later commented on his feelings for this decade, which was that in which he grew up as a child, by stating that, ‘It was a fantastic decade in a lot of ways … there was something in the air that is not there anymore at all. It was such a great feeling, and not just because I was a kid. It was a really hopeful time, and things were going up instead of going down. You got the feeling you could do anything. The future was bright. Little did we know we were laying the groundwork then for a disastrous future.’

Lynch also tends to feature his leading female actors in multiple or ‘split’ roles, so that many of his female characters have multiple, fractured identities. This practice began with his choice to cast Sheryl Lee as both Laura Palmer and her cousin Maddy Ferguson in ‘Twin Peaks’ and continued in his later works. In ‘Lost Highway,’ Patricia Arquette plays the dual role of Renee Madison/Alice Wakefield, while in ‘Mulholland Drive,’ Naomi Watts plays Diane Selwyn/Betty Elms and Laura Harring plays Camilla Rhodes/Rita, and in ‘Inland Empire,’ Laura Dern plays Nikki Grace/Susan Blue. By contrast, Lynch rarely creates multi-character roles for his male actors.

Lynch first trained as a painter, and although he is now better known as a filmmaker, he has also produced much painting work. Lynch has stated that ‘all my paintings are organic, violent comedies. They have to be violently done and primitive and crude, and to achieve that I try to let nature paint more than I paint.’ Many of his works are very dark in color, and Lynch has described this as being because ‘I wouldn’t know what to do with [color]. Colour to me is too real. It’s limiting. It doesn’t allow too much of a dream. The more you throw black into a color, the more dreamy it gets … Black has depth. It’s like a little egress; you can go into it, and because it keeps on continuing to be dark, the mind kicks in, and a lot of things that are going on in there become manifest. And you start seeing what you’re afraid of. You start seeing what you love, and it becomes like a dream.’

Many of his works also contain letters and words added to the painting, something which he explains: ‘The words in the paintings are sometimes important to make you start thinking about what else is going on in there. And a lot of times, the words excite me as shapes, and something’ll grow out of that. I used to cut these little letters out and glue them on. They just look good all lined up like teeth … sometimes they become the title of the painting.’ Lynch considers the Anglo-Irish 20th century artist Francis Bacon to be his ‘number one kinda hero painter,’ stating that ‘Normally I only like a couple of years of a painter’s work, but I like everything of Bacon’s. The guy, you know, had the stuff.’

Lynch has also been involved in a number of music projects, many of them related to his films. Most notably he produced and wrote lyrics for Julee Cruise’s first two albums, ‘Floating into the Night’ (1989) and ‘The Voice of Love’ (1993), in collaboration with Angelo Badalamenti who composed the music and also produced. Lynch has also worked on the 1998 Jocelyn Montgomery album ‘Lux Vivens.’ He has also composed bits of music for ‘Wild at Heart,’ ‘Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me,’ ‘Mulholland Drive,’ and ‘Rabbits.’ In 2001, he released ‘BlueBob,’ a rock album performed by Lynch and John Neff. The album is notable for Lynch’s unusual guitar playing style: he plays ‘upside down and backwards, like a lap guitar,’ and relies heavily on effects pedals. Most recently Lynch has composed several pieces for ‘Inland Empire,’ including two songs, ‘Ghost of Love’ and ‘Walkin’ on the Sky,’ in which he makes his public debut as a singer.

In 2010, Lynch released two electro pop music singles, ‘Good Day Today’ and ‘I Know,’ through the independent British label Sunday Best Recordings. Describing why he created them, he stated that ‘I was just sitting and these notes came and then I went down and started working with Dean [Hurley, his engineer] and then these few notes, ‘I want to have a good day, today’ came and the song was built around that.’ The singles were followed by an album, ‘Crazy Clown Time,’ which was released in 2011 and described as an ‘electronic blues album.’ The songs were sung by Lynch, with guest vocals on one track by Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and composed and performed by Lynch and Dean Hurley.

Working with designer Raphael Navot, architectural agency Enia and light designer Thierry Dreyfus, Lynch has conceived and designed a nightclub in Paris. Silencio opened in 2011, and is a private member’s club although is free to the public after midnight. Patrons have access to concerts, films and other performances by artists and guests. Inspired by the club of the same name in his 2001 film ‘Mulholland Drive,’ the underground space consists of a series of rooms, each dedicated to a certain purpose or atmosphere. ‘Silencio is something dear to me. I wanted to create an intimate space where all the arts could come together. There won’t be a Warhol-like guru, but it will be open to celebrated artists of all disciplines to come here to programme or create what they want.’

Lynch advocates the use of meditation techniques in bringing peace to the world. He was first initiated into Transcendental Meditation in 1973, and has practiced the technique consistently since then. Lynch says he met Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the founder of the TM movement, for the first time in 1975 at the Spiritual Regeneration Movement center in Los Angeles. He reportedly became close with Maharishi during a month-long ‘Millionaire’s Enlightenment Course’ held in 2003, the fee for which was US$1 million. Lynch attended the funeral of the Maharishi in India in 2008. He told a reporter, ‘In life, he revolutionised the lives of millions of people. … In 20, 50, 500 years there will be millions of people who will know and understand what the Maharishi has done.’ In 2009, he went to India to film interviews with people who knew the Maharishi as part of a biographical documentary.

Lynch is an avid coffee drinker and even has his own line of special organic blends available for purchase on his website. Called ‘David Lynch Signature Cup,’ the coffee has been advertised via flyers included with several recent Lynch-related DVD releases, including ‘Inland Empire’ and the Gold Box edition of ‘Twin Peaks.’ The possibly self-mocking tag-line for the brand is ‘It’s all in the beans … and I’m just full of beans.’ This is also a quote of a line said by Justin Theroux’s character in ‘Inland Empire.’

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