Chat-worthy Auteur: David Lynch

[rtm’s note: This post is part of LAMB’s Director’s Chair #17 event]

There is much to say about a director such as David Lynch – mainstream and avant-garde, meticulous visual painter and sound designer, having a wicked and dry sense of humor, once dated Isabella Rossellini, having an uncanny full head of hair, an honored Chevalier and Officier in France, TV and film innovator who pushes the boundaries of narrative and medium, a tireless self promoter (he sells his own brand of coffee), a practitioner of transcendental meditation, and a surprisingly intelligent embracer of new technology (just check out DavidLynch.com).

It is impossible to categorize such an auteur. He has one foot in Academy Award circles and another in the wild and arty glamorama of European film festivals – and rightfully so. Here is a guy who has proven time and again a calculated but organic control over his craft.

Below is a range of his films that run the gamut of extremity, preciseness and dare we say it: straightforwardness.

Eraserhead (1977)

This self-produced and family financed film is near the top of all time cult classics. Dark, powerful and brooding, we are initiated into Lynch’s metaphysical world of grotesquery. Too strange to describe into precise words, it needs an open minded viewing or clear palette to appreciate. This is Jack Nance’s first film with the director. Reportedly a favorite of Kubrick and George Lucas.

The Elephant Man (1980)

This fine period piece is a heartfelt biography of severely deformed but highly intelligent John Merrick (John Hurt) who popularized the disease in Victorian times. Anthony Hopkins plays the surgeon who discovers Merrick in a London sideshow. The film garnered nominations for Best Picture and Actor.

Dune (1984)

Lynch’s worst film of the lot is really not that bad and may have gotten the unfair shake from Hollywood who disagreed with the director’s vision. Not quite Blade Runner status, the film did showcase innovative set design and costumes and boasted an all star cast. A difficult adaptation by any standards, Lynch got close to the essence of the book’s metaphysics unlike future substandard adaptations. I still believe only Lynch could do this justice.

Blue Velvet (1986)

One of Lynch’s best, Blue Velvet is a twisted homage to the 50s American Dream. It shows the grotesque, evil and sexually violent dark side of a picturesque and pastoral small town in middle America. Dennis Hopper portrays Frank Booth – one of the most memorable screen villains in film history.

Wild at Heart (1990)

A loose meditation on the Wizard of Oz fable, Wild at Heart is a road trip love story of extreme caricatures and characters that I could call it ‘fun’. Less serious than previous works, it has all the hallmarks of creepy characters, violence, symbolism and strangeness one would expect from Lynch. Adding to Frank Booth’s legacy is Willem Dafoe’s portrayal of sleaze ball Bobby Peru.

Lost Highway (1997)

My personal favorite, this is Lynch’s first foray into non-linearity storytelling. Bill Pullman in perfectly cast as the jilted putz along with Patricia Arquette (the perfect femme fatale) in a steamy role as his adulterous wife. Requires multiple viewings to appreciate but well worth the time and effort. Robert Loggia is hilarious as a ruthless mob boss and Robert Blake plays an excellent Mephisto. The giant cell phone scene is a classic.

The Straight Story (1999)

Proof that David Lynch can tell a ‘straight’ story, this heartfelt film tells the true story of Alvin Straight (old-Hollywood stuntman Richard Farnsworth in his last and Oscar nominated performance) who traveled across Wisconsin and Iowa on a tractor to visit his ailing brother. Though a ‘straightforward’ story, any Lynch fan can see the surrealism in an old geezer’s relentless mission to travel cross country on a riding lawnmower.

Mulholland Dr. (2001)

Nominated for Best Film, here Lynch perfected the non-linear narrative in this atmospheric and narcotic film. Originally conceived as a TV series, Mulholland Dr. works perfectly as a standalone film. Naomi Watts is excellent as Betty, an aspiring and innocent wannabe actress – or is she? There are pastoral elements reminiscent of Blue Velvet that only enhance the shock that perhaps all is not what it seems. Plenty of memorable scenes especially of Justin Theroux’s Hollywood meeting with the Italian film producers. Ordering a cappuccino would never be the same.

Inland Empire (2006)

Though not a fan of standard definition DV camerawork, you have to admire Lynch’s passion for DIY ethics. Clocking in at 3 hours, this is challenging stuff with all the strangeness, horror and humor to be expected. Diehard Lynchians will easily eat this up though with the help of caffeine and cigarettes (2 of Lynch’s vices). Inland Empire takes non-linear storytelling to a new level in that the script was also being written during filming. The actors did not know their lines or scenes in advance – they improvised on a daily basis. Laura Dern’s portrayal of an adulterous Hollywood starlet is one of her finest.


What are your thoughts on Mr. Lynch? You can start by sharing your favorite movie(s) from his collection.

62 thoughts on “Chat-worthy Auteur: David Lynch

  1. David Lynch is one of my top favorite living directors simply because of the originality and technique in his work. Also, Inland Empire is one of my thirty favorite movies of all time so that must tell you something. Great article.

    1. Vince

      Thanks magnolia – I’ve been a fan since my teens but somehow felt I was being naughty in doing so. Lynch has that effect on you I suppose… Thank you Ruth for offering this post – you have fulfilled a need.

  2. I saw Blue Velvet in film class. I saw most of his movies when i was younger, but the only ones i can remember are Elephant Man, Eraserhead, and Wild at Heart.

    I’m kind of surprised you did a post on him, as i figured most of his movies wouldn’t be to your liking

    I’ve been meaning to participate in one of the LAMB events, but it never seems to focus on someone who i can really write about

    1. It’s not my post, J, it’s Vince’s. I don’t know much about Lynch but when I saw he’s being featured on LAMB I definitely knew who’d be perfect to contribute about him 😉

  3. Not really a fan of Lynch, but strangely when his films a listed in front of me I seem to like quite a few…..ODD!!

    Thanks for putting this together matey

    C

  4. I generally don’t like directors like Lynch, but DUNE is and always will be one of my favourite childhood movies ever! A film like that would flop today, but it was so wonderfully trashy and lovely back in those days 🙂
    His TWEAN PEAX show was a huge hit in my country.

    1. Ted S.

      Well Dez Dune flopped when it opened in theater back in 1984 too so I don’t think it would matter what decade it comes out. 🙂
      I sort of enjoyed the movie, seen it a couple of times.

    2. I actually liked Twin Peaks when it was on back in Indo, never understood what in the world it was about but it was intriguing.

      Ted, do you have the DUNE Blu-ray? I might borrow it from you if you have it… I’m curious about it now since you said my pitch was a cross between Dune and Total Recall?? I asked Vince if he thought so too and he couldn’t figure out what the Dune connection is w/ my story.

      1. Ted S.

        Yeah I do have it on BD, come over anytime to pick it up.

        As for how it relates to your pitch film, I think it’s the scope of what you came up with that’s similar. Anyhoo, maybe when you finally see Dune you might think it’s similar or not. 🙂

        1. How about if you bring that and the Supes BDs on the Fourth picnic? 😀 I’ll email you the exact date, most likely it’ll be on Saturday.

      2. I also still don’t know what TWIN PEAKS was about, Flixy 🙂 But I remember loving Madchen Amick and Cherylin Fenn who disappeared after that for unknown reasons. While Kyle MacLahlan is still active, again for unknown reasons 🙂

        1. Oh yeah Dez, Madchen Amick and Sherilyn Fenn are gorgeous, I wonder what happened to those two. Kyle MacLachlan was sooo cute in his younger days 😀

  5. Ted S.

    Good write up Vince, I can’t really say Lynch is my favorite director but I’ve always appreciate his work. I’ve never seen Straight Story or Inland Empire, the last film I saw from him was Mulholland Dr. which was very good. I don’t know if I’ll ever see Inland Empire, I heard a lot of bad things about it and three hours might be too long for me.

    If I remember correctly, didn’t he disowned Dune? He said he felt like a sell out after he made the film.

    1. Yes, you’re right Ted. He disowned it. But it still has all the hallmarks of a Lynch film. Except maybe for the whole Toto soundtrack. Now that’s weird.

  6. Jack Deth

    Hi, Ruth and company:

    Lynch is kind of hit and miss with me. Bold and audacious, to be sure. A few of his films (The Elephant Man, Blue Velvet) are cinematic icons. While others (Eraserhead, Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive) are intriguing, yet flat out strange.

    Regardless, Lynch does gleefully push the limits while carving out a niche in lifting the lids on deeply hidden secrets. With Douglas Sirk’s sense of style and color and Nicholas Ray’s ability to expose and revel in what’s hidden beneath the facade.

    That said. No once tickles the ‘Creepy’ nerves and the mental desire to take a shower afterwards than David Lynch.

    1. Hi Jack,

      Thanks for mentioning Sirk – that is a beautiful way of describing Blue Velvet’s picturesque quality. He is also a great subject for a future post.

  7. David Lynch is a director who I really really wish I “got”. Meaning… I just don’t understand his films. I don’t dislike them at all, but I have no clue what I’m supposed to be getting out of them. This is made even more strange by the fact that I love other directorial weirdos like Luis Buñuel, Guy Maddin, Alain Resnais… They’re some of my very favorites. So it seems like Lynch is someone I should go bananas about.

    I keep trying. One of these days, Lynch is going to click for me.

    1. I get you, john. His films don’t affect me straight on but almost in a primal way. He is quite bold in his brushstrokes. I guess they are like dreams – they are hard to interpret.

      1. Hey John, I have a feeling I’m gonna be in your camp. Granted I only saw two of Lynch’s work so far and the fact that I’m not as ‘experienced’ w/ um, quirky directors like you, I probably would be even more lost watching his films!

  8. Some of the most fascinating things about “Eraserhead” are the behind the scenes stories. I have heard that they filmed the main character opening a door……then like a year later finished the shot of him coming through the other side. “Elephant Man” is easily my favorite of the bunch and I’ll never forget that amazing makeup or the performances of Hurt Anthony Hopkins and Sir John Gielgud. Lynch is an acquired taste for film buffs, but when he hits all the right notes, you’re in for a treat.

  9. I forgot to mention something about David Lynch DVDs in general: you can’t skip to the next scene or chapter – they’re not encoded in the disc itself. Lynch intentionally left those features out to force the viewer to experience the movie from beginning to end without interrupting the flow. How’s that for control…

    1. Yeah, that’s what I heard too, Vince. I guess I don’t mind that he enforces it, I mean, as an artist, why can’t he control how his art-form is viewed? If people don’t want to watch it that way, then they don’t have to watch his films.

    2. Ted S.

      I still love his rants on YouTube a few years ago where he said you can’t watch a f***ing on an iPhone! I love that.

    1. Ahah, yes indeed, the one and only!! He is by definition a rock star who’s also a dad 😀 I’ll change his banner to reflect that. Thanks Custard!

    2. PrairieGirl

      Hi Custard, yes, Vince and Rockerdad are indeed the same person. He works with Flixy (Ruth) and PrairieGirl (me/Becky in the next cube row over.) He has a blog of the same name; http://rockerdad.wordpress.com/

      How do you like your new press agent, Rockerdad, uh, Vince? (smile)

      1. Ssssh Becky, you don’t want to reveal our identity.. what’s next, you’re gonna tell everyone the address to our office? 😀 😀

  10. I have a hard time with Lynch. There is three films of his I like.

    The Straight Story
    The Elephant Man
    Lost Highway

    I’m totally with you on Lost Highway its a good examples manipulated narrative (Pulp Fiction and Memento are even more concrete ones). In film school we analyzed it and one conclusion that I think fits well is that the story is shaped like the an 8 it just goes around and around. Nice post!

    1. Vince

      Thanks Joel and good analysis – figure 8 – infinite intertwining of narrative. My film professor in college had no patience for his films. He once described Blue Velvet as ‘created from too much coffee and cigarettes’ (ironically, 2 of Lynch’s favorite vices as I mentioned above).

  11. A wonderfully visionary director who has steered clear of Hollywood pressure to become more commercial. It is quite astonishing when you consider the quality of his work throughout a career that has spanned decades.

    1. Vince

      Agreed Dan. With the exception of Dune, he’s been uncompromising. Though I imagine he might be a difficult guy to be around sometimes. Kinda like Neil Young…

    1. Vince

      I’m still not completely sure why I love his stuff – some reasons are obvious but others are not. Archetypal in some ways.

    1. Vince

      I’m still baffled as to how it garnered an Oscar nod … definitely one of the weirdest films to be nominated.

  12. Dave W

    I gotta say Lynch is one of my favorite directors. His importance to film can’t be overstated. As far as “getting” him… I think his films are meant to be experienced in the same way 2001: A Space Odyssey was meant to be experienced. His films are meant to be visceral. His films are the stuff of dreams not unlike the surrealists Buñuel and Dali. When you look at Dali’s art do you “get” his stuff? You either like it or you don’t. Certainly you can agree that there is a madness to Dali’s method that makes his art revered around the world…. like it or not.

    First of all no director has ever used sound to better effect than David. Coppola’s work with sound designer Walter Murch is probably the only other combo that even comes close. See The Conversation and Apocalypse Now (the quadraphonic sound design developed for that film was a forerunner to Dolby and THX) . Lynch believes that films are 50% sound made up of “hard effects, abstract effects, and music” and he especially wanted to amplify the abstract effects to set the mood for his films. Alan Splet was Lynch’s sound designer from his early short The Grandmother up to Blue Velvet. How influential was he? In 1980 he received a Special Achievement for Sound Editing Academy Award for The Black Stallion. The next year the Academy recognized sound effects editing as a category worthy of an annual Oscar. He later went on to work with Peter Weir, Carroll Ballard and Philip Kaufman although sadly I think Splet’s talents were seriously wasted on films like Weekend At Bernie’s and Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead…. but I digress. In fact a sound designer wasn’t even a real title back in the 70’s. Lynch didn’t want the stock sounds that Hollywood had been using for ages aka that stupid horse whinny you hear in every movie or the infamous ‘wilhelm scream’. He wanted organic, found sounds that were around him. Nothing electronic. Part of this was due to budgetary restrictions but alas necessity IS the mother of invention. He and Alan spent months and month building up a sound library recording sounds at a very high quality. These were the days before samplers. David’s films aren’t known for his scored music really but I bet you can hum more than half of Speilberg’s can’t you. Try and LISTEN to one of Lynch’s films next time. Check out this link: http://www.musicofsound.co.nz/blog/directors-on-working-with-alan-splet

    Secondly there a lot of weird films out there but there is an obsessiveness to his weirdness that sets him apart from the other filmmakers. Begotten is another example of a film that falls into this category of being so obsessively weird that there is a dark beauty to it. Eraserhead and Begotten are two films that are so unique that they are singular to their directors. Love him or hate him at least give him credit for being unique in a world of
    Michael Bay’s and Tony Scott’s.

    Twin Peaks revolutioned TV back in the late 80’s. Period. You can thank David for the great programming that is around today becaused he pushed the boundries of what was considered TV back then. Do you think we would have such diverse, unique, well written shows as Breaking Bad, The X-Files, Lost, Rescue Me, Sons of Anarchy, Weeds, The Sopranos, 24, The Walking Dead, Deadwood, Dexter, Mad Men and lesser shows like Miracles, Jericho, Supernatural, Millenium, Nowhere Man, and Oliver Stone’s miniseries Wild Palms… without Twin Peaks? He chose to shoot on location in Washington and on film instead of video which gave it a look unlike other shows on TV at the time. Tell me, has there ever been more haunting images on TV than Laura Palmer’s corpse, wrapped in plastic, lying dead on the river bank or Ronette Pulaski walking a bloodied and beaten down the train tracks after her escape or Dale Cooper talking to “the giant” in his dreams or BOB suddenly appearing at the foot of the bed or lastly the infamous dream sequence in the room draped with red curtains where the dwarf is speaking backwards while Laura reveals the killer to an aged Dale Cooper and then the dwarf proceeds to dance around room?!? Angelo Badalamenti’s cool, jazzy music was unique to say the least back then. Julie Cruise had a hit with the atmospheric song “Falling” which was the theme song with lyrics. The instrumental won a Grammy for Best Pop Instrumental in ’90. Laura Palmer’s diary, written by Jennifer Lynch, his daughter, became a huge best seller in book stores. The casting was excellent. An up and coming Kyle Mclaughlin as Agent Dale Cooper was one of the most unique characters to come along in a good while. Odd, intellegent, and boy did he love his pie and coffee! There was a gaggle of ingenues in Sherilyn Fenn, Madchen Amick, Lara Flynn Boyle and Sheryl Lee. James Marshall as James Hurley was the James Dean stand-in and Dana Ashbrook was menacing as bad boy Bobby Briggs. The scene where he barks like a dog at James Hurley in the jail was a classic. He brought in veteran actors like Piper “They’re all gonna laugh at you” Laurie, Russ Tamblyn, Peggy “Mod Squad” Lipton, Richard Beymer, Ray Wise, Michael “Slapshot” Ontkean, Joan Chen and Lynch regulars Jack Nance and Grace Zabriski. Top notch acting all the way around. I can’t imagine how big the show would have been had the internet been around in those days. Ok, so the show petered out during the second season. Even Lynch’s partner, Mark Frost, said they didn’t know where they were going after Laura Palmer’s killer was revealed. For those who saw the series originally on TV you gotta admit it sure was one a hell of a ride.

    I could go on and on but I won’t bore you. David is highly regarded among his peers and that says a lot. Anyone who can make films that range from Eraserhead to the G-rated, Disney produced The Straight Story is ok in my book.

    1. Vince

      Dave,
      Thank you for the rich, detailed comment – not a word rang false with me. Yes, one thing that most people overlook is Lynch’s work in the sound of his films. Being a musician/engineer, I was delighted to learn that he uses a lot of the same effects plugins I use in mixing (and they are some serious tools!) In that sense, I’m even more of a fan than most. Sound is so important to a film’s emotional and psychological effect – Kubrick first demonstrated this most dramatically with 2001 (even using existing classical recordings). I mean who would use Ligeti in a movie?!

      1. Dave W

        When it comes to Lynch I feel like I have to defend him because he too often gets dismissed out of hand thus the lenghty diatribe. My favorite artist is Dali so you can see where my Lynch admiration comes from. Lynch is also an artist.

        Use Ligeti?!? let alone a composer like Krzysztof Penderecki who Kubrick used in the Shining. Although Friedkin used him first in The Exorcist. Fun fact… Kubrick had the cast of The Shining watch The Exorcist, Rosemary’s Baby and Eraserhead to get them in the mood. Lynch even influenced Stanley. Who’d a thunk it? A great, avant garde soundtrack I highly recommend is John Corigliano’s “Altered States”.

        Interesting story. I attended Berlkee College of Music back in the late 80’s. I took a film music class. One of the topics that came up was 2001. Apparently the studio had Alex North, a Berklee alumnus, compose an entire soundtrack to 2001. Stanley never wanted it and chucked it all in favor of the now famous classical pieces. The teacher was saying what a jerk Stanley was and how could you just throw all that hard work away, blah, blah, blah? Most of the class was apalled. I raised my hand and said “did he get paid?” He replied “yes”. I said “well… then what’s the problem?” I knew even back then about Stanley’s perfectionism and how he routinely did this. He had an immense amount of work done to only pick and choose what he wanted. Anyway, I said that “2001 is infinitely better with the classical pieces in it. Who doesn’t hear Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Lux Aeterna or The Blue Danube Waltz and think of 2001?” They’re indelibly linked in the mind forever. (see the clip below) The music made it timeless even if the interior shots are a bit dated. He didn’t want to hear it. As William Faulkner once said ‘Kill your darlings’ and he was right. As a musician you know you may have a great song but it just doesn’t fit on the album. You gotta fight you instinct for a small piece of glory and see the bigger picture. Do you wanna really throw another song on Sgt. Pepper of Dark Side Of The Moon?

        By the way the Alex North soundtrack to 2001 is out there in the net. Watch this… it’s a completely different film: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XOyceu5jclQ

        1. Vince

          Wow, thanks for the link, Dave. My favorite is the Gayane Ballet Suite. Beautiful stuff. Thanks for link to the Alex North version. That will be very interesting…

    2. Vince

      I should also mention that Lynch did a musical collaboration with Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse (2 great musical entities) called Dark Night of the Soul. I’ve yet to get my copy…

        1. Vince

          You mean for mixing? Most of it is done in the box using Waves plugins. Lynch is quoted on Waves’ marketing campaign for their Restoration bundle. I think he also uses the c4 compressor… Recently though, IK Multimedia has come out with some great tools – T-Racks Deluxe with great emulations of Fairchilds, Pultecs, LA-2As and 1176s. I love using these lately in tandem with my Waves. Hope that’s what you were asking.

          1. Dave W

            Yeah spot on. I’m only a guitar player but I’ll always been interested in “midi” as we called it back in the day. Now that you can put Pro Tools, Cakewalk, etc.or have an entire rack in your hard drive on your home computer you never have to leave the house. Nice.

            On a side note I was thinking about doing some song mash-ups for fun. There’s a guy outta Pittsburgh, where I’m from, in a one man band called Girl Talk doing some interesting things. http://films.nfb.ca/rip-a-remix-manifesto/ Don’t want to sit in front of the computer? It’s on Netflix. Interesting, but biased debate about copyright and intellectual property. I’ve always been interested in copyright ever since I was a fan of the little known, experimental band Negitivland.

  13. Richard

    They don’t come much more chat-worthy than Lynch, do they? There’s really no other director quite like him. Back in my college days Eraserhead was the must-see movie, along with Blue Velvet. While I enjoyed the latter, I don’t think I could sit through the former more than once.

    I kind of lost interest in him for a while. Wild at Heart left me cold but I enjoyed The Straight Story and absolutely loved Mulholland Drive. I still have a copy of Inland Empire waiting to be watched but just haven’t found myself in the right headspace for three hours of Lynchian entertainment.

    I have gained a greater appreciation for Dune in recent years.

    Great article, Ruth. 🙂

    1. Vince

      Hi Richard,

      I agree that Wild at Heart was somewhat of a lesser movie by Lynch standards. All I could really remember from that is ‘Bobby Peru’ – memorable nonetheless. Mulholland Drive inspired me to get into film/video/sound editing. Dune = cult classic.

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