David Lynch’s unique aesthetic marks him as one of the most interesting film directors of our time, writes Richard Drumm.
It’s a rare achievement for any director to become as interesting as his films, yet David Lynch has earned this reputation in recent years.
Be it his unique hair, his unnatural love of coffee (he has his own range) or that thing he does with his hand in interviews (Lynch fans know what I mean, the rest of you should be ashamed of yourselves for that first thought that entered your head), the word eccentric doesn’t begin to cover it.
However, irrespective of his distinctive persona, David Lynch is no mere celebrity director. He despises interviews and loathes explaining his films even more. He once called up Chris Rodley, author of the book Lynch on Lynch, after one of their interview sessions and told him he felt like checking himself into a rape crisis centre.
Lynch is also a long-standing practitioner of transcendental meditation. This exercise is where he claims to receive the majority of his ideas and even has his own foundation to teach the routine to kids. He nicely complements this practice, of which he is so proud in stating is good for your health, by smoking two packets of cigarettes a day – such is the paradox that is David Lynch.
Yet for all the attention he has received in recent years, it’s still his work that keeps people demanding more. Most people will be familiar with Lynch for the seminal television show Twin Peaks.
Twin Peaks quickly gained a cult following and consolidated the star status of Kyle ‘Desperate Housewives’ MacLachlan. The actor is often regarded as Lynch’s onscreen stand-in, given that he has appeared in several of the director’s films, most notably Blue Velvet, which many critics regard as one of the best film of the 80s.
And as far as Twin Peaks is concerned, there hasn’t been a show before or since with such a unique personality. The quirky characters, solid acting and utter bizarreness of the plots, in addition to its fascination with general mythology, showed Lynch at his best and most accessible.
Twin Peaks may have been the high point of his commercial career but the artistic side had begun during his dark days in Philadelphia. Starting out as a painter, he soon moved into making short films. Having received a starting grant of $10,000 from the American Film Institute, he spent almost six years making his first feature Eraserhead.
To this day, as with most of Lynch’s films, no one knows quite what Eraserhead is about. Lynch has remained typically tight-lipped about the whole picture, especially in regards to the horrific-looking mutant baby which features in the film. Lynch not only refuses to explain how he made it, but even if he made it. His default answer to all questions on the matter is: “What if I found it?”
Regardless of what Lynch may or may not have done to this terrestrial creature, the film was unsettling, clever and mind-boggling – characteristics that Lynch has consistently maintained since in his work.
The dreamlike quality of Lynch’s films comes from his total commitment to his ideas. This is one of the reasons he refuses to explain his films, as he himself doesn’t know exactly from where his creations emanate. The idea simply enters his thoughts and he commits to it. What we see in films like Blue Velvet and Inland Empire is the dark recesses of Lynch’s subconscious.
He faithfully captures the dreamlike quality of cinema and is one of the few directors who can truly unnerve you, qualities which, in this era of torture porn and cheap scares, are a breath of fresh air. You’ll often see films marketed with the idea that ‘you don’t know what will happen next’. The difference with Lynch is that this phrase is actually true.
Both Mulholland Drive and Lost Highway twist into a Möbius strip style of narrative, making predictability impossible. These films’ uncertainty, along with the quasi-supernatural elements and Angelo Badalamenti’s crushingly tense scores, combine to make Lynch’s films an exercise in endurance.
And finally, there’s Inland Empire, Lynch’s most recent release. This film surpassed even his most head-scratching previous work. Not content with a simple narrative, this film’s plot is practically indescribable.
The spontaneity of Inland Empire becomes less perplexing once you learn that Lynch entered into the project without a finished script and let the ideas guide him to its conclusion. Moreover, it ultimately amounts to his most accomplished film in terms of atmosphere.
While Inland Empire may not have been a commercial hit, that’s just not what David Lynch is about. And although critical reaction was initially mixed, Inland Empire has since acquired a reputation as another Lynchian classic. Even though no one was quite sure what they had just watched, most agreed it was a phenomenal cinematic experience that is unlikely to be topped anytime soon in terms of sheer intensity.
Furthermore, following the film’s release, Lynch decided to campaign to try and get Laura Dern an Oscar nomination. The director reverted to type, by bizarrely sitting on a corner in Hollywood with a cow and placards explaining how cheese was integral to the production of Inland Empire. Oh, David Lynch, don’t ever change.