Indie Icons: David Lynch
Trying to describe David Lynch represents no small challenge. He likes to take us to the edge of reality and peer into the darkness of the unknown. Looking in, we see where his best films comfortably reside. Nestled in the thorny twisted branches of psychosis and desire we find such films as Eraserhead, Blue Velvet, Mulholland Dr., and Inland Empire, among others.
Each of these films is totally unique (both from each other and all of cinema), yet they share a common fascination with the complex, and often troubling, roots of human psychology. Born in 1946, Lynch feels comfortable exploring these disturbing aspects of humanity when most filmmakers (or people in general) would rather not approach them so directly.
In Eraserhead we explore the life of Henry Spencer whose post-apocalyptic world gets turned upside down when he learns that his girlfriend is pregnant. The child she gives birth to turns out to be a bizarre mutant creature that constantly screams. Shooting the film over a nearly five year span, Lynch uses stunning black and white cinematography to capture this strange world filled with disturbing sexual imagery and hauntingly barren sound design.
Eraserhead represents a true indie success story. Originally funded on a small grant from The American Film Institute (a school David Lynch was strongly encouraged to attend), he quickly ran out of money during the extended shooting period and ended up having to take up a paper route in order to help finance the project. Being perfectly suited for midnight screenings allowed it to generate a strong cult following when it was released in 1977.
This attention landed him a partnership with Mel Brooks in which Lynch was asked to direct the critically acclaimed Elephant Man. From here he turned down the opportunity to direct Return of the Jedi in order to work on an adaptation of Frank Herbert’s science fiction classic Dune. This was a leap for David Lynch into a big budget studio project in which he felt stifled. Dune was a commercial flop and Lynch later attempted to remove his name from the project. This hiccup was temporary however and he soon returned to form working on smaller, more personal projects in which he was allowed to explore the inner demons of humanity once more.
Blue Velvet (1986) and Mulholland Dr. (2001) appear at first glance to be grounded in a more familiar reality, with Blue Velvet set in a non descript small town America (a common motif of his films) and Mulholland Dr. set in the hills of Hollywood. We learn that things are not what they seem and we are soon experiencing the world as perceived by unreliable narrators in which time is distorted along with experience.
It is here that Lynch shines as we witness each character’s warped perceptions in which they are often found creating new realities in order to cover up or justify their past actions and crimes. This turns his films into a puzzle for each viewer to decipher and conclude their own interpretation. While this can be a fun and interesting way to view these films, carefully dissecting every detail will inevitably destroy the dreamlike experience Lynch so carefully weaves. Instead you must let go of the rational world and simply let the film take you where it will and revel in each beautiful twist along the way.
Always searching for new methods, David Lynch funded his most recent project, Inland Empire, through a combination of personal funds and revenue generated through his exclusive website davidlynch.com. Choosing to shoot the film digitally allowed for even further creative freedom and created a distinct visual canvas on which David Lynch painted a dense (well over three hours long!) masterpiece.
Lynch’s films are certainly not for everyone and detractors have often accused him of not even knowing what goes on in his own films. While I can understand someone not enjoying his films on a personal level, attacking David Lynch’s talent as a filmmaker seems foolish at best. Each shot is captured with meticulous attention to detail and his films seep with a consistent aesthetic which is all his own. He has earned countless awards and nominations including four Oscar nominations and even won the Golden Palm at the Cannes Film Festival in 1990 for Wild at Heart. In order to answer why his films have to be so weird I’ll let Lynch have the last word, “Life is very, very complicated, and so films should be allowed to be, too.”