On January 20, with the world’s attention focused on the inauguration, David Lynch quietly turned seventy-five. He has spent the day as he has spent almost every day since the start of the pandemic: sheltered in his Los Angeles home, engaged with self-prescribed daily routines. If you have a pattern habit, Lynch told me, via Zoom, the more conscious part of your mind can focus on your work, and you can get ideas and do these things, and the rest take care of. itself in the background.
It seemed practical and sane, until Lynch gave an example: a famous criminal case he heard about, involving a man who hacked his parents with an ax. The mother was killed instantly, but, Lynch said, the father did not die right away. He suffered a terrible head injury, but in the morning when it was normally time to wake up covered in blood he got out of bed, he didn’t even notice that his wife had died just in the morning. next to him, he just woke up and made his way down to do his usual schedule … Fixed lunch, but he spilled his cereal all over the place. He didn’t notice this! He made coffee, he ruined everything, but he knew the habits, he knew the routine. He went to get his newspaper, like he does every morning, and walked in with the newspaper and just bled, right there in the hall, and it was over for him.
The anecdote, unsurprisingly, sounds like something that could be in a David Lynch movie, where the details of everyday life are turned into something hideous, surreal, ridiculous, and violent or, by recent standards, which passes for normal. When it comes to cultural icons, it isn’t George Orwell who should be the trend of this guy.
In what appears to be the distant past of 2018, critic Dennis Lim wrote that the primitive terror of the Lynch films is existential terror, stemming from the ever-present possibility of things falling apart on a daily basis, in other words, of America trumps. But then things really did collapse, and that unsettling feeling, anything can happen to the base of Lynchs’ footage has become just for a period of mutating deadly virus strains, QAnon cult conspiracies, bomb cyclones, dripping temples of Rudy Giulianis and sports teams encouraged by the -in the reactions of the cut cardboard fans. Over the past year or so, David Lynch’s world, which never made logical sense, has made the perfect sense of 2020.
Although Lynch is best known for his ten feature films and the Twin Peaks television series, these efforts are only a fraction of his current activities. For more than half a century, it has been a fountain of unrelenting and unconstrained creativity, just that much of what it produces does not reach the well-groomed surface of popular culture. But the work is there, a teeming underground reservoir. There is music produced, written and published, which he plays himself. He’s created a seemingly endless catalog of shorts and weird videos including, as of 2017, What Did Jack Do ?, Who’s on Netflix and features seventeen minutes of Lynch shaking a pugnacious talking monkey. He is responsible for a long-running comic book (The most angry dog in the world) and an animated series (Dumbland). He wrote a book about his creative process and his meditation (Catch the big fish). Perhaps more impressive still, he has created a diverse body of visual art in the form of painting, sculpture, furniture design, photography, drawing, and installation, including what he calls carcass kits. disassembled, neatly arranged and labeled animals that come with detailed instructions on how to put them together, like model airplanes.
Lynch lived what he calls a farming life during the pandemic. This morning I woke up to [long pause] 3:04 A.M., he told me. Then I grab my coffee and pull out a few cigarettes on the deck before meditating, filming a daily weather report he posts on YouTube, and moving on to whatever the workday can hold. Sometimes his painting or his sculpture; other times his intentional daydreaming, when he lets his mind go searching for ideas (like fishing, I always say). From time to time, he designs devices, like a urinal that swings under the sink in his workshop. Some of these activities are illustrated in another series of irregular videos he calls What is David working on? The only people he currently interacts with in person are his wife, Emily Stofle, their eight-year-old daughter, his personal assistant and his three grown children. While rumors persist that a Lynch TV project is in the works, he has told me that at the moment production work of any kind for him is on hold indefinitely. He’s open to the idea of getting back on stage when it makes sense: I would never say no to anything if I fell in love with the material.
Lynch is lucky her career turned out the way she did. I did my job, but then many people are doing their job, he said. Fate plays such a huge role in our lives. Look at all the great artists, whose work is so good, and they never do. I was just lucky enough to have green lights. As he says in Room to dream, his 2018 memoir, Lynch managed to break through when Mel Brooks bet on him to direct The Elephant Man, the big-budget 1980 feature film Brooks co-produced, starring Anthony Hopkins, Anne Bancroft and John Hurt. (The film won eight Oscar nominations, including one for Best Director.) Lynch was a stranger with exactly one feature film credit to his name: Eraserhead, a self-funded, avant-garde art film, a film by art that had taken him seven years. to do and that few had seen.
Brooks had chutzpah. Released in 1977, Lynchs Eraserhead is a steampunk cinematic play, a hallucinatory tour through a private inner world. The story, as it is, centers around an angry man (Jack Nance) caught in a web of claustrophobic domesticity with a miserable woman and their sick baby. Yet like most of Lynch’s films, the plot is the film’s least important element. Oh, yes, I thought, seeing it again: the absurdly awkward family dinner of tense silences; the roast chickens tremble on their plates; the chopper nightclub singer who lives in a radiator and whose cheeks appear to have grown spongy tumors; the tortured cries of a newborn baby that could be both a baby goat and a sick seal. All of this retains its revealing vitality today. But, rather than making me squirm, Eraserhead now offers a kind of welcome, gallows-like comfort, and I found myself having a new response to my experience, something I would call a horror laugh.
The phenomenon repeated itself as I went through the Lynchs catalog. Its early success did not smooth its edges or even close. Lynch emerged from the world of experimental visual art (his early shorts, Six Men Getting Sick and The Alphabet, were attempts to create paintings that move), and he has stuck with his punk and alien instincts. Although he did manage to find a side door into the mainstream with The Elephant Man, he continued to be a deviant, standing among us but not among us, his production as stimulating and unique as when he started. Sometimes this outing intersected with current tastes (Mulholland Drive, Blue Velvet), sometimes not (Lost Highway, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, chicken kits). But it’s always been free and unpredictable, including its calm and ranked The Straight Story, a hymn to aging and forgiveness, as well as the wild, expressionistic collage of Inland Empire, a movie Lynch shot without a finished script, and his last feature film. nowadays.
There were a few bumps along the way. Dune, from 1984, is quite inaccessible. (To be fair, this is the only one of Lynch’s films for which he made the final cut, an experience described as a nightmare.) Lynchs’ only foray into live theater, the Industrial Symphony No.1 was presented at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 1989, as part of its Next Wave festival. Festival director Joseph Melillo recalls that the performance of a single night was mainly staged for the camera, in order to produce a video feature; it does not appear to be fish or poultry. (Lynch told me that he had considered making a sequel, but found the unpredictability of the live performances to be baffling.) And, while the first iteration of Twin Peaks was considered groundbreaking for the time, his convoluted history and increasingly silly campiness helped fuel a faster-than-expected demise, prompting William Grimes to write in the Times that the show convincingly demonstrated that there should have been less.
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