David Lynch (January 20, 1946) is one of my favorite directors. But just not one that I enjoy watching the films he's made, there's more to it. A passion for his cinema. He's one of those that I consider a GENIUS. Why? Because his films hit my emotional core as others won't. With other directors, there are a couple of their films that I like that much, but when it comes to Lynch, I can feel that way with almost every film of his amazing career. Some make me cry, others scare me, or make me laugh too. I know some people say that because of the mind games he plays with the viewer, some of his stories being like puzzles, his films make them think. But in my case, Lynch makes me feel. Like a painting, like a piece of music that makes you shiver when you listen to the beautiful notes. For me, he knows how to show emotions with a perfect combination of images and music. Cinema as its best. In fact, if I ever get the chance to do a film (I'd love to) my biggest ambition is to be able to dig into people's mind as well as Mr. Lynch does. Jesse Pearson said about Lynch, introducing him in an interview:
"He has made some of the most original, thrilling, deep, and beautiful cinema ever, ever, ever."
"My movies are film-paintings - moving portraits captured on celluloid. I'll layer that with sound to create a unique mood -- like if the Mona Lisa opened her mouth, and there would be a wind, and she'd turn back and smile. It would be strange and beautiful." — David Lynch
"Directors who have inspired me include Billy Wilder, Federico Fellini, lngmar Bergman, John Ford, Orson Welles, Werner Herzog, Stanley Kubrick, Alfred Hitchcock, Francis Ford Coppola and Ernst Lubitsch. In art school, I studied painters like Edward Hopper, who used urban motifs. Francis Bacon’s paintings are things I truly love. Then there is Edward Kienholz, who I discovered in the 1970s when I came out to L.A. and is one of my all-time favorite artists. I also like Georg Baselitz and Lucian Freud. Franz Kafka is my favorite novelist. My approach to film stems from my art background, as I go beyond the story to the sub-conscious mood created by sound and images." — David Lynch
He is an artist, and not just because of his films and tv series, he is also a painter, photographer and musician. Lynch is the most significant contemporary American surrealist, working within the medium of cinema. He's created an idiosyncratic cinematic style that is Lynchian. As you might guess, loving his work so much, I've decided to pay homage to him on his birthday. I'm not gonna talk about the Twin Peaks series, 'cause we'll probably do a post only for that soon. But in the meantime, here is my tribute to his film career (his first five films in this Part I) and a little bit about his life.
He was born in Missoula, Montana. The son of a scientist working for the Forest Service and an English language tutor whose grandfather's parents had immigrated to the United States from Finland in the 19th century. He spent his childhood being shunted from one state to another as his father kept getting relocated. He decided he wanted to do a career in arts. He went to the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, in Boston, after high school. As he didn’t like it there he later went to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, in Philadelphia.
"The teachers were real painters and I wanted to be a painter as well. I didn’t learn much at the Academy, but I think the most important thing about school is if you are with a good bunch, you push yourself along. You work harder. Also, Philadelphia had a huge impact on me. Back then it was corrupt, filthy, violent, filled with a sickness. I was drawn to the mood of it, the aesthetic, and that city really shaped my outlook as an artist.
The house I moved into was across the street from the morgue, next door to Pop's Diner. The area had a great mood - factories, smoke, railroads, diners, the strangest characters, the darkest nights. The people had stories etched in their faces, and I saw vivid images-plastic curtains held together with Band-Aids, rags stuffed in broken windows, walking through the morgue en-route to a hamburger joint.
We lived cheap, but the city was full of fear. A kid was shot to death down the street, and the chalk marks around where he'd lain stayed on the sidewalk for five days. We were robbed twice, had windows shot out and a car stolen. I often say Eraserhead is my Philadelphia story." — David Lynch
The films of David Lynch: Part I - 1977/1990
After graduating from Art school and making several award-winning short films (Six Men Getting Sick, The Alphabet, The Grandmother) and a few art exhibitions in Philadelphia, in 1970, he moved to Los Angeles with his wife Peggy and his two-years-old daughter Jennifer. There he attended the AFI Center for Advanced Film Studies, where he went to class with filmmakers Terrence Malick and Paul Schrader. A year later he started working on the script of his Philadelphia inspired film, Eraserhead. It took him six years to finish it. The film, as you can see above, it's quite dark, shot in black and white, and it follows a bizarre story, a reflection of male paranoia on the main's character featuring his girlfriend, a strange baby creature and some other weird characters. It has some really powerful scenes, but it's not as good as his following works. It was a really interesting debut and it became a cult film. The best thing of it for me is the way he captures light and shadows in black and white and the out-of-this-world images. The whole film features for the first time what later became his trademark: a surreal Lynchian atmosphere. The stars are his friends Jack Nance, he was the awesome Pete Martell on Twin Peaks, and he worked with Lynch on everything he did until his dead in 1996: Dune, Blue Velvet, Wild at heart, and Lost Highway; and Charlotte Stewart (Betty Brigs on Twin Peaks). And here it is the first lovely bizarre music piece that Lynch offered us, "In Heaven":
The Elephant Man (1980)
"I am not an animal! I am a human being! I am a man!"
"People are frightened by what they don't understand."
Famous producer Mel Brooks was impressed by Eraserhead and asked Lynch to direct a drama based on Joseph Merrick's true story. Merrick (5 August 1862 – 11 April 1890) was an English man with severe deformities who was exhibited as a human curiosity named the Elephant Man. He became well known in London society after he went to live at the London Hospital. This was a heartbreaking story and Lynch, with his great ability to express emotions and to move with compassion, turned it into a remarkable film. Shot in black and white I would say it's his more academic film (in a good way), and it shows to his detractors that Lynch can also do a "normal" narrative film and succeed at it, if he wants to. He's like Picasso, when he painted classic paintings better than anyone, he got bored and started painting different things. The Elephant Man has this classic masterpiece's vibe, as while watching it you can feel you're watching a big drama from the 50s (the circus' scenes have a Fellinis' La Strada (1954) vibe) more than a modern film. This was the first one I ever saw from him, when I was around 10 (my mother showed it to me, as she is a huge Lynch fan) and it moved me to tears. It shows the horrible ways some people treat others and the importance of people's heart and soul versus the body.
(Lynch with John Hurt, without Merrick's make up, on the set)
The cast is beyond perfect. The talented John Hurt is the man behind Merrick's deformed face, Sir Anthony Hopkins plays the doctor that tries to help him, and it also features the mesmerizing Anne Bancroft as Mrs. Kendall and John Gielgud. The film was nominated to 8 Academy Awards, including Best Film, Best Actor and Best Director for Lynch. It also received 4 Golden Globes' nominations and it did win the BAFTA Award for Best Film, as well as Best Actor (John Hurt).
(John Hurt receiving the BAFTA from Charlotte Rampling)
The film has a great soundtrack, like everything Lynch does. He chose the wonderful piece "Adagio For Strings" from Samuel Barber for one of the most poignant scenes of the film. And the John Morris original soundtrack is magical:
Dune is visually stunning (as you can see above) but it's quite disappointing, specially being a Lynch film. It's the one from Lynch's career that I don't like, and there's an obvious reason to it. De Laurentiis, the executive producer, cut thousands of feet of film out of Lynch's final print right before the movie's release.
"Dune, it wouldn't be fair to say it was a total nightmare. But, maybe 75% nightmare. And the reason is I didn't have final cut. But when you don't have final cut, total creative freedom, you stand to die the death. Die the death. And died I did." — David Lynch
(Lynch on Dune's set)
So there you have it. There is a whole cinema story behind Dune. The avant-garde director Alejandro Jodorowsky wanted to adapt this science fiction story based on Frank Herbert's best-selling novel of the same name, in the mid-1970s, but the project stalled for financial reasons. In fact, last year, Frank Pavich directed a documentary exploring this attempt that premiered at Cannes. It was when Jodorowsky left the project that Italian mega-producer Dino De Laurentiis hired Lynch for directing it. It was a box-office failure and Lynch was never happy with the result, since they cut his freedom on the editing. It's quite sad all that happened, 'cause the film had a terrific cast including Max von Sydow, Silvana Mangano, Patrick Stewart, Linda Hunt, Brad Dourif and Dean Stockwell (both would work again with Lynch on Blue Velvet) Lynch's regular Jack Nance, Everett McGill (Big Ed in Twin Peaks); and the young stars Virginia Madsen, Sean Young and Lynch's new pet actor Kyle MacLachlan. So maybe that last thing was the only great thing out of Dune, Lynch meeting MacLachlan, who will later be the star of Blue Velvet and the iconic Special Agent Dale Cooper on Twin Peaks.
Here you have a video featuring some funny behind the scenes moments, filmed by the actress Sean Young during the making of the film:
Blue Velvet (1986)
"It's a strange world, isn't it?"
"When you have a failure, like they say, there is nowhere to go but up. It's so freeing it's beautiful in a way." — David Lynch
That's what Lynch says he felt after Dune's failure. No doubt he went up, actually really high, 'cause Blue Velvet is one of his masterpieces. And one of my top 5 favorite films from him.
"I started getting these ideas for it in 1973, but they were just fragments of interesting things. Some fell away, others stayed and began to join up. The first two or three ideas were a neighborhood, kind of green lawns with shadows like, lit at night from a light bulb and red lips and the color blue. The song Blue Velvet, Bobby Vinton's version, influenced it a lot." — David Lynch
Blue Velvet is the perfect combination of noir 1950s films, surrealism and symbolism, and all the Lynchian elements that later would become the director's trademarks. This combination makes Blue Velvet the perfect cult film. It is immersed in pop culture imagery, both from the 1950s and the 1960s, as well as the 1980s; it has the femme fatale, a powerful villain, and the questionable moral outlook of the hero. It's dark, twisted, with distorted characters, and a depiction of unearthing a dark underbelly in a seemingly idealized small town. And there are also these odd funny moments that only could work in a Lynch world, with his unique sense of humor. Besides we have the mixture of colors blue and red, that Lynch loves so much, the phones' conversations, the red curtains, and the '50's American look of the diners.
(Rossellini and Lynch on set)
“Film noir has a mood that everyone can feel. It’s people in trouble, at night, with a little bit of wind and the right kind of music. It’s a beautiful thing.” — David Lynch
The film centers on eccentric college student Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan), who, returning from visiting his ill father in the hospital, comes across a human ear in a field in his hometown of Lumberton. He proceeds to investigate the ear with help from a high school student, Sandy Williams (Laura Dern), who provides him with information and leads from her father, a local police detective. Jeffrey's investigation draws him deeper into his hometown's seedy underworld, and sees him forming a sexual relationship with the alluring torch singer Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini), and uncovering the psychotic criminal Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper), who engages in drug abuse, kidnapping, and sexual violence. The film had a great critical acclaim (except for those like Roger Ebert, who didn't understand Lynch's approach to human nature and his way of telling stories) and it received loads of nominations and awards including an Academy Award nomination for Lynch as Best Director, Isabella Rossellini's Independent Spirit Award for the Best Female Lead, and Lynch and Hopper's Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award for Best Director and Best Supporting Actor.
This role launched Rossellini's career as an actress. She is the daughter of a great couple in cinema, actress Ingrid Bergman and Italian director Roberto Rossellini, and she had been married to another genius, Martin Scorsese, from 1979 to 1982 but until then she had only worked in little roles and as a fashion model. Lynch was introduced to her at a restaurant in NewYork, by a mutual friend, when he was in the process of the casting. Struck by her serene European beauty, he told her:
"You could be Ingrid Bergman's daughter."
The leading male role, Jeffrey, goes to the awesome Kyle MacLachlan. I've always liked him a lot 'cause he manages to look funny and naive, and at the same time he has this classic Hollywood actor looks, all dapper and elegant. Lynch discovered him when casting Dune and they soon became really good friends, as MacLachlan understood very well Lynch's ideas, that's why he decided to work with him as the leading man in Twin Peaks.
"When I saw Kyle I could see Jeffrey. He's intelligent and he's handsome, so he goes good with the girls. And he can get this curiosity factor going. He can play naive and innocent and obsessive, and he can reason. With some actors, when you look in their eyes, you just don't see them thinking. Kyle can think on screen." — David Lynch
(Lynch and MacLachlan on set of Blue Velvet)
Also it was during Blue Velvet that Lynch would form one of his greatest collaborations that continues to this day. Lynch didn't like the way Isabella Rossellini's performance of the song "Blue Velvet" was turning out, so producer Fred Caruso suggested they bring in his friend Angelo Badalamenti. Since that collaboration Badalamenti's music became an essential element of Lynch's films. He knew how to transform Lynch's ideas into emotive and moving pieces, making Lynch's images become even more alive thanks to the passion, the darkness and the beauty of his music. It is difficult to think of Twin Peaks without its legendary main theme, or of Mulholland Drive without the amazing soundtrack. The track "Mysteries of Love", that he composed for Blue Velvet, features for the first time in a Lynch film the singer Julee Cruise, whose performances on the Twin Peaks series and the following film would become iconic.
"Isabella was staying at this small hotel that had a lobby with a piano in it. So at ten o'clock in the morning or so, Angelo gets together with Isabella, and they begin working. Around noon we were shooting in the Beaumont's back yard, and I remember Angelo walking down the path...So Angelo says, 'We did a tape this morning with Isabella, and it is what it is. Listen to it.' So I popped on these headphones and Angelo's playing the piano and Isabella's singing. And I took off the phones and said, 'Angelo, we could cut this into the movie right now - it's so beautiful! It's fantastic!'" — David Lynch
Wild at Heart (1990)
"This whole world's wild at heart and weird on top."
"Wouldn't it be fabulous if we someway stayed in love forever?"
Wild at Heart is a good road movie, a romance film with thriller elements — creepy and twisted usual Lynch characters — based on Barry Gifford's 1989 neo-noir pulp novel of the same name. Both the book and the film revolve around the couple of Sailor (Nicolas Cage) and Lula (Laura Dern). It's not my favorite film from Lynch 'cause there are some parts I didn't enjoy as much as others, but the main couple is great (how can you not love Cage singing to Dern that Elvis song with that great voice?), all the dreamy and nightmarish atmosphere is awesome, and the allusions to The Wizard of Oz too. Besides it has a ridiculously good cast including Diane Ladd (who was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for both the Academy Awards and the Golden Globes), Isabella Rossellini and Willem Dafoe and Harry Dean Stanton, two amazing actors that are part of some of my favorite films. And let's not forget a special guest star by the lovely Sheryl Lee (Laura Palmer on Twin Peaks).
There is a thing I love very much from this film and is that it features one of the greatest songs ever, "Wicked Game" by Chris Isaak. Isaak was good friends with Lynch and he played a little role in his next film, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me. One of the music masterpieces in Lynch films:
The film became pretty relevant on Europe and around the world when it won the Palme d'Or at the 1990 Cannes Film Festival.
(Dafoe, Ladd, Rossellini, Dern, Lynch and Cage at the screening of the film in Cannes)
(Cage on set)
"It's a love story in the middle of a violent, twisted, modern world." — David Lynch
(Cage, Dern and Lynch on set)
"The thing that is so great about Sailor and Lula is that it´s sooo sexy because of the love. And that´s the thing that´s so beautiful about David. Here´s this guy who´s so weird and does things that are so terrifying to the psyche. And yet there´s this purity in him and this belief in love that is almost cartoonlike and childlike." — Laura Dern
“I love Fellini. And we’ve got the same birthday, so if you believe in astrology… He is a totally different time, and an Italian take on life. But there’s something about his films. There’s a mood. They make you dream. They’re so magical and lyrical and surprising and inventive. The guy was unique. If you took his films away, there would be a giant chunk of cinema missing. There’s nothing else around like that.” — David Lynch
Happy Birthday David Lynch!
Click here for Part II with his movies from 1992 to 2006.
Photos and info: davidlynchworld, thecityofabsurdity entertainmentguidefilmtv, fuckyeahdavidlynch, lynchnet. Ps. I want to thank my friend Aurora, for giving me some of the sources and photographs of this post, as she's also a Lynch addict.