David Lynch: Go Into a World

by Greg Olson

Sunset Boulevard and Mulholland Drive are Hollywood tales told by dead people. The Wizard of Oz and Wild at Heart feature a Wicked Witch and a Good Witch. Laura and Twin Peaks center on detectives fascinated by dead young women. Eraserhead, Twin Peaks: The Return and many Jacques Tati films feature male characters who have an innocent, puzzled, child-like view of their environments and the world’s absurdities. Lolita and Blue Velvet portray men obsessively, transgressively in love. 2001: A Space Odyssey and Twin Peaks: The Return spew torrents of cosmic/extradimensional light accompanied by the symphonic strains of avant garde Eastern European composers.

David Lynch likes to say, “The world is as you are, “ a reflection of your inner self. And works of art reflect their maker.  Lynch, a fiercely independent, personal, visionary artist, plumbs the deep waters of his subconscious for ideas, images and sounds that no one’s ever seen before. He enjoys the work of other creators who “make you go into a world” that is unique, but that thrills the viewer’s own soul, that speaks to their intimate thoughts and feelings. Lynch begins a project with quiet, meditative thinking and sparks of intuition, spontaneous insights–and sometimes accidents–that gather, gain momentum and propel the work to completion.  He doesn’t follow some cerebral, logically calculated, market-researched blueprint; he reads the signs and meanings in the air and combines elements “that talk to each other, that feel right.” Lynch likes to produce artistic abstractions of wonder and dread, as a subset of Ultimate Mystery: the perhaps unanswerable questions of life and death that seekers have pondered for centuries. Acting on the promptings of intuition and emotion, Lynch can be a mystery to himself. He’s said that “Ninety percent of the time when I’m making a film I don’t know what I’m doing.” Once when I spoke to him about some themes and motifs I thought were common to a number of his films, he said, “See, you would see that, but I wouldn’t. Maybe I would when time has passed after making something, or maybe not.”

Lynch feels that consciously taking another person’s ideas “would be like eating somebody else’s food.” He prides himself on originating his many thematic and aesthetic concepts, but he knows that sometimes his preoccupations parallel or echo those of other artists. And he speaks of identifying with someone else’s ideas, and how, even after the script is done, during the shooting process, “you have to be open to something new coming in to join the ideas you already have.”

In love with mystery, powered by desire, his mind open to wonder and fear, David Lynch recomposes the world in his own image, knowing that, as a detective in his film Lost Highway says, “There’s no such thing as a bad coincidence.”

David Lynch’s Favorite Films: 8 ½, La Strada, Lolita, Mr. Hulot’s Holiday, Rear Window, Sunset Boulevard, The Wizard of Oz

Favorite Film Noir: The Big Sleep

First Film Seen: Wait Till the Sun Shines, Nellie

Favorite TV: Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Perry Mason, The Fugitive

Far From Favorite TV: Wild Palms

Films Lynch Has Seen: Amarcord, An Andalusian Dog, The Apartment, The Blood of a Poet, Butterfly, Carnival of Souls, Chinatown, Citizen Kane, Deep End, Double Indemnity, Dreams That Money Can Buy, Emak-Bakia, Entr’acte, Ghosts Before Breakfast, Glen or Glenda, Intervista, It’s a Gift, It’s a Wonderful Life, La Femme Infidele, Selena, The Shining, The Silence, Stroszek, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Vertigo, Wise Blood, The Big Easy.

Film Lynch Really Dislikes: Saturday Night Fever

Hasn’t Lynch Probably Seen?: The Gemini Affair

Lynch has seen some of Kenneth Anger’s short films, but, surprisingly, is not familiar with Maya Deren’s work.

Books that relate to Lynch’s artistic sensibility: Hollywood Babylon One and Two, Good Times On Our Street, The Holy Bible’s Revelation of St. John, The Upanishads.


Greg Olson founded and curates the Northwest’s longest-running non-profit film program at the Seattle Art Museum. He has written for Film Comment, Moviemaker, Premiere, Contemporary Literary Criticism, Viet Nam War Films and is the author of David Lynch: Beautiful Dark.

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