Naked Lynch – filmmaker David Lynch – Interview
Famous for evoking the eerie undertow of everyday life, David Lynch–the director whose films include Eraserhead, Blue Velvet, Wild at Heart and who created the television show Twin Peaks–fearlessly projects his own psyche onto the screen. But the man with the eccentric sensibility says we shouldn’t read anything into the fact that in his latest effort, Lost Highway, he takes on the meaning of identity.
PT: Do you think there’s a dividing line between the people who get what you do, and the people who have a harder time?
DL: I think people think they have a hard time, but it’s because–and this is a very general statement–most films are pretty easily understood. So [our] mechanism for interpretation is dulled a bit. But life is filled with mysteries, and symbols, and clues, and we all seem to get it in one way or another, one level or another. So films that allow you to dream or to have different interpretations are, for me, what it’s about. The power of cinema is that it can show abstractions and things that exist down inside of us.
PT: You say there aren’t answers for everything. Yet science struggles to find answers for everything. Is your feeling a response to having a father who’s a scientist [Lynch’s father worked for the Forest Service] ? There are names for trees, bugs can be identified. Everything is precise.
DL: Well, it’s precise, but it’s always changing. Scientists are like detectives. They go deeper and deeper into things.
PT: So you’re a scientist of human behavior?
DL: Well, if we’re all kind of detectives, that’s sort of what it’s like. Either the science of trees or the science of human behavior.
PT: Your films portray the heights and depths of human experience. And you personally have led a very varied life: growing up in a small town, becoming very well-known. Are there any conclusions you draw about human nature from your experiences?
DL: Well, human nature is a huge spectrum. I think through this darkness and confusion eventually comes a prize that is worth the struggle. I think that’s why it’s happening, I don’t know. But I believe there is a beautiful ending in store for people.
PT: Do you believe in reincarnation?
PT: So you think we’re here to learn lessons, and that’s our struggle. We have our particular lessons to learn and we either succeed and move on or …
DL: Yeah, it’s more complicated, because once you take a first step, you’re on a certain road and you start acting and reacting and through that, learning. I think it’s a very long process, but it’s tough going.
PT: Mark Frost [Lynch’s producing partner on Twin Peaks] has been quoted as saying you like to make people uncomfortable.
DL: That’s not true. Sometimes people do things that end up making other people uncomfortable. But sometimes they do things that make people feel wonderful. There are many different textures in a film, many contrasts, but the ideas guide you to everything. If you just set out to make a film that makes people uncomfortable, the cart would definitely be in front of the horse.
PT: But you won’t avoid making people uncomfortable; if it happens, it happens?
DL: Well, since everybody is different.
PT: You don’t even know when it happens?
DL: You’re true to the ideas for yourself, and you can’t control what happens after a film is finished. Some people react one way, others another.
PT: You were recently quoted as saying that in the disturbing thing there is sometimes tremendous poetry and truth.
DL: Life sometimes makes us uncomfortable, but we learn things from it. And people always say that very good things come out of very rough situations. That’s sort of the same with film.
PT: You’ve talked about needing to fall in love with a subject before you can really work on it for any length of time. Was it the film noir genre, was it the characters–what did you fall in love with in Lost Highway?
DL: Sort of the whole thing. The ideas come in fragments, but they come with the character and the mood, and all the parts, most of the time. Only when a large portion of the story is in front of you do you start seeing what it really is. It’s the ideas stringing themselves together and feeling correct. You start to fall in love. It becomes a complete world to you.
PT: Is there something about identity that compelled you to explore the characters? [In Lost Highway, jazz musician Fred Madison (Bill Pullman) inexplicably turns into car mechanic Pete Dayton (Balthazar Getty).] Have you had the sense of feeling like a stranger in your own life?
DL: No. There’s feeling the sort of group consciousness in the ether, there’s feeling things inside yourself, and then there’s catching ideas from the ocean of ideas. All those things seem to play a part in the process.
PT: And you don’t worry what the response will be?
DL: It’s an intuitive feel. And the ideas come along, and if you’re true to them and you feel that you’re bringing them up as close to a hundred percent as you can, the ideas–because we are all human beings–will be correct for others. It’s not that [everyone will] see them exactly the same as you do, because each machine of seeing is different.
PT: You hope there’ll be resonance.
DL: Exactly right.
PT: And it was only after you finished the script that you discovered the concept of psychogenic fugue [a dissociative disorder in which a person has difficulty remembering their past and assumes a partial or completely new identity]?
PT: Despite this, do you worry people may be confused because the story has no literal explanation?
DL: There are very, literal people and people that seem to feel the thing. I think a lot of truthful things are abstract, and whether you can articulate them with words or not, you feel it inside, and you know it.
PT: So what some audiences will know is that they don’t know.
DL: You have to kind of enter into a world like a dream and let it happen on another level.
PT: What do you hope filmgoers take away from Lost Highway, and all of your other movies?
DL: I love being in that world and floating through it. And that’s what I hope others would feel. I’ve learned enough to know that it isn’t going to happen for everybody, but it can happen.
PT: You seem unafraid to expose yourself; people are always looking for clues as to why.
DL: A lot of things that we do don’t really have anything to do with us, except we’re the ones that happen to fall in love with the ideas, right? So if I fall in love with a certain thing, it says something about me. It must. But I see the ideas coming from outside of myself, and I see the way they could be translated using this beautiful medium of film.
PT: Is it your idyllic childhood, as it’s been described, that allows you to expose your innermost thoughts?
DL: I have a foundation that gave me security, and it freed me to experiment. Whereas if you were basically insecure, you would be looking for security. And I could see how that could work against going into unknown areas where these ideas exist. So, yeah, I think that helped me a lot.
PT: What do your parents think of your work? Was it a Shock to them when they saw your first films?
DL: Yeah, they probably worried about me. [Eraserhead, Lynch’s first film, Was about a miserable couple and their mutant baby.]
PT: Yet your father was very supportive, even financially. [He helped finance the film.]
DL: Yes. [My parents] have a very good philosophy–see which direction the child is going and be supportive.
PT: Would you say that the straggle between good and evil, light and dark is the underlying theme of all of your films?
DL: I don’t really like the idea of themes, because that kind of restricts thinking, because there are many things going on. It’s like, is struggling the underlying theme of life? The underlying theme of life could be summed up, but it would really have to hold all of the things that we know about. And it real simple but super-complicated at the same time.
PT: Does transcendental meditation help you figure it all out?
DL: What they say about meditation is that it expands the container of consciousness. So if you’re looking for ideas with a certain size fishing rig, and if ideas are like fish, you’ll only catch the surface fish, or just [the ones] 20 or 30 feet down. But if your consciousness can expand, then you could catch the bigger fish. And then one day, if it’s fully expanded, you see the whole picture.
PT: How did you start meditating?
DL: I was working on Eraserhead, and I felt like I had everything in the world I wanted. I should have been extremely happy, and one day I just thought, I’m just not completely happy People were saying happiness is from within. And I heard about [meditation].
PT: What’s a typical day like for you? Do you paint? Do you write?
DL: I don’t write every day. I paint a lot, and it goes in spurts. Sometimes I paint every day. I like to take photographs, and I like to build furniture. A person gets many different types of ideas and some are funneled into furniture, some into a film, and some are waiting for a way to be expressed. So I guess it’s trying to catch ideas each day.
PT: Do you keep a notebook by your side to jot things down?
DL: Yeah, sometimes I have to write them down. Sometimes they’re so–I wouldn’t forget them.
PT: All of what might be called your eccentric behavior …
DL: What would that be?
PT: Well, things like not having much furniture in your house.
DL: I’ve gotten more now.
PT: Is it totally furnished?
DL: Things add up. I like a traditional Japanese house, like in Kyoto, where things are very pure and austere. It just induces a sort of peace of mind, and you can think. When things get too busy, it’s really upsetting.
PT: You’ve said you like to be orderly so you can be wild within.
DL: Exactly right.
PT: Has there been any cooking in the house lately? Or is that still a no-no? [Lynch had said he doesn’t like the smell.]
DL: There has been cooking in the house. The stove has an exhaust fan.
PT: So you discovered that, huh? Have you become domesticated?
DL: Yeah, I have a four-and-a-half-year-old son at home. And he needs to eat. [Lynch lives with Mary Sweeney, the boy’s mother.]
PT: You also have two older children.
DL: Right. I’ve got a son 14 and a daughter 27 or 28 [Jennifer Lynch, who wrote and directed Boxing Helena].
PT: Are you a different kind of parent now than you were with your older kids?
DL: Well, probably, but I’m not sure exactly why I think that when you’re younger, it can be pretty unsettling to have a child in the mix.
PT: If I were Jennifer, I don’t know what I would think of Eraserhead.
DL: Well, it’s about more than that.
PT: She had a great quote: “My father makes films about what he knows with certainty. He knows feeling lost, he knows the white picket fence with strange things behind the front door, he knows passion, and he knows extremes of light and dark. Not Amityville horror, satanic dark. Just darkness in the purest sense.” It sounds like you two have had a meeting of the minds.
DL: Yes, we have. Jennifer is a round, shiny rock.
PT: What about the uterus in the bottle [Lynch was given it as a gift by a friend who had a hysterectomy]. Has it been put away?
DL: It’s not out, but I have it.
DL: Well, it’s very interesting to have. I like medical things. They’re inspiring. They make you dream. It’s like seeing something that you haven’t seen before. It’s on the inside, and we don’t see those things.
PT: So you’re one of those people who likes to know how things work.
DL: Very much.
PT: Did you ever want to be a doctor?
DL: Well, I would love to be a doctor.
PT: Your artistic bent was stronger?
PT: And the bee board is still up?
DL: Well, the original bee board was real bees. They were mounted in order to be photographed, so the bee board is now a photo of the bee board. The original has apparently been set upon by microorganisms, and the bees are dissolving. I didn’t fix them with varnish or anything to preserve them.
PT: Do you ever have nightmares?
PT: Do you think that’s because it all comes out in your work?
DL: I have no idea why I don’t.
PT: You once said you went to therapy for a minute, but the therapist said you’d lose your creativity …
DL: No, no, he didn’t say that. I went to a psychiatrist and on my first visit I asked him if he thought [therapy] could affect my creativity And he said, “I have to be honest with you, David, it could.”
PT: How so?
DL: You asked me if I like to know how things work. Some things. But how a process works is magical to me, and I don’t really want to fiddle with it. I like not knowing about certain things, because it stays magical and it has infinite possibilities.
PT: So you’re not analytical?
DL: Not really Maybe in some ways. You sort of have to be a little bit, but it’s more [that I] feel things.
PT: How do you feel about all the people you seem to have influenced: Quentin Tarrantino, John Dahl [the director of Red Rock West and The Last Seduction], and television shows like Picket Fences and The X-Files?
DL: I don’t really like to think about it. That’s the part of the analysis that …
PT: … you like to leave to others?
DL: Leave it to other people and not even consider it, because it’s getting into the magical area. One of my favorite painters is Francis Bacon–he probably a favorite of lots of painters. I may be influenced by certain things in his painting, and someone else may be influenced by something else. It so subjective. It’s important to do your own work. There’s a hundred years of cinema, so it’s hard to do something that people can’t compare to something that’s come before it.
COPYRIGHT 1997 Sussex Publishers, Inc.
COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group