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Everything you Need to Know about David Lynch

Me holding Room to Dream next to a potted plant.

The thing with David Lynch is either you like him or you don’t. 

For example, if you happen to be the great movie critic Roger Ebert, you most certainly do not like David Lynch. In fact, you have on multiple occasions and in public settings, both in print and on your famous TV show, emphasized over and over again just how much you don’t like David Lynch’s movies. (Except for Mulholland Drive, which you liked for some reason.)

But if you’re, say, Pauline Kael, on the other hand, a movie critic of a different caliber, then you do like David Lynch. Very much so. In fact, you think he’s an artist. An artist with a capital ‘a’—an Artist!

You might be thinking, ‘Isn’t that true with everything? You either like it or you don’t?’

Sure. It might be true with everything. But with David Lynch it’s probably truer than with other things. Than with most things, I think. After your first time seeing the baby from Eraserhead, for example, or when you get to the scene (spoiler alert) about 45 minutes in where the lead female character is painfully giving birth to giant sperm monsters, and the main character, Henry, is throwing them to the ground like clumps of seaweed and squishing them under his heal, well, at this point you come to a mental crossroads; you’ve already seen a lot of weird stuff in Eraserhead up until this point—the famous chicken dinner scene is my personal favorite—but if you made it this far, then at this moment, as Henry is crushing the monstrous sperm under his boot and they’re popping like giant zits, here you really have to make up your mind, and you can either keep suspending your disbelief and continue taking this bizarre journey to see where it leads or you say, No, this is too weird, and you opt out.

I remember the first time I saw Eraserhead. That was a good night.

So some people don’t like David Lynch and that’s okay. You might be one of those people. And if you are, that’s okay. We’re all friends here.

If you don’t know David Lynch and you want a good introduction to his work this video is a pretty good 10-minute summary.

If you’re hardcore and you want to go full hog on the two hour version here you go.

Room to Dream is a biography of David Lynch co-written by journalist Kristine McKenna and Lynch himself. The book is organized in alternating parts. McKenna writes a section of biography which includes straightforward details of Lynch’s life as well as interviews, and then Lynch writes his personal response to each section, which often includes entertaining stories and anecdotes in his own characteristic style.

A few examples of Lynch’s style:

Pg. 51 – Linda Styles was my girlfriend freshman year. Linda was real petite and dramatic and we used to make out in her basement.

Pg. 161 – I said, “I have this film called Ronnie Rocket,” and he said, “What’s it about?” I said, “It’s about a man who’s three feet tall, with a red pompadour, who runs on a sixty-cycle alternating-current electricity.” He said, “Get out of my office.”

Pg. 349 – For many years I didn’t have an idea for a film, and during that period I saw the cinema world changing before my eyes. The translation to digital was happening, people weren’t interested in cinema, and the art houses were dying like the plague. Eventually there will be no theatres and the majority of people will see films on their computers or their phones.

The book is chronological and organized roughly by movie. The breakdown is as follows:

Chapters 1-3 – Life before movies

Chapter 4 – Eraserhead

Chapter 5 – Elephant Man

Chapter 6 – Dune

Chapter 7 – Blue Velvet

Chapter 8 – Twin Peaks

Chapter 9 – Wild at Heart

Chapter 10 – Fire Walk with Me

Chapter 11 – Lost Highway

Chapter 12 – Mulholland Drive

Chapter 13 – The Straight Story

Chapter 14 – Inland Empire

Chapter 15 – Brief overview of painting, art, and studio work

Chapter 16 – Twin Peaks: The Return

Back to the Roger Ebert/Pauline Kael divide.

If you haven’t already guessed, I myself am on the Kael side. I would watch anything David Lynch shot. If he made a movie about insects in his front yard, I would—oh wait, he actually did make that movie and I watched it.

So for those of us on the Kael side, Room to Dream is a must read. According to Kristine McKenna, the project was born out of Lynch complaining that there was a lot of wrong information out there about his life and so McKenna said, “Why don’t we write a book with all the right information in it? A book about your life,” and Lynch said, “Okay.”

The result is the chronicling of what Lynch has often called ‘the art life,’—a way of living life that prioritizes, above everything else, the art one creates. For Lynch, this has meant a lot of meditating and drinking coffee and painting. 

The book is everything a David Lynch fan would need to know about this kind of life and Lynch’s life, about how he has managed to create so much and be productive over the course of his career. McKenna does a wonderful job weaving interview content with a straightforward recounting of important events in Lynch’s life, and Lynch’s own retelling of each section compliments these stories in surprising ways. Seeing it all unfold in one story is something that even diehard Lynch fans have not had the chance to experience elsewhere. 

To speak for those of us on the Kael side, the Lynch fans, there is usually a story involved in our appreciation of Lynch. There is usually something we eventually come to see that cannot be unseen, if that makes any sense. Have you ever had that experience? Seeing something. After you see the thing you are changed. Sometimes in a good way, sometimes in a bad way.

Because there is such a strangeness in his work, sometimes we are left asking the question why we like it. What keeps us coming back?

[Ghost of Roger Ebert going, Yeah, you weirdos. What keeps you coming back?]

I think I know what I can say for myself. It’s true there are some things in David Lynch’s work that are, for lack of a better term, ‘weird’ or ‘unsettling.’ But what separates him from other purveyors of the bizarre, to me—and there is absolutely no way to prove this—is that he brings you into contact with the weirdness in yourself. Because there is something very familiar about the strangeness that he brings out. You look at it and think he plucked it from some dream you had. As the Roger Eberts of the world will attest, this is not always a pleasant experience, and why go to the movies for this kind of thing anyway? Isn’t life already weird and difficult enough?  

It may be that somewhere in the Ebert/Kael divide there is this fact: some of us need to be reminded of the strangeness within life and within ourselves, while others don’t. 

For myself, being reminded that other people’s experience of life can sometimes be strange and unsettling is a comforting thing. It makes me feel less alone to know that I’m not the only one whose mind travels to bizarre places completely unprompted. And that even though I try to control my own thoughts and make them as productive and fruitful as I can, there always remains a place in me that resists this control and roams where it will. Sometimes to scary places.

This is a kind of privilege in a way. Because for the most part, my life is pleasant. And so it comes as a welcome reminder via Lynch. Lightness and dark. There is always this balance. We all have each.

And some of us need to be reminded.


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