This long-awaited half-biography/half-memoir from one of the few directors whose singular vision has spawned an adjective, Lynchian (joining Felliniesque, Buñuelian, Gilliamesque and Cronenbergian), has finally arrived. The format is that his co-writer Kristine McKenna has written a linear biography, and then in alternating chapters Lynch responds to her chapters and tells his version of the story.
It definitely sheds quite a lot of light on Lynch as a person and on his work. Obviously I already knew quite a lot about him, but you have here his idyllic all-American upbringing in Missoula, Montana and Spokane, Washington and it gives you a way of really understanding where his worldview comes from. He’s an individualistic guy but with a very deep-set of Midwestern values as well as a free-spirit side.
Lynch’s dad had a low-level government job, and they moved around a lot. His family were very supportive of his artistic ambitions. He makes a point of noting that as a child he was never given colouring books, he had to draw everything himself. This sparked his creativity. Lynch was somewhat of a child prodigy as an artist, but also a borderline juvenile delinquent.
He tried out various art schools, but kept dropping out—he also didn’t fit in with the hippie culture of the time. Eventually he and his childhood friend Jack Frisk (later his production designer) ended up at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia, which is also where he met his first wife and had his first child. At that time Philly was a very violent and run-down city, and that’s where artistic images started coming to him from. He wanted to make ‘paintings that move,’ and this resulted in making short films.
Soon Lynch arrived at A.F.I. in Los Angeles, and began work on Eraserhead, a project that would consume him for most of the ‘70s. He filed for divorce in the middle of making the film, which took inspiration from his fear of being a father among other things, and discovered Transcendental Meditation. The book doesn’t go into a lot of detail about his involvement with TM, even though it has been a major force in his life so much he started the David Lynch Foundation in 2005.
The success of Eraserhead as a cult film was followed up by Elephant Man, which was a massive hit and was nominated for eight Oscars. This meant Lynch was suddenly a ‘Hollywood filmmaker’ even though he was never the type.
The ensuing chapters cover his major projects, from the troubled production of Dune (which he describes as ‘selling out’) through his work on commercials (some of which are little art pieces in their own right) and right up to the new Twin Peaks. Among other things, you remember that the 90s were not kind to him as a filmmaker. Twin Peaks – Fire Walk With Me may be seen as this dark masterpiece today, but it was not well received at the time and was booed at Cannes famously.
You also hear a lot about his unmade projects, especially Ronnie Rocket. Lynch says he still hasn’t quite got the right script. One of the biggest surprises is that he wrote another film Antelope Don’t Run No More in-between Inland Empire his return to Twin Peaks last year. It was a $20 million film, so in today’s climate getting that kind of money is unlikely, even for David Lynch, but it would be interesting if it ever sees the light of day. One Saliva Bubble was supposed to be an absurdist comedy with Steve Martin and Martin Short about a government project that goes amok. There was also a version of Kafka’s The Metamorphosis at one point. And then there was his Marilyn Monroe quasi-biopic, which was dumped because of the crazy conspiracy theory stuff in it involving the Kennedy brothers.
The book is funny, and fairly revealing. The thing with Lynch is that over-thinking the themes and ‘meaning’ of his films is kind of pointless. Many of his films have standard noir setups that are not that challenging to follow, and most of his works tell a relatively linear story. The interviews are really good, and include pretty much everyone who is alive and has a story to tell; for those who have passed away well-chosen quotes from past interviews are used. It’s obviously worth reading, even though I wish he went into more detail in some spots. Lynch comes off as a nice guy—even his exes mostly have good things to say despite his admission of not being a great dad due to his dedication to his work. That makes him an exception to the Hollywood rule in more than one way.