We already know that David Lynch secretly loves Clueless and his recently-launched own brand of coffee makes a damned fine cup. It’s also evident that in his latest Interview Project, Lynch picks up the camera where Warhol’s Screen Tests left off and created a reality road movie that would be at home in any art gallery. But how did David Lynch’s art school training manifest itself in his film making, and why has sound always been so pivotal?
Here, we ask the man behind cult classics like Blue Velvet and Eraserhead a handful of questions that might shed some light on what kind of artistic sensibilities make him one of the most influential filmmakers of the modern age.
You are a man with many creative strings to your bow. Are the superficially diverse disciplines of painting, music, photography and filmmaking simply facets of the same artistic impulse for you, or do they feed different, distinct creative appetites?
They are the same and they are different. I believe that ideas all come from the same place but there are ideas that want to be paintings, there are ideas that want to be music, and there are ideas that want to be living in cinema, so it goes like that. I always say there is a big thrill in catching an idea that we fall in love with.
“I only wanted to be a painter”
As an art student at the Pennsylvania Academy did you harbour serious ambitions to be a painter, or was art school simply a crucible for working out various creative options? I only wanted to be a painter. You recently made a series of paintings using toxic materials, are these something you are still working with?
I think you are referring to the fact that I like to paint outdoors. There are many reasons for this, and one of them is the reason you mention – the toxic materials. Another reason is the light and heat from the sun. The artist Gregory Crewdson makes photographs that are often compared to your films, because they are separated from conventional narrative and timelines but hold together as convincing images, and also encourage a strong element of voyeurism. Artists like Crewdson, or Jeff Wall, compose single images in a similar way to how you might construct an entire film. Do you feel that specific scenes in your films can be viewed separately as individual, single ‘works’ or is it very important to you that they are part of the complete film?
Number one, I believe you want to see the film as a whole work but there could be many offshoots on the sidelines: still images from the film, music from the film, soundscapes from the film, props, sculpture from the film, things like this. Just like in life, it flows as a whole, but all the different elements that make up the whole are very interesting.
Music (and sound design) has always figured prominently in your films. Did you take particular note of soundtracks as a young moviegoer? What music influenced you the most as you were growing up?
I did not take notice of anything in particular. Everything seemed beautiful and magical – like in a good dream. I always loved music and was aware of sounds like everyone else. I played the trumpet until they made me march at football games, but I had no strong feelings about making music or sounds. I wanted to be a painter since one night when I was in the ninth grade.
Do you make new sound versions of your films simply to take advantage of the latest sonic technology, or because you have revised your original understanding of how sound worked in these films? Is there something more you want the sound to ‘say’ in these cases?
That’s a tricky question. From mono to stereo was a big, important jump and I really was in love with stereo. When 5.1 came out and 7.1, there was a danger that the sound would leave the screen and go off in strange places in the theater, taking the person out of the world of the film. I personally like most of the sound coming from the screen. I like the improvement of speakers and whole sound systems for theaters that have come along to make the experience of the new cinema worlds deeper and greater.
You recently said that you were finished with celluloid. Why so?
Celluloid is the stuff that used to run through cameras before digital came along. Celluloid is the stuff that tears, gets dirty, causes a person to make many, many trips to the laboratory, that requires heavy, heavy cameras and equipment, that’s what I am through with even though that celluloid had the possibility to give exquisite images. As I always say, digital is getting better by leaps and bounds each day. It is the future, and its here to stay. Unlike many movie directors, you’ve never dismissed television as an inherently ‘inferior’ medium – Twin Peaks was proof of that.
Do you still have an interest in the small screen?
I worked on a show for television exactly the same as I worked on scenes in film. The difference is that for television, the images are played back on a small screen with pretty bad speakers, pretty bad quality sound.
We know that Mulholland Drive began life as a putative TV series; what was your reaction when it was rejected when Twin Peaks was such a huge success?
So many things are subjective. The person or persons who saw the first cut of the pilot for Mulholland Drive happened to dislike it – to dislike it very much. This to me was a kind of blessing and opened the window to Mulholland Drive becoming a closed ended feature film.
Is it true that you’ve made or are making something about The Beatles’ ‘guru’ Maharishi Mahesh Yogi?
Yes, it’s true; I’ve been meditating with Maharishi’s Transcendental Meditation since 1973. I’m going to be making a documentary on some of the knowledge that Maharishi brought out to the world. What can we expect from you next? Well, I have an album coming out this year on Sunday Best recordings. This album was made with my friend Big Dean Hurley.