David Lynch, of course, is best known as the vanguard director of dreamlike and disturbingly allegorical films such as Eraserhead (1977), The Elephant Man (1980), Blue Velvet(1986), and Mulholland Drive (2001)—movies that are as idiosyncratic and independently spirited as movies come, yet consistently flirt with a kind of mainstream Americana. Films like Wild at Heart (1990) and Lost Highway (1997) teem with sex and violence that is anything but cartoonish, while Lynch’s heartland tale, The Straight Story (1999), proved clean enough to earn a G rating.
He has consistently coaxed vivid, career-defining performances out of his female leads, including Isabella Rossellini, Laura Dern, and Sherilyn Fenn. In 1990, well before shows like The Sopranos or Mad Mentransformed series television into a creative hotbed, Lynch revolutionized the medium with Twin Peaks, a stark, surreal serial about the investigation into the death of a homecoming queen in a small town in Washington. He was also an early adopter of the Internet as a forum for creative work, producing a set of online shorts dubbed Dumbland, as well as a sitcom, Rabbits, about a family of humanoid bunnies.
Lynch’s career, though, has, in many ways, embodied the great dichotomies in his work. As a director, his characters are almost neoclassical, wholesome archetypes that one might find in the movies of the ’50s and ’60s by directors like Nicholas Ray and Billy Wilder; yet his films are also uncompromising explorations of the societal id and the dark underside of American dreaming. And as much as he has created within the confines of popular culture, he has continued to be an outlier; he has been nominated for three Academy Awards for directing—most recently in 2001 forMulholland Drive, for which he won the Palme d’Or at Cannes and which helped launch the career of yet another of his leading ladies, Naomi Watts—then, just five years later, he opted to self-distribute his next film, Inland Empire(2006).
Although Lynch hasn’t put out a feature film in more than half a decade, he has hardly been idle. He began his creative life in Missoula, Montana, as a painter, and recently compiled Works on Paper (Steidl), a career-spanning monograph of his wide-ranging output as a visual artist. Renowned for his meticulous sound design and the innovative use of music in his movies, Lynch also released his critically acclaimed first solo album as a musician and singer, Crazy Clown Time (Sunday Best), late last year, which followed his musical and visual collaboration with Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse on the 2010 album Dark Night of the Soul. (In addition, he worked with Interpol via the Creators Project on a short film shown at the Coachella music festival last spring.) Lynch has also added interior designer to his wide-ranging résumé, helping to conceive of and create the decor of the semiprivate club Silencio in Paris, which opened last year.
In conversation, the 66-year-old Lynch proves to be a living, breathing analog to his art: a beguiling combination of the cosmic and the mundane, the surreal and an abnormally normal-seeming normal. We spoke in Los Angeles, where Lynch lives.
MATT DIEHL: I’ve noticed a thread throughout your recent activity. You’ve made a new album, you helped put together a new nightclub, you have the comprehensive Works on Paper book that brings together all the strands of your visual art, you’ve taken film distribution into your own hands. Adultery is something of a prominent theme in your films, and you currently seem to be in a moment of creative promiscuity, philandering between genres and mediums.
DAVID LYNCH: [laughs] Right. You know, I’ve always said cinema combines so many different art forms. As a kid, I was always building things. My father had a shop in the house, and we built things—we were kind of a project family. I started out as a painter, and then painting led to cinema, and in cinema, you get to build so many things, or help build them. Then cinema led to so many different areas—it led to still photography, music . . . Furniture is also a big love of mine. I started building these kind of sculptural lamps. Then I got into lithography at this printing place in Madison, Wisconsin, called Tandem Press. For the last four years, I’ve been working on lithography in Paris at a great, great printing studio called Idem. And I’ve always been painting along the way, as well as doing drawings and watercolors . . . There are just so many things out there for us to do.
DIEHL: As I understand it, when you originally got into film, it was to try to make your paintings move. Is that correct?
LYNCH: Yes. I wanted to make a moving painting.
DIEHL: It’s funny because I recently watched The Alphabet, one of the early shorts that you made in art school, and it reminded me exactly of that: it was as if a Francis Bacon painting had come to life.
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