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#BornThisDay: Filmmaker, David Lynch


From cigarette ad, via YouTube

January 20, 1946David Lynch:

“I’m a regular person. I do regular things”.

In 1999, ABC shot a two-hour pilot called for a potential series Mulholland Drive. It was to be David Lynch’s weird, wonderful comeback to television, after the weird and wonderful Twin Peaks (1990-91). A car crash survivor stumbles into Hollywood with a blue key, a bag of money, and a blank memory; a cuckolding pool cleaner played by Billy Ray Cyrus, a clumsy assassin, plus some sort of garbage creature; who wouldn’t need to tune in every week for that?

Apparently not the ABC executives who objected to the glacial pace, the incomprehensible plot and everything Lynchian. Yet, Lynch fleshed out the footage he had, stretched the storylines and shot an ending. Presented as a feature film, the half-pilot, half-feature result, along with Lynch’s usual style, left the film’s meaning open to interpretation. He gave the film the tagline: “A Love Story in the City of Dreams”, but it also plays as a sticky valentine to the city of Los Angeles.

The BBC named it the Best Film of the 21st century so far, rather amazing for a rejected television pilot. On an aesthetic level it is astounding. Lynch’s frequent themes of dreams within dreams and shifting personalities, with recurring images of fires and microphones, it is both a fairytale and a nightmare. David Lynch world.

It stars Justin Theroux, Naomi Watts, Laura Harring, and Robert Forster. Plus, Ann Miller! There is even a gay angle, with a sex scene between Harring and Watts. It probably wasn’t in the pilot footage.

Lynch was born to a middle-class family in Missoula, Montana, that kept moving around the USA, including time in my hometown of Spokane.  He studied painting at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia, where he also made his first short films.

Directing Isabella Rossellini in “Blue Velvet”, photograph by Helmut Newton via YouTube


He makes films that are so achingly beautiful and moderately disturbing that compel me to watch every time I come across one. His first was the surrealist horror film Eraserhead (1977), which became a cult classic on the midnight movie circuit. His next, produced by Mel Brooks, was a B&W biopic about a deformed man, Joseph Merrick, titled The Elephant Man (1980), starring John Hurt, Anthony Hopkins, Anne Bancroft, and John Gielgud. Brooks name was intentionally left uncredited to avoid confusion from film fans who possibly might think it was Young Frankenstein 2.

The Elephant Man was a critical and box-office hit with eight Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director. It features make-up by Christopher Tucker. After receiving widespread criticism for failing to honor the film’s make-up, the Academy created an Oscar category for Best Makeup and Hairstyling in 1981. The film also won the BAFTA Awards for Best Film, Best Actor and Best Production Design and the César Award for Best Foreign Film.

With new mainstream success, he made two films for De Laurentiis Entertainment: the science-fiction dud Dune (1984), and the brilliant noir Blue Velvet (1986), which stirred quite the controversy. Audiences and critics were divided, but I loved it. I wasn’t alone. Lynch received his second Academy Award nomination for Best Director. Now, entire courses in film school are taught its thematic symbolism, and it is widely regarded as one of the greatest films of the 1980s. Sight & Sound, Time Magazine, Entertainment Weekly and BBC Magazine have ranked it as one of Greatest American Films of all time. In 2008, Blue Velvet was chosen by the American Film Institute as one of the Top Ten American Mystery Films.

When he was partnered with Hill Street Blues writer Mark Frost to ground his dreamy landscaped into something ABC could cut commercials around, the network execs suggested something like Peyton Place. Instead, the duo delivered Dickensian delirium for two seasons. A series about the murder of homecoming queen Laura Palmer and her small Pacific Northwest logging town’s secrets, demons and alternate dimensions. It was a primetime show about the monsters lurking just beneath the surface of American society. And it was also a show that was willing to be maddeningly embrace of art-house aesthetics, and upend the Andy Griffith Show’s dream of small town life into an acid trip. Twin Peaks changed the idea of what people would watch on television. It influenced television program with series such as The X-Files, Lost and even Mad Men to approximately 98 percent of small-town murder mysteries. And Lynch has spent those intervening decades being begged by Twin Peaks fans, cast and crew, to return.

He obliged with Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992), then moved on to the road movie Wild At Heart (1990) and a sweet, strange G-rated film The Straight Story (1999). Lynch moved back to his “dream logic” non-linear narrative structures with the thriller Lost Highway (1997), Mulholland Drive and the mystery film Inland Empire (2006). But fans kept clamoring for more Twin Peaks, and Lynch and Frost reunited for the Showtime limited series Twin Peaks: The Return (2017), with Lynch co-writing and directing every episode. Showtime reports that the series led to a record number of subscriptions.

David Bowie was to play FBI Agent Phillip Jeffries, his character from Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. But, Bowie died and became unavailable. In early 2017 cast members Miguel Ferrer and Warren Frost left for another diminsion, but both appear in the new series. Harry Dean Stanton, who reprised his role from the original series also, left this world last September, just days after the last episode of the series aired.

Besides being a uniquely challenging filmmaker, Lynch is also a uniquely challenging painter, musician, actor, and photographer.

Lynch stated:

“I am not a political person. I thought of myself as a libertarian. I believed in next to zero government. And I still would lean toward no government and not so many rules, except for traffic lights and things like this. I really believe in traffic regulations. I don’t know if there even is a Libertarian party. They wouldn’t have a prayer of getting anywhere. So, I’m a Democrat now. And I’ve always been a Democrat, really. But I don’t like the Democrats a lot, either, because I’m a smoker, and I think a lot of the Democrats have come up with these rules for non-smoking.”

Lynch has received four Academy Award nominations, has twice won the César Award for Best Foreign Film, as well as the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and a Golden Lion Award at the Venice Film Festival. He was awarded the Legion of Honor, France’s top civilian honor.

Lynch loves coffee and even has his own line of special organic blends available for purchase on his website. The coffee, David Lynch Signature Cup, is advertised in recent DVD releases of his work. The tag-line for the brand is: “It’s all in the beans… and I’m just full of beans.

40 years after the premiere of the deliciously disturbing Eraserhead, and 25 years after Laura Palmer said good-bye to Special Agent Dale Cooper, the most daring auteur in Hollywood continues to go to places that seem off-limits for film and television.

Will there be another season of Twin Peaks? Lynch has said “there’s nothing to talk about”, but that he’s learned not to rule anything out and cryptically said there is “always room to dream”.

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