IN LOVE WITH AN IDEA

Film­maker David Lynch talks to Ben Machell about mu­sic, art and the ups and downs of the creative life

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Music -

THE per­cep­tion of David Lynch as one of cin­ema’s great out­siders has ex­isted for more than three decades. But visit his home in LA and you re­alise that, if only in terms of real es­tate, he ghosted in among the show­biz es­tab­lish­ment some time ago.

To find him, you drive up into the leafy ex­clu­siv­ity of the Hol­ly­wood Hills; past Or­lando Bloom’s house, past the place where Gary Old­man used to live, just around the cor­ner from where Acad­emy Award-win­ning di­rec­tor Ron Howard is hav­ing work done on a man­sion over­look­ing Mul­hol­land Drive. Lynch’s work may have a rep­u­ta­tion for dark, some­times night­mar­ish sur­re­al­ity — from Eraser­head to Twin Peaks to Lost High­way — but day to day he in­hab­its a world of eu­ca­lyp­tus-scented sweet­ness and light.

Still, his home has a touch of bru­tal­ism about it, a mod­ernist con­crete com­plex built into the side of a hill. A back door leads you to a record­ing stu­dio where Lynch sits, sur­rounded by gui­tars, am­pli­fiers and mix­ing equip­ment. He is about to re­lease an al­bum, The Big Dream. It’s his sec­ond LP in three years — its pre­de­ces­sor, Crazy Clown Time, re­ceived pos­i­tive re­views — and it in­volves the 67-yearold per­form­ing his own swampy, at­mo­spheric rock ’ n’ roll num­bers, de­liv­er­ing them in his reedy singing voice. ‘‘ I don’t have high hopes it’s go­ing to take over the world,’’ he says, smil­ing. ‘‘ But I feel real good about it.’’

Lynch pos­sesses a pe­cu­liar charisma. His hair still looks fan­tas­tic, swept up and set in a messy white quiff. He wears a shirt but­toned to the top, a crum­pled jacket and a pair of grubby trousers. He looks as though he could have stepped out of a Nor­man Rock­well paint­ing, some cheer­ful me­chanic or car­pen­ter from a 1950s mid­west­ern town.

He is af­fa­ble, but also po­litely dis­tant. That there are other things he’d rather be get­ting on with is, in the nicest pos­si­ble way, im­plicit. So even when he talks about his long­stand­ing ob­ses­sion with, say, the cor­rupted un­der­belly of mid­dle Amer­ica, or his pas­sion for tran­scen­den­tal med­i­ta­tion, he still man­ages to make it feel like a pass­ing con­ver­sa­tion.

The only point at which he seems un­com­fort­able is when I ask if it feels weird to be re­spon­si­ble for the ad­jec­tive Lynchian. He cuts the ques­tion off with a sad shake of the head. ‘‘ The doc­tors have asked me not to think about this kind of thing,’’ he says. ‘‘ It doesn’t do me any good.’’

He says peo­ple of­ten seem sur­prised by his oth­er­wise sunny dis­po­si­tion. This is a wri­ter­di­rec­tor, re­mem­ber, whose 1977 de­but, Eraser­head, in­cluded the film’s pro­tag­o­nist at­tack­ing his freak­ish, mu­tant baby with a pair of scis­sors, who fea­tured sado­masochis­tic rape in his Os­car-nom­i­nated Blue Velvet, and for whom psy­chosis, alien­ation and a sense of gnomic mys­tery are re­cur­rent themes. The idea of him as a cheer­ful guy doesn’t al­ways com­pute.

‘‘ But ac­tu­ally, when you meet peo­ple who have made dark things, a lot of the time you’ll see a kind of hap­pi­ness in them,’’ he says. ‘‘ It’s not all brood­ing and suf­fer­ing. If you’re suf­fer­ing all the time, you can’t re­ally get much work done.’’

Lynch presents him­self as an al­most ob­ses­sive-com­pul­sive cre­ator. He reg­u­larly uses the phrase ‘‘ catch­ing ideas’’ to de­scribe the mo­ments of in­spi­ra­tion that will lead him to pick up a gui­tar, a paint­brush or a cam­era. ‘‘ If you fall in love with an idea it’s like fall­ing in love with a girl. There’s noth­ing you can do about it. You have to fol­low through.’’

So as well as his al­bum, this year he has had a book of his pho­tog­ra­phy pub­lished, while last year he held his first solo ex­hi­bi­tion of paint­ings in New York. There’s other stuff, too. He has his own brand of cof­fee, while not long ago he was asked to de­sign a night­club in Paris. He re­cently shot a Du­ran Du­ran con­cert movie.

What he hasn’t done since 2006 and In­land Em­pire, though, is di­rect a fea­ture film. Lynch con­cedes that in the present eco­nomic cli­mate there is no guar­an­tee he’d be able to get a pro­ject off the ground.

‘‘ They say a good part of it has to do with money,’’ he says, laugh­ing. ‘‘ Film is still a pretty ex­pen­sive medium, even in the dig­i­tal world. There’s cer­tain things that they’ve found that make money and get peo­ple in the theatres.’’

On the other hand, Lynch says it is also a sim­ple ques­tion of in­spi­ra­tion. ‘‘ You can’t just push a but­ton and get a cin­ema idea. They come along when they come along. I love cin­ema. I love it. But un­til the ideas come, you do other things.’’

In Septem­ber, Lynch and his wife, ac­tress Emily Stofle, an­nounced the birth of their daugh­ter, Lula. ‘‘ You should see her! She’s so beau­ti­ful.’’

He al­ready has three adult chil­dren from three pre­vi­ous mar­riages. His el­dest is di­rec­tor Jennifer Lynch, now 45, who found no­to­ri­ety in the early 90s with the film Boxing He­lena, about a sur­geon who am­pu­tates the limbs of the woman with whom he is ob­sessed. She has since worked on a string of thriller and hor­ror re­leases. ‘‘ It’s funny when peo­ple say, ‘ Oh! You’re weird like your dad,’ ’’ she said last year. ‘‘ But I don’t think he is weird. He’s just a sto­ry­teller who, thank­fully, looks at things very dif­fer­ently.’’

Lynch’s own child­hood was no­madic, his fam­ily criss-cross­ing the US as a re­sult of his fa­ther’s job as a re­search sci­en­tist with the Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture.

It was grow­ing up in the small towns of mid­dle Amer­ica — places such as Spokane, Wash­ing­ton; Boise, Idaho; Alexan­dria, Vir­ginia — that helped nur­ture a fix­a­tion not just with the picket-fence perfection of his coun­try’s post-war baby boom, but with the un­spo­ken cor­rup­tion be­neath the ve­neer.

Lynch ar­rived in Los An­ge­les in 1970 to at­tend film school. ‘‘ I was a ner­vous fel­low,’’ he re­mem­bers. ‘‘ I had big anx­i­eties and a lot of anger. I was not self-as­sured. It was like I was on . . . thin ice. I was work­ing and catch­ing ideas, but in­side was more tor­ment.’’ He says dis­cov­er­ing tran­scen­den­tal med­i­ta­tion helped straighten him out, a method he still prac­tises twice a day.

Af­ter Eraser­head, he made two big stu­dio pic­tures, The Ele­phant Man and the sci­encefic­tion flop Dune. From the mid-80s on­wards he op­er­ated as his own man, the au­teur be­hind Blue Velvet, Wild at Heart and the cult tele­vi­sion se­ries Twin Peaks.

Given the boom­ing pop­u­lar­ity of in­tel­li­gent, high-spec box-set TV pro­grams, it would be a good time for Lynch to re­turn to the small screen. There has been mount­ing spec­u­la­tion on­line that Twin Peaks might be re­vived. Could there be a come­back? Af­ter all, it was ahead of its time.

‘‘ Well, it was at that par­tic­u­lar time,’’ he counters. ‘‘ The ideas came. We had a lot of luck.’’ He isn’t keen to an­swer the ques­tion about a pos­si­ble re­vival, in­stead ex­pand­ing on the pros and cons of mak­ing tele­vi­sion. ‘‘ I think TV has taken over the jobs of the art houses, it’s a beau­ti­ful thing,’’ he says. ‘‘ And I do like the idea of be­ing able to do a con­tin­u­ing story. The only down­side is the screens are not ... it’s just a dif­fer­ent thing to be­ing in a theatre.’’

Does he go to Hol­ly­wood awards, din­ners, meet­ings? Does he have any sort of so­cial life? He looks stricken, putting his head in his hands and talk­ing through his fin­gers.

‘‘ Do­ing those kinds of things is hor­ri­ble. Go­ing out? Go­ing to din­ner or to some event? Absolutely a night­mare,’’ he says, sigh­ing. ‘‘ What you need is freedom to think and catch those ideas. Those other things are such a dis­trac­tion. The only good that could come from it is that you see some­thing that’d give you an idea. But that doesn’t usu­ally hap­pen.’’

I ask about how he stays afloat fi­nan­cially, and he’s open about the fact he takes on com­mer­cial work: he di­rected a 16-minute ad­vert for Dior, has worked on ‘‘ creative part­ner­ships’’ with Dom Perignon.

It means he has enough cash com­ing in never to have to com­pro­mise or be prag­matic about his per­sonal projects. ‘‘ I have to work for money, but when it comes to cin­ema or paint­ing or mu­sic, you have to do what you re­ally be­lieve in, or you’ll die. You’ll just die.’’

The multi-tal­ented David Lynch at an ex­hi­bi­tion in Paris

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