Each week we pay homage to a select "Original Creator"—an iconic artist from days gone by whose work influences and informs today's creators. These are artists who were innovative and revolutionary in their fields. Bold visionaries and radicals, groundbreaking frontiersmen and women who inspired and informed culture as we know it today. This week: David Lynch.
The cinematic iconoclast and psychic entity that is David Lynch has left a unique imprint on popular cinema, his movies full of psychoanalytical ideas and subconscious expressions. His work seems to lurk beneath the conventions of his contemporaries, exploring the unconscious structures of the mind and the deviant forms that inhabit it.
While his cinematic work can be difficult and strange, he has still managed to find popular appeal. His films resonate with a public of all ages and tastes, his particular brand of cinematic surrealism manages to straddle the line between avant-garde and cult. An auteur of sorts, his work has recurring motifs and collaborators, like composer Angelo Badalamenti and actress Laura Dern, helping to add a cyclical, dream-like quality to his oeuvre. If it’s easy to draw a parallel between Lynch’s work and dreams—the non-linear narratives, the symbolism, the subconscious desires that drive the narrative forward—it’s because the oneiric nature of film, its closeness to the state of dreaming, is much more explicit in his movies. He creates unsettling and bewildering filmic landscapes, twisting genres until they’re almost unrecognizable—road movies that feature references to the Wizard of Oz, the supernatural, or a 73-year-old man traveling 240 miles across America on a lawn tractor to visit his dying brother. Lynch’s masterpieces are neo-noirs that savagely trounce the white-picket fence protecting the American Dream.
In addition to his remarkable films, Lynch has also made forays into other mediums, perhaps most notably his celebrated TV series Twin Peaks, co-created with Mark Frost. The murder of homecoming queen Laura Palmer sets off a mysterious sequence of events when cherry pie-loving FBI agent Dale Cooper comes to town to investigate, discovering a town populated by eccentric characters and mystical beings. Lynch is also a practitioner of transcendental meditation (perhaps a source of inspiration?), paints, and has recently tried his hand at making music with "Good Day Today". But mostly it’s his film and TV work that will be remembered—works that are baffling, upsetting, jarring, and addictive—like poking a stick into the ants’ nest of your unconscious mind and shaking loose the swarming “unhomely” primitive feelings that Freud defined as the Uncanny.
Below we’ve sorted through his back catalogue and come up with a damn fine selection of his work.
Eraserhead Lynch’s first feature film, it’s a creepy industrial horror, the definitive cult movie, with the industrial landscape reflected in the soundtrack. A bizarre movie where the strange narrative is frequently interrupted by dream and fantasy sequences, it’s really just a succession of unconnected events until its mystifying conclusion. And, of course, it features that baby, the source of much speculation and urban legend mythmaking as to how it was created.
Blue Velvet The singer surrounded by drapery, the nasty, seedy underbelly that lurks beneath small town USA, the psychotic performance from Dennis Hopper and, yes, Dean Stockwell performing Roy Orbison's "In Dreams." It's all here in this neo-noir mystery that has, perhaps, become his most enduring work and the source of much rumination from academics across the world.
Twin Peaks A TV series that takes in a one-armed man, otherworldly entities, a backwards speaking midget in a red business suit, evil beings, alternate dimensions, giants, riddles, doppelgangers, owls, a clairvoyant log, a Manichean battle between good and evil, and a whole bunch of other esoteric weirdness in what is, arguably, one of the greatest and creepiest TV shows of all time.
Lost Highway People talk about Mulholland Drive, which is a fantastic film, but this is perhaps one of his most underrated. Another neo-noir that kicks the conventions into another dimension, it features lots of metamorphosing characters and strange doppelgängers, in a plot that is incomprehensible and absurd.
Like the lingering effect his work has on the viewer’s mind, it has also left an indelible mark on the consciousness of cinema, seeping into other people’s work. Lynch is a director for whom the cliché, “often imitated but never bettered,” rings uncannily true. His work is so unique he even has an adjective ascribed to his name: “Lynchian”—a strange brew of the macabre, the banal, and the terrifying. His influence can be felt on films like Requiem for a Dream and Donnie Darko, along with countless music videos and musicians. He’s continued the tradition of the European surrealists but given it a modern twist, leaving an unnerving mark—like a just-remembered dream, images and scenes from his films stay with you forever, rising from your subconscious mind when provoked.