David Keith Lynch (born January 20, 1946) is an American director, screenwriter, producer, painter, cartoonist, composer, video and performance artist. Lynch has received three Academy Award nominations for Best Director, for The Elephant Man (1980), Blue Velvet (1986), and Mulholland Drive (2001). Lynch has won awards at the Cannes Film Festival and Venice Film Festival.
Over a lengthy career, Lynch has employed a distinctive and unorthodox approach to narrative film making (dubbed Lynchian), which has become instantly recognizable to many audiences and critics worldwide. Lynch's films are known for surreal, nightmarish and dreamlike images and meticulously crafted sound design. Lynch's work often explores the seedy underside of "Small Town U.S." (particularly Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks), or sprawling California metropolises (Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive and his latest release, Inland Empire). Beginning with his experimental film school feature Eraserhead (1977), he has maintained a strong cult following despite inconsistent commercial success.
Intending to become an artist, Lynch attended classes at Corcoran School of Art in Washington, D.C. while finishing high school in Alexandria, Virginia. He enrolled in the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston for one year (where he was a roommate of Peter Wolf) before leaving for Europe with his friend and fellow artist Jack Fisk, planning to study with Austrian expressionist painter Oskar Kokoschka. Although he had planned to stay for three years, Lynch returned to the US after only 15 days.
In 1970, Lynch turned his attention away from fine art and focused primarily on film. He won a $5,000 grant from the American Film Institute to produce The Grandmother, about a neglected boy who “grows” a grandmother from a seed. The 30-minute film exhibited many elements that would become Lynch trademarks, including unsettling sound and surrealistic imagery and a focus on unconscious desires instead of traditional narration.
A stark and enigmatic film, Eraserhead tells the story of a quiet young man (Jack Nance) living in an industrial wasteland, whose girlfriend gives birth to a constantly crying mutant baby. Lynch has referred to Eraserhead as "my Philadelphia story", meaning it reflects all of the dangerous and fearful elements he encountered while studying and living in Philadelphia. He said "this feeling left its traces deep down inside me. And when it came out again, it became Eraserhead".
The final film was initially judged to be almost unreleasable, but thanks to the efforts of The Elgin Theatre distributor Ben Barenholtz, it became an instant cult classic and was a staple of midnight movie showings for the next decade. It was also a critical success, launching Lynch to the forefront of avant-garde filmmaking. Stanley Kubrick said that it was one of his all-time favorite films. It cemented the team of actors and technicians who would continue to define the texture of his work for years to come, including cinematographer Frederick Elmes, sound designer Alan Splet, and actor Jack Nance.
Eraserhead brought Lynch to the attention of producer Mel Brooks, who hired him to direct 1980's The Elephant Man, a biopic of deformed Victorian era figure Joseph Merrick. The film was a huge commercial success, and earned eight Academy Award nominations, including Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay nods for Lynch. It also established his place as a commercially viable, if somewhat dark and unconventional, Hollywood director. George Lucas, a fan of Eraserhead, offered Lynch the opportunity to direct Return of the Jedi, which he refused, feeling that it would be more Lucas's vision than his own.
Afterwards, Lynch agreed to direct a big budget adaptation of Frank Herbert's science fiction novel Dune for Italian producer Dino De Laurentiis's De Laurentiis Entertainment Group, on the condition that the company release a second Lynch project, over which the director would have complete creative control. Although De Laurentiis hoped it would be the next Star Wars, Lynch's Dune (1984) was a critical and commercial dud, costing $45 million to make, and grossing a mere $27.4 million domestically. The studio released an "extended cut" of the film for syndicated television in which some footage was reinstated; however, certain shots from elsewhere in the film were repeated throughout the story to give the impression that other footage had been added. Whatever the case, this was not representative of Lynch's intended cut, but rather a cut that the studio felt was more comprehensible than the original theatrical version. Lynch objected to these changes and disowned the extended cut, which has "Alan Smithee" credited as the director. This version has since been released on video worldwide.
Lynch's second De Laurentiis-financed project was 1986's Blue Velvet, the story of a college student (Kyle MacLachlan) who discovers his small, idealistic hometown hides a dark side after investigating a severed ear he found in a field. The film featured memorable performances from Isabella Rossellini as a tormented lounge singer, and Dennis Hopper as a crude, psychopathic criminal, and the leader of a small gang of backwater hoodlums.
Although Lynch had found success previously with The Elephant Man, Blue Velvet's controversy with audiences and critics introduced him into the mainstream, and became a huge critical and commercial success. Thus, the film earned Lynch his second Academy Award nomination for Best Director. The content of the film and its artistic merit drew much controversy from audiences and critics alike in 1986 and onwards. Blue Velvet introduced several common elements of his work, including abused women, the dark underbelly of small towns, and unconventional uses of vintage songs. Bobby Vinton's "Blue Velvet" and Roy Orbison's "In Dreams" are both featured in unconventional ways. It was also the first time Lynch worked with composer Angelo Badalamenti, who would contribute to all of his future full-length films except INLAND EMPIRE.
Woody Allen, whose film Hannah and Her Sisters was nominated for Best Picture, said that Blue Velvet was his favourite film of the year. The film is consistently ranked as one of the greatest American films ever made, and has become a hugely influential motion picture, the impact of which is still being felt in Hollywood and popular culture.
The show debuted on the ABC Network on April 8, 1990 and gradually rose from cult hit to cultural phenomenon, and because of its originality and success remains one of the most well-known television series of the decade. Catch phrases from the show entered the culture and parodies of it were seen on Saturday Night Live and The Simpsons. Lynch appeared on the cover of Time magazine largely because of the success of the series. Lynch, who has seldom acted in his career, also appeared on the show as the partially-deaf FBI Regional Bureau Chief Gordon Cole, who shouted his every word.
However, Lynch clashed with the ABC Network on several matters, particularly whether or not to reveal Laura Palmer's killer. The network insisted that the revelation be made during the second season but Lynch wanted the mystery to last as long as the series. Lynch soon became disenchanted with the series, and, as a result, many cast members complained of feeling abandoned. Later, in a roundtable discussion with cast members included in the 2007 DVD release of the series, he stated that he and Frost never intended to ever reveal the identity of Laura's killer, that ABC forced him to reveal the culprit prematurely, and that agreeing to do so is one of his biggest professional regrets.
It was at this time that Lynch began to work with editor/producer/domestic partner Mary Sweeney who had been one of his assistant editors on Blue Velvet. This was a collaboration that would last some eleven projects. During this period, Sweeney also gave birth to their son.
Adapted from the novel by Barry Gifford, Wild at Heart was an almost hallucinatory crime/road movie starring Nicolas Cage and Laura Dern. It won the Palme d'Or at the 1990 Cannes Film Festival but was met with a muted response from American critics and viewers. Reportedly, several people walked out of test screenings.
The missing link between Twin Peaks and Wild at Heart, however, is Industrial Symphony No. 1: The Dream of the Broken Hearted. It was originally presented on-stage at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York City on November 10, 1989 as a part of the New Music America Festival. Industrial Symphony No. 1 is another collaboration between composer Angelo Badalamenti and David Lynch. It features five songs by Julee Cruise and stars several members of the Twin Peaks cast as well as Nic Cage, Laura Dern and Julee Cruise. Lynch described this musical spectacle as the "sound effects and music and ... happening on the stage. And, it has something to do with, uh, a relationship ending." David Lynch produced a 50 minute video of the performance in 1990.
Twin Peaks suffered a severe ratings drop and was canceled in 1991. Still, Lynch scripted a prequel to the series about the last seven days in the life of Laura Palmer. The resulting film, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992), flopped at the box office.
As a quick blip during this time period, he and Mark Frost wrote and directed several episodes of the short lived comedy series On the Air for ABC, which followed the zany antics at a 1950s TV studio. In the US, only three episodes were aired, although seven were filmed. In the Netherlands, all seven were aired by VPRO. BBC2 in the UK also aired all seven episodes. Lynch also produced (with Frost) and directed the documentary television series American Chronicles.
In 1997, Lynch returned with the non-linear, noir-like film Lost Highway, co-written by Barry Gifford and starring Bill Pullman and Patricia Arquette. The film failed commercially and received a mixed response from critics. However, thanks in part to a soundtrack featuring David Bowie, Marilyn Manson, Rammstein, Nine Inch Nails and The Smashing Pumpkins, it helped gain Lynch a new audience of Generation X viewers.
In 1999, Lynch surprised fans and critics with the G-rated, Disney-produced The Straight Story, written and edited by Mary Sweeney, which was, on the surface, a simple and humble movie telling the true story of Iowan Alvin Straight, played by Richard Farnsworth, who rides a lawnmower to Wisconsin to make peace with his ailing brother, played by Harry Dean Stanton. The film garnered positive reviews and reached a new audience for its director.
The same year, Lynch approached ABC once again with an idea for a television drama. The network gave Lynch the go-ahead to shoot a two-hour pilot for the series Mulholland Drive, but disputes over content and running time led to the project being shelved indefinitely.
With seven million dollars from the French production company StudioCanal, Lynch completed the pilot as a film. Mulholland Drive is an enigmatic tale of the dark side of Hollywood and stars Naomi Watts, Laura Harring and Justin Theroux. The film performed relatively well at the box office worldwide and was a critical success earning Lynch a Best Director prize at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival (shared with Joel Coen for The Man Who Wasn't There) and a Best Director award from the New York Film Critics Association.
In 2002, Lynch created a series of online shorts entitled Dumbland. Intentionally crude both in content and execution, the eight-episode series was later released on DVD. The same year, Lynch treated his fans to his own version of a sitcom via his website - Rabbits, eight episodes of surrealism in a rabbit suit. Later, he showed his experiments with Digital Video (DV) in the form of the Japanese style horror short Darkened Room. At the 2005 Cannes Film Festival, Lynch announced that he had spent over a year shooting his new project digitally in Poland. The feature, titled Inland Empire, included Lynch regulars such as Laura Dern, Harry Dean Stanton, and Mulholland Drive star Justin Theroux, with cameos by Naomi Watts and Laura Harring (actors in the rabbit suits), and a performance by Jeremy Irons. Lynch described the piece as "a mystery about a woman in trouble". It was released in December 2006. In an effort to promote the film, Lynch made appearances with a cow and a placard bearing the slogan "Without cheese there would be no Inland Empire".
Despite his almost exclusive focus on America, Lynch has found a large audience in France; Inland Empire, Mulholland Drive, Lost Highway and Fire Walk With Me were all funded through French production companies.
The most recent work that Lynch has directed is a fragrance short film/commercial for Gucci. It features 3 prominent models, dancing in what appear to be their own luxurious homes, to the soundtrack of Blondie. A video of the commercial plus a behind-the-scenes video of the making of the commercial is available online at the Gucci website.
In May 2008, Lynch announced that he was working on a road documentary "about his dialogues with regular folk on the meaning of life, with the likes of 60’s troubadour Donovan and John Hagelin, the physicist, as traveling companions".
Lynch has received four Academy Award nominations: Best Director for The Elephant Man (1980), Blue Velvet (1986) and Mulholland Drive (2001), as well as Best Adapted Screenplay for The Elephant Man (1980).
Lynch is also widely noted for his collaborations with various production artists and composers on his films and multiple different productions. He frequently works with Angelo Badalamenti to compose music for his productions, former wife Mary Sweeney as a film editor, casting director Johanna Ray, and cast members Harry Dean Stanton, Jack Nance, Kyle MacLachlan, Naomi Watts, Isabella Rossellini and Laura Dern.
On a similar note, he has also developed a tendency during the second half of his career to feature his leading female actors in multiple or "split" roles, thus many of his characters have multiple, fractured identities in his films. Starting with the choice to cast Sheryl Lee both as Laura Palmer and as twin cousin Maddy Ferguson on Twin Peaks it continues to be a primary theme in his later works. In Lost Highway, Patricia Arquette has the dual role of Renee Madison/Alice Wakefield. In Mulholland Drive, Naomi Watts was cast as Diane Selwyn/Betty Elms and Laura Harring as Camilla Rhodes/Rita. The theme is even further carried out by Laura Dern's performance in his latest production Inland Empire. Though there are instances in these films of men taking on multiple roles, it seems more common for Lynch to create multi-character roles for his female actors.
Film critic Roger Ebert has been notoriously unfavorable towards Lynch, even accusing him of misogyny in his reviews of Blue Velvet and Wild at Heart. In early days, Ebert was one of few major critics to dislike Blue Velvet. He seems to have had a change of heart in recent years, as he has written enthusiastic reviews of recent Lynch films such as The Straight Story and Mulholland Drive.
An early influence on Lynch was the book The Art Spirit by American turn-of-the-century artist and teacher Robert Henri. When he was in high school, Bushnell Keeler, an artist who was the stepfather of one of his friends, introduced Lynch to Henri's book, which became his bible. As Lynch said in Chris Rodley's book Lynch on Lynch, "it helped me decide my course for painting — 100 percent right there." Lynch, like Henri, moved from rural America to an urban environment to pursue an artistic career. Henri was an urban realist painter, legitimizing every day city life as the subject of his work, much in the same way that Lynch first drew street scenes. Henri's work also bridged changing centuries, from America's agricultural 19th century into the industrial 20th century, much in the same fashion as Lynch's films blend the nostalgic happiness of the fifties to the twisted weirdness of the eighties and nineties.
His influences have also included Luis Buñuel, Werner Herzog, Roman Polanski, Billy Wilder, John Ford, Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock, Francis Ford Coppola and Ernst Lubitsch. Some of them have cited Lynch as an influence themselves, most notably Kubrick, who stated that he modeled his vision of The Shining (1980) upon that of Eraserhead and who, according to Lynch's book Catching the Big Fish, once commented while screening Eraserhead for a small group that it was his favorite film. Mario Bava, the prolific Italian horror filmmaker, has frequently been cited as an influence on Lynch.
Cinematographer/director Caleb Deschanel, who was also at the AFI at the time and wanted to shoot the film, introduced Lynch to a producer at 20th Century Fox. The studio was interested in making a series of low-budget horror films and wanted to expand "Gardenback" into a feature film. The studio was willing to give Lynch $50,000 to make it but wanted the 45-page script to be expanded. This involved writing dialogue -- something Lynch had never tried before. Lynch said in Lynch on Lynch, "What I wrote was pretty much worthless, but something happened inside me about structure, about scenes. And I don't even know what it was, but it sort of percolated down and became part of me. But the script was pretty much worthless. I knew I'd just watered it down." Consequently, Lynch became disenchanted with the project. Some of the elements in "Gardenback" would later surface in Eraserhead, such as its main characters Henry and Mary X.
Lynch tends to keep his personal life private and rarely comments on his films. However, he does attend public events and film festivals when he or his films are nominated/awarded. Despite a belief that a film should be seen in its totality, the DVD release of Inland Empire is divided into chapters, with Lynch explaining why in the "Stories" feature. In addition, on his two DVD collections of short films, Lynch provides short introductions to each film.
In the "Stories" feature on the Eraserhead DVD, Lynch mentions that he ate French fries and grilled cheese almost every day while on the set. Despite his professional accomplishments, Lynch once characterized himself simply as "Eagle Scout, Missoula, Montana".
In 1967, Lynch married Peggy Lentz in Chicago, Illinois. They had one child, Jennifer Chambers Lynch, born in 1968, who currently works as a film director. They filed for divorce in 1974. On June 21, 1977, Lynch married Mary Fisk, and the couple had one child, Austin Jack Lynch, born in 1982. They divorced in 1987, and Lynch began dating Isabella Rossellini, after filming Blue Velvet.
Lynch and Rossellini broke up in 1991, and Lynch developed a relationship with Mary Sweeney, with whom he had one son, Riley Lynch, in 1992. Sweeney also worked as long-time film editor/producer to Lynch and co-wrote and produced The Straight Story. The two married in May 2006, but divorced later in July.
Lynch is working for the establishment of seven "peace palaces", each with 8000 salaried people practicing advanced techniques of TM, "pumping peace for the world." He estimates the cost at $7 billion. As of December 2005, he had spent $400,000 of his own money and raised $1 million in donations from a handful of wealthy individuals and organizations. In December 2006, the New York Times reported that he continued to have that goal.
Lynch has written a book, Catching the Big Fish (Tarcher/Penguin 2006), which discusses the impact of TM on his creative process. He is donating all author's royalties to the David Lynch Foundation.
Lynch was the subject of a major art retrospective at the Fondation Cartier, Paris from March May 3-27 2007. The show was entitled The Air is on Fire and included numerous paintings, photographs, drawings, alternative films and sound work. New site-specific art installations were created specially for the exhibition. A series of events accompanied the exhibition including live performances and concerts. Some of Lynch's art include photographs of dissected chickens and other animals as a "Build your own Chicken" toy ad.
Between 1983 and 1992, Lynch wrote and drew a weekly comic strip called The Angriest Dog in the World for the L.A. Reader. The drawings in the panels never change — just the captions. The comic strip originated from a time in Lynch's life when he was filled with anger.
Lynch has also been involved in a number of musical projects, many of them related to his films. Most notably he produced and wrote lyrics for Julee Cruise's first two albums, Floating into the Night (1989) and The Voice of Love (1993), in collaboration with Angelo Badalamenti who composed the music and also produced. Lynch has also worked on the 1998 Jocelyn Montgomery album Lux Vivens. He has also composed bits of music for Wild at Heart, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, Mulholland Drive, and Rabbits. In 2001 he released BlueBob, a rock album performed by Lynch and John Neff. The album is notable for Lynch's unusual guitar playing style: he plays "upside down and backwards, like a lap guitar", and relies heavily on effects pedals. Most recently Lynch has composed several pieces for Inland Empire, including two songs, "Ghost of Love" and "Walkin' on the Sky" in which he makes his public debut as a singer.
Lynch designed his personal website, a site exclusive to paying members, where he posts short videos and his absurdist series Dumbland, plus interviews and other items. The site also features a daily weather report, where Lynch gives a brief description of the weather in Los Angeles, where he resides. An absurd ringtone ("I like to kill deer") from the website was a common sound bite on The Howard Stern Show in early 2006.
Lynch is an avid coffee drinker and even has his own line of special organic blends available for purchase on his website. Called "David Lynch Signature Cup", the coffee has been advertised via flyers included with several recent Lynch-related DVD releases, including Inland Empire and the Gold Box edition of Twin Peaks. The self-mocking tag-line for the brand is "It's all in the beans ... and I'm just full of beans.
|1980||The Elephant Man||8||7||3||4|
|1990||Wild at Heart||1||1||1|
|1992||Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me|
|1999||The Straight Story||1||2|