This year has been a good one for David Lynch fans. In addition to seeing The Criterion Collection issue a Blu-Ray transfer of 1977’s “Eraserhead” (They’re also rumored to be working on “Mulholland Drive”), we also saw a cultural revival of the 90s phenomenon “Twin Peaks” with the release of “Twin Peaks: The Entire Mystery Blu-Ray Box-Set.” Included with this set were over 90 minutes of unseen deleted scenes from the admittedly niche but massively overlooked masterpiece “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me.” The footage is considered the holy grail of the Twin Peaks fandom. The popularized phrase “Lynchian” has nearly taken on another life altogether. It’s a term used to describe a certain type of surreal artistry that’s abstract and dream-like. Often hard to tap into from a narrative standpoint, at least on the initial go around from their sheer nightmare-esque absurdity, Lynch’s films “Eraserhead,” “Blue Velvet,” “Twin Peaks,” and “Mulholland Drive” are almost on a different plane of cinema, but what’s most enjoyable about them is how they can be felt on a subconscious level. Take Lynch’s 1977 directorial debut and midnight, art house film “Eraserhead,” for example. It’s a perplexing stream of consciousness that may feel challenging to deciper, but by possessing intuition and engaging it, you feel as if you’ve understood it thematically and emotionally. In short, viewers might not comprehend all the narrative, but the key meaning of his films strike them at the core once the film has concluded. “I just try to stay true to an idea and translate that to cinema,” Lynch says.
Lynch attended a special Q+A screening of his Generation-x, noire film “Lost Highway”(1997) where Kristine McKenna, journalist and curator conducted the interview. The Q+A was presented in conjunction with the September 13 opening of “David Lynch: The Unified Field,” an art exhibit built and designed by the man himself that will showcase his perplexing paintings. Both the screening and the exhibit were purposely placed at The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts where Lynch attended school.
Lynch’s absence behind the camera has been troubling after 2006’s impenetrable and sometimes self-referential “Inland Empire,” but his admirers know he hardly limits himself from being tied down to just one artistic medium. Before setting out as a filmmaker, Lynch studied painting at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia back in the 60s, which was a place that he described as very different from how it is now. “Swimming in the atmosphere was huge fear and a chance for big violence,” says Lynch. “There was a feeling of corruption, despair and insanity. Now Philadelphia, at least down here in Center City, has been cleaned up a lot. The city seems much brighter and ordinary.”
In the interview, McKenna and Lynch discussed a variety of topics pertaining to Lynch’s long-going interest in Transcendental Meditation, his paintings, and his involvement in his previous, well-known projects. On the subject of Transcendental Meditation, Mr. Lynch explained, “I started getting interested in meditating when I heard the phrase ‘True happiness is not out there, true happiness lies within.’ And that phrase had a ring of truth to it for me.” He elaborated, “There’s the field of relativity. They say there are ten dimensions of space and one dimension of time, and underlying all matter and mind is a field of pure consciousness. And this field, underlying matter and mind, has been there forever. It’s eternal. No one created that field. It’s always been and it will always be. When a person gets a technique like Transcendental Meditation, which I practice, you can transcend the whole field of relativity and experience that unbounded consciousness within, which has qualities of intelligence, creativity, happiness, energy, love, and peace.”
Lynch began practicing meditation after experiencing depressive and negative inner-turmoil throughout the making of “Eraserhead,” which he points out as his most spiritual film. It took several years to make. As of this moment, Lynch cites it as the truest film to the initial vision and idea that came to his mind. “Many things in ‘Eraserhead’ I would close my eyes, then I’d open them in the cinema, and it would be very close to what I imagined. I had these ideas, a feeling of something, but I didn’t know what it really was about for me. So I’d get out the Bible and start reading. It just so happens I saw this sentence, and I said, ‘That’s exactly it.’” The audience began pressing him to continue and point out the particular passage. “I’d never say,” he humorously added sporting a widespread, snickering grin. “That’s your homework for tonight.”
The art exhibit is sizable, showcasing over 80 different drawings and paintings, but fans have known ever since “Inland Empire” that Lynch has begun to embrace the digital format, at least in film. In response to a question about digital replacing the artist’s distinct touch, Lynch replied, “a lithograph, for instance, is something that you can have, and when you have it, you see the beauty of the paper and the feel and smell of ink. It’s so different from a digital print. So I think painting will always be alive and well, but the digital world opens up a whole other thing.” He went on to add, “But Photoshop is one of the most magical tools ever invented. It’s incredible.”
A lot of Lynch’s work examines themes such as personal suffering and mental obstacles, the battle between light and darkness and/or good and evil, or the twisted corruption hidden underneath our seemingly normal worlds. When asked why he was drawn towards such themes, he said with bitter compassion for his protagonist, “It’s an age-old story, often a tragedy. We aren’t necessarily drawn towards something bad for us, but when you’re in love or filled with strong desire, it’s difficult to overcome that.” On why love fails, he used this comic metaphor: “You fall in love with a car. You save up your money and take a loan, and you’re just thrilled with that car. And then you drive it, and you wash it, and keep it perfect, and you’re so happy going along. And then, about a year later, it’s kind of dirty with some scratches and you’re driving along and you see another car.” This allegory and train of thought had the audience cracking up.
Before kindly waving goodbye and giving his signature “thumbs up” to the audience, Lynch gave advice to another young filmmaker in search of guidance, telling him to “stay true to the idea and every element. That means the sound, the music, the mood of the light. Don’t walk away from anything until it feels correct to you. Never turn down a good idea, but don’t ever take a bad one, and try to enjoy yourself while you do it.”
Afterwards, he politely said to the audience. “You guys enjoy your film, okay.” His manner of speech signified his extremely gentle and friendly nature. The lights dimmed and the audience sentenced themselves to the dark, jazzy saxophone wailing murder mystery that is “Lost Highway.”
“David Lynch: The Unified Field“ is now open and scheduled to run until January 11. It will house much of Lynch’s early work that’s never been presented to the public.
Rob Gabe is a fourth-year student majoring in communication studies. He can be reached at RG770214@wcupa.edu.