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David Keith Lynch (born January 20, 1946) is an American filmmaker, painter, video artist, and performance artist. Lynch has received three Academy Award for Best Director nominations (1980 for Elephant Man, 1987 for Blue Velvet, and 2002 for Mulholland Drive).
Most of his productions have been recognized as having a lasting effect on cinema. Though he has yet to win an Oscar, Lynch has won awards at the Cannes Film Festival and the Venice Film Festival.
He is probably best known for the iconic Twin Peaks saga (1991-1992), Blue Velvet (1986) and Mulholland Dr. (2001). He has appeared in Time Magazine, in 1992 as "The Most Influential Filmmaker".
Lynch's films are known for their surreal, nightmarish and dreamlike sequences, their strange images, and their meticulously crafted sound design. Often his work explores the seedy underside of small-town U.S.A. (e.g. Blue Velvet and the Twin Peaks television series and movie) or sprawling metropolises (Lost Highway, Mulholland Dr.).
Due to his peculiar style and focus on the American psyche, producer Stuart Cornfeld once called Lynch "Jimmy Stewart from Mars". Over a lengthy career, Lynch has developed a consistent approach to unorthodox narrative and visual style that has become instantly recognizable to audiences and critics worldwide. Although rarely a box office dominator, he is a consistent favorite of film critics and audiences alike, maintaining a strong cult following while earning general acclaim and often good reviews.
His films (most notably Eraserhead, The Elephant Man, Blue Velvet, and Mulholland Dr.) have earned a major influence on cinema and audiences overtime.
David Keith Lynch (born January 20, 1946) is an American filmmaker, painter, video artist, and performance artist. Lynch has received three Academy Award for Best Director nominations (1980 for Elephant Man, 1987 for Blue Velvet, and 2002 for Mulholland Drive). Most of his productions have been recognized as having a lasting effect on cinema. Though he has yet to win an Oscar, Lynch has won awards at the Cannes Film Festival and the Venice Film Festival. He is probably best known for the iconic Twin Peaks saga (1991-1992), Blue Velvet (1986) and Mulholland Dr. (2001). He has appeared in Time Magazine, in 1992 as "The Most Influential Filmmaker".
Lynch's films are known for their surreal, nightmarish and dreamlike sequences, their strange images, and their meticulously crafted sound design. Often his work explores the seedy underside of small-town U.S.A. (e.g. Blue Velvet and the Twin Peaks television series and movie) or sprawling metropolises (Lost Highway, Mulholland Dr.). Due to his peculiar style and focus on the American psyche, producer Stuart Cornfeld once called Lynch "Jimmy Stewart from Mars". Over a lengthy career, Lynch has developed a consistent approach to unorthodox narrative and visual style that has become instantly recognizable to audiences and critics worldwide. Although rarely a box office dominator, he is a consistent favorite of film critics and audiences alike, maintaining a strong cult following while earning general acclaim and often good reviews. His films (most notably Eraserhead, The Elephant Man, Blue Velvet, and Mulholland Dr.) have earned a major influence on cinema and audiences overtime.
Lynch grew up an archetypal all-American boy. He was born in Missoula, Montana on January 20, 1946. His father, Donald, was a U.S. Department of Agriculture research scientist and his mother, Sunny Lynch, was an English language tutor. He was raised throughout the Pacific Northwest and Durham, North Carolina. He attained the rank of Eagle Scout and, on his 15th birthday, served as an usher at John F. Kennedy's Presidential Inauguration. Lynch was raised as a Roman Catholic.
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.
Early career and short films (1966–1970)
In 1966, Lynch relocated to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, attended the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (PAFA) and made a series of complex mosaics in geometric shapes which he called Industrial Symphonies. Lynch's receipt for his first camera, purchased in Philadelphia on April 25, 1967 at Photorama, lists his residency as 2429 Aspen Street. This house is located in Philadelphia's Fairmount neighborhood, also known as the Art Museum neighborhood. The receipt can be viewed on The Short Films of David Lynch. At this time, he also began working in film. His first short film Six Men Getting Sick (1966), which he described as "57 seconds of growth and fire, and three seconds of vomit," was played on a loop at an art exhibit. It won the Academy’s annual film contest. This led to a commission from H. Barton Wasserman to do a film installation in his home. After a disastrous first attempt that resulted in a completely blurred, frameless print, Wasserman allowed Lynch to keep the remaining portion of the commission. Using this, he created The Alphabet.
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 disturbingly surrealistic imagery and a focus on unconscious desires instead of traditional narration.
Cult success (1975–1979)
In 1971, Lynch moved to Los Angeles to attend the M.F.A. studies at the AFI Conservatory. At the Conservatory, Lynch began working on his first feature-length film, Eraserhead, using a $10,000 grant from the AFI. The grant did not provide enough money to complete the film and, due to lack of a sufficient budget, Eraserhead was filmed intermittently until 1977. Lynch used money from friends and family, including boyhood friend Jack Fisk, a production designer and the husband of actress Sissy Spacek, and even took a paper route to finish it.
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 film, many critics say, reflects or intends to reflect Lynch's own fears and anxieties about fatherhood, personified in the form of the bizarre baby, which has become one of the most notorious props in film history. Lynch refuses to discuss how the baby was made, and a long-standing urban legend claims that it was created using an embalmed cow fetus.
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.
Rise to prominence (1980–1985)
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 socialite Joseph Merrick. The film was a huge financial and 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' 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 film, 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, the main caveat was that 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 "Allen Smithee" credited as the director. This version has since been released on video worldwide.
Major success and mainstream introduction (1986–1990)
Lynch’s second De Laurentiis-financed project was 1986’s Blue Velvet, the story of a college student (Kyle MacLachlan) who discovers the dark side of his small hometown after investigating a severed ear he finds in a field. The film featured memorable performances from Isabella Rossellini as a tormented lounge singer, and Dennis Hopper as a crude, sociopathic criminal, and the leader of a small gang of backwater hoodlums.
Blue Velvet was a huge critical success, and earned Lynch his second Academy Award nomination for Best Director. The film introduced several common elements of his work, including abused women, the dark underbelly of small towns (a theme that became popular after the film), and unconventional uses of vintage songs. Bobby Vinton’s "Blue Velvet" and Roy Orbison’s "In Dreams" are both featured in disturbing 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 favorite film of the year. The film is consistently ranked as one of the greatest modern American films ever made, and has become a pop-culture icon.
Later career; Twin Peaks, Wild at Heart, Industrial Symphonies, American Chronicles and Hotel Room (1991–1995)
After failing to secure funding for several completed scripts in the late 1980s, Lynch collaborated with television producer Mark Frost on the show Twin Peaks, which was about a small Washington town that is the location of several bizarre occurrences. The show centered around the investigation by FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) into the death of popular high school student Laura Palmer, an investigation that unearthed the secrets of many town residents. Lynch directed six episodes of the series, including the pilot, wrote or co-wrote several more and even acted in some episodes.
The show debuted on the ABC Network on April 8, 1990 and slowly rose from cult hit to cultural phenomenon. No other Lynch-related project has gained such mainstream acceptance. Catch phrases from the show entered the cultural dialect and parodies of it were seen on Saturday Night Live and The Simpsons. There was even a spin-off series of adverts for crisps (potato chips), in the UK at least, featuring Agent Cooper. 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, continually-shouting FBI Regional Bureau Chief Gordon Cole.
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.
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 and produce one 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 coveted 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 and garnered the most negative reviews of Lynch’s career.
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. Lynch also produced (with Frost) and directed the documentary television series American Chronicles.
His next project was much more low-key: he directed two episodes of a three-episode HBO mini-series called Hotel Room about events that happened in the same hotel room in a span of decades.
Recent works: Lost Highway, The Straight Story, Mulholland Dr., INLAND EMPIRE (1997-present)
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 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 an Iowa man, 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 Dumb Land. 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 (in capitals), 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, like Woody Allen, 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.
Awards and honours
Lynch has twice won France's César Award for Best Foreign Film and served as President of the jury at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival, where he had previously won the Palme d'Or in 1990. He was also honored in 2002 by the French government with the Legion of Honor. On September 6, 2006 Lynch received a Golden Lion award for lifetime achievement at the Venice Film Festival. He also premiered his latest work, INLAND EMPIRE, at the festival.
To date he 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 uses Angelo Badalamenti to compose music for his productions, former wife Mary Sweeney as a film editor, and cast members Jack Nance, Kyle MacLachlan, Naomi Watts, Isabella Rossellini and Laura Dern.
Strong, distinct Lynch trademarks and symbols include smoke, fire, electricity, dark streets and electric lights (especially flickering or damaged), traumatic head injuries and deformities, highways at night, dogs, diners, red curtains, cigarettes, the binding or crippling of hands or arms, various uses of the color blue, angelic or heavenly female figures and extreme close ups. Though interpretations do vary, those who study Lynch's work generally do find such images to represent consistent or semi-consistent themes throughout his body of work. Also, Lynch often includes either small town United States in his films as a setting or location, for example Eraserhead and Blue Velvet, or sprawling metropolis, for example Lost Highway and Mulholland Dr., where Los Angeles, California becomes the primary location. Beaten or abused women are also a common theme or subject in his productions.
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. Starting with the choice to cast Sheryl Lee both as Laura Palmer and as twin cousin Madeline 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.
Lynch has expressed his admiration for filmmakers Stanley Kubrick and Federico Fellini, writer Franz Kafka, and artist Francis Bacon. He states that the majority of Kubrick films are in his top ten, that he really loves Kafka, and that Bacon paints images that are both visually stunning, and emotionally touching. He has also cited the Austrian expressionist painter Oskar Kokoschka as an inspiration for his works. Lynch has a love for the 1939 version of The Wizard of Oz and frequently makes reference to it in his films, the most obvious being Wild at Heart.
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 also include Luis Buñuel, Werner Herzog, Roman Polanski. 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. Mario Bava, the prolific Italian horror filmmaker, has frequently been cited as an influence on Lynch.
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. Ebert was one of few major critics to dislike Blue Velvet. He has, however, written enthusiastic reviews of recent Lynch films such as The Straight Story, and Mulholland Drive.
Lynch usually keeps his personal life out of the media or limelight and rarely comments on his films. However, he does attend public events and film festivals when he or his films are nominated/awarded. He is known to be notoriously evasive and cagey in interviews, and refuses to discuss the plot details and "true meanings" of his films, preferring viewers to come away with their own interpretations. None of his films released on DVD have director commentary tracks, and some (as per his request) do not even have chapter selections. This is due, at least in part, to his belief that a film should be viewed from beginning to end without interruption or distraction.
In the 1980s, Lynch was an admirer of Ronald Reagan and had dinner with the Reagans at the White House, though he sees himself as an Libertarian or Democrat. Lynch is an avid coffee drinker and even has his own line of coffee sold through his website. 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".
Appearing on Dutch television station VPRO on December 3, 2006, Lynch made a rare appearance playing clips from "Loose Change (video)" where he discussed his doubts about the September 11, 2001 attacks.
In 1967, Lynch married Peggy Lentz in Chicago, Illinois. The two had one child, Jennifer Chambers Lynch, born in 1968, who currently works as a film director. The two filed for divorce in 1974. On June 21, 1977, Lynch married Mary Fisk, and the two had one child, Austin Jack Lynch, born in 1982. The two divorced in 1987, and Lynch began dating Isabella Rossellini after filming Blue Velvet.
Lynch and Rossellini separated 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 of 2006, but divorced later in July.
In December 2, 2005, Lynch told the Washington Post that he had been practicing Transcendental Meditation (TM) twice a day, for 20 minutes each time, for 32 years. He was initiated into TM on July 1, 1973, at 11:00 a.m., in a TM Center at Santa Monica Boulevard, Los Angeles by a teacher "he thought looked like Doris Day". Since then he never missed a program. He advocates its use in bringing peace to the world. In July 2005, he launched the David Lynch Foundation For Consciousness-Based Education and Peace to fund research about TM's positive effects, and he promotes the technique and his vision by an ongoing tour of college campuses that began in September 2005. A streaming video of one of Lynch's public performances is available at his foundation's website.
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.