Cinema 12 / 1984

Visionary and dreamer: A surrealist`s fantasies

David Lynch

"Eraserhead" became a cult movie, "The Elephant Man" earned him an academy nomination: David Lynch is one of the most talented newcomers in American film-business. cinema interviewed him in Hollywood

Born in Montana January 20th 1946, David Lynch`s career began with painting surrealistic dreamscapes. Like the model Bunuel, the artist dressed entirely in black white transformed his obsessions into films. In "The Alphabet", he combined live-action and animation into phallic shapes. In "The Grandmother", the cliché of a woman in bed was turned into a lethal torture. He studied at the American Film Institute in Hollywood fo finish this cult movie. This is where he shot "Eraserhead" as well, a feature-length film, that became one of the most successful midnight movies' worldwide. After Mel Brooks saw the film he phoned Lynch: "You`re crazy. I`m thrilled!" and made him direct "The Elephant Man", a study in human dignity. Although he had received an academy nomination for it, chosing him for the giant production of "Dune" was a sensation. At the moment, the Los Angeles-based Lynch is working on the Dune-sequel and intends to a detective film entitled "Violet Blue" [Blue Velvet].

cinema: First of all: What do you feel a few weeks before your first multimillion $ picture gets released?

David Lynch: Fear, dread, terror. No, seriously: Even if it`s almost unabearably exciting to see if three and a half years of work and 75 million $ will pay off, but the movie looks fine. To show you how optimistic I am: I signed with Dino De Laurentiis for a second "Dune"-movie, if the first becomes a success. I`m already working on the script.

cinema: Another obvious question: What made De Laurentiis choose you as the director of this film?

David Lynch: Raffaela, his daughter, who is the producer, was enthusiastic about "Eraserhead". Possibly she saw a talent to combine psychological and subconscient elements with a tight plot. And that`s what`s essential to "Dune". The adaptation of Herbert`s - saga simply mustn`t become a special effects and hard-ware spectacle. The theme is too moody, too mystic for that.

cinema: According to your director of photography, Freddie Francis, your imagination is in black and white only.

David Lynch: That`s a bit exaggerated. But I do love black and white, light / darkness, contrast. Black and white is so pure. It emphasizes emotions, it`s powerful. To me there`s even a black and white sound. Ans the image demands a certain sound, noise, music.

cinema: That`s why the colours are not as 'loud' as in "Star Wars". Please name a film shot in color that made a lasting impression on you!

David Lynch: There`s none. My favourite movie is Billy Wilder`s "Sunset Boulevard". Getting back to "Dune": I would have loved to shoot it even darker, but Dino always wanted light, light, light. The film really benefitted from the compromise between the two tastes.

cinema: What`s your taste like? What do you consider beautiful?

David Lynch: A deserted industrial area covered by moss and weeds. The machinery no longer in use conquered by nature. Some years ago, I lived in a rotten house with twelve rooms in a poor quarter of  Philadelphia.  Degeneration - the streets filled with garbage and fear. Little girls crying, bringing home their drunk fathers, people being kidnapped out of driving cars, rats, three times my house broken into, permanent fear of being mugged. From this "paranoid beauty", as one reviewer put it, "Eraserhead" was born.

cinema: And "The Angriest Dog in the World".

David Lynch: Right.

cinema: Being a painter, do you draw anything else apart from this cartoon?

David Lynch: I don`t even draw the "Dog" any longer. The cartoon always has the same images, only the text in the bubbles changes. No, I hardly draw or paint any longer. I only draw som sketches for the design of  "Dune" again. What had influenced me the most was a trip to Venice. Dino had invited me to a conference to discuss the script. He owns a villa in Abano, an hour by car from Venice. I couldn`t believe my eyes when I saw the glory of the cathedrals, the palazzi; this incredicble detailed architecture, the mosaic floors, the wall paintings, the marble. Dino gave me a book about the architecture of Venice. The production designer Tony Masters and I admired this wealth of ideas and were inspired by it.

cinema: Venice meets art deco. Why do science-fiction- and fantasy-films recurr so often to anachronistic designs?

David Lynch

David Lynch: I don`t know. Maybe it´s because of their affinity to dreams. We only dream of images we already have inside of us. That`s why the rooms, designs and uniforms resemble something we`ve seen somewhere before. "Dune", in particular, relates to my love for the fifities. I love the raw kind of Rock'n'Roll of the  pre-Beatles-age. When Little Richard roars "Bebopaloobap', rock is still pure and original. The current "high tech"- form of Rock`n`Roll goes back to these roots, I like that. There`s more substance to it than anything of the seventies. I`m happy you`ve sensed that influence.

cinema: You speak of style and form as if you were still a painter. Do you consider yourself a failed artist?

David Lynch: That wouldn´t be completely wrong. When I made films as a student  - and I count "Eraserhead" as one of them - there wasn`t a difference between painting and filmmaking to me. The reason was that I made them for myself. On my own, completely independent. Just like Henry in "Eraserhead": He was on his own, with no friends or television to distract him. He radically faced his own values. That`s what an artist is all about. Even when I made "The Elphant Man", I wasn`t completely independent, there was a studio, the producers, people who financed the movie, actors. So the direction isn`t entirely determined by your ideas. Maybe regarding the style, but not the ideas.

cinema : Then it must have been even more alienating working on "Dune" than "The Elephant Man".

David Lynch: Not quite, for I spent two years working on the script. Even if I kept closely to the novel, the look and mood of the film, much of the look and feel of the film is my contribution. I love smoke, machinery in motion, endless labyrinth of pipes. All this is present in "Dune" and yet: The film`s rather about humans than laser guns, spaceships or mechanical monsters. Both Frank Herbert and Dino payed great attention to this from the beginning.

cinema: Frank Herbert`s  500-pages-novel is very complex. How did you fit it into a 140-minutes-movie?

David Lynch: It was hard to find an access. My wife made me read "Dune". Reading the first 60 pages was embarassing, but then I became addicted, I just couldn`t get enough of it. And I realized that it might become a great film. I chose to do it the other way around. I tried to reduce the core of the story to a few pages, to add details to this basis. So I didn`t take from the novel, but added to its core.

cinema: You cast Jack "Eraserhead" Nance in a small role in "Dune". Do actors mean more to you than represent just protagonists or figures contributing to a certain atmosphere?

David Lynch: To my own surprise, that`s true. I never thought working with actors could be so fascinating. But now I know: In my films, actor`s arent reduced to single notes, they have complete scores.