tip Filmjahrbuch Nr. 1 (1985)



by Herman Weigel

The unforgettable low-budget horror-film "Eraserhead" turned the American director into the hope of the movie business..

He didn`t quite fulfill it.

TIP: Everyone who knows your movies who meets you in person for the first time will be surprised,  thinking: How can somebody who looks so normal make this kind of movies? Extraordinarily normal, I mean.

Lynch: Because the surface is misleading.

TIP: So, what do you think lies beneath the surface?

Lynch: All the things that interest me are beneath the surface. My next film for example, "Blue Velvet"; is a story about a wonderful and peaceful place, but there`s sickness beneath the surface. That doesn`t mean there`s sickness beneath my surface.

TIP: Many people say so. 

Lynch: I know. I know a lot about diseases and strange things deep down beneath the surface, you know, dark places...

TIP: Like in  "Eraserhead" ?

Lynch: Well,  "Eraserhead" is my "Philadelphia Story".

TIP: What does that mean?

Lynch: Thereīs this movie called "Philadelphia Story". I think, James Stewart plays a lawyer in it. I don`t know for sure. Anyway, this was one version of Philadelphia, and "Eraserhead" is mine. I went to Philadelphia to attend the art school. At first I lived in a house in an industrial area, where everyone left at 5 o`clock, except for those who lived at the pub next corner. We were on our own, and it was dark, a dark industrial area, and I heard stories about murder and manslaughter. Then I moved to another place, a very bad place...

TIP: Very bad means very dangerous?

Lynch: Extremely dangerous. To give you an idea:  I bought a house in this area with 12 rooms and 3 floors, for only 3.500 Dollars, because nobody wanted to live there. It was incredible. It was set exactly on the borderline between a really poor white and a really poor black neighbourhood, and lot of conflict between the two races was in the air. Three times, our house was broken into, a child was shot dead, in the very near neighbourhood. You really could sense the fear in the air. I didn`t realize until I moved to California. I hardly left the house the first year in California, until I noticed that it was  o.k. to leave the house in California. Well, I had seen a lot of things in Philadelphia, crazy people, a lot of violence, and this feeling left its traces deep down inside me. And when it came out again, it became "Eraserhead". That`s why I call it my  "Philadelphia Story". It`s entirely inspired by Philadelphia and my experiences in that city.

TIP: Did your interest in strange and weird things start with "Eraserhead", or earlier?

Lynch: It started at the academy of arts in Philadelphia. Philadelphia again. Philadelphia was a corrupt, decayed, dark city, filled with fear.

TIP: But the movie wasn`t shot in Philadelphia.

Lynch: No, it was shot in California, but I still had these feelings inside me. When I lived in Philadelphia I noticed who the things decayed and when I started painting, my paintings turned real dark.

TIP: What did you paint?

Lynch: Strange figures, men with dark heads, mechanical women, different things, difficult to explain. 

TIP: But these strange things, you`re into - like the baby in "Eraserhead', the Elephant Man or the navigators and sand worms in "Dune" not just seem to be the product  of your dark moods, but you seem to enjoy them as well.

Lynch: Oh yes. I enjoy them, they are incredibly beautiful. When you think of things as images and not words, they can become incredibly beautiful. For example, if you take an advertising for a diamond, a diamond in a box dressed in velvet on the one hand, and on the other hand you take old pig`s fat smeared onto the back of a woman suffering from a skin disease. Then you cut off a bug`s shiny head  and place it exactly in the middle of the pig`s fat, the results will be alike in aesthetical aspects. Even though the image stays the same, the first one is beautiful to some people, while the second one is disgusting...

TIP: Now you`re not talking about what`s beneath the surface anymore but aesthetics in general..

Lynch: Not at all. - I`ve got another example. I use to compare [films] with ducks. You know, you can learn a lot from a duck considering proportion and structure. To me, a duck is a perfect example for a beautiful piece of art. The proportions and textures of the surface - they work together.

TIP: Artists in the Renaissance period already longed to discover the final rules... 

Lynch: Thatīs exactly the point. And they found these rules in nature.

TIP: Just like the architectures found out that a handdrawn curve that looks perfect for the human eye will be able to take the biggest load when building cupola.

Lynch: Exactly. And that`s what I try when I make a film. I try to find out where to place the eyes. It`s difficult with film, because it`s moving. But it`s just like with ducks, the eyes have to be somewhere.

TIP: Will we discover all this in "Dune"?

Lynch: Oh yes. I like intuition and emotions. They are most powerful to me, because people feel them. And in a way, "Dune" is about things that can`t be verbalized, it`s more about intuition and emotions, while it`s a great adventure at the same time. It`s about conquest and the colonialization of an entire planet, about fighting the original population, about intrigues and struggles for power,  when the planet  shows to have secret treasures. It`s about the awakening of a messiah and the fullfilling of a prophecy.

TIP: How would you describe "Dune" in two sentences?

Lynch: I`d have to go home first, making my mind up what to answer. - In two sentences? Well, it`s an adventure in strange worlds, a kind of adventure film. You can only experience these world when you got to the cinema and watch the film yourself.

TIP: When did you first learn  about the novel?

Lynch: I think that was in Berlin, where Bernd Eichinger drew my attention to it.

TIP: It surprises that your movie completely lacks any futuristic or high tech-design.

Lynch: This is how it happened: I went to  Venice, just for an afternoon, to see the Marcusplace. Dino de Laurentiis bought me a book, which inspired all these things...

TIP: Which book was that?

Lynch: A book about Venice. It inspired the idea, that in the world of "Dune" a Renaissance had taken place thousands of years ago, and this renaissance had been very powerful and farreaching. And people built beautiful machines; they were so well-constructed, that they remained intact until now, the time, when the story begins. Of course this melange gives the humans certain mental abilities. But they need machines nonetheless, and these machines were built before discovering  Melange. This world is not a world of machines, but they are  part of it.

TIP: But there are no computers.

Lynch: To me, that doesnt`t mix.  This world combined with computers, that just wouldn`t fit.

TIP: Why? Because you wanted it to be like this?

Lynch: It`s difficult to explain. The melange gives the humans certain powers, they become human computers themselves.  So there`s no need for a bord-computer to navigate a spacecraft.

TIP: Was that really done intentionally or was it rather a matter of inspiration?

Lynch: In many cases, it was a matter of inspiration. When reading a book, you often try to put it in images what you`ve read to use it for a movie. In Dune, Frank Herbert just roughly sketches many things, and then you try to imagine what it might look like. Then I remembered what George Lucas once said about "Star Wars", that he had to design and draw everything that would appear in the final movie, absolutely everything. "Blue Velvet" will be the complete opposite. We`ll shoot  90 percent at locations that already exist. It will be sketched in advance, but we can choose what we want, because this world already exists. We had to create a completely new world for "Dune".

TIP: But [in Dune] many details remind of the  Art Deco or the early industrial age. How does this fit into this world?

Lynch: Just take the Baron for example... To me, he`s like a steel mill. He`s got power, great and simple power like a steel mill. Not like a modern factory, but like big steel rivets in a steel tower. That`s my favourite thing...

TIP: That`s one aspect on behalf of the baron, the other is...

Lynch: He suffers from a disease...

TIP: He suffers from a disease; first there`s his physical sickness, these tumors, and then, there`s his mind...

Lynch: Dino de Laurentiis says, itīs my own disease, maybe he`s right, but...

TIP: He doesn`t like it?

Lynch: Yes, I think he likes it now. But I believe, it`s hard for Dino to understand my ideas.

TIP: Is it because he thinks they`re not commercial enough or is it because, he thinks the audience...

Lynch: I think the point is, Dino`s a business man not wanting my ideas to interfere with his business.

TIP: Did that have any impact on the film?

Lynch: No, no Dino was very helpful in making the movie. I`ve heard stories about Dino before, and when compared with my own experiences, I can only say the only trouble with Dino was, that I was afraid he would do what  he was always rumoured to do. But he never did.

TIP: I remember John Milius telling me, he told you to leave, because Dino would destroy you.

Lynch: Yes, he had an argue with Dino because of "Conan".

TIP: You didn`t have the same trouble with "Dune"?

Lynch: No. I`d say "Dune" is the film I wanted to make, and all the trouble arising when adapting this long book for the screen weren`t Dino`s faults.

TIP: 'Dune' in its actual version is your second try on the book. You designed two concepts, didn`t you?

Lynch: I wrote seven drafts of the script.

TIP: But the initial draft was completely different. The one you co-wrote with the writers of "The Elephant Man". What was that like?

Lynch: I think, it was somehow a different approach, it was... I`m sorry, but I can`t really remember the script, it was very long.

TIP: Yes indeed. Did you consider splitting the story into two movies?

Lynch: We planned to make two movie with the first one ending with the arrival in the desert, where the other movie would continue.

TIP: I remember Dino saying,  o.k., he`ll have to start over. You replied, you did it once and couln`t imagine doing it again. But then you started all over.

Lynch: Correct.. I liked  Chris De Voore and Eric Bergren, who wrote "The Elephant Man". These guys are good writers. They like to write and we spent a lot of time working  on single phrases. I can hardly say a long sentence, I just write down an idea.

TIP: Many tried to film "Dune" before, like Jodorowski and Ridley Scott. Did you know their scripts?

 Lynch: No, I just read a part of  Wurlitzer`s script.

TIP: The one he wrote for  Ridley Scott?

Lynch: Yes, but only a part of it, because I didn`t have more. To me it wasn`t Dune anymore because they had changed so many things from the novel. I didn`t read any other  scripts, because they weren`t available, but I didn`t want to read them anyway.

TIP: Did you know any designs produced for Jodorowski and Ridley Scott? 

Lynch: I`ve seen a few in the past years, yes.  

 TIP: It surprised me that you didn`t collaborate with Giger, because Giger`s work is close to yours in a way. 

Lynch: Yes, I love Giger. We considered working with him. But the "Alien"-movie and Giger`s style was still far too present in the people`s minds.

 TIP: When I watched  "Eraserhead" for the first time, I thought the guys filming "Alien" were inspired quite considerably by "Eraserhead".

Lynch: You might be right there. But I`m not the one to judge. Giger once said that itīs one of his favourite movies.

TIP: George Lucas used a lot of things from the novel "Dune" for "Star Wars" . The whole desert scene is influenced by Dune; while the Jawas in "Star Wars" resemble the Fremens of "Dune". Is that why they had to look differently in your film?

Lynch: Yes, that`s true. George used the novel for "Star Wars". In both the novel and Georgeīs film, the Fremen wear wide dresses. That`s too medieval for my taste, I never liked that.

TIP: Many directors are influenced by your use of the soundtrack, like Coppola for example. In "Eraserhead" and in "Dune" the soundtrack is incredible.

Lynch: To me, sound and image are equally important. I think it`s got a preat power and it`s got a great impact on the subconsciousness. I collaborated with Alan Splet on "Eraserhead", "The Elephant Man" and "Dune". When he plays a certain sound effect to me, it thrills me more than the best music of the world. Sound effects evoke feelings and ideas in me. If you`ve got an image and add a certain sound, then this thing comes to life, gets the mood you want it to have and people respond to it. That`s why it`s so important. All I do is to try to combine the right image with the right sound.

TIP: Does  Alan work for other directors as well?

Lynch: He worked with Carol Ballard twice: "Never cry Wolf" and "Black Stallion".

TIP: Did he work for  Coppola on "Rumble Fish"?

Lynch: No, no...

TIP: But the sound..

Lynch: Yes many people drew comparisons. I believe it`s like you`ve said that people get influenced. 

TIP: Let`s talk about the music of "Dune". When we talked about it first about two, two and a half years ago, you mentioned Toto. I think this shows, how you get along with Dino, for you had chosen Toto two and a half years ago, while Dino tried to hire Giorgio Moroder and other composers the whole time. And look what you`ve got: Toto, you wanted from the beginning.

Lynch: Well I`ve met David Page, and I think he`s doing the main part of the score. They are all great musicians, - they have been studio musicians before they joined, and they like to work with other bands

TIP: They use to make a different kind of music.

Lynch:  Yes. A completely different kind of music. But look, that`s why I said I met  David Page. I sat down and talked with him and I always wanted a powerful, great sound. It would go deeper and evoke this emotion. In my opinion "Dune" demands a lot of music. Rather than sound effects. It`s a true music film. The music is to create a world, an alternate reality and to evoke a feeling of something strange. It needs a kind of powerful symphonic music. To me, it`s almost like Russian music, which makes Dino crazy, because to him Russian music is depressing music. But I don`t think so, to me it`s strange and powerful. You know,  ,strange power' is a term I like to use to describe "Dune". David Page then kicked in sometime. And when we talked for the first time, I said [to myself], this boy bears the music inside him. I think he wrote a couple of incredible pieces. And then  Brian Eno wrote a wonderful piece of music.

TIP: How come?

Lynch: Well, I just thought we needed four different people for the music.

TIP: Who`s idea was it to cast  Jürgen Prochnow?

Lynch: The role of Duke Leto was difficult to cast. I don`t know anymore whose idea it was originally. Raffaella de Laurentiis and I tried very hard to convince Dino. And Jürgen came here by plane and met me and Raffaella at Dino's place... And when they were introduced, it was o.k.

TIP: When you were discussing things, there was  Raffaella, the producer, and somewhere in the background, in New York, Dino, her father. How did work? If you and  Raffaella made a decision, was this the final decision?

Lynch: Yes, that`s how it was like all the time when shooting the film. Dino was more involved in the preproduction. He loves casting, you know.

TIP: Was he more involved in "Dune" than  Mel Brooks was in "The Elephant Man""?

Lynch: No, that was the same. But Raffaella was the producer. A lot of people think, because she`s Dino`s daughter, he simply put her there, while he really is the one in command. And then the fact, she`s a woman, all ths stuff. But she`s a great producer.

TIP: Getting back to Mel Brooks. As far as I know he saw  "Eraserhead" and hired you at once. 

Lynch: It wasn`t quite that easy, but  alike. I worked on the script with the producer Jonathan Sanger and the writers Chris and Eric. It was Jonathan`s first chance as a producer, and my first chance to direct a ,regular' film, and it also was Chris' und Eric`s first chance as writers. We tried to sell the project to different studios. But every studio rejected it, thinking: "Who are these guys anyway and why would they film this story about a digusting looking guy."

TIP: In black and white...

Lynch: In black and white. It hadn`t been discussed yet, whether to shoot it in black in white or not, just the subjet and the crew. And somehow  Mel Brooks got hold of the script. I don`t know who read it first, Anne Bancroft, his wife or Mel himself. Anyways, Mel read it and went crazy and said, I want my company to make this movie. But he said, I like David...

TIP: Did he know  "Eraserhead" then?

Lynch: No, he had never watched "Eraserhead". And he said, I like David , but who is he anyways!? I`ll have to watch  "Eraserhead" before I hire him. Then I said [to myself]: That`s it, he`ll watch  "Eraserhead"  and say "Thanks and goodbye". So he got a copy of the  movie and brought it to a screening rooms ar Twentieth Century Fox. I went up and down the parking lot in excitement. Then the doors literally flew open, Mel came running out, hugged me and cried: "You crazy guy, I love you!"

TIP: What was it like working with him?

Lynch: Well, everybody has his 'other side', right? Everybody thought of  Mel Brooks as a crazy clown. He sure is crazy, but he`s brilliant. You should have heard him talking about "Eraserhead". He`s really open to deep thoughts. He`s as interested in serious things as I am in his comedies. He`s very educated, a true artist. When we made "The Elephant Man" he told when he disagreed, but he tried to stay in the background and let us do our job..

TIP: After "The Elephant Man" turned out to be a success, a lot of people contacted you. It was Coppola first, right?

Lynch: Yes, I was asked to do "Ronnie Rocket" for him. I wrote that prior to  "The Elephant Man' ; it was meant to follow  "Eraserhead". I still love the story, but it`s obvious that it still needs a little work. I`ve just recently had a couple of new ideas.

TIP: Is it still the script that I read for, five years ago? 

Lynch: No it`s entirely different, more  popular.

TIP: A more commercial version of "Eraserhead' or simply easier to understand?

Lynch: Much more easy to understand and funnier. It`s got a lot of humour, an absurd kind of humour. It`s a rock`n`roll movie in a way.

TIP: Which kind of music?

Lynch: I exactly know which kind of music it is. Itīs difficult to describe, you know, it doesn`t exist yet, but itīs based on 50s Rockabilly. Eddie Cochran, Jerry Lee Lewis, Gene Vincent...

TIP: So Coppola wanted to produce the movie.

Lynch: Yes. I had an office at his studio, and he said: "When do you come over and tell me the story of Ronnie Rocket?"

TIP: Tell?

Lynch: Yes, Francis is a strange guy. He wanted to sit down with his eyes closed and I was to tell him the story like a bedtime story.

TIP: So he never read the screenplay? 

Lynch: Yes, he read it. But I don`t think he got it completely. I loved the studio. I don`t know if it was too early or if it might have worked. Do you believe, it could have worked?

TIP: I really don`t know. But I saw Coppola there once in his darkened office sitting in front of his computer. He wrote the screenplay for "Outsiders'; supervised Wim Wender`s shooting for "Hammett on a screen; took part in the sound mixing of "Einer mit Herz" [don`t know the original title] and took part in at least two conferences, all at the same time. Scary, it felt like death. Additionally he prepared the editing for  "Conan - the Barbarian'. All at once, all this in front of his computer..

Lynch: I believe the whole idea of  Coppola`s studio was too good to be true.

TIP: When he went bancrupt, did Francis come over to you saying: "My friend, you`ll have to leave." What was it like?

Lynch: It wasn`t a formal matter. I simply didn`t go there anymore. It was over, everyone knew it, everyone saw it.

TIP: George Lucas got in touch with you because of "The return of the Yedi" at that time.

Lynch: Yes. George Lucas got in touch with me at the same time Dino did, and I had to make an important decision. George was great. Heīs a living legend, but althought I was really fond of him; I realized that his projects are entirely his projects, and I prefer to do my own.

TIP: You wouldn`t have had the same creative freedom like when doing "Dune"?

 Lynch: Absolutely not. In George`s imagination the movie was already done. It wouldn`t have made a difference with me doing it. It would have looked exactly the same.

TIP: Did you ever regret not doing it?

Lynch: No, I really don`t know how it became public that I was Involved, because I never told anybody.

TIP: Then you signed with Dino and became the hottest director in town.

Lynch: Well, I don`t know really. But I liked the book, because I thought I could make it a film. 

TIP: Do you intend to do the sequel as well?

Lynch: Yes.

TIP: Even the third, fourth and fifth part?

Lynch: No, but when the first movie is successful, I`ll certainly shoot the second part..

TIP: This reminds me of something I always wanted to ask you about certain special effects in "Eraserhead". Like the baby for instance...

Lynch: What are talking about?

TIP: You know exactly what I`m talking about.

Lynch: You know that I don`t talk about that and that I never did.

TIP: Why not? What`s the problem? You know, people think you don`t want to talk about it, because you did something "nasty".

 Lynch: The reason why I don`t want to comment on that is that I can`t control it. I don`t own the rights of "Dune", and it`s up to Raffaella and Dino what they intend to use for promotion. I`m totally against explaining the making of a movie. It`s magic, illusion. Before a movie is released, every little detail is explained. That kills a film, it`s dreadful, I hate it.

TIP: Don`t you enjoy people being terrified by what`s happening in  "Eraserhead"?

Lynch: No, not really. I didn`t intend the movie to have this impact. I simply tried to put my ideas onto the screen. And I tried to stay faithful to the ideas. It`s a completely intuitive movie, you know.

TIP: So we`re always getting back to your intuition, itīs constantly guiding you towards the extraordinary, the strange...

Lynch: That`s part of our world. Many things evoke a  contrast. This contrast can be normal or strange, dark or light and stuff like that. And thatīs what`s so beautiful about film. You can use things in a normal or strange way.

TIP: You say you want to discover what`s hidden beneath the surface... 

Lynch: I want to discover it and show it. I want to - I don`t know how to put it - I love the idea that movies can make you sense the universeīs power by images, sounds, movement and sequences, you know. Something that`s never been felt before.