David Lynch’s Industrious Pandemic

Checking in with the director as he turns seventy-five.

Film, Movies

1/20/2022 5:59:00 PM

On David Lynch ’s birthday, revisit Howard Fishman’s profile of the director, who has been a “fountain of relentless unconstrained creativity” for more than a half century.

Checking in with the director as he turns seventy-five.

,” the 1980 big-budget feature that Brooks co-produced, starring Anthony Hopkins, Anne Bancroft, and John Hurt. (The film garnered eight Oscar nominations, including one for Best Director.) Lynch was an unknown with exactly one feature credit to his name: the self-financed, avant-garde freak-out “Eraserhead,” an art film that had taken him seven years to make and that few had seen.

Brooks had some chutzpah. Released in 1977, Lynch’s “Eraserhead” is a steampunk cinematic chamber play, a hallucinatory tour through a private, interior world. The story, such as it is, centers on a put-upon man (Jack Nance) caught in a web of claustrophobic domesticity with a miserable wife and their sick baby. Yet, like most of Lynch’s films, the plot is the movie’s least important element. Oh, yes, I thought, upon revisiting it: the absurdly awkward family dinner of fraught silences; the roasted chickens twitching on their plates; the mincing night-club singer who lives inside a radiator and whose cheeks seem to have sprouted spongy tumors; the tortured cries of a newborn who might be part baby goat, part diseased seal. It all retains its revelatory aliveness today. But, rather than making me squirm, “Eraserhead” now offers a kind of welcome, gallows-style comfort, and I found myself having a response new to my experience, something I might call laughing in horror.

Read more: The New Yorker »

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Thanks for the re-post friends Literally left my body meditating to this... Thanks for the repost friends! Happy birthday, you epic weirdo. A remarkably talented artist.

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The Elephant Man ,” the 1980 big-budget feature that Brooks co-produced, starring Anthony Hopkins, Anne Bancroft, and John Hurt. (The film garnered eight Oscar nominations, including one for Best Director.) Lynch was an unknown with exactly one feature credit to his name: the self-financed, avant-garde freak-out “Eraserhead,” an art film that had taken him seven years to make and that few had seen. Brooks had some chutzpah. Released in 1977, Lynch’s “Eraserhead” is a steampunk cinematic chamber play, a hallucinatory tour through a private, interior world. The story, such as it is, centers on a put-upon man (Jack Nance) caught in a web of claustrophobic domesticity with a miserable wife and their sick baby. Yet, like most of Lynch’s films, the plot is the movie’s least important element. Oh, yes, I thought, upon revisiting it: the absurdly awkward family dinner of fraught silences; the roasted chickens twitching on their plates; the mincing night-club singer who lives inside a radiator and whose cheeks seem to have sprouted spongy tumors; the tortured cries of a newborn who might be part baby goat, part diseased seal. It all retains its revelatory aliveness today. But, rather than making me squirm, “Eraserhead” now offers a kind of welcome, gallows-style comfort, and I found myself having a response new to my experience, something I might call laughing in horror. The phenomenon repeated itself as I made my way backward and forward through Lynch’s catalogue. His early success did not smooth his edges—not even close. Lynch emerged out of the world of experimental visual art (his earliest shorts, “Six Men Getting Sick” and “The Alphabet,” were attempts to create paintings that move), and he’s remained true to his punk-like, outsider instincts. Though he managed to find a side door into the mainstream with “The Elephant Man,” he’s continued to be a deviant, standing among us but not of us, his output as challenging and unique as when he began. Sometimes that output has intersected with current tastes (“Mulholland Drive,” “Blue Velvet”), sometimes not (“Lost Highway,” “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me,” chicken kits). But it’s been consistently free and unpredictable—including his quiet, G-rated “The Straight Story,” a paean to aging and forgiveness, and also the savage, expressionistic collage that is “Inland Empire,” a film that Lynch shot without a finished script, and his last feature to date. There were some bumps along the way. “Dune,” from 1984, is pretty unwatchable. (To be fair, it’s the only one of Lynch’s films for which he surrendered the final cut, an experience he’s described as “a nightmare.”) Lynch’s lone foray into live theatre, “Industrial Symphony No. 1” was presented at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 1989, as a part of its Next Wave Festival. The festival director, Joseph Melillo, recalls that the one-night-only performance was primarily staged for the camera, to produce a feature-length music video; it seems neither fish nor fowl. (Lynch told me that he’s considered making a sequel but finds the unpredictability of live performance to be off-putting.) And, though the first iteration of “Twin Peaks” was considered groundbreaking for its time, its convoluted story line and increasingly silly campiness helped to fuel a swifter-than-expected demise, prompting William Grimes to write in the Times that the show made “a persuasive case that there should have been less of it.” “Twin Peaks: The Return” is another matter entirely. Unlike Seasons 1 and 2 of the show, which feature only a smattering of episodes that Lynch actually wrote and directed himself, “The Return” is what he’s called “basically an eighteen-hour movie.” Richard Brody rightly championed it as a visionary tour de force. Lynch co-wrote and directed the entire season, was a featured actor throughout, and created the show’s impeccable, menacing sound design. Released twenty-five years after “Fire Walk with Me,” “The Return” contains moments that obliterate contemporary notions of what television entertainment should or can be, with beautiful dream-logic sequences that startle us awake—the wordless mise en scène between Cooper and the woman with no eyes, the much ballyhooed nightmare ballet of Episode 8, the talking animated sculpture called the Arm. When Lynch hits his mark, his work vibrates, imparting that same shivery flinch we feel looking at Goya’s “Saturn Devouring His Son,” or reading the fiction of Paul Bowles, or hearing Skip James singing “Devil Got My Woman.” This may be Lynch’s most uncanny talent: an ability to plug into the socket of our collective unconscious, generating sparks that light up the dark of our waking lives, offering glimpses of the great unknown we carry within. Maybe this is a soul; maybe it’s a sense of what lies beyond. Lynch refers to it as “pure consciousness,” a “treasury” that he said is available to all of us, and something he accesses daily through Transcendental Meditation. Lynch began sitting for two twenty-minute sessions a day, every day, more than forty-seven years ago.“No matter how busy I’ve been,” he said, “I’ve never missed a meditation.” He called T.M. “the key to everything,” a pursuit that unlocks “unbounded intelligence, unbounded creativity, unbounded happiness, unbounded energy, unbounded love, unbounded power, unbounded peace. It’s like going to the bank vault and bringing out bars of gold, and then taking them home and stacking them in your closet.” He added, “And it never goes away! You can even start enjoying very strange things that used to drive you nuts before. And things get more like a game than a torment.” In 2005, he formed the David Lynch Foundation to help spread awareness of T.M.’s transformative efficacy and to bring instructional training to schools, prisons, homeless shelters, and victims of domestic abuse. Lynch seems almost pained that more people have not found their way to the practice. (He’d just watched Judd Apatow’s “The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling” and came away with the feeling that, if Shandling “had only been able to transcend every day,” he wouldn’t have been so tortured.) “Built into all of us,” Lynch said, “is a yearning to be totally, one-hundred-per-cent free. And it’s this yearning that eventually gets us on a spiritual path and headed toward enlightenment.” I asked Lynch where he places himself along that path. “Well, I’m not at the goal,” he said, with disarming, childlike openness, “but, relatively speaking, I’m what you could call a happy camper.” When I wondered what sorts of things were making him happy these days, he dispatched some gentle spiritual comeuppance. “There are things that make us happy, but the real happiness is not something that you make out there—it’s something that you gather from the inside.” His sense is that much of the awfulness we’re seeing in the world right now is karmic payback for a long run of bad human behavior, but is certain that “the world is heading toward something not good but great. We just need to get to the other side of this shakeup.” During the pandemic, Lynch’s daily YouTube videos have inspired a following who find stability in their hypnotic sameness. When we first spoke, last fall, I asked whether he ever feels resistance to enacting his rituals. What would happen, for instance, if he got up one morning and simply didn’t feel like doing his weather report? He paused. “It . . . could . . . happen,” he said at the time, as though the idea had not previously occurred to him. Would he do it anyway? “Oh, yeah,” he chuckled, “I would do it. I would do it. I mean, I have a sort of sense of responsibility.” Then, in his February 1st broadcast, Lynch announced that he’d been on the brink of announcing a hiatus for the daily videos––that is, until he’d read the comment thread from the previous day’s post and realized, once again, “what a great group you all are.” Like the great Oz suddenly revealed from behind a curtain, Lynch let go of the subterfuge of being a weather forecaster and instead imparted the message that lay behind these short videos: “No matter what the weather is,” he said that day, “I wish, for all of you, blue skies and golden sunshine internally—all along the way!” Lynch’s dedication to discipline and craft, no matter how offbeat, is its own benign, magnetic brand of contagion. is a writer, performer, and composer based in Brooklyn. More: