“Lynch on Lynch”: Intimacy and Ambiguity

“Lynch on Lynch,” a 322-page set of interviews conducted from 1993 through 2002 between Chris Rodley and director David Lynch, offers perhaps a more intimate, thorough view of Lynch than is provided by any other book, film, article, or even by observation of the man himself. In her review of the book, Martha P. Nochimson explains that Lynch’s “familiar composite of hair, mannerisms, and voice is a mask-like caricature […] it is very much a creation (engineered by the man himself with the perhaps unwitting collaboration of the press.)” I agree; David Lynch is an icon and, thus, a view which typecasts him as the man who makes “disturbing” films has been constructed by the public. The popular term “Lynchian” was coined to more directly refer to Lynch’s aesthetic; famed essayist and novelist David Foster Wallace proposes, in his 1996 article “David Lynch Keeps His Head,” that the term “refers to a particular kind of irony where the very macabre and the very mundane combine in such a way as to reveal the former’s perpetual containment within the latter.” Yet Wallace observed Lynch (admittedly from afar) during the filming of “Lost Highway,” and came out of the experience having “no idea” “what David Lynch is really like.” The only image of Lynch we get comes from his films– but even that image is not without obscurity; when Lynch strays from the aesthetic associated with his movies, audiences are shocked– angered, even (e.g., “Dune”).

Lynch speaks, in the book, of wanting to be free from the predefinition of himself, but also realizes the impossibility of this notion: “Once you get known for one thing, it’s really hard to jump-start the other thing and be taken seriously for it […] Once a name starts getting certain meanings attached to it, it can be good, or it can be, you know, really bad […] It’s impossible. The first thing they do is compare.” “Lynch on Lynch” provides a refreshing take on the famed filmmaker: his own. Rodley allows Lynch to speak openly; he minimizes himself to the point where it feels barely like an interview– more like a casual talk. Rodley’s questions logically flow with the conversation, urging Lynch to explain his ideas further while not being overly pushy. This leaves Lynch free to take the conversation wherever he wants, while Rodley follows his lead– not vice versa.

Lynch, true to his nature, takes the conversation in some interesting directions. Frequently discussed is the haphazard way in which all of his works come together, and the manner in which Lynch discusses these methods is as curiously vague as the methods themselves. Even his most basic ideas for films, paintings, and other pieces seem to randomly appear to him; during a conversation about his early film “The Grandmother,” he proposes a theory that “explains” this phenomenon: “Somewhere there’s all the ideas, and they’re sitting there and once in awhile one will bob up and the idea is made known suddenly. Something is seen and known and felt all at once, and along with it comes a burst of enthusiasm and you fall in love with it.” These “ideas” are fragments– simple images, sounds, and concepts– building blocks. The final product– fully-formed plot, developed filming techniques, etc.– only comes with time. The “go with the flow” mentality which prevails in Lynch’s filmmaking emerges most prominently in his account of the process by which “Blue Velvet” came about: “I started getting these ideas for it in 1973, but they were just fragments of interesting things. Some fell away, others stayed and began to join up […] when they came, it was obvious, but they weren’t there for a while.” This is the idea which comes through perhaps most strongly in “Lynch on Lynch”: the director’s strange and somewhat contradictory lack of a want for control. Everything is created based off of feeling, and nothing is explicitly “wrong” or “right”– it simply either fits or does not.

Lynch never explains how all of his pieces magically come together. Due to this, the interview, at times, feels unfinished. He never analyzes his visions– only describes them. He never tells you his secrets– only alludes to them. Perhaps Lynch himself doesn’t realize what they are; this, of course, is only speculation– but some speculation seems to be necessary as one reads this book. Not everything is spelled out, and, to some extent, it seems we are supposed to believe that all of his dreamlike fragments fall together randomly, perfectly, creating a work that may not always be critically acclaimed or overly popular, but is invariably, singularly Lynch.

Lynch’s unique, impressionistic way of filmmaking, as well as the resulting films, reflect his personality: difficult– sometimes apparently impossible– to explain, yet understandable on an emotional level. What makes “Lynch on Lynch” so compelling is its difference from a straightforward biography; Lynch takes us directly into his mind– his process, his thoughts, his dreams– allowing us to hear it straight from the source. Rodley never takes the spotlight off of Lynch, whose unconventional metaphors and abstract descriptions highlight the methods and madness he describes. The book is imbued with such intimacy that, upon finishing the last page, the reader feels gifted with as deep an understanding of Lynch as the director has of himself– which is, admittedly, sometimes slightly hazy, yet in the end is thorough and interesting enough to be satisfying.