Given the copious amounts of material already published exploring David Lynch’s artistic landscape, it is not without foundation to wonder what Dennis Lim’s new book on Lynch could possibly offer. Lynch’s cinematic output has been analysed from almost every possible angle, alongside explorations of his painting, photography and music in both popular criticism and academia. Surely a critic such as Dennis Lim would not embark upon examining such well-trodden material without something new to contribute, a fresh perspective on an artist who has remained at the forefront of American popular culture for forty years despite producing a relatively sparse catalogue of cinematic material. Thankfully, this is exactly what Lim offers in this study. This is a short and elegantly constructed book which is both a short semi-biography of the man and a thoughtful foray into ways of seeing Lynch’s work. It deftly weaves sparse personal details with a critical exploration of the craftsmanship of his oeuvre.

David Lynch: The Man From Another Place

David Lynch (photography by Glenn Hunt/Getty)

Lim begins by presenting four decisive moments in Lynch’s creative life, commencing with his very first introduction to painting as a means to obtain a livelihood at the age of fifteen years. From this moment, Lynch is dedicated to the pursuit of making art. The second, in 1967, has been well documented. Lynch is now a painting student at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia after a brief spell at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and a short, unsatisfactory trip to Europe. Lim highlights Lynch’s “first original thought” where he considers what his art may be like if it could move and possess sound. The beginnings of Lynch the filmmaker take root in this moment.

Lim moves us swiftly to 1973 and into the third instant, where whilst in production in Los Angeles during Eraserhead, and with the responsibilities of a young family, Lynch discovers Transcendental Meditation. From this moment on, he is devoted to its practice. According to Lim, two twenty minute sessions per day increase Lynch’s flow of creativity and provide him with the foundational mindset that would remain with him to the present day. Finally, Lim presents the fourth instant, one which is much less definite, and which is given as the time or times when Lynch truly becomes an artist by acquiring the will to be never less than fully himself in his work in that his refusal to compromise on any aspect of his artistic vision is cemented in these early days and remains with him to the present day.

David Lynch: The Man From Another Place

David Lynch and Jack Nance on the set of Eraserhead (David Lynch, 1977)

These moments frame Lim’s sharply intelligent book by amounting to a model of constancy that, despite its highs and lows, has produced a single minded devotion to the creation of artistic work emanating from his own personality. The book is a slim 178 pages in length and Lim deftly interweaves Lynch’s personal life with his multilayered output, drawing in particular on Lynch’s manifesto on meditation, Catching the Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness and Creativity, filmmaker Chris Rodley’s interviews with the director in the mid-1990s, collected in a volume titled Lynch on Lynch, and his own interviews with the director, among other sources.1

What makes this book so engaging is that it chooses moments and ideas that epitomise Lynch, rather than providing another critical analysis or in-depth biography. Lim does highlight the important personal and professional milestones of the filmmaker throughout his career, from his fledgling days as an art student through his film and television career to his current work in transcendental meditation and visual art, amongst other new projects.

Lim writes with lucidity on the essence of the reductive term “Lynchian” by exploring its innate contradictions. “It is at once easy to recognise and hard to define” suggesting that despite numerous attempts to distill it, it will always remain out of reach due to Lynch’s reluctance to engage with it. Lim explores how Lynch’s narrative preoccupations and surrealist aesthetic were present from his first short films, and takes the reader through the development of such themes throughout his career in cinema, television and art. Lim moves on from this point to interrogate the Lynchian aesthetic by exploring the director’s “weird tales that give form to the submerged trauma and desire of our age.” (p. 13) Lynch’s creative trajectory is examined chronologically, from Eraserhead (1977), to the critical and commercial failure of Dune (1984), and on to Twin Peaks (1990), Blue Velvet (1986) and Mulholland Drive (2001). The focus here is on the ways in which Lynch’s surrealist and often avant-garde aesthetic came to make its mark so indelibly on the mainstream. Lim uses anecdotes, production details, interviews and reviews to draw a unique picture of a creative figure who was able to work within a mainstream industrial context whilst being never less than fully himself.

There is also a discussion of Lynch’s work in other forms: his paintings, cartoons and music, which celebrate the idiosyncratic and irregular nature of the man as an artist. Lim even has space in such a short but well-constructed book to ponder how Lynch, at the age of seventy, remains very much “a moving target”, though not necessarily only as a filmmaker, as his works spans many areas of artistic practice. Lim moves toward a conclusion of sorts, by discussing the controversy surrounding the next instalment of Twin Peaks where Lynch announced in April 2015 via Twitter that he would not be involved in the re-imagined series due to contractual disagreements with Showtime. The issue was resolved a month later and Lynch announced he would indeed be directing the entire new season, which is to total more than the originally planned nine hours of content. The internet – and popular media more generally – exploded as excited journalists and fans rejoiced at the idea that Twin Peaks would remain with its ultimate creator. Lim uses this example to highlight the endless fascination surrounding him and his creative output. Indeed, the intense scrutiny that has accompanied every moment of the production of the new series speaks to the fervor and intense passion which he is able to engender in generations of film fans.

This is a highly accessible book, written in a direct and thoughtful prose which is inviting not only for the Lynch fan and scholar, but also provides an insightful read for those encountering Lynch’s world for the first time. This is no easy task, but is testament to the deft and streamlined nature of Lim’s writing. What this book ultimately offers is less a definitive interpretation of the man and his work and more a set of lenses through which to view him, and which can shed new light on the allure of the known and yet unknowable David Lynch.

Dennis Lim, David Lynch: The Man From Another Place (New York: Amazon Publishing, 2015).

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Endnotes

  1. See David Lynch, Catching the Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness and Creativity (Los Angeles: Tarcher, 2007); Chris Rodley, Lynch on Lynch (London: Faber, 1993).