Fall 2008

David Lynch: Beautiful Dark
(Scarecrow Press, 720 pages, $49.95)
By Greg Olson

David Lynch: Beautiful DarkThe world is not short of books about David Lynch, but none till now matches Greg Olson's comprehensive career assessment. Despite working with the cooperation of Lynch, family members, collaborators, friends and ex-friends, Olson hasn't produced a breathless hagiography. What he's done is a thoroughgoing critical study of Lynch's works in all media that is firmly embedded in a clear biographical narrative and backed by lengthy interviews with almost everyone in his life.

Olson's starting point is that, for Lynch, art is life, life is art and that his work depends on the "the symbiotic relationship between fantasy and reality." As Olson demonstrates, much of Lynch's art is rooted in his 1950s small-town Montana childhood. But even in works where "normal" life appears remote, events in Lynch's life underpin the art. For example, Eraserhead came out of the painful surgeries endured by his infant daughter Jennifer; and her months in a waist-high cast surely supply the origins of the Eraserhead baby's bandage-wrapped body.

Lynch is the rare director who came to film via the fine arts, and his cinema must be viewed as part of an unbroken continuum that links his PlayStation 2 and Gucci commercials with his comic strip, "The Angriest Dog in the World," web show Dumbland, art installations, lyrics for Julee Cruise, and the furniture he designs for his home. Olson is able to show us how the gaps between movies-when Lynch's restless creative muse keeps him active in other forms-are as important as the movies themselves.

Despite its outwardly "authorized" feel, Olson's critical faculties are not dulled by the privilege of access. Plenty of Lynch's collaborators and former partners have harsh but fair opinions. Twin Peaks co-creator Mark Frost found Lynch "distant and inaccessible," and Lynch's first wife is admirably frank about their marriage. The result is exactly the kind of complex, keen-eyed but sympathetic critical biography one wishes every great filmmaker could receive.

Review written by John Patterson.


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