(University Press of Mississippi, 224 pages, $22)
By Richard A. Barney
One of the joys of these interviews with David Lynch, the most famously nonverbal filmmaker of our age, is watching each interviewer try to pin him down on the “meaning” of his work. Among movie directors such enquiry is often the spur to lengthy exegesis on the filmmaker’s part. With Lynch however, given his background in fine arts, invitations into the realm of explication are returned unopened, shot down, dodged or simply fled from in a headlong rush. In fine arts, unlike cinema, it’s kind of rude to ask the artist to explain himself. He did all this hard work for you and now he has to spell it out as well? Lynch most likely doesn’t know the answers himself, and having resisted analysis of all kinds throughout his career, isn’t about to change tack now.
That being said, David Lynch isn’t just talkative; he’s really quite the chatterbox. Just don’t ask how he rigged up that gruesome baby in Eraserhead. His voice in these pages is all gee-whizz-aw-shucks—what Mel Brooks memorably called “Jimmy-Stewart-From-Mars.” He’s busting with momentary enthusiasms and lifelong obsessions, and always seems ready to discourse enthusiastically on the act of creativity, with a “jeepers” here and a “golly gosh” there, as is his habit.
Despite his reluctance to explain himself, certain themes recur: his mostly idyllic, yet occasionally terrifying childhood in Montana, the Midwest and suburban Virginia; and his trek through numerous art schools in Boston and Philadelphia (he has noted that this sojourn had as much influence on him as poverty did on Charles Dickens). And one can see the tortuous weaving of every last skein of his obsessions into the tapestry of Eraserhead, sui generis then and now. Lynch also relishes the contradictions in his work where other filmmakers might seek to play them down. He is deeply subversive but politically conservative; far out yet homespun; gentle and orderly in person yet responsible for the most unsettling horrors on screen. And nowhere is that more evident than in Blue Velvet, with its quaint suburban vistas of nestling cheek-by-jowl with subterranean insects and homegrown sexual psychopaths.
Review written by John Patterson.