LYNCH TRIES TO REGAIN THE PEAK
by David Giammarco The Globe and Mail. Monday, February 24, 1997.
On this warm California morning, lazy rays and sweet smells of seasonably early orange blossoms drift through the open window of a Beverly Hills hotel suite, as David Lynch fires up a cigarette and takes the first sip of what one hopes is "a damn fine cup of coffee."
But perhaps only David Lynch could make this sunny serenity seem somehow suspect of a subterranean savagery; the way his cinematic visions of a dreamy Main Street, U.S.A., suddenly intersect with level five of Dante's Hell. And on this day, the extremely press-shy filmmaker laughs at what may be the key to his bizarre world of abstractions: colouring books.
"It's true, my mother refused to give me colouring books as a child," says the 51-year-old Lynch, wearing his hair shaved close to the sides and stacked a few storeys high on top. "She probably saved me, 'cause when you think about it, what a colouring book does is completely kill creativity."
Only in Lynchland could something so simple take on such significance.
Lynch is the filmmaker whose singular achievement was bringing the psychotropic occult mystery series, Twin Peaks, to television in 1990: an experience akin to dropping LSD and then flipping through a book of Norman Rockwell paintings.
The son of a Forest Service scientist father and a homemaker mother, Lynch enjoyed a childhood that he calls "embarrassingly normal," yet for the past 20 years he has provided some of the most freakish characters and hallucinogenic images an American filmmaker has ever committed to celluloid. His new cinematic endeavour, Lost Highway, a careering film noir descent into the deep recesses of the human psyche, will surely satisfy the cravings of Lynchheads everywhere.
It was released to North American theatres on the weekend, to the usual round of furiously mixed reviews ("Transfixing," said Janet Maslin of The New York Times; "The movie equivalent of the deservedly obscure poet," said The Globe and Mail's Rick Groen). And at the Jan. 31, L.A. press screening of Lost Highway, numerous critics were left confused and hostile, wondering what they had just witnessed. "A lot of times, when people have problems [with abstraction], they get angry," says Lynch.
"This isn't your run-of-the-mill movie and it certainly isn't for everyone," admits Patricia Arquette, who plays one of the film's central figures. "It's like deciphering a dream," she says of his tendency to let the actors figure out how to play it for themselves. "But working with David," she adds, "is like working with a great painter...."
"I think the world catches up with David 10 years later and it's his curse."
Growing up in mundane towns like Spokane, Wash. and Boise, Idaho settings not unlike those found in Twin Peaks Lynch eventually attended art schools in Washington, D.C., Boston and Philadelphia, studying painting and, later, after moving to Los Angeles, film.
After making a few small experimental films, Lynch scrounged up $20,000 (U.S.) to make his first full-length feature, Eraserhead. Released in 1977, this surreal and darkly comic spoof of domesticity achieved virtually instant cult-classic status. Lynch's profile was growing when he was asked to direct The Elephant Man for $5-million in 1980, but stalled in 1984 with the $50-million sci-fi disaster Dune. In 1986, Lynch struck back with Blue Velvet, a low-budget revenge on constrained movie conventions and a superb revenge drama about small-town life and lust, drugs and death behind the facade of a picture-perfect American town. Blue Velvet was one of the most critically praised films of the eighties.
By the start of the nineties, Lynch seemed to be everywhere, on the cover of Vanity Fair, in the theatres with his violent Southern Gothic road movie Wild at Heart, which won the Cannes Film Festival Palm d'Or, on the tube with Twin Peaks. The show, which ran for the 1990 and 1991 seasons, became an instant success, stoking a media frenzy and saturating pop-culture lexicon with dancing dwarves, cherry pie, the Log Lady, and the phrase "Who killed Laura Palmer?" "Lynchian" soon displaced "Kafkaesque" as the paranoid adjective du jour. But once the series solved the murder of Laura Palmer, Lynch saw the Twin Peaks fad fade. "We never intended to do that, but we were forced into it...by the public writing to the network and the network answering to them," he says. "But I truly loved the world of Twin Peaks; I loved the characters and I loved being caught up in that world...it really was a double-edged sword."
In the summer of 1992, Lynch took another wrong step with the release of the Twin Peaks prequel, Fire, Walk With Me. It was immediately ripped apart by the critics. "The film was in the Twin Peaks world, but Twin Peaks had run its course," he says. "The feeling at the time we started it was very different form the feeling at the time we finished it. People had had enough."
The critical backlash he admits was disturbing, "but if you love a film, it's not so bad. With something like Dune, I knew the film was not the one I had wanted to make, so those bad reviews were like a double blow. But you know a failure can give you this freedom," he continues, "so that the next time you go out and are sort of healed, you have nowhere to go but up."
For the past five years, Lynch's blip seemed to disappear off radar screens. "I was doing a lot of writing and reading, trying to find something to get me going, something to fall in love with, but I couldn't." He did continue to work, however, helming TV commercials for Karl Lagerfeld, Giorgio Armani, a Japanese coffee drink and Alka-Seltzer Plus. He immersed himself in painting, photography, composing a symphony, publishing a coffee-table book, and designing and building furniture.
Starting and finishing Lost Highway, he admits, ended this rather restless, frustrating period. The film, co-written with Wild at Heart author Barry Gifford, was inspired by a phrase in Gifford's book Night People. "It had the words 'lost highway' and I said to Barry, "I love those two words together we should make something called Lost Highway. The phrase had a lot of potential for me. The unknown was suddenly pulling me in and I was ready to go into another world. It became about mood and those kinds of things that can only happen at night. It held promise and intrigue and mystery."
Lost Highway does indeed spin a hallucinogenic migraine of time, space, sex and death, with Arquette playing two women (who may or may not be the same). First, she's the terminally bored wife of jazz saxophonist Fred Madison (Bill Pullman). Then, after she's horribly butchered, probably by her husband for suspected infidelities, Arquette suddenly appears later in his life as Alice Wakefield, the blond moll of explosive gangster "Mr. Eddy" (Robert Loggia). Madison by this time is no longer Madison either. He's imprisoned, only to be inexplicably transformed on Death Row into a younger, stronger, garage mechanic named Pete Drayton (played by Balthazar Getty). Alice's sexual thirst leads Pete into a word of pornography, sinister characters and murder.
"See what I love," explains Lynch, "is to sense more than what's in front of me...depths of things. And once that starts going, mysteries are felt and it pulls you and you're living in a word of abstractions. That's what I find really beautiful."
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