Sunday, September 21, 2008

TWO WORDS
OF THE SAME
LENGTH:
DAVID LYNCH

From time to time,
I'll be excavating
unedited versions
of interviews that
aren't otherwise
available online.

To that end, here's
the first draft of my
conversation with
David Lynch. The
finished edition ap-
pears in the 4/07 issue of Resonance, which ceased publication in 2/08.

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

Emerging 30 years ago with a little black and white picture called Eraserhead, David Lynch (born 1946) hit the scene fully form-
ed. No matter that it took six years to make and featured a then-
unknown Jack Nance as shockheaded Henry Spencer, the thing looked fantastic and scarred the psyche everyone who saw it.

Lynch may not have been the first to capture the horror of
nightmares, but few have given equal time to the beauty—
like the Lady in the Radiator's "In Heaven" lullaby. The list
of fans is impressive in and of itself: Stanley Kubrick, Charl-
es Bukowski, and the Pixies, who even covered the number.

In looking at his career since, it's easy to get lost in the past.
Like wandering through a bazaar, there's so much to see and
to explore. Instead of trinkets, the stalls are filled with books
(Catching the Big Fish), comic strips (The Angriest Dog in the
World), television shows (Twin Peaks), and movies. And not
just any movies, but some of the most iconic ever made.



From cult classics (Blue Velvet) to unconventional bio-pics
(The Elephant Man) to literary adaptations (Wild at Heart)
to the ultimate poison pen letter to his beloved Hollywood
(Mullholland Dr.), Lynch is always surprising, never pred-
ictable. And that's to say nothing of the paintings and phot-
ographs. Getting lost in such a rich past, then, is an under-
standable impulse. The thing is: David Lynch doesn't live
there. While he does revisit certain themes (parallel
worlds) and visual tropes (finger snaps and flicker-
ing lights), he never makes the same movie twice.

With INLAND EMPIRE, Lynch takes his biggest leap yet into
the unknown. Three hours long, shot on digital video and self-dis-
tributed, it represents his riskiest move since, well, Eraserhead.
As tempting as it may be to dub the work "experimental," IN-
LAND EMPIRE comes as close to Art as any movie ever has,
yet is still recognizably a Film. Laura Dern, playing an actress
on the verge of a comeback, is the thread that ties it all togeth-
er. Sadly, the vehicle meant to re-launch her career just hap-
pens to be cursed. Or so says director Jeremy Irons.

Of course, there's more to it than that. There's also a Pol-
ish prostitute, a rabbit-headed family, a howling monkey,
a glittering mansion, a gloomy ranch house and last, but
certainly not least, the inimitable Harry Dean Stanton.

Raised in Washington and Montana and schooled in Pennsylvania, Lynch may call California home, but he's never lost that North-
western charm. You can easily imagine him walking into a diner anywhere in the world, ordering a cup of joe, and exclaiming, as Agent Cooper famously used to, "That's some damn fine coffee!"
(He even sells his own beans at DavidLynch.com.) Resonance
was pleased as punch to chat with this American legend.

The Venice Film Festival
recognized you with their
Future Film Festival Dig-
ital Award. Then, the Nat-
ional Society of Film Crit-
ics followed with a special
award for Best Experi
m-
ental Film, i.e. "To David Lynch's labyrinthine INLAND EMPIRE, a magnificent and maddening experiment with digital video possib-
ilities." Do you see INLAND EMPIRE as experimental?

No. Every film is an experiment in a way, but to me, it's a straight-
ahead film, although I know what people are talking about. I don't
even know what an experimental film is, so when they say that
I don't know what that is—I don't know if anybody knows.

It's like when people describe The Straight
Story as "conventional." A film about a man
who drives a tractor across the country, by
its very nature,
can't be conventional.

Right, it's a different kind of thing.



Do you think it will scare some people away, to hear INLAND EMPIRE described as experimental?

Labels are interesting. I think, for some people, if you say
it's a straight-ahead narrative, they might get upset. Then
you say it's experimental, and other people say: I don't want
to see an experimental film. It's a film. Cinema can tell many
different kinds of stories, and I like a story, but I like one that
holds abstractions. To me, it's a film—but it's shot on DV.

To what extent was Laura Dern (Blue Velvet, Wild at
Heart), who plays Nikki Grace and her alter-ego, Susan
Blue, involved with the conception of her characters?

You get an idea and the idea brings the char-
acter and how the character is. It just pops in
your head, and there it is. I talked to Laura.
She reads a scene and gets a feel for it, and
then we talk or do some rehearsals. She zer-
oes in on that same idea—and away we go.

You shot a monologue,
woven throughout the
film, in which Blue speaks
to a detective. Did you
originally intend to
release it as a short?

I don't like to say what came first, because it doesn't matter. If you talk to any writer who ev-
er wrote an original screenplay, it never comes all at once. It would be beautiful if it did. It unfolds, and there it is. The less people know when they go into a film the better. In the begin-
ning, I got ideas for scenes and didn't know if this would be a feature. I didn't really think about it. Then I start thinking about these scenes, and another thing came that united them. When that happened, I wrote a lot. It was a more traditional shoot after that.

Now that it's one piece, will that monol-
ogue always exist as part of INLAND EM-
PIRE and never as a separate entity?

I think so. There might be parts of it that could be an extra thing.

Why did you cast Julia Ormond (Legends of the Fall),
who plays the mysterious Doris Side? In the 1990s,
she was in a lot of movies, and then—nothing.


She was right for the part, and she's a great actress.

At one point, she was perceiv-
ed as an ingénue, which she
definitely isn't in your film.

The thing is, like when you say exper-
imental film, people like to label things
and to pigeonhole people. Actresses who
get pigeonholed, they die the death a
little bit, because a good actor can do
so many things, but they don't get the
chance if they've been typecast.

In movies like Mulholland Dr. and INLAND EM-
PIRE, where you're looking at actresses in Hol-
lywood, are you thinking of any real-life figures
or other movies, like Sunset Boulevard, or are
these scenarios strictly from your imagination?

No. You know, it's weird. Even though I'm right there in
the city, the idea comes. It has nothing to do with anything
that I've necessarily experienced or heard stories about.

Rabbits (2002), a series that centers on a hare-headed
family debuted on your website. Did you always plan to
incorporate some of that footage into a feature film?

No. Things happen and one thing leads to another. It's
strange that way. And again, it's the same if you wrote
something. No one would ever know the number of id-
eas that get thrown away in the process of writing a
script. Lots of things come in, but when you're work-
ing to make it whole, lots of things fly out. You do
something and it percolates, and then things
grow out of that. It happens all the time.

You released a DVD collection this year, Dynamic:1. Does it feature Rabbits?

There’s no Rabbits in
that. It includes other
things from the site.

Having worked in television with Twin Peaks,
On the Air, and Mulholland Dr., which had
its
genesis in TV, have you had your fill?

Yes, because the internet is here, and the internet will be the
television station for everybody, and you can make a contin-
uing story if you want to do that. With advertising and the like, TV
is just a giant corporate thing. It's not a place to go, not for me.

Aside from the fact that it looks cool, why do you think
directors like yourself, Jonathan Glazer (Sexy Beast),
Richard Kelly (Donnie Darko), and others are gravitat-
ing towards humanoid characters with rabbit heads?

When you get an idea and you're rolling things around, even if it seems strange, in these stories, they do a thing. You find they fit in there. The thing about cinema is, it says something and a lot of times what it says is without words. It's abstract, and it goes in a wordless place, where there's an intuitive logic. It goes like that, and you've got to trust that as you're working. So there it is.



You seem to take a similar approach to music.
Nina Simone's "Sinnerman," for instance, plays
a key role in INLAND EMPIRE. It's been used
in other films, like Cellular and Miami Vice,
but not in the same way. Are you a fan?

Oh yeah, but I hadn't heard that song for a long time. A friend
of mine made a CD for me, and it was there. I started listening
to it while we were shooting, and that whole thing [a dance se-
quence] popped into my head. Nina Simone is so incredible.

You also make use of Beck's "Black Tambour-
ine" when Blue is running from an assailant.
Did you always have that song in mind?


A couple of years before, when thinking about
working on INLAND EMPIRE, I heard it.
The whole song just married to the scene.

You've mentioned that you were
listening to the German industri-
al metal band Rammstein while
making Lost Highway. What
were you listening to while
making INLAND EMPIRE?


I sometimes play things through
the headphones. I listened to a
lot of [Krzysztof] Penderecki
and other Polish composers.

Certain artists have come to be associated with your
work, such as Julee Cruise (Twin Peaks) and Chris Is-
aak (Wild at Heart). What attracted you to them?


I heard Chris Isaak about the time we were shooting Blue
Velvet. You hear some music, and it just fits in the world.
Chris was fantastic. In Blue Velvet, his lyrics aren't in there.
They would send me tracks, so I could use what I wanted.
In fact, they re-recorded some of their stuff. He's got a
certain kind of thing that marries to some things I do.

You have a lot of respect for Kubrick, who
later used Isaak for Eyes Wide Shut.

Kubrick used Penderecki and [György]
Ligeti before I did, so it comes around.

You're distributing INLAND EMPIRE
through your own company. Why?

We distribute Eraserhead and the short films through
Absurda. My friend who runs the site built a whole
conduit, so we were thinking we could do it for IN-
LAND EMPIRE. It was built with very good rel-
ationships, so I'm not doing it myself. I've got a
great bunch doing it and helping me. I think it
would be good to do it [that way] from now on.



In the past you've avoided director commentaries,
yet it's been reported that you intend to buck your
own tradition with INLAND EMPIRE. Is this a one-
time occurrence, owing to the unique nature of
the film, or do you plan to revisit other works?


Absolutely never will happen!

That just goes to show you stick to your word.

I might tell some stories, but anything that putrefies the
experience I'm against. So much of the modern world is
add-ons and extras. I feel the film gets lost, and it’s a sadness.

When you get those inevitable questions about a film's meaning, how do you respond?

I don't talk about it. Most people know that already,
so they leave me alone.

Have you ever had someone get angry and
try to force an explanation out of you?

I always tell them they know more than they think they know. It just goes that way. If it's not exactly surface and straight-ahead, then lots and lots of interpretations pop up.

Not all copy editors have gotten the memo,
but INLAND EMPIRE is meant to be spelled
using all caps. What's the significance?

It looks more correct that way. They're two such beauti-
ful words and they both have the same number of letters.



Endnote: In addition to Lynch, issue #53 of Resonance features
"Songs Destroyed by Lynch," a sidebar Kris Kendall and I crafted,
and my minimalist interview with the Brothers Quay (I wasn't able
to record our call), which I'll be posting in the months to come.

Images from DonalForeman.com ("Dublin Guest Stars"), Serial Consign ("The Black Lodge"), The Guardian ("What Is David Lyn-
ch's INLAND EMPIRE About?"), Stop Smiling ("Man with a Mov-
ie Camera"), and Collider (an interview with Lynch and Dern).

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