David Lynch, Inimitable Auteur

Tony from Australia writes:

Hey Emily

I was curious as to whether you might have seen the new David Lynch film, Inland Empire. I wouldn’t ask, but I seem to recollect, without details or context, your having made a David Lynch reference in your journal at some point. It hasn’t been released in Australia as yet, and if you have seen it, I would value your opinion. For that matter, if you are into Lynch films, I would also be interested in your thoughts on his other works.


My thoughts on David Lynch are complicated, Tony, and yet they can be boiled down to a single and unoriginal observation: David Lynch is an inimitable auteur. For the best ruminating you could ask for on this subject, I highly recommend the essay “David Lynch Keeps His Head,” in this book, which provides some insight into the process of this inimitable auteur. It’s written by another inimitable author, also another David, this one Foster Wallace.

You recollect correctly that I have made reference to David Lynch in the past, but only to say, “That is so fucking David Lynch.” I said this when I saw two swans swimming in the reservoir near the Unisphere one night on the grounds of the 1964 World’s Fair, now better known as Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. It was a misty night and I was stoned and ambient music was warbling on the car stereo as these two swans paddled around a cement lake in the dark, empty park with the Unisphere looming in the background like some kind of recently landed UFO. You can see how I made the leap.

My stoned misconception that two swans that were actually the property of the New York City Parks Department swimming in the lake of a defunct Robert Moses project was in fact a scene in a David Lynch movie brings us to the question of what makes an auteur, specifically an inimitable one. It is a mark of David Lynch’s status as both inimitable and an auteur that what I saw in Flushing Meadows Park could constitute a set of images and accompanying sounds that seemed to be, though they were in fact not, authored by him. This means that David Lynch works from a vocabulary not only of images and sounds but one of emotions and possibly even truths. As Proust once said, “Those who are obsessed by the blurred memory of truths they have never known are the men who are gifted…Talent is like a sort of memory which will enable them finally to bring this indistinct music closer to them, to hear it clearly, to note it down.”

David Lynch is most certainly using his talent to bring into bring us into his memories of truths. He employs images and sounds so skillfully to convey and evoke these truths that images and sounds not specific to a David Lynch movie are still specific to his unique vision of the world. This is to say, David Lynch is an inimitable auteur because he caused me to author a moment in my own life on his behalf. Without his inimitable auteurship, I am not certain the swans, the cement reservoir, the looming seven-story steel globe, the mist and the ambient music would have come together as they did. They might have remained disparate and peculiar details with no relationship to one another, instead of forming a cohesive experiential diorama that has a lot to say about rarity, isolation, scale, artifice, mating for life, civilization, technology, the paradoxical obsolescence of the future, the dream-state, the subconscious, the powers of mild hallucinogens and the tendency of things to seem more meaningful when smudged in mists of aqueous vapor or time itself.

When I saw those swans I was fascinated and disturbed. My interest was piqued and yet at the moment of its piquing I felt disquieted. I felt that we should leave immediately, that we were seeing something we shouldn’t, that if we stayed too long I would feel a sadness and a loneliness and a creepiness I did not want to feel. But I think maybe David Lynch would want to feel it, and would want me to feel it, and it is through him that we feel things we don’t want to feel.

To answer your question, no, I haven’t seen Inland Empire, but I’m sure it represents more of the same inimitable auteurship we’ve come to expect from one David Lynch. That being said, I do have some thoughts on his other works. David Lynch, you see, is a kind of Proustian madelaine of my own misty mind, in addition to being an inimitable auteur of many seminal works of twentieth and twenty-first century film.

Thought #1: The movies of David Lynch, inimitable auteur, can only make things stranger and more confusing.

During this week a couple of years ago that I spent shacked up on a farm in the Peruvian Andes with this fine red-haired expatriate I watched Mulholland Drive not one, not two, but three times. Our activities on said farm were confined to only a few key life processes, watching movies and getting stoned out of our minds being pretty high up on the list. At some point during the week we hatched a plan to have an all-mescaline Woody Allen film festival, but having no Woody Allen films at our disposal we settled instead for a stoned-out-of-our-minds David Lynch film festival consisting only of repeated viewings of Mulholland Drive. (We had plenty of mescaline but you’d have to be truly insane to mix that with David Lynch. You really might never come back).

We (well, he) constructed a bong out of various household objects and we named it Dave. We then set out to understand the secret of what was then the highly acclaimed and most recent work of this inimitable auteur.

I remember things from that point on becoming somehow darker and more surreal than the they were in the beginning, and now realize that this moment was perhaps the turning point in our isolated Andean bliss. It’s hard to tell if this was the natural life cycle of our affair taking its course, or rather the effects of repeated stoned viewings of Mulholland Drive. I’m tempted to conclude that repeated stoned viewings of Mulholland Drive and the darkness and surreality it engendered was the natural life cycle of our affair taking its course.

You can imagine, or perhaps even know yourself, the effects of repeated stoned viewings of Mulholland Drive, at a high altitude, no less. Weird shit getting weirder all the time is one way I can describe David Lynch. I don’t remember much, except getting to the part with the blue box for the third and final time, and saying, “just tell me what’s in the fucking box, I don’t understand and I can tell you right now that after I leave these mountains, this valley and this country I will never watch this movie again.”

Not thirty-six hours later I was down from the mountain and back in America, walking the streets of New York with a big sign that said, “FUCK YOU” and waving it at the delegates attending the Republican National Convention, their sneering faces and melting masks of makeup a kind of David Lynchian apparition due to several days of drug- and jet-lag induced sleep deprivation. Now and again the blue box would enter my mind, and I would think, “What the fuck was going on in that movie?” followed closely by, “What the fuck was going on on that farm?” followed closely by, “What the fuck is going on in this country?” It was a time of confusion and excitement in which David Lynch’s inimitable autership was one of the heavy influences on my intermittently surfacing subconscious.

Curious interlude concerning some knowledge I have recently come into regarding David Lynch, Inimitable Auteur:

He’s become an advocate for transcendental meditation, which he’s been practicing for many years. Lynch claims that twenty minutes of daily transcendental meditation have allowed him to access his inner creative voice and function effectively as an artist while also entering the world in a nonviolent way. He believes that transcendental meditation can improve everyone’s lives, and to this end he has formed The David Lynch Foundation for Consciousness-Based Education and World Peace. In the “Message From David Lynch” on the Foundation’s web site, Lynch says that the foundation’s mission is “to ensure that any child in America who wants to learn and practice the Transcendental Meditation program can do so.”

Thought #2: David Lynch, inimitable auteur, goes nicely with the California desert and an uneasy and charged sexuality.

There was this boy I was way into freshman year of college, a lanky boy from the California desert who more than a little bit resembled James Dean, and in the early days of our infatuation we went to see Lost Highway together. As much as this James Dean look-alike and his battered leather jacket and unusually unbaggy jeans and Buddy Holly glasses went with the California desert, the sheer porno creepiness of that movie somehow killed the mood of shy attraction we had, and we did not make out the night we saw that movie. Eventually we did make out many times, in narrow beds near hissing radiators, but I was always in some way reminded of Lost Highway and the lonely deserts of sheer porno creepiness. It is just occurring to me now that it has been a decade since we watched Lost Highway and did not make out and then later made out in dorm deads of night, but as I think about it I can feel the circumference of this particular boy’s biceps in my hands, I can actually in my tactile memory compare his tall and skinny eighteen-year-old biceps in heft and firmness and texture of skin and musculature to other biceps I have gripped, so vivid and precise is my memory of them. I can see the shade of his jeans, bright blue, and the buttons on them shiny and silver, picking up the light in dark rooms. It seems I can feel a certain bumpiness on his skin that I remember perceiving as the three-dimensional incarnation of his freckles (he, too, was red-haired) but were probably goosebumps. It was very cold during the entirety of our brief entanglement; it was almost winter when we finally stopped going to see disturbing movies together, and by spring he was spending more and more time playing a really violent video game and I grew disgruntled with the situation. The game itself, now that I think of it, resembled a David Lynch movie. Internet research in fact reveals that the game was scored by Trent Renzor, who also scored Lost Highway, and so now David Lynch seems not entirely by coincidence to be doubly tied up with this boy from the California desert, bracketing the experience with sheer porno creepiness and first-person shooter graphic violence.

There were many things I did not understand about this boy from the California desert, though not for lack of trying. I was far more interested in understanding him than understanding the complex symbolism of David Lynch, though now I know it is much better to try to read cinema, even the avant-garde cinema of one of the most inscrutable and inimitable auteurs of our time, than to try to read other people. Despite the fact that I was in film classes and had access to a number of well-respected semiotic theorists and several art-house cinemas, I was never going to care as much about David Lynch, inimitable auteur as I did about this James Dean look-alike. One of his family cats had been eaten by coyotes and I found this detail impossibly heartbreaking and attractive, the threat of coyotes, to me, being as exotic and dangerous as crashing a convertible in the California desert, or any number of other activities generally unheard of to Jewish girls from Long Island.

So that is what I think of David Lynch. Or rather, that is what I think of when I think of David Lynch.

I also think of dismembered bodies, nightmares, the intimation of violence somehow rivaling actual violence in the uneasiness it causes, shifting identity, the explosion of the career of Naomi Watts, highways in the California desert I have since seen and far exceeded the speed limit on. I think of how David Foster Wallace describes the archetype of David Lynch’s production assistants as “the sort of sloppily pretty tech-savvy young woman you can just tell smokes a lot of pot and owns a dog,” of how evocative and yet vague of a description this is. I think of being stoned, I think of the sound of barking dogs onscreen causing the dogs to bark outside, I think of wishing the movie would end, I think of the expatriate farmer in the Andes pressing on the inside of my forearm with his fingertips, saying, “Stay awake, stay awake,” in a gentle whisper, I think of how one night the boy from the California desert and some other people and I were all crowded into a dorm room watching The Silence of the Lambs, and when it got to the creepiest parts and people were talking the boy would shush them and then say, wide-eyed and totally sincerely, “Can you just please let me enjoy this?” and how in that moment I began to understand how much this boy truly enjoyed consuming violent images and how hetero my sexuality really was, I think of how David Lynch really understood how love and sex are both dream and nightmare, how maybe there are no coincidences, how maybe we impose a narrative on what is a series of unconnected events to give them a shape and form that enables us to experience if not wholly understand them, how David Lynch was both catalyst and obstacle to these various moments that haunt me far more than even his haunting movies, and how in the face of his dark and perverse sexuality rose the tangled ganglia of my own sexuality. I think of how many times that scary little man played by Robert Blake has appeared in my dreams, of how Robert Blake was tried for the murder of his wife, how life imitates art imitates life, how if you take in enough media and possibly drugs it is not very hard to become confused about what is in fact art and what is in fact life, I think of the menace of static, the manipulation of lenses, the slow Kubrickian drip of time. But most of all, what I think of when I think of David Lynch are red-haired men I’ve loved and lost that no amount of meditation will ever enable me to entirely transcend.

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