January 17-23, 2007

home | metro silicon valley index | movies | current reviews | interview

Laura Dern

Laura Dern in 'Inland Empire.'

Diving In

David Lynch talks about TM, bovine PR and a damn fine cup of coffee

By Richard von Busack

HAVING traded "the suffocating rubber clown suit of negativity" for "the flak jacket of bliss," David Lynch is out and about promoting a pair of idea containers. The first is his newest and supposedly most tantalizing motion picture, Inland Empire, an unscripted experimental effort starring Laura Dern.

The new film was shot on a Sony PD-150, a non-high-definition digital video format that Lynch prefers for a number of reasons; one being that its lack of clarity makes its images more mysterious. The video has been transferred to film for exhibition in theaters, and it opens locally on Feb. 9.

"To me, film is dead," Lynch writes, complaining of the technical problems of film, of having to stop when the stock runs out, and the weight of the camera and the delay in being able to see what you've shot. Inland Empire landed on a few 10-Best lists of 2006.

To tell the world about it, Lynch encamped on a grassy knoll at Hollywood and La Brea with a live cow as a one-man Oscar campaign for Dern. Next to him was the cryptic sign "Without cheese there would be no Inland Empire." Lynch, his collaborator Marek Zebrowski—giving a recital of "Polish night music"—and the cow have all gone on the promotional trail together.

Lynch also has a book out: Catching the Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness and Creativity (Tarcher/Penguin; 192 pages; $19.95). In some 10,000 words of prose, the director of Blue Velvet and Mulholland Dr. describes his enlightenment through years of Transcendental Meditation.

Handfuls of paragraphs sum up incidents around his classics: the importance, for instance, of Rear Window to a director who portrayed one of the most harrowing voyeur sequences on film, in 1986's Blue Velvet.

In the book and in our interview, Lynch suggests that "yes" is the answer to all of the questions raised by his films.

A painter before he became a filmmaker, Lynch is ready to puzzle the viewer with his images, insisting that his discussing what goes on interferes with the mystery. And he says that viewers know more than they think they do.

A really good abstract show—take the remarkable Richard Pousette-Dart show that just ended at the Legion of Honor—can be swoggled around verbally, to explain harmonies, strategies and technical issues. Ultimately, how Pousette-Dart evolved from the bold, stained-glass-window patterns of his 30s to the titanium and white snowflakes, dandelions and spheres of his later years—indeed, what every image means—is a story the viewer has to make up.

Moved quite beyond speech by the show, I took the catalog home and learned that Pousette-Dart, like Lynch, was a Transcendentalist who studied the Upanishads for inspiration. Encountering two meditators in one weekend: that would not be considered as coincidence by some who have "dived in" as Lynch suggests.

Even this skeptic can praise the aura state induced by a good, long, fast drive on an empty freeway, or the cleansed mind, perking away after a good shag in the morning. And there is of course silent meditation, that null state so helpful to us insomniacs. Lynch claims that this meditation is a good thing, like a massage, but not the "diving in" that is caused by training and getting a mantra.

Followers of the dedicatee of Lynch's book, "his holiness the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi," once offered to crime-proof San Jose through meditation instruction, all for the modest sum of $55.8 million. One might consider the warning of the anti-Maharishi website, which tells us that through TM "You may reach a stage where you never get out of the 'spacey' state, i.e., you may experience chronic dissociation." David Lynch films might carry a similar warning.

I talked to him via car phone.

METRO: Your films make me feel like the proverbial one-eyed cat peeking in the seafood store.
LYNCH: (chuckling) I getcha!

METRO: Where are you now?
LYNCH: In a car driving from New York to Washington, D.C. I'm just passing the Calvin R. McMillan School. Now there's the Bridgeview Inn.

METRO: What state?
LYNCH: I dunno ... [asks the driver]. Delaware.

METRO: Given your understandable reluctance to explain your mysterious images, and given that so much of what happens in them is a matter of opinion instead of demonstrable fact, is it really ever possible to misinterpret your films?
LYNCH: No. Everyone interprets them in their own way. After the movie, when two people talk about them outside the theater, the interpretations are different. I have to stay true to my abstract ideas, but I think it's beautiful that there are so many interpretations.

METRO: For instance, I had a theory that the Little Man in Twin Peaks and the people inside the box in Mulholland Dr. were connected.
LYNCH: (Encouragingly) That's good!

METRO: On the selected filmography in your book, there's no mention of Fire Walk With Me. A great film—was it a bad experience?
LYNCH: It's not there? That's an oversight—I love Fire Walk With Me. I have no problems with any of my films except Dune; that one is a heartache. I still love parts of Dune, but the way it was cut for TV is ridiculous, a horror ...

METRO: It's different to receive the call to meditate from an artist people respect, as opposed to some yogi who they might be dubious about...
LYNCH: Yes. It's the door to the stuff that's down underneath. You learn to dive with in and contact the deepest level of life, the level of pure bliss. I dive in twice a day. It's constant creativity-unblocking, and there's so much power and intuition in it.

METRO: It's strange, though, to find out that a director whose work contains so much turbulence is interested in inner peace.
LYNCH: There's a time of making films, and then there's the time in-between films. And an artist doesn't have to suffer to show suffering. A lot of people fear meditation. They think they'll get calm in a way they don't want to be calm, and that they'll get so peaceful, they'll drop out. They mistake anger for an edge, but anger cramps you up. And when you're depressed, you can't work.

METRO: I was just watching the 1988 documentary about you, Don't Look at Me, and there's a scene where you're talking about "cleaning the instrument," and the camera starts pulling back as if they're wary to hear you saying anything about your spiritual practices ...
LYNCH: "Clean the machine!" Meditation is an evolutionary force. The world is changing fast, Richard; more people are ready for it now.

METRO: About your time sitting in a vacant lot with a cow. Was this a positive experience?
LYNCH: Very positive! There's so much love in cows. And they seem to bring out a lot of love in people.

METRO: I completely agree with you. I've helped take care of cows, and I also love them. Can you tell me about Lodz, Poland? You've been spending some time there.
LYNCH: I love Lodz [pronounced "woodge"] in the winter. It's sadder in the summer; the buildings are too much contrast to the greenery. In the winter, they blend in with the environment. Very somber gray clouds over the buildings—it's a magical place.

METRO: In an interview with you in 1988, film critic John Powers noted that you were reading a picture book on Polish factories; that was before the Wall came down. It's supposed to be the Manchester of Poland, Lodz, a city where the Industrial Revolution struck hard.
LYNCH: Yes. Lodz was the textile capital of the world in the 1800s. When I finally got there to the Camerimage Film Festival in Lodz, I asked if I could see the factories, which are all abandoned now. And then I asked if I could go in and photograph them. It was incredible. They were like fairy tales, like dream palaces—cathedrals!

METRO: And now you're helping renovate one for use as an art center.
LYNCH: I'm involved with a group that's developing a space for performances, dance and art, that I hope will draw the city and all of Poland.

METRO: I was guessing that Lodz reminded you of Philadelphia, and the impact that suffering city had on you, after you came there to art school from a childhood in Montana.
LYNCH: No, it's a different thing. The factories are different, the architecture is different, the mood is different and so is the light. I always say Philadelphia is what made me an artist. A lot of ideas in that place!

METRO: In your book, you mention that Eraserhead came together when you read a Bible verse: was it Old Testament or New Testament?
LYNCH: Honestly, I don't remember. I read it and shut the book. I think it could be Old Testament.

METRO: Are you much of a fan of Nathaniel Hawthorne?
LYNCH: Is he the one who wrote Day of the Locust? Wait, that's Nathanael West ...

METRO: I mention him because he writes about haunted forests, devils in the woods, remote small towns that turn their back on the wilderness ...
LYNCH: The forest is a place of mystery and the unknown. Many people turn their backs on that; ... going into a forest and going into a movie theater are both like entering these realms. There's a little more safety in a theater, maybe.

METRO: I just saw you in the Jiminy Glick in Lalawood movie. Would you like to do more acting?
LYNCH: I was never in that movie. That was Martin Short imitating me.

METRO: ?!?
LYNCH: Short is a great comedian. Head and shoulders above anyone in playing a character.

METRO: Well, I'm embarrassed. So I'll ask you about your new line of coffees ...
LYNCH: It's David Lynch Signature Coffee—in three versions including decaf and espresso. I've always loved coffee, and this is a great coffee. Just like Martin Short, it's head and shoulders above the others.

METRO: Since I'm from the Bay Area, I have to ask you: is it fair-trade coffee?
LYNCH: Absolutely. Fair-traded and organic. It's good for you! An idea in every bean.

METRO: What do you think of Jean Cocteau's comment, "If there's another world, it's inside this one?"
LYNCH: They say there are worlds within worlds, dimensions within dimensions. We can all feel them and we can all sense them. It's so beautiful when you can dive in and experience these subtle levels of intellect, the big reality which the scientist calls "the Unified Field Theory" That something that Is, It Will Be, Forever ... that totality.

Movie Times David Lynch appears at a booksigning Saturday (Jan. 20) at 2pm at Barnes & Noble, 2200 Eastridge Loop, San Jose.

Send a letter to the editor about this story.

Movie Finder

Silicon Valley | Santa Cruz County | Sonoma / Marin / Napa

New and upcoming film releases.

Browse all movie reviews.