At least a few of you — more than a few, I’d wager — think of David Lynch as your favorite filmmaker. Back when we posted about the greatest films of all time as named by Stanley Kubrick, Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen, and Quentin Tarantino, you probably wondered what selections the Eraserhead auteur would make. You can get an idea from the interview clip above, in which Lynch considers the questions “Whose work do you admire?” and “What movies have you watched over and over and could still watch a hundred times more?” Well-asked, since the movies we actually watch most often reveal more about us than the movies we happen to call “favorites.” “I love Stanley Kubrick,” he replies. “I can watch his movies over and over. I love Billy Wilder, Sunset Boulevard in particular, and I’ve watched it over and over. I loved the world Billy Wilder created.”
“I love Fellini,” Lynch continues. “Watched ’em over and over. If you want to see some great comedies, check out Jacques Tati’s Mr. Hulot’s Holiday. I like W.C. Fields. I like the movie It’s a Gift. I like Hitchcock, particularly Rear Window.” And after a moment of reflection: “I like a lot of different filmmakers, but those are… some of them.” MUBI.com also offers a post on Lynch’s favorite films, drawn from Lynch on Lynch, Chris Rodley’s book-length interview with the director, and Catching the Big Fish, Lynch’s own volume on meditating your way to interesting ideas. Here he provides more details on his fellow filmmakers of choice:
- In 8½, “Fellini manages to accomplish with film what mostly abstract painters do – namely, to communicate an emotion without ever saying or showing anything in a direct manner, without ever explaining anything, just by a sort of sheer magic.”
- In Sunset Boulevard, Wilder “manages to accomplish pretty much the same abstract atmosphere, less by magic than through all sorts of stylistic and technical tricks. The Hollywood he describes in the film probably never existed, but he makes us believe it did, and he immerses us in it, like a dream.”
- Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday wins his favor “for the amazing point of view that Jacques Tati casts at society through it. When you watch his films, you realize how much he knows about – and loved – human nature, and it can only be an inspiration to do the same.”
- Rear Window does the same “for the brilliant way in which Alfred Hitchcock manages to create – or rather, re-create – a whole world within confined parameters. James Stewart never leaves his wheelchair during the film, and yet, through his point of view, we follow a very complex murder scheme. Hitchcock manages to take something huge and condense it into something really small. And he achieves that through a complete control of film making technique.”
Communicating without directly saying, showing, or explaining? Crafting abstract atmosphere? Evoking a dreamlike version of Hollywood? Casting an eye on society that sees things differently? Creating worlds in tight confines? Seems to me, as someone who’s experienced more than his share of screenings of such films as Eraserhead, Blue Velvet, Lost Highway, and Mulholland Drive, that you could ascribe new versions of not one but all of these cinematic tendencies to Lynch himself. We call imitation the sincerest form of flattery, but surely it counts as a whole other order of compliment to take the accomplishments of the creators who inspire you and somehow make them completely your own. It takes, as the man says, a sort of sheer magic.
Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on literature, film, cities, Asia, and aesthetics. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall.