As a couple of generations of film students have shown us, you shouldn’t try to imitate David Lynch. You should, however, learn from David Lynch. At his best, the director of Eraserhead, Blue Velvet, and Mulholland Drive has managed, in the words of David Foster Wallace, to “single-handedly broker a new marriage between art and commerce in U.S. movies, opening formula-frozen Hollywood to some of the eccentricity and vigor of art film.” How has Lynch brought his enduringly strange and richly evocative visions to the screen, and to a surprising extent into the mainstream, without much apparent compromise?
You can get an idea of his method in Room to Dream: David Lynch and the Independent Filmmaker, the twenty-minute documentary above. Since Lynch hasn’t released a feature film since 2006’s Inland Empire — an especially uncompromising work, admittedly — some fans have wondered whether he’s put the movies, per se, behind him. But Room to Dream shows the director in recent years, very much engaged in both the theory and process of filmmaking — or rather, his distinctive interpretations of the theory and process of filmmaking.
This touches on his childhood obsession with drawing weapons, his discovery of “moving paintings,” his endorsement of learning by doing, how he uses digital video, his enjoyment of 40-minute takes, why people fear the “very dark,” conveying meaning without explaining meaning (especially to actors), the process of “rehearsing-and-talking, rehearsing-and-talking,” how Avid (the short’s sponsor, as it would happen) facilitates the “heavy lifting” of editing his footage, how he finesses “happy accidents,” how he composes differently for different screens, and the way that “sometimes things take strange routes that end up being correct.” Take Lynch’s words to heart, and you, too, can enjoy his experience of crafting what he calls “sound and picture moving along in time” — with or without an Avid of your own.
Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.