A Roundup of David Lynch’s Surreal Commercials: Sony PlayStation, Calvin Klein, Georgia Coffee & More

The films of David Lynch seem any­thing but “com­mer­cial.” Dis­turb­ing, incom­pre­hen­si­ble, they shine a flash­light into the dark­est regions of the sub­con­scious mind. When you walk out of a the­ater after watch­ing a David Lynch film you feel like you just woke up from a vivid and unset­tling dream.

But Lynch has been lead­ing a dou­ble life. While mak­ing uncom­pro­mis­ing­ly artis­tic works for the movie the­aters, he has been direct­ing com­mer­cials for tele­vi­sion and oth­er media on the side. Why does he do it? “Well,” Lynch told Chris Rod­ley in Lynch on Lynch, “they’re lit­tle bit­ty films, and I always learn some­thing by doing them.”

Lynch began receiv­ing offers to make com­mer­cials after the crit­i­cal suc­cess of Blue Vel­vet in 1986. His first project was a series of four 30-sec­ond spots for Calvin Klein’s Obses­sion fra­grance in 1988, each with a pas­sage writ­ten by a famous nov­el­ist. The ad above quotes Ernest Hem­ing­way’s The Sun Also Ris­es. You can also watch com­mer­cials fea­tur­ing F. Scott Fitzger­ald and D.H. Lawrence, but the fourth one, fea­tur­ing Gus­tave Flaubert, is cur­rent­ly unavail­able.

Lynch has com­plet­ed many adver­tis­ing assign­ments over the years, always man­ag­ing to retain some­thing of his unique vision in the process. We’ve select­ed some of the most strik­ing­ly “Lynchi­an” of the com­mer­cials. Scroll down and enjoy.

When Lynch was asked a few years ago how he felt about prod­uct place­ment in movies, his video­taped answer went viral on YouTube: “Bull­shit. That’s how I feel. Total fuck­ing bull­shit.” So it’s strange to think that Lynch once agreed to place the entire fic­tion­al world of one of his most famous cre­ations, Twin Peaks, at the ser­vice of a Japan­ese cof­fee com­pa­ny. But that’s what he did in 1991, for Geor­gia Cof­fee. In Lynch on Lynch, the film­mak­er was asked whether he was con­cerned about what the com­mer­cials might do to the Twin Peaks image. “Yes,” he replied. “I’m real­ly against it in prin­ci­ple, but they were so much fun to do, and they were only run­ning in Japan and so it just felt OK.”

The four com­mer­cials, each only 30 sec­onds long, fol­low FBI Spe­cial Agent Dale Coop­er (Kyle McLach­lan) as he solves the mys­tery of a miss­ing Japan­ese woman in the town of Twin Peaks, all the while man­ag­ing to enjoy plen­ty of “damn fine” Geor­gia Cof­fee. Alas, the Japan­ese com­mer­cials were not as suc­cess­ful as the Amer­i­can TV series. “We were sup­posed to do a sec­ond year, and do four more 30-sec­ond spots,” Lynch said, “but they did­n’t want to do them.”

You can watch the first episode, “Lost,” above, and fol­low the rest of the sto­ry through these links: Episode Two: “Cher­ry Pie,” Episode Three: “The Mys­tery of ‘G’ ” and Episode Four: “The Res­cue.”

In 1991 Lynch made one of the creepi­est pub­lic ser­vice mes­sages ever (above) con­cern­ing New York City’s rat prob­lem. The cin­e­matog­ra­phy is by Lynch’s long­time col­lab­o­ra­tor Fred­er­ick Elmes.

“Who is Gio” (above) was shot for Geor­gio Armani in Los Ange­les in ear­ly 1992, right when sev­er­al Los Ange­les police offi­cers were acquit­ted in the video­taped beat­ing of black motorist Rod­ney King–a ver­dict that sparked may­hem in the streets. “We were shoot­ing the big scene with the musi­cians and the club the night the riots broke out in LA,” Lynch told Chris Rod­ley. “Inside the club we were all races and reli­gions, get­ting along so fan­tas­ti­cal­ly, and out­side the club the world was com­ing apart.”

Of all his ear­ly adver­tis­ing clients, Lynch said, Armani gave him the most free­dom. The two-and-a-half-minute ver­sion above is an exten­sion of the orig­i­nal­ly broad­cast 60-sec­ond com­mer­cial.

One of the most bizarre of Lynch’s com­mer­cials is his 1998 con­tri­bu­tion (above) to the “Parisi­enne Peo­ple” cam­paign. The Swiss cig­a­rette mak­er Parisi­enne invit­ed famous direc­tors to make short com­mer­cials for screen­ing in movie the­aters across Switzer­land. To see how oth­ers han­dled the same assign­ment, fol­low these links: Roman Polan­s­kiRobert Alt­man, Jean-Luc Godard (with wife Anne-Marie Miéville), Giuseppe Tor­na­tore, and Ethan and Joel Coen.

Lynch’s sur­re­al 2000 com­mer­cial for Sony Playsta­tion (above), called “The Third Place,” is wide open for inter­pre­ta­tion. Writer Greg Olson takes a hero­ic stab at it in his book, David Lynch: Beau­ti­ful Dark:

For six­ty sec­onds we pro­ceed through a labyrinth of Lynchi­an themes and motifs visu­al­ized in black and white, thus sig­ni­fy­ing the bifur­ca­tion of the world into two polar­i­ties. A man in a black suit and a white shirt encoun­ters eerie pas­sage­ways, sud­den flames, bar­ren trees, fac­to­ry smoke, a woman who won’t speak her secrets, a wound­ed fig­ure wrapped in ban­dages. The man meets his own dou­ble, and a man with a duck­’s head. A source­less voice asks, “Where are we?” The dual­is­tic duck-man, who syn­the­sizes ani­mal instinct and human learn­ing, knows: “Wel­come to the third place.”

Yes. The duck-man knows.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

David Lynch Debuts Lady Blue Shang­hai

David Lynch’s Organ­ic Cof­fee (Bar­bie Head Not Includ­ed)

by | Permalink | Comments (5) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (5)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  • José García says:

    Gra­cias por esta galería de tra­ba­jos de Lynch. Alu­ci­nante.

  • Matt Warren says:

    Great col­lec­tion of things I either *did­n’t* know was Lynchi­an or that I was unaware of. Thanks. :)

  • DK says:

    The third place is actu­al­ly a pret­ty genius com­mer­cial if you under­stand the con­cept of “the third place”. The idea that humans need a neu­tral 3rd place sep­a­rate from work and home to meet and con­gre­gate at.

  • Varg says:

    Prod­uct place­ment in a film pro­duc­tion is quite dif­fer­ent from a film pro­duc­tion place­ment in a com­mer­cial. If effort is made into using some extra unin­tend­ed sec­onds on show­ing a brand name it’s hor­ri­ble…

    David Lynch is not a stranger to hid­den mes­sages, but prod­uct place­ment is a child­ish­ly easy mes­sage to solve, so it con­fus­es the mind, that more than any­thing want to be active…

    A TV ad con­tain­ing a film pro­duc­tion place­ment is also sil­ly. The prod­uct (see: evil demon-like meta-inven­tion) isn’t hurt by the medi­um, it has every­thing to gain from the screen­played event. But, again the film is hurt. The sto­ry-con­cept is paused and enters into a dif­fer­ent real­i­ty where it has to read­just to a mat­ter that does­n’t gain its orig­i­nal time­line, and it stalls. But Twin Peaks is a world of dis­rup­tions and twists and turns, so why not…

    And… some­times things has to wrap up in a sim­ple way. That’s how life is and has to be some­times, so two thumbs up for the end­ing of the Geor­gia cof­fee com­mer­cial

  • Varg says:


    My three -‘s after eachother has auto­mat­i­cal­ly been changed into a long —
    That was not my inten­tion and my cre­ative expres­sion has been com­pro­mised…
    Orig­i­nal use: — — -

    Regards, Varg

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.