David Lynch’s Perfume Ads Based on the Works of Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald & D.H. Lawrence

As we wrote last week, David Lynch is not only one of the great cin­e­mat­ic spe­lunk­ers of the uncon­scious, cre­at­ing images and sto­ry­lines that have dis­turbed movie­go­ers for almost four decades, but he’s also had a suc­cess­ful run as a com­mer­cial direc­tor, mak­ing ads for among oth­er com­pa­nies Alka-Seltzer, Bar­il­la Pas­ta and Geor­gia Cof­fee.

In 1988, fresh off his suc­cess with Blue Vel­vet and just before he start­ed pro­duc­tion on his land­mark TV series Twin Peaks, he made his first com­mer­cials — a quar­tet of adver­tise­ments for Calvin Klein’s per­fume Obses­sion fea­tur­ing pas­sages from such lit­er­ary titans as F. Scott Fitzger­ald, D.H. Lawrence and Ernest Hem­ing­way. (Lynch’s ad fea­tur­ing Gus­tave Flaubert is mys­te­ri­ous­ly unavail­able on Youtube.)

The com­mer­cials have all the pre­ten­sion, the lus­cious black and white pho­tog­ra­phy and the vacant-eyed beau­ti­ful peo­ple that you might expect from a Calvin Klein ad. Yet they also show glim­mers of Lynch’s aes­thet­ic – a noirish, dream-like tone, an odd­ly framed close up, a fond­ness for flash­ing lights. Lynch dialed down the weird to serve the text. The result is far more roman­tic and beau­ti­ful than you might expect from the direc­tor. If you’re hop­ing to see a David Lynch com­mer­cial that will give night­mares, check this one out instead.

The ad for F. Scott Fitzger­ald, which you can see above, uses one of the more famous pas­sages from The Great Gats­by.

He knew that when he kissed this girl, and for­ev­er wed his unut­ter­able visions to her per­ish­able breath, his mind would nev­er romp again like the mind of God. So he wait­ed, lis­ten­ing for a moment longer to the tun­ing-fork that had been struck upon a star. Then he kissed her. At his lips’ touch she blos­somed for him like a flower and the incar­na­tion was com­plete.

Sharp-eyed view­ers might have caught that the ad stars future Oscar-win­ning actor Beni­cio Del Toro and Heather Gra­ham, who would lat­er appear in Twin Peaks. The com­mer­cial dis­solves back and forth between Del Toro and Gra­ham until the inevitable kiss when the ad cuts, with sur­pris­ing­ly lit­er­al­ness, to a bloom­ing flower.

The D.H. Lawrence ad uses a quo­ta­tion from Women in Love:

Her fin­gers went over the mould of his face, over his fea­tures. How per­fect and for­eign he was—ah how dan­ger­ous! Her soul thrilled with com­plete knowl­edge. This was the glis­ten­ing, for­bid­den apple … She kissed him, putting her fin­gers over his face, his eyes, his nos­trils, over his brows and his ears, to his neck, to know him, to gath­er him in by touch.

Lynch shows a blonde in a bro­cade dress loom­ing over her improb­a­bly beau­ti­ful para­mour who is lying on a divan. She paws at his chis­eled fea­tures before lean­ing in for a kiss.

And final­ly, the Ernest Hem­ing­way ad – the spook­i­est and most Lynchi­an of the bunch — fea­tures a pas­sage from The Sun Also Ris­es:

I lay awake think­ing and my mind jump­ing around. Then I could­n’t keep away from it, and I start­ed to think about Brett. I was think­ing about Brett and my mind start­ed to go in sort of smooth waves. Then all of a sud­den I start­ed to cry. After a while it was bet­ter and I lay in bed and lis­tened to the heavy trams go by.. and then I went to sleep.

This ad opens with a half-naked man lying awake in a dark­ened room filled with grotesque shad­ows. He’s haunt­ed by the specter of an androg­y­nous woman in a tank top. There’s a flash of light­en­ing and then the woman kiss­es his cheek. Lynch clos­es up on his eye, which is welling up with a sin­gle tear.

As a side note: the half-naked guy in the ad is James Mar­shall who went on to star in Twin Peaks, as did Lara Fly­nn Boyle who appears in the miss­ing Flaubert com­meri­cial. Lynch has a rep­u­ta­tion of being very loy­al to his actors.

The Obses­sion ads proved to be such a suc­cess that he start­ed get­ting requests to do com­mer­cials for oth­er lux­u­ry per­fume com­pa­nies like Gior­gio Armani’s Gio and Yves Saint Laurent’s Opi­um.

As Lynch told Chris Rod­ley in Lynch on Lynch, he thinks of com­mer­cials as “lit­tle bit­ty films, and I always learn some­thing by doing them.”

Jonathan Crow is a Los Ange­les-based writer and film­mak­er whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hol­ly­wood Reporter, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. You can fol­low him at @jonccrow.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

David Lynch’s Unlike­ly Com­mer­cial for a Home Preg­nan­cy Test (1997)

David Lynch Teach­es You to Cook His Quinoa Recipe in a Weird, Sur­re­al­ist Video

What David Lynch Can Do With a 100-Year-Old Cam­era and 52 Sec­onds of Film

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