The City of Absurdity David Lynch
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Lynch on Talk of the Nation

by Melinda Penkava, Talk of the Nation (NPR News), August 13, 1997

We're going to take a short break right now. When we come back, we' ll be talking with director David Lynch, who has directed several well-known films, among them neo-noirs. We'll also take more of your calls at 1-800-989-8255. 1-800-989-TALK. If you'd like to drop us an e-mail, that address remains or: TALK OF THE NATION Letters NPR News 635 Massachusetts Avenue, NW Washington, DC 20001.

And at 33 minutes past the hour, you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

PENKAVA: Welcome back to TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Melinda Penkava sitting in for Ray Suarez.

And we're talking today about film noir, joining us now is David Lynch, director of several well known film noirs, including "Wild at Heart, " and "Blue Velvet," welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.


PENKAVA: OK. Thanks for taking time out today to talk with us.

LYNCH: You bet. Sounds like your other guests know a whole lot more about noir than I do, though.

PENKAVA: Well, we want to talk with you about your own work, so. How much of – of your style comes from film noir, would you say?

LYNCH: Well, I don't know I – I like the feel of film noir a lot and it – to me it's all about a mood that comes about when people' s desires lead them into areas where they're doing something against their conscience and, you know, then suffering the results.

So it's about fear, and it's a nighttime feeling and that – that thing creeps into my work, you know, quite a bit.

PENKAVA: Mm-hmm. What – which of the films of yours captures this best, do you think?

LYNCH: A noir kind of feeling?


LYNCH: Well, in a strange way "Eraserhead," you know, I think, lives in that world a little bit...

PENKAVA: Yeah. I can't eat chicken again, you know...

LAUGHTER LYNCH: Right. And Blue Velvet, I guess, "Lost Highway" for sure and, you know, all of them have, you know, a one genre kind of film is not too exciting to me I like to kind of – the ideas take you into, you know, can take you into different genre, so, all of them, you know, breath up near, you know, film noir in some places.

PENKAVA: I'm wondering then, if you consider film noir one color in the palette that you would use?

LYNCH: I think so, right. You know that's – that's a mood I love and it's – it's – it's something that keeps creeping in.

PENKAVA: Well, we've had some talk here today among our other guests about film noir in the city and how film noir came along in the late '40s when there was the dread about nuclear weapons just becoming plain to people, is any of that in your view, or is it a more personalized thing as you said...

LYNCH: It's way more personal. It's inside the characters and it manifest out in terms of light and shadow and mood, what's going on inside. And – so, it's – it's – it's a pictorial and sound version of fear and desperation and – and being lost by your own, you know, actions.

PENKAVA: Which is your favorite film noir?

LYNCH: I guess The Big Sleep.

PENKAVA: Yeah. All right. Well, thank you so much for joining us today.

LYNCH: Well thank you, very much.

PENKAVA: OK. David Lynch...

LYNCH: It was nice talking to you, Melinda.

PENKAVA: Take care.


PENKAVA: David Lynch is director of several present-day film noirs, including Wild At Heart and Blue Velvet. He joined us by phone from Los Angles.

Our guest for the rest of the hour remain Nicholas Christopher, author of Somewhere in the Night: Film Noir and the American City, and Mike Sragow, film critic and writer for New Times. If you'd like to join us the number is 1-800-989-8255. 1-800-989-TALK.

Mike Sragow, what do you make of what David Lynch had to say there about film noir to him being somebody doing something against their conscience and then suffering the results?

SRAGOW: Well, you know, I – I don't think that's always the case, but I loved it. I thought it was a wonderful definition of what happens in Lynch's own films, and he's such a, you know, instinctive film maker it was – it just tickled me to hear him sum things up so lucidly...

LAUGHTER ... in a way that eludes many of us when – when trying to describe his wonderful films.

But, you know, the thing that I also that I like that he said and it – when you were asking what his film – favorite of his – what – what films of his would be film noirs that – or characterized such need.

Blue Velvet and Eraserhead, I mean these are movies that again are – you know, would kind of explode the definitions, but definitely have, you know, elements of these older films. And I think that's when it becomes really interesting is when a guy with a personal obsession that'll, you know, also reaches outward and embraces some of what' s happening in the world, uses these old forms in – in a completely different ways and recombines them.

And you know, in fact, he could say The Blue Velvet, and I think it was Pauleen Kale (ph) who pointed out there was an element of Kapra in that to. And in fact as we were talking about '40s films and images of the cities, you could say that, you know, "It's a Wonderful Life, " not a particular favorite of mine, but if you want to talk about nightmare images of the city, yeah there's no city more nightmarish then what the small town turns into when Jimmy Stewart finds out what it would have been like if he hadn't lived, in It's a Wonderful Life.

So in fact, all these things do cross genres and – and I think that' s actually, you know, a – a real interest of – seeing these films in the context, not just as – as a single body, but in the context of everything that was going on in the culture at that time and this time.

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