It takes David Lynch's limousine just 30 minutes to get from his
Hollywood Hills home to the mysterious Pacific Northwest world of
Twin Peaks (as re- created on a Van Nuys, Calif., soundstage), and
sharing his early morning commute is just about the only way to get
the 44-year-old filmmaker alone these days. Lynch is spending the
summer filming the TV series' two-hour season premiere, which airs
Sept. 30, and the set has been closed tight since a tabloid hit the
streets claiming to reveal who killed Laura Palmer. Though show
spokesmen insisted the tab was off target, a memo was promptly
circulated, ordering all cast and crew members to shred their script
pages at day's end in order to prevent future Peaks leaks to
''newshounds and fanatics'' sifting through Dumpsters, and the
elusive director virtually dropped out of sight.
But the compulsion for secrecy is only one reason Lynch must be
caught on the fly if at all. The other is that the brazenly offbeat
soap Twin Peaks, with its 14 Emmy nominations, has helped turn one of
Hollywood's least-ready- for-prime-time players, the avant-garde
director of films like Eraserhead and Blue Velvet, into the hottest,
busiest property in town. Lynch's new movie, Wild at Heart, opened
Aug. 17, and he is about to launch a multimedia assault on the
American mainstream. In the works are a new series for the Fox
network and a slew of Peaks-inspired products (cherry pies and ties
like those worn by Dr. Jacoby, the series' weird shrink, were
discussed as possibilities). A series sound track and a home video of
his macabre Industrial Symphony No. 1 performance piece (both
composed with Peaks' Angelo Badalamenti) will soon be released as
well. ''Working at this speed is unusually intense, but I really like
it,'' says Lynch, settling back for the daily drive to Van Nuys. ''It
gets kind of crazy.''
And kind of crazy is what David Lynch does best. Since his first
feature- length film, Eraserhead, a nearly silent black-and-white
tragicomedy about a hapless father trapped in a room with his
wailing, mutant newborn, Lynch has been serving up celluloid worlds
in which the bizarre lurks just below the surface of the mundane.
Blue Velvet, voted 1986's best film by the National Society of Film
Critics, was a surrealistic murder mystery that was set in motion
with the arresting sight of a severed ear in a field. Lynch's
disquieting, dreamlike style was less pronounced in The Elephant Man,
1980 (which earned eight Oscar nominations) and Dune (his only
directorial flop, in 1984). But Wild at Heart, loosely adapted from a
novella by Barry Gifford and starring Laura Dern and Nicolas Cage,
may be Lynch's weirdest offering yet. A ''violent comedy, a love
story in a twisted world'' (by Lynch's description) that includes
freak-show cameos and a fatal head bashing to heavy metal music, it
won the Palme d'Or at Cannes this spring.
''There are certain things you can do in films that you can't do
on TV, obviously,'' says Lynch. ''Wild at Heart goes to extremes
it's not a film for everybody. But as shocking as some things in it
are, they're based on the truth of human nature, and there's a lot of
humor and love wrapped up in that.'' Domestic critical response to
the movie has been mixed, but whether it's a Palme or a bomb, Wild at
Heart is sure to add to Lynch's mystique as the cinema's reigning
Wizard of Odd.
Not that he looks the part. A Montana native, born in Missoula,
Lynch was an Eagle Scout at the Kennedy inaugural in 1961, and he
still exudes a disarming heartland earnestness. He has yet to outgrow
his upbeat boyish lingo (''you betcha,'' ''neat,'' ''cool''). He
dresses like an overgrown schoolboy, in khakis, cap and long-sleeved
shirts buttoned to the neck a look that almost never varies,
even though by 9 A.M. it's nearly 100 degreesF in the San Fernando
Valley. (''I have an eerie kind of feeling about my collarbone,'' he
once said, explaining the buttoned-up look. ''Just a breeze on it is
sometimes too much for me.'')
Lynch values constancy in other aspects of his life as well. He
prides himself, for example, on having consumed, at one point in his
life, a chocolate shake and multiple cups of coffee every day at
precisely 2:30 P.M. at the local Bob's Big Boy. Says Mark Frost,
Lynch's Twin Peaks co-creator: ''David seems to have fewer moving
parts than the rest of us. But they're from a high-quality watch
factory, maybe from off the planet somewhere.''
At first meeting, Lynch reveals himself as a cagey mix of modesty,
well- timed humor and calculated impenetrability. He knows what
you want clues to his disturbing, unhinged artistic vision and
finds myriad ways not to surrender them. ''I never talk about
themes,'' he snaps. ''No way. A film should stand on its own. People
talk way too much about a film up front, and that diminishes it.''
He will admit to reading Kafka for inspiration. He will also muse
about how meditation, which he practices once or twice daily, helps
give him access to his subconscious. ''It expands the container and
allows you to sink down and grab those big ideas as they swim by,''
he says. ''An idea goes in a little pop like a spark. Everything is
there in the spark. It's kind of a fantastic process.''
Actors delight in sharing that process, letting Lynch guide them
to new psychic limits before his lingering, voyeuristic camera. He
is, says Kyle MacLachlan (star of Dune, Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks),
''a sound, mood and rhythm director. David hasn't forgotten the
images, fears and desires you have when you're 10 or 18 or 25.
They're so pure, these images, that they have a lot of impact.'' Says
Laura Dern, who played girl-next-door Sandy in Blue Velvet and in
Wild plays the gum-snapping sex-bunny Lula: ''All he'd say to me was
'More bubble gum, more wind,' and wind came to mean more mysterious,
more eerie. David's greatest gift is that he sees making a movie like
a trip to Disneyland.''
Lynch's 22-year-old daughter, Jennifer, who has written a Twin
Peaks companion book entitled The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer and is
a budding director herself, offers further insights. ''My father
makes films about what he knows with certainty,'' she says. ''He
knows feeling lost, he knows the white picket fence with strange
things behind the front door, he knows passion, and he knows extremes
of light and dark. Not Amityville Horror satanic dark, just darkness
in the purest sense.''
He learned it all, somehow, growing up around Spokane, Wash., and
Boise, Idaho. His father, Donald Lynch, was a forest research
scientist with the Department of Agriculture; his mother, Sunny, was
a housewife. David spent childhood summers hunting rabbits in the
Idaho sagebrush and playing in western woods full of the same mystery
that seems to linger in the fog around Twin Peaks. He found
schoolwork uninspiring and retreated to imaginary worlds through his
drawing. When he was in his teens, he, his parents and his brother
and sister relocated to Alexandria, Va. There, Lynch had ''a kind of
happy persona,'' but discovered that ''all the thrilling things
happened just after school or between classes. It added up to some
sort of pitiful joke so constricting it would drive you nuts. It
inspired me to try to break rules. Behind it all, I was getting it
together to be a painter.''
It was while studying art at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine
Arts in Philadelphia that Lynch began experimenting with film,
animation and kinetic sculpture. The urban decay around him served as
inspiration. ''I loved Philadelphia,'' he says. ''The most corrupt,
fear-ridden city I've ever seen. It's one of my major film
influences.'' In 1967, he married fellow art student Peggy Reavey;
daughter Jennifer came along the next year.
In 1970, a 35-minute live-action-animated feature called The
Grandmother about a lonely, abused boy whose deceased grandmother
sprouts back to life from a seed planted in his bed earned Lynch
a place at the American Film Institute's Center for Advanced Film
Studies in L.A. He spent the next five years making Eraserhead
five years of guerrilla filmmaking at its hungry, resourceful best.
He supported himself and his young family with such odd jobs as a
paper route: ''$9.80 a night was not a thrilling rate, so I was
pretty depressed,'' he says. ''But I worked it to where I was
shooting the route in one hour, almost to the second a totally
efficient hour. You learn to fold, bag and drive at the same time.''
Lynch persisted with his filmmaking, but his marriage ended
amicably in 1974. (Reavey, remarried, lives in the L.A. area and is a
teacher and writer.) Says Jennifer, who will soon direct her own
first feature, Boxing Helena: ''It was easier for David to handle
having a child that could be his buddy rather than a responsibility,
because I don't think he was ready to teach anything to anyone. We
grew up and matured together. Now it's far more best friends than
father and daughter. To David, marriage and children have absolutely
no place in the art life.''
For a while Lynch wondered whether he had any place there either.
''I got an awful lot of pressure to abandon Eraserhead and do
something worthwhile,'' he says. ''I just couldn't. It was
frustrating, but also beautiful.'' The movie was released in 1977 to
discouraging reviews. But it quickly found a passionate cult
following and also caught the eye of Mel Brooks, who wanted to
produce the story of John Merrick, the so-called Elephant Man, and
needed a writer-director. Lynch accepted, the movie was a hit, and
his career was on its way.
Today, Lynch lives in a posh section of Hollywood Hills, in a
spacious, uncluttered home built by Lloyd Wright, son of Frank. He
doesn't so much entertain at home, says Dern, as ''blast you back
into whatever space he wants to put you in'' with his Bang & Olufsen
stereo. Favorite selections range from Elvis to opera to Muddy
Waters. Lynch's taste in interior decor runs to homemade artworks
like ''the bee board real bees pinned to a board with names under
them like Hugh, Bart, Sam, Mack and Jim,'' says Jennifer. ''He gets
them dead from a bug store.''
As a father, Lynch has, fortunately, fared better than his
Eraserhead alter ego. ''I've always loved palling around with
Jennifer,'' he says. ''We've been close since she was born. I heard
when she was very young that you're supposed to put moving colorful
objects near (children's) eyes. It stimulates their brains. I glued
all these things onto a matchbook and bent little red matchsticks out
and had a little thread, and I'd dangle that in front of her. It
seemed to work.''
Jennifer recalls offbeat adventures with Dad hanging out at
Bob's Big Boy listening to ZZ Top, building a mud pile with tunnels
and clay figures on her mother's oak kitchen table, crawling inside
the wood and plaster ''palaces'' Lynch built for her, and trekking
off to film locations. ''He was not your normal dad,'' she says.
''But he's been the best dad he could be, and we've had a blast.''
Lynch was married a second time, in 1977, to Mary Fisk, sister of
his longtime friend Jack Fisk (a director who is married to Sissy
Spacek). David and Mary split some years later, and have a son,
Austin, 7, who lives in Virginia with his mother. ''Austin's kind of
quiet with a real dry sense of humor,'' Lynch says. ''He's now using
Warren Beatty as his idol he wants to direct and act.''
Lynch won't say much more than that about his private life.
Responding to the inevitable questions about Isabella Rossellini,
whom he directed in Blue Velvet and Wild at Heart and has dated for
four years, he throws up his hands to deflect curiosity. ''She's one
of the people David comes to life around,'' says Jennifer. ''His wit
sharpens. They smile constantly. I've never seen two people have more
fun together. But David enjoys his independence. Isabella lives in
New York, and the distance is probably the most painful part, but it
also keeps them wanting each other.''
The two get together regularly, often at Rossellini's country
home, where Lynch enjoys running his 1942 motorboat on Long Island
Sound. It is one of his few relaxations. ''Happiness is doing what
you really enjoy,'' he says. ''What I do is called work, but I love
working in all these mediums.''
He hasn't committed to another film yet. But with his directing
fee in the million-plus range, he doesn't have to worry about running
out of cash. Not that he would. He recently sold his beloved,
perpetually overheated '58 Packard and now drives a '71 Mercedes and
an old pickup. ''I'm not afraid of not having money,'' he says, and
in fact one of the few drawbacks of his current success is the
complication it has brought to his life. ''I really liked living the
way I did during Eraserhead,'' Lynch says. ''I had a TV, a shop with
enough wood to build things, a radio, a house, a washing machine. No
dryer the sun dried my clothes, which was amazing. Now I go onto a
set with 60 people, and it's just not the same. It's harder to feel
the mood and settle into it.''
He will manage, of course. For he still has plenty of skewed
fantasies he wants to unleash on the world. ''I like things that go
into hidden, mysterious places, places I want to explore that are
very disturbing,'' he says. ''In that disturbing thing, there is
sometimes tremendous poetry and truth.''