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Famous Like Me > Director > L > David Lynch

Profile of David Lynch on Famous Like Me

Name: David Lynch  
Also Know As:
Date of Birth: 20th January 1946
Place of Birth: Missoula, Montana, USA
Profession: Director
From Wikipedia, the free Encyclopedia
David Lynch on the set of his 2001 film Mulholland Drive

David Keith Lynch (born January 20, 1946 in Missoula, Montana) is an American filmmaker.

Lynch’s films are known for their elements of surrealism or cinematic magic realism with nightmarish and dreamlike sequences, their stark and strange images and their meticulously crafted audio. Most of his work explores the seedy underside of small-town U.S.A. (Blue Velvet, the "Twin Peaks" television series) or sprawling metropolises (Eraserhead, Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive). Due to his peculiar style and focus on the American psyche, producer Mel Brooks once called Lynch “Jimmy Stewart from Mars.”

Lynch has managed to establish himself as one of the few modern directors whose visual and verbal styles are instantly recognizable. Although never a box office giant or a consistent favorite of film critics, Lynch has maintained a devoted cult following.


Early days

Lynch grew up an archetypal all-American boy. His father was a U.S. Department of Agriculture research scientist, he was raised throughout the Pacific Northwest. He attained the rank of Eagle Scout, and served as an usher at John F. Kennedy's Presidential inauguration on his fifteenth birthday.

With intentions to become a painter, Lynch attended classes at Corcoran School of Art in Washington, D.C. while finishing high school. He enrolled in the Boston Museum School for one year before leaving for Europe with the plan to study with expressionist painter Oskar Kokoschka. Planning to stay for three years, Lynch returned to the US after 15 days.

Philadelphia and the Short Films

In 1966, Lynch relocated to Philadelphia, attended the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (PAFA) and made a series of complex mosaics in geometric shapes which he called Industrial Symphonies. Here too he began working with film. His first short film Six Figures Getting Sick (1966), which he described as "57 seconds of growth and fire, and three seconds of vomit," was played on a loop at an art exhibit. It won the Academy’s annual film contest. This led to a commission from H. Barton Wasserman to do a film installation in his home. After a disastrous first attempt that resulted in a completely blurred, frameless print, Lynch created The Alphabet.

In 1970, Lynch turned his attention away from visual art and focused primarily on film. He won a $5,000 grant from the American Film Institute to produce The Grandmother, about a neglected boy who “grows” a grandmother from a seed. The 30 minute film exhibited many elements that would become Lynch trademarks, including unsettling sound and imagery and a focus on subconscious desires instead of traditional narration.


Lynch and actor Jack Nance on the set of Eraserhead

In 1971, Lynch moved to Los Angeles to attend the M.F.A. studies at the AFI Conservatory. At the Conservatory, Lynch began working on his first feature-length film, Eraserhead, using a $10,000 grant from the AFI. The grant did not provide enough money to complete the film and, due to lack of a sufficient budget, Eraserhead was filmed intermittently from 1972 until 1977. Lynch used money from friends and family, including boyhood friend Jack Fisk, a production designer and husband of actress Sissy Spacek, and even took a paper route to finish it.

A stark and enigmatic film, Eraserhead tells the story of a quiet young man (Jack Nance) living in an industrial wasteland, whose wife gives birth to a constantly hissing mutant freak of a baby. The film shows the influence of pioneering experimental filmmakers, such as Maya Deren and Luis Buñuel. Lynch has referred to Eraserhead as "my Philadelphia story", meaning it reflects all of the dangerous and fearful elements he encountered while studying and living in Philadelphia (). He said "this feeling left its traces deep down inside me. And when it came out again, it became Eraserhead".

The film also reflects the director's own fears and anxieties of fatherhood, personified in the form of the bizarre baby, which has become one of the most notorious props in film history. Lynch refuses to discuss how the baby was made and a long-standing urban legend claims that it was created using an embalmed cow fetus .

The final film was initially judged to be almost unreleasable, but thanks to the efforts of distributor Ben Barenholtz, it became an instant cult classic and was a staple of midnight movie showings for the next decade. It was also a critical success, launching Lynch to the forefront of avant-garde filmmaking. It cemented the team of actors and technicians who would continue to define the texture of his work for years to come, including cinematographer Frederick Elmes, sound designer Alan Splet, and actor Jack Nance.

The Elephant Man, Dune and Blue Velvet

Eraserhead brought Lynch to the attention of producer Mel Brooks who hired him to direct 1980’s The Elephant Man, a biopic of deformed Victorian era socialite Joseph Merrick. The film was a huge financial and commercial success and earned eight Academy Award nominations, including a Best Director nod for Lynch. It also established his place as a commercially viable, if somewhat dark and unconventional, Hollywood director.

Afterwards, Lynch agreed to direct a big budget adaptation of Frank Herbert’s science fiction novel Dune for Italian director Dino de Laurentiis’s De Laurentiis Entertainment Group on the condition that the company release a second Lynch project, over which the director would have complete creative control.

Although de Laurentiis hoped it would be the next Star Wars, Lynch’s Dune (1984) was a critical and commercial dud, costing $45 million to make and grossing a mere $15 million domestically. This is somewhat because the 137 minute film was cut down from Lynch’s three and a half hour director's cut in a way that made the plot incomprehensible. Lynch has since disowned it.

DVD cover of Blue Velvet

Lynch’s second Laurentiis-financed project was 1986’s Blue Velvet, the story of a college student (Kyle MacLachlan) who discovers the dark side of his small hometown after investigating a severed ear he finds in a field. The film featured memorable performances from Isabella Rossellini as a tormented lounge singer and Dennis Hopper as a crude, sociopathic criminal and leader of a small gang of backwater hoodlums.

Blue Velvet was a huge critical success, earning Lynch his second Academy Award nomination and introducing several common elements of his work, including abused women, the dark underbelly of small towns and unconventional uses of vintage songs (Bobby Vinton’s "Blue Velvet" and Roy Orbison’s "In Dreams" are both featured in disturbing ways). It was also the first time Lynch worked with composer Angelo Badalamenti, who would contribute to all of his future full-length films.

Twin Peaks, Wild at Heart, Industrial Symphonies and Hotel Room

After failing to secure funding for several completed scripts in the late 1980s, Lynch collaborated with television producer Mark Frost on the show Twin Peaks, about a small Washington town that is the site of several bizarre happenings. The show centered around FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper’s (Kyle MacLachlan) investigation into the death of popular high school student Laura Palmer, an investigation that unburied the secrets of many town residents. Lynch directed four episodes of the series, including the pilot, and wrote or co-wrote several more.

Lynch on the cover of the October 1, 1990 issue of Time Magazine.

The show debuted on the ABC Network on April 8, 1990 and slowly rose from cult hit to cultural phenomenon. No other Lynch-related project has gained such mainstream acceptance. Catch phrases from the show entered the cultural dialect and parodies of it were seen on Saturday Night Live and The Simpsons. Lynch appeared on the cover of Time magazine largely because of the success of the series. Lynch, who has seldom acted in his career, also appeared on the show as the partially-deaf, continually-shouting FBI Regional Bureau Chief Gordon Cole.

However, Lynch clashed with the ABC Network on several matters, particularly whether or not to reveal Laura Palmer’s killer. The network insisted that the revelation be made during the second season but Lynch wanted the mystery to last as long as the series. Lynch soon became disenchanted with the series (many cast members would complain of feeling abandoned) and, after shooting the Twin Peaks pilot episode, set-off to work on the film Wild at Heart.

Adapted from the novel by Barry Gifford, Wild at Heart was an almost hallucinatory crime/road movie starring Nicholas Cage and Laura Dern. It won the coveted Palme d'Or at the 1990 Cannes Film Festival but met with a muted response from American critics and viewers. Reportedly, several people walked out of test screenings.

The missing link between Twin Peaks and Wild at Heart however is Industrial Symphony No. 1: The Dream of the Broken Hearted. Originally presented on-stage at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York City on November 10, 1989 as a part of the New Music America Festival, Industrial Symphony No. 1: The Dream of the Broken Hearted is another collaboration between composer Angelo Badalamenti and David Lynch, which features ten songs by Julee Cruise and stars several members of the Twin Peaks cast as well as Nick Cage, Laura Dern and Julee Cruise. Lynch described this musical spectacle as he "sound effects and music and ... happening on the stage. And, it has something to do with, uh, a relationship ending". David Lynch produced a 50 minutes video of the performance in 1990.

Meanwhile, Twin Peaks suffered a severe ratings drop and was cancelled in 1991. Still, Lynch scripted a prequel to the series, about the last seven days in the life of Laura Palmer. The resulting film, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992), flopped at the box office and gathered the most negative reviews of Lynch’s career.

His next project was much more low-key; he directed two episodes of a three-episode HBO mini-series called Hotel Room about events that happened in the same hotel room in a span of decades.

Poster for Lost Highway

Lost Highway, The Straight Story, Mulholland Drive and INLAND EMPIRE

In 1997, Lynch returned with the non-linear, noir-like film Lost Highway, co-written by Barry Gifford and starring Bill Pullman and Patricia Arquette. The film failed commercially and received a mixed response from critics. However, thanks in part to a soundtrack featuring Marilyn Manson, Nine Inch Nails and Smashing Pumpkins, it helped gain Lynch a new audience of Generation X viewers.

In 1999, Lynch surprised fans and critics with the G-rated, Disney-produced The Straight Story, which was, on the surface, a simple and humble movie telling the true story of an Iowa man (Richard Farnsworth) who rides a lawnmower to Wisconsin to make peace with his ailing brother. The film gathered positive reviews.

The same year, Lynch approached ABC once again with an idea for a television drama. The network gave Lynch the go-ahead to shoot a two hour pilot for the series Mulholland Drive, but disputes over content and running time lead to the project being shelved indefinitely.

DVD cover of Mulholland Drive

With seven million dollars from the French distributor Canal Plus, Lynch completed the pilot as a film. Mulholland Drive was an enigmatic tale of the dark side of Hollywood and starred Naomi Watts, Laura Harring and Justin Theroux. The film performed relatively well at the boxoffice worldwide and was a critical success earning Lynch a Best Director prize at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival (shared with Joel Coen for The Man Who Wasn't There) and a Best Director award from the New York Film Critics Association.

Via his website he in2002 went on to treat his fans to his own version of a sitcom Rabbits, eight episodes of surrealism in a rabbit suit later, he went on to show his experiments with Digital Video (DV) in the form of the Japanese style horror short Darkened Room. At the 2005 Cannes Film Festival, Lynch announced that he had spent over a year shooting his new film digitally. The film, titled INLAND EMPIRE (in capitals), includes Lynch regulars such as Laura Dern, Harry Dean Stanton, Justin Theroux, as well as Jeremy Irons. Lynch described the film as "a mystery about a woman in trouble". It is scheduled to be released in 2006 and will be Lynch's first feature shot entirely on DV.

Awards and honors

Lynch has twice won France's César Award for Best Foreign Film and served as President of the jury at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival where he had won the Palme d'Or in 1990. He was also honored in 2002 by the French government with the Legion of Honor.

He has been nominated for the Academy Award for Directing three times (for The Elephant Man, Blue Velvet and Mulholland Drive) but has never won.

Frequent collaborators

Lynch often uses the same actors in his productions:

  • Jack Nance appears in Eraserhead, Dune, Blue Velvet, The Cowboy and the Frenchman, Twin Peaks, Wild at Heart and Lost Highway
  • Harry Dean Stanton appears in The Cowboy and the Frenchman, Wild at Heart, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, Hotel Room, The Straight Story and Inland Empire
  • Freddie Jones appears in The Elephant Man, Dune, Wild at Heart, Hotel Room and On the Air
  • Kyle MacLachlan appears in Dune, Blue Velvet, Twin Peaks and Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me
  • Laura Dern appears in Blue Velvet, Wild at Heart, Industrial Symphony No. 1, and Inland Empire
  • Michael J. Anderson appears in Twin Peaks, Industrial Symphony No. 1, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, and Mulholland Dr.
  • Everett McGill appears in Dune, Twin Peaks and The Straight Story;
  • Alicia Witt appears in Dune, Twin Peaks, and Hotel Room
  • Frances Bay appears in Blue Velvet, Twin Peaks and Wild at Heart
  • Sheryl Lee appears in Twin Peaks, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me and Wild at Heart
  • Scott Coffey appears in Lost Highway, Mulholland Dr. and Rabbits
  • Catherine E. Coulson appears in The Amputee, Twin Peaks and Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me
  • Miguel Ferrer appears in Twin Peaks, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me and On the Air
  • Angelo Badalamenti appears in Blue Velvet, On the Air and Mulholland Dr.

Many of Lynch's films have bit parts played by musicians who have little acting experience: Sting in Dune, David Bowie in Fire Walk With Me, Marilyn Manson in Lost Highway, and Billy Ray Cyrus in Mullholland Drive.

Lynch himself appears in The Amputee, Dune, Twin Peaks and Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. He is also in a deleted scene from Mulholland Dr.

Private Life

Lynch has been married twice:

  1. Peggy Lynch (1967-1974), (one daughter Jennifer Chambers Lynch, the film director)
  2. Mary Fisk (21 June 1977-1987), (one son Austin Jack Lynch)

He also has a son Riley Lynch with the film editor Mary Sweeney


  • Despite his almost exclusive focus on America, Lynch, like Woody Allen, has found a large audience in France; Inland Empire, Mulholland Drive, Lost Highway and Fire Walk With Me were all funded through French production companies.
  • Lynch is notoriously evasive and cagey in interviews and refuses to discuss the plot details and "true meanings" of his films, preferring viewers to come away with their own interpretations. None of his films released on DVD have director commentary tracks, and some (rather unusually) don't even have chapter selections, partly due to his belief that a film should be viewed from beginning to end without interruption or distraction.
  • Certain images or types of images - including smoke; fire; electricity and electric lights (especially flickering or damaged); highways at night; dogs; diners; red curtains; the binding or crippling of hands or arms; various uses of the color blue; and angelic or heavenly female figures - are common trademarks in Lynch's films. Though interpretations do vary, those who study Lynch's work generally do find such images to represent consistent or semi-consistent themes throughout his body of work.
  • Film critic Roger Ebert has been notoriously unfavorable towards Lynch, even accusing him of misogyny in his reviews of Blue Velvet and Wild at Heart.
  • He had Finnish grandparents.

Ebert was one of few critics to dislike Blue Velvet. He did, however, write an enthusiastic review of Mulholland Drive

  • In the 1980s Lynch was an admirer of Ronald Reagan and had dinner with the Reagans at the White House. Years later when someone made a disparaging comment about Nancy Reagan he spoke up and defended her.
  • Despite his professional accomplishments, Lynch once characterized himself simply as, "Eagle Scout, Missoula, Montana".

Other interests

Lynch has cited the Austrian expressionist painter Oskar Kokoschka as an inspiration for his works. He described the twentieth century artist Francis Bacon as "to me, the main guy, the number one kinda hero painter". He continues to present art installations and stage designs. In his spare time, he also designs and builds furniture. Lynch was also responsible for the comic strip The Angriest Dog in the World.

A big fan of Bob's Big Boy restaurants, an Americana restaurant chain whose chief icon is a cartoon male with a tray of dinner plates, Lynch is said to have eaten at this restaurant every day seven years in a row. The director credits this restaurant for helping provide the inspiration for many of his films by writing down ideas after a big lunch.

Lynch began advocating the practice of Trancendental Meditation in the early 21st Century, and at that time advocated its use in bringing peace to the world. He discusses his experiences with TM in these three podcasts.

Lynch also designed, a site exclusive to paying members, where he posts short films, interviews and other items.


As director

  • Six Figures Getting Sick (Short film) (1966)
  • The Alphabet (Short film) (1967)
  • The Grandmother (Short film) (1970)
  • The Amputee (Short film) (1974)
  • Eraserhead (1978)
  • The Elephant Man (1980)
  • Dune (1984)
  • Blue Velvet (1986)
  • The Cowboy and the Frenchman (Short film) (1988)
  • Twin Peaks (TV series) (1990-91)
  • Wild at Heart (1990)
  • Industrial Symphony No. 1: The Dream of the Broken Hearted (Short film) (1990)
  • On the Air (TV series) (1992)
  • Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992)
  • Hotel Room (TV mini-series) (1993)
  • Lumière:Premonitions Following an Evil Deed (Short film) (1996)
  • Lost Highway (1997)
  • The Straight Story (1999)
  • Mulholland Drive (2001)
  • Darkened Room (Short film) (2002)
  • Rabbits (Short film) (2002)
  • Inland Empire (2006)

As an Actor

  • The Amputee (1974) as a doctor
  • Dune (1984) as a spice miner (uncredited)
  • Zelly and Me (1988) as Willie, Isabella Rossellini's character's love interest
  • "Twin Peaks" (1990) as Agent Cooper's boss, FBI Regional Bureau Chief Gordon Cole
  • Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992) FBI Regional Bureau Chief Gordon Cole
  • Nadja (1994) brief scene as a morgue receptionist

This content from Wikipedia is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article David Lynch