A man who makes films about domestic violence with bunnies is not Mr Average. But neither, as Phil Hilton finds, is David Lynch as odd as you might expect.
So the man who invented some of the strangest and most disturbing moments in film will soon be speaking to me on the phone. Who knows what twisted weirdness I should prepare myself for? I shall be speaking to David Lynch, the director who made Dennis Hopper address Isabella Rossellini’s private lady-area as “Mummy”. He probably doesn’t even have a normal phone, he’s probably going to be speaking into something made from gristle and fur.
The relentless darkness of his films also has me preparing for someone sensitive and almost certainly depressed and angry. I vow to carry on stoically if there’s screaming or if the conversation lapses during episodes of growling and sobbing. I’m prepared for cinema’s king of Gothic oddness.
I pull up a picture of him on my screen as I dial. Despite being 64, he has superbly luxuriant hair — like the product of a follicular pact with dark forces. It is huge and towering, pretty much vertical. I’m keen to impress him with my knowledge of surreal cinema. I’m determined not to bother this great and, I’m guessing, troubled man with my feelings about his amazing hair.
“HEY PHIL!” I’m greeted by a cheerful down-home voice. David Lynch sounds like he’s going to offer me some freshly baked bread and a loan of his horse.
“David, you have incredible hair,” I find myself saying.
“Well, we all have our blessings and our curses.”
“Ever cut it?”
“At high school I cut it short until I got hipper to the clipper [laughs]. I had a really good haircut in the Fifties but then I moved to Virginia and they were all pretty conservative and I went that route for a couple of years.”
Chatting with David Lynch about hair is an unexpectedly light and relaxed business. His voice and general manner are plain, verging on the minimal. The biggest surprise is his charming cheeriness. There is more than a little Forrest Gump in his simple declarations.
Lynch is back in the news not for a film but because he has released some music. Specifically he has brought out two dance tracks. Who else releases their first club recording in their 60s? I ask how he came to dance music.
“There are all these genres and in a way it’s a shame because it kind of restricts you. I also really love the blues and I’m experimenting with modern blues.”
Do you dance?
“No I don’t. But I like the dance music genre. I’ve got a love affair with music.”
Any gigs you wish you’d attended?
“My son played me Pink Floyd performing Comfortably Numb at some giant arena with a light show and I don’t think it gets much better than that. There’s this girl Lissie, she does a cover of Gaga’s Bad Romance. Gaga is amazing too but this is stripped down man, it’s raw — Lady Gaga is much more about production but still cool.”
A LIFE IN FILM
Lynch emerged as a film-maker in 1977 with Eraserhead — a truly surreal low-budget classic in which a man with even more vertical hair than the director himself is caring for an endlessly crying, monstrous ‘baby’. Gaining in confidence, I offer him my pet theory that his film was inspired by the odd and insecure sensations of early parenthood.
“No. It came from Philly, Pennsylvania. It’s my most spiritual film and people don’t understand that.”
“Why is it your most spiritual film?”
“I never say,” he laughs.
Fearless, I ask, “What do you mean?”
“You have to think about it. I didn’t know what it meant. I was thinking about it and thinking about it — I was in the middle of making it — and I picked up a Bible and started reading a bunch of things then I read one sentence and I thought, ‘That’s what it’s about.’”
Lynch went on to create The Elephant Man, Twin Peaks, Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive, but it’s Blue Velvet that became his unnerving classic. Music not only provided the title but also found its way into one of cinema’s creepiest moments.
Lynch explains his obsession with soundtrack. “Music is such a powerful part of cinema. Cinema is sound and pictures moving together through time. Music can conjure up such wonderful emotions.” In case it’s not scorched into your subconscious, Dean Stockwell as Ben lip-synchs Roy Orbison’s In Dreams while Dennis Hopper’s gas-sucking Frank Booth looks on. The scene, Lynch explains, emerged from Orbison’s music itself.
“I was driving through Central Park with Kyle MacLachlan and on the radio came Crying by Roy Orbison. I started listening to this song and I’m thinking only of Blue Velvet and I’m thinking this song could appear in the film. Once we were filming in Virginia, I ask for Roy Orbison’s Greatest Hits and I hear In Dreams and boom! An explosion goes off in my head. And I think, ‘This is it.’
“Dennis was supposed to sing that and Dean Stockwell was supposed to listen but Dennis couldn’t remember the lines. And I thought, ‘Wait a minute, Dean will sing and Dennis will listen.’ It was a magical thing.”Grand dame film critic Pauline Kael wrote that Dean Stockwell during this sequence was “so magnetic that you momentarily forget everything else that’s going on”.