Born in precisely the kind of small-town American setting so familiar from his films, David Lynch spent his childhood being shunted from one state to another as his research scientist father kept getting relocated. He attended various art schools, married, and fathered future director Jennifer Chambers Lynch shortly after he turned 21. That experience, plus attending art school in a particularly violent and run-down area of Philadelphia, inspired Eraserhead (1977), a film that he began in the early 1970s (after a couple of shorts) and which he would work on obsessively for five years.
The final film was initially judged to be almost unreleasably weird, but thanks to the efforts of distributor Ben Barenholtz, it secured a cult following and enabled Lynch to make his first mainstream film (in an unlikely alliance with Mel Brooks), though Elephant Man, The (1980) was shot through with his unique sensibility. Its enormous critical and commercial success led to Dune (1984), a hugely expensive commercial disaster, but Lynch redeemed himself with Blue Velvet (1986), his most personal and original work since his debut. He subsequently won the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival with the dark, violent road movie Wild at Heart (1990), and achieved a huge cult following with his surreal TV series "Twin Peaks" (1990), which he adapted for the big screen, though his comedy series "On the Air" (1992) was less successful. He also draws comic strips and has devised multimedia stage events with regular composer Angelo Badalamenti. He had a much-publicised affair with Isabella Rossellini in the late 1980s.
Biography from Leonard Maltin's Movie Encyclopedia:
Director, writer, actor. (b. Jan. 20, 1946, Missoula, Mont.) America's premier avant-garde director (and, thanks to "Twin Peaks," now something of a cultural icon) was an Eagle Scout in his teens, not unlike the squeaky-clean protagonists-usually played by Kyle MacLachlan-that are thrust into bizarre situations in his films. He went to art school and was trained as a painter but began showing an interest in films there, making several shorts that were utilized in art installations he constructed. His first feature, the surrealistic, bleak, and often unsettlingly hilarious Eraserhead took about five years to complete. Released as a "midnight movie" in 1978, it quickly achieved cult status. Mel Brooks enlisted Lynch to direct his company's production of The Elephant Man (1980), which was based on the actual case history of the horribly disfigured individual called by that name in Victorian England, rather than the then-popular Broadway play of the same name. Like Eraserhead this Lynch movie was shot in black-and-white and boasted a distinctive visual style. It earned eight Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Screenplay, which Lynch also co-wrote.
Lynch's first color feature was the boxoffice disaster Dune (1984), which was certainly unlike any sci-fi epic ever made; while Lynch clearly had little interest in the story (adapted from Frank Herbert's long-revered novel), he seemed to enjoy bringing mutated art-deco designs into deep space, and the movie contains some genuinely perverse bits of business bearing his queasy stamp. It has been reported that he only accepted producer Dino de Laurentiis' Dune assignment in return for carte blanche on his next project, the 1986 erotic thriller Blue Velvet While not a box-office smash, it was one of the most talked-about films of the 1980s, and many of its images-villain Dennis Hopper ingesting a mysterious substance via gas mask, warring insects swarming beneath an "ordinary" suburban lawn-have gained cinematic notoriety. The film also netted Lynch his second Oscar nomination for Best Director.
Lynch's next foray was, surprisingly enough, into television; his 1990 series, "Twin Peaks," a twisted prime-time soap about the dark secrets in a seemingly placid town in the Pacific Northwest, was the darling of critics if not audiences. Initially daring and innovative, the show eventually got silly and in-jokey, losing most of its initially rabid supporters rather quickly. Lynch's 1990 film Wild at Heart the director's discursive, fantasy-laden road movie, won the Palme d'Or at Cannes but wildly divided viewers in the States, many of whom felt the director had descended into self-parody. In 1992 he brought to theater screens Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me a prequel to the TV pilot that reunited many of the show's cast members. He also executive produced and directed "On the Air" (1992) and "Hotel Room" (1993) for TV. Lynch appeared as an actor in the little-seen feature Zelly and Me (1988), took a small role as an FBI chief in "Twin Peaks" and Fire Walk With Me He also directed Chris Issak's music video "Wicked Game." His daughter Jennifer Chambers Lynch made a notorious debut as writer-director with the much-discussed Boxing Helena (1993).
Copyright ©1994 Leonard Maltin,
used by arrangement with Signet,
a division of Penguin Putnam, Inc.
David Lynch was born in Missoula, Montana, on January 20, 1946. Two months after his birth, Lynch's family moved to Sandpoint, Idaho, where they remained for two years. From there, they moved to Spokane, Washington, then to Boise, Idaho, where Lynch attended grades three through eight, and finally to Alexandria, Virginia, where he spent his high school years. While there he was an Eagle Scout and even attended the inauguration of JFK.
Lynch recalls his childhood as "Good Times on our Street." "It was beautiful old houses, tree-lined streets, the milkman, building forts, lots and lots of friends. It was a dream world, those droning airplanes, blue skies, picket fences, green grass, cherry trees -- Middle America the way it was supposed to be. But then on this cherry tree would be this pitch oozing out, some of it black, some of it yellow, and there were millions of red ants racing all over the sticky pitch, all over the tree. So you see, there's this beautiful world and you just look a little bit closer, and it's all red ants."
"My parents didn't drink," he continues. "They didn't smoke; they never argued. And I wanted them to smoke; I wanted them to drink; I wanted them to argue, but they never did. I wanted to have strange things happen in my life. I knew nothing was as it seemed, not anywhere, but I could never really find proof of it. It was just a feeling."
Lynch suspects that "because I grew up in that very beautiful, sort of perfect world, other things became a contrast. I went to Brooklyn as a little kid, for instance, and it just scared the hell out of me. I remember being with my father and brother in the subway, and I could feel this wind coming from the train, down the tunnel. First the wind and then a smell and then a sound. It was frightening. I had lots of tiny tastes of horror every time I went to New York. I felt fear in the air, and I felt fear in lots of places."
In 1964, Lynch graduated from high school in Alexandria and headed for Boston's Museum School. At the end of his first year, he left for Europe. "I went to study under one of my least favorite artists -- but I meant to stay in Europe for three years." Instead, he returned to the United States in 15 days. "I remember lying in a basement in Athens and lizards were crawling up and down the walls. I began contemplating how I was 7,000 miles from McDonald's. And I really missed it. I missed America. I knew I was an American, and I wanted to be there."
Upon reentering the United States, Lynch headed directly for Alexandria, Virginia. A series of short-term jobs followed, leading Lynch (at age 20) to enroll at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in January, 1966.
The Philadelphia house into which Lynch and his friend Jack Fisk moved was "kitty-cornered from the morgue and next door to Pop's Diner. And that has influenced more things." Lynch calls that period "one of the best times of my life -- and one of the worst times, too. The area had the greatest mood, an unbelievable mood. It was an industrial part of the city, with the strangest characters, the darkest nights. Factories, smoke, railroads, diners, true factory people -- you could see strange stories in their faces. You could see plastic curtains and windows held together with Band-Aids, things stuffed into holes in the windows. Associations like smiling bags of death that they brought the bodies in with. We'd always go through the morgue garage enroute to the hamburger restaurant. I only lived at night then." Their home was a gutted building. "You could see where it was separated from the building next to it. It was a horrible place, but it was a great feeling."
Lynch remained in Philadelphia for over four years, from 1966 to 1970. In 1967, he married his girlfriend Peggy, and in 1968, their daughter Jennifer was born. "We were living in a house with 12 rooms, three stories. The bedroom alone was 25 by 25 feet, giant, high ceilings. And this huge place cost $3,500. That's all! A whole huge house and only $600 down. So you know what kind of neighborhood it was in. A kid was shot to death a half-block from our front door, and the chalk marks around where he'd lain stayed on the sidewalk for five days. The house was broken into twice; two windows were shot out. I saw horrible things pretty much every day." He shakes his head. "I thought I'd never get out of there, ever. I thought that was it. There was tremendous fear in Philadelphia, fear I didn't realize I was living with until I eventually moved to California and the fear left." That, Lynch says, was the genesis of "Eraserhead."
It was in Philadelphia, also, that Lynch began making films. The Academy's yearly experimental painting and sculpture contest began it all.
For the first year's contest, Lynch built a kinetic sculpture which won second prize. The second year he constructed "a sculptured screen with three-dimensional heads. And I made this film, to be projected on it, of six people getting sick. First their heads, and then their stomachs animated in. It was all on a big loop that went up into the ceiling and came back into the projector. The whole thing cost me $200 to do and took several months." He'd never made a movie before. "But I always sort of wanted to do films. Not so much a movie-movie as a film-painting. I wanted the mood of the painting to be expanded through film, sort of a moving painting. It was really the mood I was after. I wanted a sound with it that would be so strange, so beautiful, like if the Mona Lisa opened her mouth and turned, and there would be a wind, and then she'd turn back and smile. It would be strange." The film-sculpture won Lynch a shared first prize.
Lynch quit the Academy, "because I wasn't learning anything and could paint on my own at home." He proceeded to make a four-minute movie combining animation and, for the first time for him, live action. It was called "The Alphabet," and he presented it to the American Film Institute, hoping to win a grant.
One day in the mail, Lynch received an announcement of the AFI's first group of independent film grant winners. "On this list were some of the real heavy-weights in experimental movies, all in their 40s. I looked at the list, and I said, 'That's it; there's no possible way I'm going to win one of these things.'"
A few days later, George Stevens, Jr., head of the AFI, offered Lynch a grant for $5,000 to do his first film.
"I painted the entire third floor of my house black and made a very abstract film called 'The Grandmother' about a little disturbed boy who plants a seed and it grows into his own grandmother and is filled with love for him."
With "The Grandmother," in 1970, Lynch was accepted into the AFI's Center for Advanced Film Studies. For the next year at AFI, he worked on a forty-five page script for a movie called "Gardenback." The film, intended as a low-budget horror film for Fox, involved an snake-like insect crossing over between a couple when a guy looks at a girl. The insect then grew in the guy's attic, mirroring his mind. It was never made as Lynch was forced to waterdown the script. However, it was the catalyst for his creating "Eraserhead" to which he devoted himself for the next five years. Lynch and Peggy seperated about a year into the filming of Eraserhead.
Working intensively with his four-crew nucleus chiefly at night and supporting himself with a Wall Street Journal paper route during daylight hours, Lynch ran out of the money with which the AFI had funded him in June of 1973, after a year's labor. For the subsequent year, Lynch added a series of odd jobs to his paper route and devoted himself to raising the necessary money. The film was completed two years thereafter.
Lynch became interested in a project being developed by producer-actor Mel Brooks -- "The Elephant Man." Lynch met Jonathan Sanger, the film's producer, and began to work with the two writers who had developed the first draft. But Brooks was less certain about giving the movie to Lynch to direct. "Brooks decided he had to see 'Eraserhead.' I thought, 'That's it, he'll see it and hate it.'" Instead, Lynch laughs, "Mel literally came running out, threw his arms around me and said, 'You're a madman. I love you. You're in!'" Lynch directed the film which received two Academy Award nominations in 1980 for Best Director and Best Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium.
After "The Elephant Man's" success, Lynch spent another two years during which he wrote the original screenplay for "Blue Velvet," and tried to get "Ronnie Rocket" off the ground. Lynch also began a weekly comic strip for the LA Reader, The Angriest Dog in the World. At that point Dino De Laurentiis phoned and offered him "Dune."
"I'd never heard of 'Dune,'" said Lynch, 'but I read the book, loved it, and began the screenplay." For Lynch, "There's something of 'Eraserhead' in 'The Elephant Man' and some of both in 'Dune.' There's some sort of thread that connects the three of them in my mind. They're all strange worlds that you can't go into unless you build them and film them. I just like going into strange worlds."
Which he did in 1985 as he entered the world of "Blue Velvet," a sensual mystery thriller which unravels very strange goings-on in a small North Carolina town.
Under Lynch's direction, "Blue Velvet" brings together the diverse talents of Isabella Rossellini, Kyle MacLachlan, Laura Dern, and Dennis Hopper who play the lead roles in an original screenplay written by Lynch. The film was shot at the DEG Film Studios in Wilmington, North Carolina.
"Blue Velvet" was voted best film of 1986 by the National Society of Film Critics and was nominated for the Academy Award for best film and best director." It is hailed by critics as one of the Ten Best Films of the Decade
Shortly after the release of Blue Velvet, Lynch narrated a BBC Arena documentary in cinematic surrealism. Following the success of Blue Velvet, Lynch was offered the chance to direct the film "Goddess," written by Mark Frost. It recounted the last few days of the life of Marilyn Monroe. The film was not to be due to funding problems, but the creative friendship between Lynch and Frost would not remain idle for long. The newly formed team of Lynch and Frost penned the screenplay to "One Saliva Bubble," a tale of the small town of Newtonville, KS, where a secret government project goes amuck. The result is an exchange of identities of several of the townsfolk.
Lynch feels that his approach to films "probably came out of painting, out of my art background, in a subconscious sort of way. I'm interested not only in the story, but also in the mood set by the combination of sound and look. That's what makes it magic for me, what makes it profound -- the visual and sound working together."