Icons / December 2016

Singular Visionary: David Lynch

David Lynch is little short of a cinematic visionary, an individual committed to creative thought and expressionism in a way that few other rakish men have matched, Ben St George…
David Lynch at his studio, March 15, 2002, in Hollywood. Photo by Chris Weeks/WireImage.

I had a very genteel childhood growing up in the small town of Palmerston North, New Zealand. I had a large-ish room on the second storey of a house in a leafy suburb towards the edge of town, and in that room, at the foot of my bed I had a small television. It was much older than me -  a sort of brutalist grey box that seemed to have been explicitly designed to look like a misplaced piece of set dressing from The Ipcress File. It predated the remote control - God knows by how long - so that when I wanted to watch late night television without my parents knowing, I had to physically get up and manoeuvre across the creaky floor and quite literally dial in a channel.

As one does in those formative years, I discovered a great many things peering through the static and fish-bowled glass of that television, but the one I remember most vividly was turning that dial around at age thirteen to discover David Lynch’s Wild at Heart playing. I’d never heard of it, but from the first, chaotic scene I knew two things. A) that I was definitely too young to watch it and B) that I loved it and had to see it all. It was violent and funny and strange and disturbing - and I don’t know if I fully grasped what sexy was at the time, but Laura Dern was certainly something, and it was a something I found quite agreeable. The plot was all odd angles and left turns and manic close-ups and for the next two-odd hours I sat at the foot of my bed, enraptured. I suspect that many people have analogous experiences with Mr. Lynch’s oeuvre. His work is often described as having the power to ‘disturb, offend and mystify’ - and certainly all are true, however it also has the power to be romantic, absurd and comic. It has a unique, ineffable quality that’s paradoxically easy to spot but hard to properly define, and it’s that ambiguousness that has made his work so enduring.

Much of his work, and arguably his strongest work - Blue Velvet, Twin Peaks, Wild at Heart, Mulholland Drive - hinges around peeling back a veneer of normality to find a demimonde that’s by turns, erotic, violent and surreal. It’s an obsession that dates back to Lynch’s childhood, growing up in post-war America of the 1950s. “My childhood was elegant homes, tree-lined streets, the milkman, building backyard forts, droning airplanes, blue skies, picket fences, green grass, cherry trees” said Lynch. “Middle America as it's supposed to be. But on the cherry tree there's this pitch oozing out – some black, some yellow, and millions of red ants crawling all over it. I discovered that if one looks a little closer at this beautiful world, there are always red ants underneath. Because I grew up in a perfect world, other things were a contrast.”

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Ben St George

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