The Auteurs: David Lynch (Part 1)
If there’s one filmmaker in the late 20th Century whose name is synonymous with the world of surrealism it’s David Lynch. With films ranging from the strange and violent to odd tales of Americana, Lynch is a filmmaker that refuses to limit himself. Whether it’s in film, television, music, art, or literature, Lynch is an artist that always keeps people guessing and has fun playing with the expectations of others.
Born on January 20, 1946 in Missoula, Michigan, David Keith Lynch was the first of three children to Donald and Edwina “Sunny” Lynch. Donald Lynch was a member in the Department of Agriculture which allowed him and the family to travel all around the country. This it had a profound effect on Lynch. At a young age, his interest in art provided him with the opportunity to visit Austria, with friend and future collaborator Jack Fisk, to study under the guidance of Oskar Kokoschka.
In 1964 at the age of 18, Lynch attended the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston where one of his roommates was future J. Geils Band vocalist Peter Wolf. The experience at the school prompted Lynch to continue his studies the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts, where he gained notice for his art direction and production design work for Terrence Malick. In Philadelphia, Lynch also found inspiration in his personal life as he married Peggy Reavey in 1967 and gained a daughter, Jennifer, a year later.
Part 1 (1966-1980)
Lynch’s Early Short Films (reviews)
Mentored by Bushnell Keeler during his time in Philadelphia, Lynch decided to make a home movie, entitled Sailing with Bushnell Keeler, about his boat trip with Keeler and Keeler’s brother Dave. Shot in black-and-white, his simple observation of his mentor allowed Lynch to practice several filmmaking techniques.
Lynch’s first short film, Six Men Getting Sick, was based on his fascination with animation and macabre imagery. As the title stated, the premise focused on six men getting sick. With a budget of $200, Lynch created a forty-second loop that contained elements of surrealism.
A hit at his school, Six Men Getting Sick, prompted Lynch to continue developing his craft as a filmmaker. He decided to make Absurd Encounter with Fear, which was inspired by the emerging films of horror from George Romero. Showcasing Lynch’s affinity the absurd, the story involved a zombie stalking a young woman down a hill.
In the faux-commercial Fictitious Anacin Commercial, Lynch showed his dark and upbeat side with its look at the world of commercials in the 1960’s.
The Alphabet gave Lynch the chance to blend his love of live-action filmmaking with his love for animation. The story involved a young girl having a nightmare about the alphabets and starred Lynch’s then-wife Peggy as the young girl. Lynch submitted the short to the American Film Institute in 1968 and earned a production grant in the process.
Lynch used the grant money towards making The Grandmother, a short about an abused boy who finds special seeds and uses them to grow a grandmother to protect him. The budget for the film was originally $5,000 but rose to $7,200 due to Lynch’s insistence on incorporating live-action, animation and mime into the production. Alan Splet, who became one of Lynch’s key collaborators for the next twenty years, and was also part of a musical outfit called Tractor, provided music for the film. The Grandmother was submitted to the American Film Institute and caught the attention of Tony Vellani, a key figure at the institute who asked Lynch and Splet to be a part of a film conservatory he was starting in Beverly Hills. This marked a significant step in Lynch’s burgeoning career as a filmmaker.
In the early 1970’s, while he was working on his first feature-length film Eraserhead, Lynch and his cinematographer Frederick Elmes were asked to test a couple of black and white video stocks. Lynch chose to create two versions of a short film, called The Amputee, about an amputated woman writing a letter while a nurse changes her bandages. The difference in video stocks showcased his directorial prowess and proved to be one of Lynch’s finest works.
Through his success with his early shorts, Lynch got the chance to make his first feature film, Eraserhead, about a man dealing with the fact that his ex-girlfriend gave birth to a small, reptilian child. The premise itself was strange and set the tone for the kind of films Lynch would make in the coming years. He reveled in the things that weren’t easy to explain.
Lynch worked with a small crew that included Alan Splet and friend Catherine Coulson as his assistant. Coulson’s then-husband Jack Nance played the lead role of Henry Spencer. Filming took place in 1971, with Herbert Cardwell shooting the picture in black-and-white, and took five years to complete due to funding issues. Despite receiving financial aid from Coulson, Jack Fisk and his wife Sissy Spacek, Lynch got a side job delivering newspapers just to keep the film afloat. The death of Cardwell also impacted the production as cinematographer Frederick Elmes was hired to shoot the remainder of the picture.
After four-year sporadic years of filming, and a long post-production period, Eraserhead was finally unveiled at the Filmex Film Festival in Los Angeles in 1977. Despite a negative critical reception upon its initial release, the film became a major cult hit at midnight screenings in New York and in Los Angeles and grossed more than $7 million in the U.S.
The Elephant Man (review)
Eraserhead brought a lot of industry attention to Lynch just as he was trying to secure funding for a dream project called Ronnie Rocket, a detective story of sorts set into a strange world. After meeting producer Stuart Cornfield, who was interested in producing the film, Lynch realized that acquiring the finances needed would be difficult and turned his focus towards another script Cornfield had given him. Based on life of Joseph Merrick, and inspired by the books about him by Frederick Treves and Ashley Montagu, The Elephant Man had its fair share of struggles securing funding. Things finally got rolling once Cornfield me with director Mel Brooks and convinced the comedy legend to produce the film.
Though Lynch wanted Jack Nance for the role of Merrick, he decided to go with John Hurt in the role while Anthony Hopkins was cast as Frederick Treves. He filled out the rest of his cast with the likes of Brooks’ wife Anne Bancroft, John Gielgud, Wendy Hiller, Freddie Jones, Michael Elphick, and Dexter Fletcher. Filmmaker Freddie Francis served as cinematographer while renowned editor Anne V. Coates cut the film; Lynch also brought in Alan Splet to handle the sound design. While Lynch knew Brooks wanted a more tradition style of film, he was still able to infuse some surrealistic imagery into the film that spoke to Merrick’s feeling about both death and his mother.
The Elephant Man made its premiere in New York City in October of 1980 and was a success with both critics audiences. However, Lynch gained one detractor in the famed film critic Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times, for nearly the next two-decades Ebert openly voiced his displeasure for several of the director’s films. The few negative reactions did little to stop The Elephant Man from receiving several accolades including eight Academy Award nominations for Best Picture, Best Actor for Hurt, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Lynch’s first nomination for Best Director to name a few. For Lynch, the success of the film opened the doors in Hollywood and set the stage for some notable achievements and failures over the next decade.
© thevoid99 2016