David Lynch as a Cult Auteur
David Lynch has long been known for his abstract, surrealist, highly ambiguous, and often confusing films. Since his first film, the bizarre and depressing Eraserhead, Lynch has become synonymous with the word “baffled.” He has been responsible for heady acid trips such as Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive, and Inland Empire. He has created a bizarre examination of sex and violence in Blue Velvet and a quiet, emotional character study in The Elephant Man. Lynch has always been the artsy type; throughout high school, he was a keen painter, with a very abstract style, and after leaving school, he studied painting at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston in 1964. However, he left after only a year, stating that "I was not inspired AT ALL in that place". He then proceeded to travel around Europe to study the works of Austrian expressionist painter Oskar Kokoschka. He returned to America, however, after only 15 days. He then studied Fine Arts at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia, before moving to Los Angeles in 1971 to study filmmaking at the AFI Conservatory. It was at this time that Lynch began winning grants in order to fund his films, including one for $10,000 which he received from AFI in 1970 to make his debut feature-length film, Eraserhead. Over his lengthy career, Lynch has been nominated for four Oscars, but has yet to win. Four of his films have been nominated for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes film festival; 1990′s Wild At Heart won the prestigious award, and Lynch also won Best Director at the festival for his 2001 film Mulholland Drive. Lynch, like many other burgeoning directors, started his audio visual career making short films. From 1966-1974, he created four of film history’s arguably most memorable shorts, leading up to his breakout, oft-critiqued feature, Eraserhead (1977). His style is defined by the dark, the grotesquely physical, and the straight out bizarre. Many of his shorts included animation of his paintings. Sound and music for films was also of utmost importance to the paranoia-filled atmosphere of his works. The dark and the bizarre were aspects he would carry over to his television show, Twin Peaks, which aired for two seasons in 1990 and 1991. Lynch is valuable because he explodes conventions, both cinematic and psychological, but it’s not enough for him to be as strange as possible—even an approach based on throwing off the fetters of the conventional and the logical demands a kind of discipline. The trick is to allow one’s imagination free play, but to be able to recognize what is genuinely strange and unsettling, rather than merely bizarre, to distinguish between the rare specimens you’ve unearthed from the darkness of the ocean floor and the seaweed clinging to you when you emerge from the water. It’s a completely unscientific process, and one that can’t be forced, so in a sense it’s achievement enough that Lynch has remained devoted to exploring his own subconscious, however successful he’s been in conveying his findings to the screen. Leading film critics Le Blanc and Odell state that Lynch’s films “are so packed with motifs, recurrent characters, images, compositions and techniques that you could view his entire output as one large jigsaw puzzle of ideas.” One of the key themes that they noted was the usage of dreams and dreamlike imagery within his works, something they related to the “surrealist ethos” of relying “on the subconscious to provide visual drive.” This can be seen in John Merrick’s dream of his mother in The Elephant Man, Agent Cooper’s dreams of the red room in Twin Peaks and the “dreamlike logic” of the narrative found in Eraserhead, Mulholland Drive and Inland Empire. Another defining pattern of Lynch’s films is that he tends to feature his leading female actors in multiple or "split" roles, so that many of his female characters have multiple, fractured identities. This practice began with his choice to cast Sheryl Lee as both...
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