A Bigger Church for David Lynch: Ideas Talk to You

Lynch 2

David Lynch needed a bigger church. The 10th Lucca Film Festival (click for more) invited Lynch to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award As Guest Of Honor and showcase a selection of his art, paintings, lithographs, music and films. Lynch also presented his views on meditation at the San Micheletto Chruch. Sadly, only a few ‘souls’ were able to attend, as hundreds of people from various parts of Italy (myself included) were left outside the rather small building. Yesterday, Lucca’s San Francesco’s Church opened its doors to film students and film enthusiasts seeking inspiration and guidance from the Master. It was a bigger church, but it was not big enough to accommodate all the ‘followers’ seeking wisdoms in his words. The doors were closed shut on the angry faces of the ‘fans’ shouting their discontentment across the reverberating hall. They understood that the organisers seemed to have underestimated the Lynch factor. 

Below, you can find a transcription of most of his words. Lynch answered questions about his art, his approach, inspirations and methods. He did so with great tranquility and positivity. I have taken the liberty of inserting a few videos I felt related to the topics being discussed. There is a profound love for ideas and a real enjoyment for translating them into art. There is a comforting sense of tranquillity and control. “All you need is an idea.” 


On paintings?

It’s true that when I was young I only wanted to be a painter. And I was painting one time, and I saw my painting move, and I heard the wind from the painting. I thought: wow a moving painting. And that led me to my first film. It was a stop motion film running one minute titled Six Men Getting Sick (Six Times).

I do see cinema as a moving painting, but with sound. Cinema is sound and pictures moving together in time. What we need is: ideas. It’s the only thing we really need. Many people say that the rules we apply to paintings also apply to cinema. Cinema bring together seven arts. So, if you’re into cinema you could also be interested in sound, interested in music, still photography, dance, lighting, all these things come together in cinema.

Advices to the aspiring filmmakers?

The things is in my experience to not think about the profession, to not think about the money, or to what will happen once you have finished the film. The first thing you need is an idea. An idea talks to you. An idea tells you the mood, it show you the characters, how characters talk, it tells you a story, it shows you all the details.

On (not) writing a script for Inland Empire.

I did write a script for Inland Empire. The script is just ideas. The script is not the film. Just like the blueprint for a house is not the house. On inland empire, I got an idea for a scene. I had a small Sony PD videocamera. I had no other scenes but I decided to shoot this one scene. Afterwards, I got an idea for a second scene. Which did not link with the first scene. So, I shot that second scene. Then, I had the idea for a third scene. I wrote it, I put it down in words, as I had done for the first and second scene. The third scene did not relate to the first two scenes. But, I shot that third scene. Then a whole bunch of ideas came to me, and these new ideas united the first three scenes I had shot. I wrote the script and shot it in a more traditional way.  Mostly, when I work on a script I can find some ideas; scenes. After some time these scenes get arranged and grouped together.

On which filmmakers influenced him.

There is a difference between inspiration and influence. I was never a film buff and I never was that interested in art history. I like to get ideas coming into the conscious mind and reveal themselves. You see them, you feel them, you know them and if you fall in love with them you translate those ideas into a medium or another. For me, I always say it, the city of Philadelphia (click for more) was my greatest influence. The mood of that place when I was there, the feeling in the air, the architecture, the decay and insanity, the corruption and fear that was in that city. The things I saw had a big impact on me, so that was my biggest influence.

I never watched common cinema. I never saw so much usual paintings. I just liked to paint and follow the ideas that come. I just liked to make films based on ideas that come and that I fell in love with. I don’t really care what is going on in the world of cinema and painting. However, once in a while I do see a film that is so truly great that it fills you with inspiration. It pushes you forward. You see other people in the world doing great things. Or you see new pairings and you think that person has really got something. It’s an inspiration it pushes you forward.

On Eraserhead and the Bible.

I will tell you a story. When you get an idea. Some times a scene will come, and the scene will be abstract. But, for you it may hold a truth. Maybe you do not know the whole thing but the idea is talking to you. You find a meaning inside yourself for that idea. On Eraserhead, all these ideas were coming, and I had a feeling about what it was, I knew the surface level of it, but it seemed to talk to me on another level, but I didn’t know exactly what that was. So, one day I pick up the Bible. I opened it up, I closed my eyes and pointed at different places and when I opened my eyes I read a sentence. I said: this is what it’s all about.

Everybody knows that in the world, in life, there is a feeling that there is more to things than what meets the eyes. There are very concrete things going on, but swimming around are more abstract things. These come as thoughts and feelings. Cinema has a chance to show the abstractions, but you have to get the idea first. Sometimes we are looking for a great idea that shows the way to get a certain feeling using the magic language that is cinema. The things that are there but you do not see them with your eyes hear them with your ears, you feel them, you intuit these things.

On his relationship with music.

Cinema is very close in ways to music. In music, a lot of times, you have different sections. You have very fast sections and then very slow sections, very high things and very low things and it’s all moving forward at a certain pace. Everybody knows that the piece of music written on the page can be the same but a certain conductor with his or her orchestra can get something so profoundly above the others. It’s a magical thing. So, cinema moves through time like music and goes from one scene to another. One of the things that is important is these transitions between one things and another, one thing flowing into another. These transitions are very important and can be very beautiful.

In cinema, it is extremely important to get all the elements of cinema to live together in a proper way that feels correct. You can love certain pieces of music but for a certain scene that music is not correct. You pout it in, you try it and you see right away it does not work. How do you know it is not working? All the light of intuition are going crazy, this kind of knowing inside ourselves is telling us it is not working. So you try other things and the trick is to find that piece of music that marries to the pictures. When it marries you get that thing where the whole is greyer than the sum of the parts. So the thing can jump up and be magical.

On eternal beauty.

The eternal beauty is captured by the woman.

On the portrayal of women.

Often when someone finishes a film and in the film there is a man and a woman and certain things happen the journalists will say: oh does this mean that this is how you feel about women and men in general. You say no, no, no, no, no. This is this particular woman in tho particular place going through these particular things. That woman represents herself. She does not represent all women.  This is very important. These women come along in these ideas. If you like that idea, than these particular woman does these particular things.

On digital filmmaking. 

For a lot of time I championed digital. I fell in love with digital while building a website and that carried into Inland Empire. Recently, I was working on deleted scenes from Twin Peaks. For the first time in a long time I saw footage shot on film. I was overwhelmed by the depth of the beauty that in some ways film can give. It has such a depth and such a beauty. I like to photograph factories and while taking these pictures I could really feel the difference between celluloid and digital. So, there are all these different choices we have. In digital we have very long takes. You don’t have to stop the camera you can keep it rolling. You can talk about the scene while the camera is rolling and a lot of times it helps getting deeper and deeper. Digital is lightweight, much faster, no dirt, no scratches, no tearing and there is so much control in post-production. It’s a beautiful thing. Maybe these different mediums will all stay alive and one thing will be right for this project and another thing will be right for another project.

On the baby in Eraserhead.

As many of you probably know I never talk about the baby.

On preparing actors. 

Ideas tell you what you should be doing, I like concrete things and I like abstract things. I like ideas that hold those two things. Again, it’s all based on the ideas that I fall in love with. The trick is to get everyone within the team to go on the same road based on these ideas. You do this by talking. In the prop department for instance the prop person can bring me some things. They can be very good things, but they are not in line with the idea. So, you tell the prop man that you don’t want these and to look for things that are more like this. The next time he’ll come it will be much closer to the idea. One day he will bring things because he gets the idea. It’s the same with actors. You have rehearsals. At rehearsal you might be very far away from the idea but then you talk, with words and you have another rehearsal. It gets closer and it gets closer the next time by talking and talking. Saying this word this way is not right because of this and this and this. They can hear and feel these things and incorporate them and somewhere down the line they get that idea. They way they talk, the way they move are in line with that idea, and that is the same way with all the departments that are helping me.

On Dino De Laurentiis and Dune.

I love Dino De Laurentiis but I don’t like working with him. When I was working on Dune, he had the last word. I did not have final cut. It was a situation that could have made me want to quit the world. Never do a film without final cut, you will die to death. On Blue Velvet, I did have final cut. And, I was working with DIno. That was a reversal, a 180 degree turnaround I had such a great time working with him. On Dune, early on I see how Dino works and I know I don’t have final cut. So, I’m starting compromising which is a horrible thing to do. I started to compromise on what I wanted to do early on. It is true they were many scenes that were not on the film but there is no magic way that it will be all put together and be what I should have done, or wish I had done.

On Kafka’s The Metamorphosis. 

I love Franz Kafka and I love particularly metamorphosis. I wrote a script based on it once. At the time I write it there were two things. One, probably only a very small audience would have wanted to see the film and a high budget to realise the insect and do the things based on the story. Also, in the end I felt that it was better left as a great book.

On success.

A failure in a way is a very beautiful thing if you can live through it because there is nowhere to go way than up. This nowhere to go up feeling gives us freedom. You cannot lose what you have already lost. On the other hand a success can be a nightmare because then you start wording about staying on top and not falling and that can give you a constrictive feeling and kill the ideas that are coming and feel you with the fear of failing. strange thing.

On plot.

In my films, for me there is always a plot. There is a story that makes sense to me. In the story, there are things that are more abstract, there are feelings. Cinema can express feelings and say abstract thoughts, and it’s all part of the story. Cinema can go back in time, forward, it’s beautiful. But, you don’t do it just to do it. You do it to realise the ideas you fall in love with. The ideas are gifts. Such beautiful gifts. I’m always so thankful when I get an idea that I fall in love with. It’s a beautiful day to get an idea that you love.

Bonus Video: David Lynch explains Consciousness, Creativity and benefits of Transcendental Meditation

A Glorious Day for an Idea

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