David Lynch: The Man from Another Place by Dennis Lim
New Harvest, 2015; 192 pp
Reviewed by Charlie Riccardelli
Director David Lynch has long avoided any discussions about interpreting his films. Hell, Lynch doesn’t even care to define any elements of his work. When critic Dennis Lim tried to coax the director to define “Lynchian” during a 2001, Lynch avoided the question. “It means different things to different people,” Lynch said. “You know, there’s an expression that I heard from my friend Charlie…Keep your eye on the donut and not on the hole.” For Lynch to define the essence of his work was to the director “more like the hole. If I start thinking about that, it’s so dangerous.”
Lim follows Lynch’s “homespun philosophizing” when he analyzes the director’s career in David Lynch: The Man from Another Place, a fascinating exploration into one of cinema’s most distinct and enigmatic storytellers. Rather than write a critical analysis or in-depth biography of Lynch, Lim highlights the important personal and professional milestones of the filmmaker throughout his career—from his fledgling days as an art student through his film/television career to his current role in transcendental meditation and art, among other new projects.
At less than 200 pages, Lim’s book wastes no time delving into Lynch’s career and the defining collaborators and events that helped inform his work. The idyllic Americana, for, instance, plays an important part in grounding both the filmmaker and some of his most iconic work like Twin Peaks or Blue Velvet. He grew up in a very simple, all-American background, voted for Reagan, and has credited himself in art shows as “Eagle Scout, Missoula, Montana.” After years of small town life, Lynch moved to Philadelphia, a particularly frightening place for urban decay at the time, where he would his home was robbed multiple times (while he was inside), he had his car stolen, was exposed to murders in his neighborhood, and lived across from the city morgue where he watched workers hose down body bags in the street. Lim juxtaposes these clashing environments as inspiration for the director’s work.
As the book progresses, Lim builds on the history of Lynch’s life and work, dedicating chapters to each of his major projects. By structuring the book this way, builds an interesting case that to define “Lynchian” is just as much of a puzzle box conundrum as trying to figure out the director himself or one of his many films. Lynch is not necessarily disappearing “so far up his own ass” as Quentin Tarantino once said, nor is it “hard to tell if he's a genius or an idiot” as David Foster Wallace wrote after watching Lynch work on set. Lynch has grown as a filmmaker by not allowing his artistic mediums or traits to tie down his creative expression.