Director, artist, musician and all around good guy David Lynch turns 68 today. Lynch is indisputably one of the most distinctive voices in contemporary cinema, a man whose style has often been aped but never replicated. No other director can so often scare the pants off me and wow me with intense beauty, often in the same picture. If you’re new to Lynch, I would like to happily recommend some films to get you through these long winter nights.
David Lynch first gained notoriety for his debut feature Eraserhead, one of the most singular movie-going experiences one will ever have. Trying to describe the plot is a fool’s errand; therefore I’ll give it a shot. Jack Nance plays Henry, a man who experiences an existential crisis when he must care for his deformed offspring. The feature was made in fits and starts for over six years, as Lynch scrounged up money to film by selling newspapers and accepting donations from the film’s cast. The resulting black-and-white masterpiece became an instant hit on the midnight movie circuit, and lead to Lynch entering the Hollywood machine with The Elephant Man, which was nominated for eight Oscars in 1980.
Lynch’s most recent theatrical feature (and according to some reports, possibly his last), Inland Empire, is also one of his most impenetrable. It shares qualities with its noir-ish predecessors Lost Highway and the Oscar-nominated Mulholland Dr., but its three-hour running time and lack of coherent narrative resulted in the film landing with nary a whimper. This is a shame, since Inland Empire can be read as the culmination of Lynch’s entire body of work and features an absolutely astounding lead performance from Laura Dern at its center. I cannot think of more than a handful of cinematic moments that rival the transcendent joy of the film’s final scene. After two decades of being hailed as a master of atmosphere and terror, Lynch directed a G-rated family film for Walt Disney Pictures called The Straight Story. The film follows Richard Farnsworth (in the last role before his death) as he rides a tractor across the Midwest to visit his ailing brother. While the film did not contain much of the familiar stomach-turning Lynch subject matter, the director’s imprint is in every single scene.