Exploring David Lynch's underworld in Room to Dream biography
Biography: Room to Dream, David Lynch and Kristine McKenna, Canongate, €19.99
For every successful artist, the mysterious path towards originality usually arises accidentally. In David Lynch's case, a watershed moment arrived in 1967. Then just 21 years old, broke, and attending art school occasionally in Philadelphia, Lynch began to merge painting and film into a single form. Initially the artistic project failed. But the funding Lynch received to make a film enabled him to write The Alphabet. The short movie became his ticket to attend the Advanced Film Studies centre in 1970: thus beginning a journey from obscure painter, to avant-garde-pop-surrealist of the Hollywood mainstream.
Lynch's first feature film, Eraserhead, exuded a signature style and mood that would soon become known as Lynchian. Typically, films layered in a confusing spiderweb of double meaning, where nature is pitted against the permanent anxiety of mankind, and where narrative itself is predominately meant to be experienced rather than understood.
As co-author, Kristine McKenna, explains on the first page of this captivating biography/memoir: "We live in a realm of opposites, a place where good and evil, spirit and matter, faith and reason, innocent love and carnal lust, exist in an uneasy truce. Lynch's work resides in that complicated zone."
Room to Dream documents Lynch's slow road to mainstream popularity; and includes in-depth analysis on titles like The Elephant Man, Blue Velvet, Twin Peaks (both the original TV series, and the 2017 follow up) and Mulholland Drive.
The book uses a three-tier narrative structure: containing a wide range of interviews, critical analysis from McKenna, as well as a candid philosophical first-person narration from Lynch himself. This gives the reader a panoramic insight into Lynch's impressive oeuvre, with sufficient time left to explore Lynch's childhood and coming of age. We also learn about his love life, which became more complicated when fame and money arrived in the mid- 1980s.
Lynch is a fiery romantic, who has psychologically impacted a number of women who fell for his infamous charm, charisma, and boyish good looks. Mostly, though, the filmmaker moved on to other women when his eye wandered elsewhere. This uneasy dichotomy between desire and anxiety is the book's most prevalent theme; and it's explored amongst the holy trinity of sex, spirituality, and artistic expression.
A committed practitioner of transcendental meditation, Lynch's own spiritual belief is grounded in the Buddhist philosophy that even though our lives have a fixed path, enlightenment and peace can be actualized: if we truly study consciousness and its infinite potential.
Lynch's artistic vision - which has found form across a number of media - has always been fairly consistent: operating in a dream-like dimension of the unknowable, where energy can metaphysically transform, sporadically, without warning. The power relations that exist in the world of erotic sexual encounters, meanwhile, is an obsessional leitmotif that Lynch discusses at length here, with philosophical insight.
Lynch's films and paintings reside in a purgatorial world suspended between good and evil, and darkness and light. Franz Kafka, Francis Bacon and Samuel Beckett have all acted as a positive cultural and spiritual influence on his art. But, unlike most artists who delve into the well spring of existential uncertainty, Lynch is, surprisingly, emotionally stable, calm, well liked, and, seemingly, a happy individual.
His nurtured-loving childhood, he explains, accounts for his positive outlook on the human condition. And his investment into the daily ritual of transcending consciousness certainly helps, too. Any other residues of anxieties left over, Lynch has ploughed deep into the chaotic underworld of artistic expression.