David Lynch, the once boyish maverick of underground visions and the nightmares under the façade of normalcy, turned 65 this week. A little older, a little grayer but still making films the only way he knows how: on his own terms. I had the good fortune to interview Lynch a few years ago, when he financed, produced and distributed Inland Empire outside the studio system. “It’s mostly common sense making films,” he explained. “If you can get your film into a theater, that’s all you need. And now you can make your own DVDs. If you have a conduit to stores, you put them down that conduit. Again, it’s a lot of common sense.”
Kim Morgan celebrated the birthday boy at Sunset Gun by revisiting her essay on Mulholland Dr.: “the man gets what drives our subconscious, our sweet dreams, our nightmares.”
I’ll chime in by picking out five more of my favorite Lynch films (plus his paradigm-changing TV series as a bonus) from thirty years of filmmaking: his strangest, most visionary and most perversely beautiful journeys through the curdled brick road of his mind. And all available on home video, in some cases in DVD releases produced by Lynch himself.
Eraserhead (1977) (Absurda)
“In heaven, everything is fine,” but in Eraserhead nothing is fine. It’s grim, disturbed, mutated, claustrophobic, a world that appears to be unraveling—or, more accurately, decaying—before our eyes. Jack Nance stars as the doughy, dim husband who escapes his grimy, droning life by watching the icky mutant cabaret that plays under his radiator. That’s as clear a description of the plot you’re bound to get. This is an existence where dinner squirms to get away as it’s being carved up and the newborn offspring of a dumbstruck couple is a freaky chicken baby that mewls and cries until it drives the maternal impulses right out of its horrified mother. Lynch shot the film over the course of a year with a loyal cast and crew that, at times, lived with Lynch on the very set of the film. There was nothing like it when it emerged in 1977 and became the quintessential midnight movie experience. See today, it is pure, primordial Lynch: a nightmare world of industrial slums and alienated folk, set to a soundtrack of noise that gets under your skin, your nails and your skull. Robert Cumbow came as close to anyone in capturing the experience in a review he wrote in 1978: “This is what madness might be like, he makes you think, this oppressive absurdity, now funny, now scary, now just plain weird, but making a kind of sense that has nothing at all to do with reason.”
It’s fitting that Lynch’s first feature, which he produced independently, is also the first DVD that he produced through his own label, Absurda. He personally supervised the transfer and the digital master and he participated in the documentary featurette “Stories,” which is centered around Lynch discussing the making of the film. For most directors this wouldn’t be anything special, but Lynch had quite conspicuously made himself absent from the supplements of studio-produced DVDs of his work in the past. This was the first time he recorded an interview specifically for the home video release of one of his films. It apparently was painless enough, for it wasn’t his last.