"Eagle Scout, Missoula Montana."
— David Lynch's four-word autobiography, written for a press release in 1990
David Lynch (January 20, 1946 — )
is an award-winning film director and artist with a signature style that can be most politely described as eccentric.
A prolific painter, photographer, sculptor, furniture designer and musical composer, his work has been displayed at gallery exhibitions in New York, Paris, Milan and Tokyo. Favoring dark, cryptic themes and surreal imagery in his art, he is best known for his film and television
work. He deserves more than a four-word biography.
Born David Keith Lynch in Missoula, Montana as the eldest of three children, his father was a scientist for the Forest Service and his mother was a home maker. As a small child, Lynch's father would often take him along to work and drop him off in the woods for extended periods on his own. The Forest Service moved the family around quite a bit, and Lynch grew up living in Spokane, Durham and eventually Boise. In much the same way that Stephen King's novels reflect his upbringing in Maine, much of David Lynch's work would flow from his experiences growing up in the woods of the Pacific Northwest.
In 1961 the family moved to Alexandria, Virginia, where Lynch graduated from Washington, DC's Corcoran School of Art in 1964. He briefly attended the Boston Museum School before setting off to Europe with a friend to study the work of expressionist painter Oskar Kokoschka in Austria. He intended to spend three years there, but after fifteen days and trips to France and Greece, Lynch returned to the States. He explains, "...there was no inspiration there at all for the kind of work I wanted to do. I remember lying in an Athens basement with lizards crawling along the walls and contemplating that I was 7,000 miles from McDonald's!"
Lynch held a series of part-time jobs upon returning home to Virginia, after which he began studying at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia. (ataraxia notes that one of his roommates there was Peter Wolf, who would later become a member of the J. Geils Band.) This period of his life was pivotal in the development of his own style, and the people and environment of Philly fueled his creativity and inspiration in ways that would leave their indelible mark on him as an artist. Lynch says, "...when I was there it was a very sick, twisted, violent, fear-ridden, decadent, decaying place." He graduated from PAFA in 1967, at which time he completed his first one-minute-long animated film, Six Figures Getting Sick, which was awarded the school's second annual Dr. W.S. Biddle Cadwalder Memorial Prize.
Encouraged by the film's reception, Lynch embarked upon another short cinematic work, The Alphabet, which earned him an American Film Institute grant of US$7200. Around this time his girlfriend Margaret 'Peggy' Reavey became pregnant, and she and Lynch got married. Peggy Lynch gave birth to their daughter Jennifer in April 1968. That same year, Lynch's paintings were part of a group exhibition at the William Barnett Gallery in Philadelphia. On the success of this exhibition, Lynch's work was given a solo exhibition at the Paley Library Gallery the following year.
After using the AFI grant money to produce his next film, a 34-minute montage entitled The Grandmother, Lynch moved to Los Angeles with his wife and daughter in 1970 to attend the AFI Center for Advanced Film Studies. He supported his family in between his classes with a number of odd jobs, such as delivering The Wall Street Journal, installing hot water heaters and building sheds. In 1971 he began working on the script for Eraserhead, which would be his first full-length feature film. Shooting for the film began in 1972, and was funded by AFI and whatever extra cash he could scrape together from his various jobs. It would not be completed until 1976.
During the making of Eraserhead, Lynch's friend Fred Elmes had to test the quality of some new film material, and Lynch persuaded Elmes to let him direct a short film instead of simply taking test shots. 1974's The Amputee was the result, a five-minute short starring Catherine Coulson (of "Log Lady" fame from Twin Peaks). The long hours Lynch spent on his craft eventually took their toll on his home life, and he and his wife Peggy divorced later that year.
Eraserhead premiered on March 19th, 1977 at Filmex in L.A. Made on a budget of US$20,000 and with a run time of 100 minutes (later cut to 89), it spelled the beginning of Lynch's career in commercial filmmaking. He got married again, this time to Mary Fisk, and signed a contract with Mel Brooks' Brooksfilm production company in 1978 to direct The Elephant Man, his first major motion picture. His output of non-cinematic artwork continued unabated, and was featured in a group exhibition at the International Art Fair in Washington, DC the following year.
Before filming on The Elephant Man began in London in 1979, Lynch spent nine months working on the makeup for the title character, played by actor John Hurt. It was a suit that he constructed after making a plaster cast of Hurt's body, but two days before they started shooting Hurt tried it on and it didn't work. "I had an idea for a suit which would look really organic," explains Lynch, "and wouldn't require five hours of makeup every day. And then... it hit me so hard that there was no way. And the next week and a half was one of the darkest times of my life." The Elephant Man was released in 1980, and starred Anthony Hopkins, Anne Bancroft, John Gielgud and Freddie Jones. Nominated for eight Academy Awards, it was hailed by critics as a masterpiece, and did well at the box office in spite of a somewhat limited theatrical release in the US.
In 1981 Lynch began working on the screenplay for his most ambitious film ever: an adaptation of Frank Herbert's novel Dune. His wife Mary gave birth to their son Austin Jack in 1982, and Lynch began contributing a weekly cartoon, The Angriest Dog In The World, to the Los Angeles Reader newspaper. His second marriage hit the skids around this time, and he and Mary divorced later that year.
Shooting began on Dune in Mexico City in 1983 for the De Laurentiis Entertainment Group, and was plagued with budget overruns and accidents on the set. Shot on 70mm with a budget of US$52 million, and released in 1984 with a running time of 141 minutes, Dune was both a critical and box office disappointment. Realizing that the film was somewhat overambitious and difficult for an average audience unused to science fiction on this scale to grasp, moviegoers were given a glossy slug sheet of terminology and background information upon their ticket purchase. It didn't help, and Dune was judged by audiences to be "too long" and "too complicated" a story — but not long enough to tell the story adequately, according to critics. Even so, the late Frank Herbert went on record saying, "As far as I'm concerned the film is a visual feast. I would love to have some of the scenes as stills to frame and have around me. They're beautiful."
Dino De Laurentiis seemed satisfied with the film, and Lynch signed a contract with his production company in 1985 to make Blue Velvet, starring newcomer Kyle MacLachlan, Dennis Hopper and Isabella Rossellini (with whom Lynch became romantically involved for several years). This time Lynch was given back much of the creative control that had been withheld from him on Dune, and it paid off in a big way. His most successful film to date, Blue Velvet was released in 1986 and was voted Best Film, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor (Dennis Hopper) and Best Cinematography by the National Society of Film Critics. Lynch's screenplay and Dennis Hopper were also nominated for Golden Globes, and Lynch was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Director.
The next few years brought more solo art gallery exhibitions of Lynch's paintings and sculptures, several more awards, and an extended period of script writing and development. He collaborated with composer Angelo Badalamenti (who scored Blue Velvet) on the Juliee Cruise album Floating Into the Night, and on the film Industrial Symphony No. 1, which he filmed for the New Wave Festival at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
Toward the end of 1989 Lynch shot a pilot episode for a TV series that he pitched to the ABC television network. The series was Twin Peaks, the first season of which hit the airwaves in 1990. That same year saw the release of Wild at Heart starring Nicholas Cage, Laura Dern and Diane Ladd. The film won the Palm D'Or for Best Film at the 43rd International Film Festival in Cannes, which Lynch considers to be the greatest professional honor of his career. Other small projects kept Lynch busy, including several TV commercials and the direction of a music video for Chris Isaak's Wicked Game.
In spite of its critical success and fanatical following, Twin Peaks saw the end of its run in 1991 after two seasons. Lynch took the cast and filmed Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me which was released to theatres in 1992. That year he also shot seven episodes of another series for ABC, On The Air (which was cancelled after three episodes), and several episodes of a series for HBO entitled Hotel Room. His longtime partner Mary Sweeney gave birth to his second son, Riley, in 1992. Numerous small projects followed throughout the early 90s including another Juliee Cruise album and a project involving many directors entitled Lumière and Company, which was a tribute to the inventor of the first motion picture camera.
Lynch began working on the script for his next film in 1995. Another bizarre film noir (this time cowritten with Barry Gifford), Lost Highway was released in 1997 and starred Bill Pullman, Patricia Arquette, Robert Blake and a host of well-known actors. Lynch's other significant release that year involved a line of furniture that he designed and presented at the world's most important and famous furniture exhibition, the Salone del Mobile in Milan, Italy. The Swiss company Casanostra contracted with Lynch shortly thereafter to produce and distribute a collection of his furniture designs. Lynch's photographic artwork was featured that same year in numerous gallery exhibitions around the world.
In 1998 Lynch formed his own production company, the Picture Factory, through which he executive produces new film projects for other directors. Filming on his next motion picture, The Straight Story, began in Iowa and Wisconsin that year. The following year he completed the script for Mulholland Drive, another series pilot for ABC, which they rejected. The Straight Story was released, starring Richard Farnsworth, Sissy Spacek and Harry Dean Stanton; a slow-paced road movie that was quite a departure for Lynch, it won the 1999 European Film Award.
David Lynch continues to have his hand in a variety of diverse projects across the spectrum of the art world. In 2000 he created a cartoon series for the Internet entitled Dumbland, and he keeps busy making TV commercials and working on scripts for future films. With financial backing from a French film company, he developed the TV pilot for Mulholland Drive into a feature film starring Naomi Watts and Laura Harring, which was released in 2001. His official web site at www.davidlynch.com continues to be a work in progress.
Filmography (through 2001) — Director
Mulholland Drive (2001)
The Straight Story (1999)
Lost Highway (1997)
Lumière and Company (1995)
"Hotel Room" aka "David Lynch's Hotel Room" (1993) TV series
"On the Air" (1992) TV series
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992)
Industrial Symphony No. 1: The Dream of the Broken Hearted (1990) TV
"American Chronicles" (1990) TV series
Wild at Heart (1990)
"Twin Peaks" (1990) TV series
The Cowboy and the Frenchman (1989)
Les Français vus par... (1988) TV
Blue Velvet (1986)
The Elephant Man (1980)
The Amputee (1974)
The Grandmother (1970)
The Alphabet (1968)
Six Figures Getting Sick (1966)
Most biographical information was obtained from Mike Hartmann's expansive web site,
The City of Absurdity, located at http://www.geocities.com/Hollywood/2093/
Filmography information was acquired from the usual source
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