David Lynch is one of the most influential contemporary filmmakers, and one of the few whose impact stretches far beyond the mere aesthetics of film.
In the field of film, Lynch’s artistic development can be traced from one extreme to another: from the often experimental, disturbing or hermetic film d’auteur to Hollywood mainstream catering to conventional reception habits and commercial constraints. Indeed, part of Lynch’s artistic genius is the very ability to bring these extremes together.
Blending High Art and Hollywood, Lynch’s film work remains influential. Recent quality TV series such as Breaking Bad, True detective, and hyped “quality soaps” like Game of Thrones, each pay tribute to his work, especially to the pioneering achievement of the 1990/91 series Twin Peaks.
Much like the directors of the French Nouvelle Vague, David Lynch began not as a trained film maker, but a visual artist, having studied painting in Philadelphia. Moreover, again like the European authors’ film, he had only moderate means at hand for his first experimental films. This challenged him to invent a new aesthetic language for underground film.
One of Lynch’s most characteristic motifs is “Americana”, an in-depth socio-psychological analysis of the American way of life, which he pursued long after his underground period. Interestingly, it was on the other side of the Atlantic, in Europe, where it was particularly well received.
A typical “Lynchean” feature film would be to present the shiny surface of the American dream – for example the 1950s, its consumerism, the apparent tranquillity of the white garden fences of suburbia – only to reveal its dark abysses through an uncanny visual language. Sigmund Freud first introduced the notion of the uncanny [das Unheimliche] to explore a paranoid feeling in between the everyday and dread. Lynch found an appropriate aesthetic language for this feeling which underlies the quintessential “Lynch factor” of many of his films. This is also what makes his films appeal to interpretations by psychoanalytically informed film theory, especially from a Lacanian perspective.
Yet Lynch’s artistic language can and actually must be analyzed from various angles. This was a key motive for our interdisciplinary conference.
Lynch draws on a large variety of artistic media, such as the cartoons that he continued to create even when an internationally renowned filmmaker. Above all, it is Lynch’s background in the visual arts – painting, photography, graphic design, installations and more – and his indebtedness to great directors like Orson Welles, which call for a comprehensive interdisciplinary and inter-media analysis. Yet Lynch himself also cited other points of reference for his film aesthetics, such as the literary universe of Franz Kafka.
To date there have been only a few exhibitions or scholarly events featuring works by David Lynch. These include a 2007 exhibition with the title The Air Is On Fire in Paris, at the Fondation Cartier, that honored Lynch’s artistic work. In 2010 the Max Ernst Museum in the city of Brühl (Germany) dedicated a larger exhibition to Lynch’s fine art works: David Lynch – Dark Splendor sought to reveal the influence of Lynch’s art production on his filmic language in particular.
Thus, the 2012 Berlin conference David Lynch – The Art of the Real was the first international scholarly event to provide a comprehensive and interdisciplinary perspective on Lynch’s artistic work as a whole.