David Lynch. Film director. Visual artist. Musician. All-round, golly gee, nice guy – despite the fact that he’s created some of the most frightening characters, images and moods ever to grace cinema or TV screens. Think Frank Booth from Blue Velvet. Bob from Twin Peaks. Mystery Man from Lost Highway. Bobby Peru from Wild at Heart. I can vividly remember watching the last ten minutes of season two of Twin Peaks thinking, there is no way he can end this that won’t be disappointing – but he found a way and it was the furthest thing from disappointing. Like with The Fall’s checkered back catalogue, there are Lynch films I can take or leave (Dune, we’re looking at you) and various bits and pieces over the years I just haven’t ‘got’ (the people emerging from the box in Lost Highway anyone?), but every time I think we’re done, there’s a Mulholland Drive or a Twin Peaks: The Return.
If you’ve seen the 2016 film, The Art Life, you’ll know the bare bones of the story – happy childhood, dark imagination at an early age, scholarship to prestigious AFI, struggles to produce Eraserhead, the surprising gift that was The Elephant Man, then Dune (the mistake he needed to make) and then Blue Velvet, the film that meant so much of what followed (by him and others) was Lynchian. Room to Dream is structured in what some would say was an original, and others, perhaps, would say was a curious, way: we have alternating chapters, with Kristine McKenna, a journalist for a wide variety of highly reputable publications, offering “all the facts, figures and dates” and Lynch himself, “basically… having a conversation with his own biography.” This creates (as you might expect) a narrative that echoes like a dream, in which events are at times run twice through the mill, so – for instance – we get Lynch’s childhood friends telling us he was a sweet guy who always seemed really cheerful, and then we hear Lynch talking about the naked woman walking down a street one early evening (that he recreated for Isabella Rossellini in Blue Velvet).
For the most part he actually does come across like a sweet guy, enthusiastic and interested, passionate, curious, always in pursuit of what he and others around him refer to as ‘the art life’. He seems to have made his peace with the fact that his work doesn’t generate the kind of return that others enjoy, and anyway – when something is complete – he is on to the next thing. In fact, as the book proceeds, his next things tend to be simultaneous: he’s making a piece of music, he’s making a website, he’s making an animation, he’s filming a short, he’s filming an ad, he’s touring in support of Transcendental Meditation (Lynch is very, very big on TM). Lynch has stories to spare and it may be that this is the closest most of us get to spending time in his company – and for the most part it is a very pleasant and mostly revealing book.
There is a jolt, however. Lynch is something of a ladies’ man, and he moves from girlfriend to girlfriend and eventually from wife to wife – without anyone seeming to call him short. Until we arrive at Isabella Rossellini, who admits to being crushed when her marriage to Lynch ended – and she reveals that she never really understood why it ended but it took her years to get over. You read Lynch’s response waiting for a note of human kindness – and there’s nothing. Rossellini shares her hard feelings and Lynch is silent. I mean, who knows what went on, right? We can’t know. But including one side of a story gives it credence and not even acknowledging another’s pain – feels hard, and stands out. But then, as Lynch says elsewhere in the book,
“So much goes on that people will never know about with every film. You can tell all of the stories you want, but you still haven’t got across what the experience was like. It’s like telling somebody a dream. It doesn’t give them the dream.”
It’s possible some people will read this book in the hope of answers (Lynch saying, this is what… whatever it is actually means…): know up front there are no answers of that sort here beyond David saying (as he does about the Blue Lady in Mulholland Avenue) “I don’t care – it’s modular.” Similarly, anyone wanting more of a steer about the recent third season of Twin Peaks (and whether there is likely to be a fourth season), you’ll strike out. But what would anything involving David Lynch be if we didn’t quite get what we wanted. We’ve always marched to his tune and, as long as he keeps putting tunes or films of any variety out, we’ll pay attention.
Any Cop?: If you’re anything like us, you’ll read this in tandem with a comprehensive rewatch of all of the films (you’ll be astonished, not least, by how good Blue Velvet still looks), and you’ll be shocked, mystified, perplexed, astonished and bamboozled afresh. The book is both salve and distraction. All but essential for Lynch fans.