Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Lynch, David

(1946-    ) US movie director and scriptwriter who trained as a painter. After Six Figures Get Sick (1967), a 30-second Animated Movie designed to be run as an endless loop, and a similar live-action/animated loop that has been lost, his first movie proper was the 4min live-action/animated The Alphabet (1968), which tells of a sick child vomiting blood; such is art. The Grandmother (1970), again live-action/animated, is more ambitious in both length (34 mins) and plot: thrashed by his father for bedwetting, a little boy plants a seed in his damp sheets and grows from it a Grandmother to be his Invisible Companion. For some years DL worked on Eraserhead (1976), his first feature, in his spare time; a curious filmed nightmare, not easily subject to analysis, it blends fantasy and the Horror Movie to unsettling effect, and quickly acquired cult status.

His first mainstream movie, supported by Mel Brooks, was The Elephant Man (1980), based on the true story of the hideously deformed Joseph Merrick and the man who, in late-19th-century London, saved him from life as a freak-show exhibit, Frederick Treves. Its considerable success made DL a sought director, but his next movie, the sf epic Dune (1984), based on Frank Herbert's Dune (fixup 1965), was a disaster – the book being too long and complex for a 140min movie (or even for the 190min version that was later televised, with additional narration and the use of cut footage; DL disavowed this version, and the direction is credited to the pseudonym Allen Smithee). DL recovered reputation with Blue Velvet (1986), a surreal movie that is part small-town Urban Fantasy, part a fantasy of Perception, and part an essay in film noir for the 1980s. Both it and his next movie – Wild at Heart (1990) a slightly fantasticated road movie featuring a surprise visit by the Good Witch from The Wizard of Oz (1939) – are plentifully supplied with graphic sex, which is probably why these "art" movies were so generally successful.

In the meantime, with Mark Frost, DL had been creating for tv the surrealistic soap opera/detective serial Twin Peaks (two series, 1989 and 1991), and it is for this that he is best-known. His only feature movie since then has been Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992), which was very badly received; shot in 1.85:1 format, rather than in wide-screen's customary 2.35:1, it was clearly intended by DL to capture the "feel" of a tv broadcast rather than a theatrical movie.

It is hard to classify DL's output as fantasy unless one is watching one of the relevant movies: then there is no doubt. And certainly his movies are identifiably his: even a short clip is usually enough to reveal that this is DL's work. The only moviemaker who has anything like the same "eye" is his daughter, Jennifer Chambers Lynch, director and scriptwriter of Boxing Helena (1993). [JG]

further reading: David Lynch (1992; trans Robert Julian 1995) by Michel Chion; The Films of David Lynch (1993) by John Alexander.

David Lynch

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This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.