Auteur of the Week: David Lynch

I discovered that if one looks a little closer at this beautiful world, there are always red ants underneath. – David Lynch

Wiki Bio Breakdown:
David Lynch was born in 1946 in Montana.  He spent his youth traveling the United States with his family until he graduated high school and studied painting at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.  During his time at art school, he grew interested in film production and moved to Los Angeles to make his first film, Eraserhead (1977).  Lynch directed, produced, wrote, scored, and designed the film’s sets and props himself. Although it took several years to make due to funding issues and Lynch’s meticulous attention to detail, the film became an instant cult classic and a huge success within the midnight movie circuit.  With Eraserhead’s success, Lynch’s career was launched. 
After Eraserhead, Lynch effortlessly moved between film, television, and the fine-arts.  His second feature, The Elephant Man (1980), was nominated for eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor for John Hurt in the title role. Writing, producing, and directing almost every project, Lynch held extreme control over his work.  He also designed and built many of his own sets.  The 1980’s and early 90’s saw highly diverse, but adored films ranging from the science-fiction Dune (1984) to the neo-noir Blue Velvet (1986) to the cult favorite television series Twin Peaks (1990-91).  Lynch continued to make films into the new millennium, experimenting with non-linear narrative structures and new formats of production and distribution. He made eight animated shorts (Dumbland, 2002) and a nine-episode “sitcom” called Rabbits (2002) that were exclusively released on the Internet until later release on DVD.  He continued to make films, ranging from features to documentaries to shorts, including a promotional short for Dior called Lady Blue Shanghai (2010).  Lynch has helped his children pursue their own film careers by producing their work.  More recently, he has made several acting appearances including small roles on Family Guy and Louie.
The Elephant Man (1980)
One of the most diverse and talented film directors alive today, Lynch continues to move from project to project.  Working in film, television, video art, painting, and even music, he never lets a medium limit him.  Adored for his originality and surreal representations of the world, Lynch has become a household name, a cult favorite, and an inspiration to many young artists.
Beautiful Terror: Lynch’s Mise-en-Scene
Surreal. Striking. Moody. Beautiful. These are all words used to describe the unique look of Lynch’s films.  A perfectionist, Lynch is involved in every aspect of art direction.  From bold colors to sensual textures to high contrast spaces, Lynch’s films stand out. Perhaps most unique about his mise-en-scene is the lighting style of each film.  Purposefully chosen, highly original, and sometimes shocking, the lighting in Lynch’s films contrast expectation and set unique tones for the story. 
Eraserhead (1977)
Eraserhead takes place somewhere between a dream and post-apocalyptic world.  It follows the main character, Henry Spencer, as he copes with the unexpected birth of a child from his girlfriend, who eventually leaves him alone to care for the baby.  Shot in black and white, darkness envelops the world Spencer lives in. Moments in real life that are typically joyful, like meeting your significant other’s family, are shot with low-key, dramatic lighting in the film.  When Spencer goes to his girlfriend’s house for dinner, the interior is dimly lit by small lamps. Bold shadows create abstract patterns on the walls as the blackness from the outside appears to seep in through the windows and consume the gathering family.  Consequently, the viewer feels suffocated and tense, just like Spencer.  The aesthetic of blackness penetrates the rest of the film, making the film’s mood surreal and frightening.
Blue Velvet (1986)
Perhaps Lynch’s most celebrated film, Blue Velvet employs a unique lighting scheme that coincides and contradicts its story.  The film centers around young Jeffrey Beaumont as he strives to solve the mystery surrounding a severed ear he found in a field, leading him to meet the sexy and mysterious Dorothy Vallens.  At the beginning of the film, the small suburban town of Lumberton, with its white picket fences, colorful backdrops, and high-key lighting, gives the appearance of a 1950’s melodrama.  However, not all is as perfect as it seems as Jeffrey uncovers more in the mystery of the severed ear.  When he encounters Dorothy and eventually her abuser, Frank Booth, Jeffery is drawn into the town’s seedy underbelly filled of sexual fantasy and violence.  During scenes involving Dorothy or Frank, the lighting is low-key, muted, and contrasty like 1940’s film noirs.  However, the entire film shifts from the low-key to high-key styles, contradicting the typical mood of film noirs or suspense thrillers. The effect of combining styles to show the well-lit, perfect town by day and dark, ominous town by night is symbolic: beneath a beautiful exterior lies a much darker existence.  Like the beautiful Dorothy or picture-perfect Lumberton, secrets and nightmares can inhabit any person or any place.  Blue Velvet acts as a depiction of such provocative reality and brings inner darkness to light.
Lynch never obeys film rules or styles. Rather, he tells original stories and combines aesthetics to create particular moods or tones.  Mysterious, provocative, and alluring, Lynch’s films attract wide ranges of audiences and place him in film history as one of the most influential directors of all time.
For more David Lynch films, be sure to visit FACETS.

Author: Gina Marie Ezzone is a senior at Denison University where she studies Cinema and Queer Studies. She is the president of the Denison Film Society where she works as a programmer and projectionist. This summer she is the Programs Assistant Intern at Facets. Check out her work on Vimeo.
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