Lynch Night: Room to Dream: A Limited Event Book Club Series: Part 4

Welcome back to 25YL’s series on the biography/memoir of David Lynch, Room to Dream. This series is being written by various staff writers, who look at two chapters at a time to examine the highlights and insights of the book.

I am personally covering series’ Parts 4 and 5 (this being ‘part 4’) and am using Rob King’s unique citation for this article. In my reference notes, I will first cite the book properly. After that, I will cite from that book in particular with (McKenna, p.) for Kristine’s portions and (Lynch, p.) for his portions.


This part covers chapters:

  • “Wrapped in Plastic.”
  • “Finding Love in Hell.”

Well, with almost a month since the release of Room To Dream I am going to assume most readers will have devoured the majority of the book, if not all. If not, why not?! I should warn that there may be some minor spoilers ahead (not too many). Also, the chapters overlap a particular time period with Twin Peaks and Wild At Heart — therefore it makes little sense to split apart this article — so I won’t! 

As most already know, the time in David Lynch’s life that is covered in these chapters (the very late 1980’s and the beginning of the very next decade) was his most visibly/publicly productive — for me personally, this meant that I discovered him at this important time in his — and my — life (I was around 18 years old; TV was a bizarre diet of Australian soaps and cheesy sci-fi etc, the band Nirvana had yet to arrive…I needed something to wake me up!). And so it was, similarly to many others, my first introduction to the man’s work was through his collaboration with Mark Frost on Twin Peaks – the primary thread running through the chapter ‘Wrapped in Plastic’. 

Following the success and notoriety of Blue Velvet, Lynch went on a creative tear that generated the illusion that he was everywhere at once — from capitalising on his new music collaborations (the album Floating Into The Night); inventing a stage production within days of it appearing live to an audience (Industrial Symphony No.1); his continued pithy and absurd contributions to his daily newspaper cartoon (The Angriest Dog in the World); several almost-produced projects (Up At The Lake, The Lemurians, One Saliva Bubble, Goddess); a well-received fine art exhibition; a new prime-time TV show (Twin Peaks) followed by a brash and daring cinematic endeavour (Wild At Heart) — his attempts to share his creations was saturating all forms of media, turning on new fans and followers to his unique artistic tendencies. There are many great little stories surrounding this time period which I won’t spoil here, but this period was filled with happy moments and fortuitous meetings with many actors and associates that would enable Lynch to build his own personal repertoire. From Harry Dean Stanton to Roy Orbison — it’s obvious the fondness Lynch has for people in general is heartfelt, and his genuine capacity for building a family around him wherever he is, is testament to his accessibility and personal magnetism. It’s like reading the origin stories about all your favourite characters with Lynch as the commonality uniting the team. 

Working with the pedal to the metal (I have no way of working in the phrase ‘Stab it and steer!’ from Wild At Heart!), how did David Lynch, his friends and his family feel around this time? Multiple projects and deadlines such as these would normally manifest to others through stress-induced outbursts, anxious sets and ruffled feathers but with Transcendental Meditation in his back pocket, and his previously established good nature, few saw any changes in him. In fact, it was only in his personal life that strain would show — to the world at large, David Lynch was about to become a household name with seemingly no strings attached aside from his iconic refusal to give clarity to the vague and the interpretive in his work. His strength of vision, in some ways relatively hidden in The Elephant Man and Dune, was becoming a trademark for the inventive and the bizarre — which would carry with it inevitable penalties much later. 

These chapters (and some that follow) certainly repeat some stories and ‘urban myths’ that many fans will already be familiar with — after all, with intense productivity and fame comes media coverage and scrutiny — interviews, articles and gossip. The book’s challenge is to stand out from the glut of reference materials out there, and with exclusive access to the books’ subject and his collaborators, it manages to succeed principally because of the immense contributions of its subject and that wealth of associations. 

Speaking to a variety of colleagues and longtime friends, Kristine McKenna unearths many disclosures on how Lynch ran his movies and worked with actresses and actors, production managers and editors — all manner of people who worked with him in some capacity or other. None venture to suggest anything beyond what we all know of him when he is working – he’s the happiest when he is creating. One such dialogue reveals an almost supernatural ingredient to his working recipe:

“We did a few takes, then he came up to me, put his hand on my arm, and looked at me, then he sighed and walked away, and it was as if he’d infused me with the emotion the scene called for. Without saying a word, he gave me what I needed.”[1]

It’s not the first time that Lynch seems to possess qualities that supersede any traditional or conventional understanding of a director/actor relationship. The ‘short hand’ used in his direction of actors/actresses, that has been mentioned by many who have worked with him, is given more definition here. In fact, the book helps us to see Lynch in terms of some of the characters he has shaped — Henry and his visual appearance (Lynch wears a similar uniform each day); Nadine and her obsessions (the numerology, rituals and habits that Lynch adheres to); Cooper and his delight in a cup of coffee and his almost-psychic intuition etc. There’s many connections that can be fashioned from the idiosyncrasies of Lynch and his (co)-creations, but it’s also noticeable that mentions of serendipity, luck, happenstance and happy accidents abound in the book. As his movies sometimes operate on a subtle, unknown psychic or metaphysical level so apparently, does the director himself. 

There are many reveals that give rise to a smile whilst providing further on-set insights – his hatred of production meetings:

“Okay, I’m here, but you see this script?’ Then he’d throw the script in the garage can” [2]

…his lack of interest in feedback from ‘the suits’:

“I remember an executive taking a list of notes out of his pocket and saying, ‘I’ve got some notes if you’re interested,’ and David said, ‘No, not really;” [3]

…or his random off-piste working practices:

“Yes, David is a very efficient director, but he can get sidetracked. You can have all the elements in place to shoot something, the actors and the key people are there, and you know exactly what you have to do. Then you go for a coffee and by the time you get back David might be doing something completely different.” [4]

These quirks add to the Lynch ‘brand’ which has both blessed and cursed him. His films generate discussion and equal measures of praise and disparagement; his personality and mannerisms generate the same fascination and it’s likely that most of his fan base is equally as entranced by him as they are by his art.

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At this point in the book/his timeline, most of Lynch’s work to date takes place in the past, or a timeless in-between, rarely reflecting directly upon the modern world surrounding him. For the first time since the troubling debacle of Dune (Goddess notwithstanding), Lynch felt comfortable in taking an interest in another’s work (Barry Gifford) and in doing so, wrestled with the idea of love surviving whilst “the world was coming unglued.” [5] He admits to being troubled by the events in his own sun-soaked neighbourhood, so the keen desire to adapt a book that gave him a window into that world, to follow a fiery couple headlong through that darkness, would be appealing — resulting in his creative streak rocketing him to a Palme D’Or win at Cannes within months of committing the story to celluloid. 

That the film Wild At Heart came together so quickly and painlessly is a minor miracle considering his previous experiences. The timelines often queried and discussed by fans — when did Lynch stop paying attention to his new TV baby Twin Peaks? — are still not so clear. In Room to Dream, Wild At Heart appears to come together whilst Twin Peaks meanders its way towards the TV screen for its debut season. Chronology around this time is as fractured and messy as Bobby Peru’s teeth (which get some quality discussion here too). There’s a view from Mark Frost, the agent Tony Krantz, editor and director Duwaye Dunham, David Lynch himself…it’s still not so clear — at one point it appears that on the cusp of phenomenal Emmy Award wins post-Season 1 (we all know, it doesn’t happen) Lynch and Frost were already a divided partnership, at least according to one memory. As the book concerns itself with such memories, it becomes distinctly personal and discursive. Is it the mark of a good co-author or biographer to attempt a cohesion despite these challenges. Lynch’s longstanding association with Kristine McKenna appears to bear much fruit in terms of her understanding of the man and his work. She gives context where possible and clarity where she has knowledge, but this means it doesn’t always concretise explicitly where there are subjective viewpoints. 

“I don’t think the cockroaches in his underpants are in the book, and his sandwich-making might not be, either,” [6] Lynch remarks on the character of cousin Dell (Crispin Glover). 

That line alone was immensely amusing, especially imagining the deadpan delivery that likely accompanied it. In addition though, an interesting note from that statement is that Lynch has a remarkable recollection of his childhood at age 5, but when it comes to characters and plot, those worlds are fluid and ephemeral at times (he says much the same about the character of Mr Reindeer). Wild At Heart the movie exists, for him, in a world impenetrably entangled with Gifford’s literary version. In fact, his brother remarks earlier in the book that David saw Fellini films when he was younger, which David Lynch does not recall – yet we can read that his memory is usually better than most. Are there reasons for this perhaps? Or is it simply, as we often construe, Lynch inhabits his movie worlds almost as if they were real life?

The book goes on to reiterate many of the famous stories surrounding Twin Peaks (the origin of the Log Lady; the European closed ending to the Pilot) and Wild At Heart (the later-removed scene that caused mass walkouts; the change of heart that resulted in the appearance of Glinda ‘the Good Witch’, at the 11th hour; the accusations of self-parody aimed at the film post-awards and its wider release). Lynch himself barely addresses any of the Wild At Heart strands, and it’s a shame that his reactions and reminiscences take up far less reading time than any chapter so far in the book. It’s clear from a rewatch with Laura Dern that he is more than happy with the feature, but for this love-on-the-run road movie – perhaps partly authored by Lynch but unquestionably another facet of his own artistic soul – the book gives it short shrift (incidentally, the audiobook gives even less Lynch-time to these chapters). 

“I started living a bicoastal life after Blue Velvet, and I didn’t like that. I liked being in New York with Isabella and I loved being in Europe when I went there, but I’m way more of a homebody. When you’re moving around all the time you don’t get any work done.” [7]

Back in the very first part of this book club when Rob E King and I talked about our first impressions, minus spoilers, I alluded to Lynch appearing more ‘faceted and fallible’. There are several points during the book that this is keenly felt, and these chapters touch upon an area that gives pause to interpretation. Earlier I remarked upon the stress of fame, of success in your chosen field and the effect that can have on your work and your relationships. Lynch fell in love with Isabella Rossellini with their shared experience on Blue Velvet, but only a few years later the romance was abruptly over, with implied infidelity. “David has this incredible sweetness, but shortly after that he completely cut me out of his life and left me with a phone call telling me he never wanted to see me again,” Rossellini said. “I didn’t see it coming and it was shocking.” [8]

This surprises us because Lynch appears to be a warm, values-driven, respectful old school gentleman, incapable of an action quite so harsh. But the strain of being a social animal, of the spotlight glaring on their romance and his personal life was too much for him to successfully grapple with. At this point we know the art life requires dedication and sacrifice, but it’s surprising how that could translate to a certain callousness. Lynch does not hide from this – it’s there in black and white – but he does not comment. Perhaps there are no words for something so unlike him? Or perhaps the event didn’t happen in quite the way it’s been translated here? There’s no way to know.* Whatever the reason, perhaps this was the moral eventually delivered by this period’s significant flirtation with fame – fame was an enabler for the public and powers that be to gain awareness and investment in his creations, but like the Ouroboros, consuming its own tail — it was a cyclical, unworkable scenario — Lynch’s vital, artistic productivity was more difficult to access when fame ate into the resource of time and room to dream. 

So, like Sailor and Lula, Lynch eventually found love in hell — the new freedom to pursue art back in his own, intimate world with a new partner (Mary Sweeney) who understood his needs at a time when his work was about to cease being the cool conversation around town, and his journey back to Twin Peaks, a bittersweet epilogue. 


* (There may be a hint in Lost Highway — stay tuned for that in next week’s part 5!).

[1] David Lynch and Kristine McKenna, Room to Dream (New York: Random House, 2018), 254.

[2] McKenna, p. 287.

[3] McKenna, p.248.

[4] McKenna, p.287.

[5] Lynch, p.297.

[6] Lynch, p.298

[7] Lynch, p.266.

[8] McKenna, p.290.

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