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Room to Dream: A Limited Event Book Club Series — Part 5

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 5’) 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 cover chapters:

  • “People go up and then they go down”
  • “Next door to dark”

At this point in the timeline, David Lynch was a success by anyone’s definition. Following an initially-genre breaking hit TV show and grabbing Cannes’ highest accolade — the Palme D’or — his next project would likely be met with a great deal of anticipation and publicity now that he had graced many a magazine cover. That his next film was a prequel to Twin Peaks, subtitled Fire Walk With Me, should have delighted many who wished for a return to his former sensation. However, the man himself admits to feeling that there was a change in the air, and his popularity carried with it the dark shadow of overbearing expectation. 

His personal life was on the highway back to the harmony and balance that he had lost during his relationship with Isabella Rossellini — his new paramour Mary Sweeney had worked by his side for many years, and understood him better than most. With that support, Lynch was ready to work on his most challenging picture so far — travelling into almost unremitting darkness for it’s 2-plus hours length. On this journey he found new financial backing from the artist-friendly country of France, which must’ve been a positive sign for Lynch:

“David believes that creativity is our birthright, and part of the reason he loves France is because you’re a rock star there if you’re a creative person, and your creative rights are respected.” [1]

This investment, found via new associate Pierre Edelman, was a 3-picture deal that held in it’s commitment the potential of finally bringing Ronnie Rocket to the screen. 

However, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me became a lesson in cultural politics – if you don’t give an audience what they want (a sequel…quirkiness…humour…light with the dark) and you continue to be yourself no matter what the expectations are (a prequel…deadpan…human evil…full-tilt darkness), you risk a backlash. It’s not for this article to examine (there are wonderful essays on the 25YL site, and interviews to explore more), but the effect on Lynch is what the book tries to concern itself with. However, it’s via the views of his friends and work colleagues that we primarily engage with this — the man himself, despite admitting it hurt him, suggests that he wasn’t as deeply affected as he was on Dune for instance. Aside from stories of the Red Room and the reluctance of some actors to participate in the movie, he avoids dwelling on how his love for Laura Palmer was confronted by a poor box office, but perhaps worse, a collective shrug from many supporters and followers.

The cast and Lynch’s immediate family are called upon to provide much of the reality 25 years later — that Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me has been re-evaluated in the intervening time — something of a commonality with this film and his next film, Lost Highway. It is through their reflections that we keenly feel David Lynch’s heartache — “Fire Walk With Me was really important to Dad, and I remember his terrible confusion at how it was misunderstood,” [2] his daughter confides. The resultant retreat to the mid-west with Mary, which continued for several months-at-a-time over the next couple of years, clarifies much in terms of how Lynch actually dealt with the pain endured after the movie’s reception. His vocal and positive outlook, his love of Los Angeles and his avoidance of negativity belies a troubled artist, who shared a shocking and painful last 7 days in a young girl’s life and was largely berated for it. What’s confusing, perhaps, is that this is an audience that had previously been glued to their TV sets watching the aftermath of that very same death. But this was a David Lynch movie, not the Twin Peaks television experience. The difference is significant, beyond restraints and diversions.

“Keep your eye on the donut, not on the hole” is a phrase synonymous with Lynch, easily applied here in terms of how he views these events and life in general. But the co-authored line from Bill Pullman’s character in Lost Highway also carries relevance — “I like to remember things my own way…how I remembered them, not necessarily the way they happened.” Could this be another strategy adopted by Lynch, helping him to deal with the negativity and fallout of events outside his control? Does it enable him to continue despite such personal criticism (after all, publicly displaying art is almost akin to being naked in front of an audience of strangers — exposed and vulnerable)? He’s not saying — at least, not in these chapters/this book. But elsewhere (an interview with this same author, accompanying his art in the 1992 book of his Spanish exhibit), there is a quote directly from David Lynch that could speak on this, and on his reluctance to respond to memories about his personal life.

“We favor ourselves in all our memories. We make ourselves act better in the past and make better decisions and we’re nicer to people and we take more credit than we possibly deserve – we candy-coat it so crazy so we can go forward and live. An accurate memory of the past would be depressing, probably?” [3].

Joining the dots, playing the detective as Lynch often encourages us to, gives us the closest deduction we can make without a clear, direct answer from him.

In Wisconsin with Mary, Lynch reconnected with the simplicity of his past (in dynamic contrast to the expanse/frenetic nature of his city life), in the company of family and friends — well away from vigour of Hollywood and the time-absorbing gravity well it generated. At the time of the disappointment of Fire Walk With Me, Mark Frost and David Lynch’s foray into television ended with a flirtation of pure comedy — On The Air. Unfortunately remarks that it was “ahead of its time” [4] only work in retrospect — the network didn’t like it, and audiences either weren’t given enough episodes to sample its eccentric take on 1950s live TV, or were simply consuming alternatives now that Twin Peaks was officially cancelled. “You know, people go up and then usually they go down, and if they come back up after they’ve been down, then they’ve got staying power,” [5] Lynch reflects. It would take a while before he would resurface on a large scale again. 

Now back to his smaller world, Lynch was enjoying new, uncluttered creative expressions and adventures in his recently acquired vintage speedboat. A balance was struck — between his state of the art in-house studio and its expanding staff, and his inner life — expressing it on his own terms without expectation and scrutiny. Building furniture that doubles as sculpture, spending time with the LAPD robbery and homicide division and working in his new music studio also occupied Lynch’s time when back in LA. Keeping the fire of his imagination and productivity gently stoked, he struck up many new creative partnerships with the likes of Jocelyn Montgomery, Chrysta Bell, Michael Jackson, Yoshiki, Monty Montgomery, Trent Reznor and cinematographer Peter Deming. Some would last up until the present day, whilst others simply gave him the chance to express himself in new mediums and with both unknown and popular artists around the world. The brand that Lynch had unwittingly generated around himself, at the time of Twin Peaks, would prove fruitful in providing him new territory and collaborations to explore. 

One of his new methods of expression was in the world of music videos and TV advertisements (even though he had criticised the latter for being loud and violent interruptions in the middle of Peaks). Shorter pieces, concentrating his directorial vision and flourishes, these ads — along with the micro-film Premonition Following An Evil Deed for Lumiere and Company — enabled him to commit ideas to film with tight boundaries and limited budget. He was not the first director to involve himself in this commercial realm, but coming from a ‘cult’, art house background, he could be seen to pave the way for the likes of Sofia Coppola, Wes Anderson and Terry Gilliam — directors utilising unique aesthetics and atmospheres to sell goods and services. 

Making the most with the least – Premonition Following An Evil Deed

As he continued to gain traction in his art life once more through these slower years, Lynch sought out Barry Gifford (whom he had worked with whilst adapting Wild At Heart and the solitary HBO venture Hotel Room), eager to share ideas on another possible collaboration. Gifford too, had ideas — however, they each hated the others’ at first — but the partnership was sound and soon Lost Highway was touted as the next film project, and the first since Fire Walk With Me over 4 years earlier.

“David was staying at a nearby hotel,” Gifford reveals, detailing their writing process, “and at seven minutes to nine every morning he’d call and say, ‘Barry, I’ll be there in exactly eight and a half minutes,’ and eight and a half minutes later he’d walk in with a big cup of coffee.” [6]

This partnership, with separate histories of dark narratives and bold, unforgettable characters in their output, infused the script and the movie with an overwhelming feeling of pressure and anxiety. Themes at play in parts of Lynch’s previous works occupied Lost Highway’s soul completely, like a suffocating, toxic shroud. Perhaps this was a way of channeling the disappointment and strain from the period of fame and furious exertion that the end of the 80’s and the early 90’s had placed upon him? Lynch, with typical understatement, says “It’s not a funny film, because it’s not a good highway these people are going down.” [7] Here was a new work that would cogitate on the state of a troubled mind, and the lengths to which a person can be gripped by paranoia, fear, and guilt. A new phase, partly begun with the Twin Peaks prequel, was about to take shape.

“It’s a damn good film, but it won’t make a nickel,” [8] remarked Marlon Brando after a private viewing with Lynch at a rented theatre. An acquaintance built over several visits to Lynch’s home (I won’t spoil the tomato, salt and banana story here — it’s too good), Brando was almost involved in Lynch and Robert Engels’ aborted Dream Of The Bovine script (aside from the fact that he claimed it was “pretentious bullshit,”) [9]. That was followed by an almost sitcom-sounding proposition he made to Lynch involving Brando and Harry Dean Stanton — the simple premise that they both be in drag, drinking tea whilst ad-libbbing. Missed opportunities indeed.  

Brando was almost right — Lost Highway didn’t ignite the box office, but it didn’t perform too badly — and more than that, it did send a message — David Lynch was back in theatres and he was still doing things his own way. The taking of Siskel and Ebert’s ‘Two thumbs down’ review and adding it to the movie poster was apparently Lynch’s idea, and certainly underlines the composure and boldness he possessed. Lost Highway was a complicated and ominous puzzle that all the actors on it seemed very much in tune with, and stories abound in this chapter, cataloguing how Lynch achieved the end results.

Moving forward through this period, and as he moved through middle age, the director faced the final farewells of friends and co-workers, that impacted on him greatly. Saddened that his buddy Jack Nance did not get to see the last film he made with him before he died, Lynch describes his friendship with great honesty, humour and sorrow.

“He was a brilliant guy, really smart and he read a lot, and there’s a lot hiding in this guy. Jack was my buddy and it’s a terrible shame he’s gone.” [10].

One of the aims of this book was for Lynch to give his side of various viewpoints and opinions made of him over the years — and it’s clear that, in many places, he does so. One of the significant impressions made on me though, is regarding the depth and humanity that is communicated in the words he uses and perhaps more importantly, the emotion that sits behind and within those words and the stories he chooses to tell. It is particularly intense in the passages about his friend of over 24 years. 

Jack left the world after an altercation, leapt on by the news media for its obvious linkage to Twin Peaks, outside a donut shop. It’s through these past 2 chapters that a sense of mortality begins to seep into the reflections. After talking at length about his important and tender final meeting with movie legend Frederico Fellini in 1993, there’s the death of Alan Splet (not discussed) in 1994 and then the premature passing of Jack Nance in 1996. Lynch is forced to consider the passage of time; its effect upon relationships; the physical and emotional toll growing older solicits; and not least the idea of journeys not yet concluded. The timing of his next film, The Straight Story, was both remarkable and poignant in this regard. But that’s for the next part of this series, and another writer here at 25YL, to journey to with you.

[1] David Lynch and Kristine McKenna, Room to Dream (New York: Random House, 2018), 306.

[2] McKenna, p. 311.


[4] McKenna, p.314.

[5] Lynch, p.328.

[6] McKenna, p. 334.

[7] Lynch, p. 352.

[8] Lynch, p. 359.

[9] Lynch, p. 351.

[10] Lynch, p. 359.


Written by Paul Billington

25YL site Business Strategist, dabbling in Marketing and also a writer here too!

Lover of 'Twin Peaks', all things David Lynch, a big believer that 'Big Trouble in Little China' may possibly be better than 'Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey'.

Oh, and bacon is awesome and I miss Sherbet Dib Dabs.

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