Let’s take a gander at the commercials by David Lynch. The Director is notoriously a fan of the epic TV drama Mad Men, and it is no surprise why. Yes, because of the brilliant characters and his love for the 1950s and ’60s, but also because he is such a creative Ad Man himself.
As Lynch told Chris Rodley in Lynch on Lynch, he thinks of commercials as “little bitty films, and I always learn something by doing them.” So what can we learn about Lynch from his ads? Has he taken any influences from his ads and planted them in his other works? Here I will take a look at the majority of commercials created by Lynch—I couldn’t find them all if you have footage of any missing ads, please send them my way!
Obsession, Calvin Klein, 1988
Fresh off his success with Blue Velvet and before he started production on Twin Peaks, Lynch directed four Obsession commercials which feature quotes from great writers set in very modern situations (at the time) and are the first of many fragrance ads Lynch would work on. Looking back now these ads seem pretty low-key and what you would expect from a Calvin Klein ad, but back in the 80’s they were pretty visually spectacular. It would be another two years after these commercials aired before Madonna’s ‘Vogue’ would hit MTV, but you can certainly see the influence. The beautiful young people adorned in black and white, bending the rules of gender stereotypes. These ads are somewhat more romantically styled than we are used to with Lynch, but still, have a dreamlike and noirish tone.
Some famous faces feature here, including two that would go on to star in Twin Peaks; Heather Graham (and a 21-year-old Benicio Del Toro) in ‘F. Scott Fitzgerald’, and the always cool James Marshall in ‘Ernest Hemingway’. ‘D.H. Lawrence’ made me take note a little, the ‘moulding’ of the male love interests face had hints of Diane and Coop’s sex scene from the finale episode of Twin Peaks Series 3, but of course, this is done with much more loving intention here than apparent in Twin Peaks; nevertheless, I felt a moment of recognition.
“F. Scott Fitzgerald”
“He knew that when he kissed this girl, his mind would never romp again like the mind of God. So he waited, listening for a moment longer to the tuning fork that had been struck on a star. Then he kissed her, and when his lips touched she blossomed for him like a flower and the incarnation was complete“. — The Great Gatsby
“I lay awake thinking and my mind jumping around. Then I couldn’t keep away from it, and I started to think about Brett. I was thinking about Brett and my mind started to go in sort of smooth waves. Then all of a sudden I started to cry. After a while it was better and I lay in bed and listened to the heavy trams go by.. and then I went to sleep”. — The Sun Also Rises
“Her fingers went over the mould of his face, over his features. How perfect and foreign he was—ah how dangerous! Her soul thrilled with complete knowledge. This was the glistening, forbidden apple … She kissed him, putting her fingers over his face, his eyes, his nostrils, over his brows and his ears, to his neck, to know him, to gather him in by touch.” — Women in Love
The fourth, Lynch’s ad featuring Gustave Flaubert is mysteriously unavailable on YouTube, but reportedly features another future Twin Peaks star, Lara Flynn Boyle and goes something like this:
A man and a woman embrace. Through a voice-over, a narrator quotes from Gustave Flaubert (whose name appears briefly on the screen),” Afterwards she would wander through the room exploring it. She would open draws and looks at herself in the shaving mirror.” There is a shot of a woman’s distorted face in a large round mirror. The woman picks up a pipe and puts it in her mouth as the narrator continues. “Often times, she would place his pipe between her teeth. The one he kept on his night table amongst the lemons, the lumps of sugar, and the jug of water.” There is a close up of the woman’s face.” It took them over a quarter of an hour to say goodbye.” The commercial ends with a close up of the Obsession perfume bottle.”
(taken from Wrapped in Plastic no.19)
“Lost”, “Cherry Pie”, “Mystery of G”, “The Rescue” Georgia Coffee (1991)
These adverts for Georgia Coffee are a Twin Peaks fan’s dream. Only released in Japan as an official tie-in to the show, we get to see some of our most beloved characters trying to solve the mystery of a missing girl. “I’m really against it in principle,” Lynch said about the commercials in Lynch on Lynch, “But they were so much fun to do, and they were only running in Japan, and so it just felt OK.” Seeing our old friends back in action like this brings back waves of nostalgia, especially in light of how different Series 3 was to the original two. Watch this for all the warm feelings and some damn fine coffee (in a can?). If the Log Lady says its true, I’m sold. The only thing missing is Sheriff Harry Truman.
“We Care About New York” New York City Department of Sanitation (1991)
A Lynch directed Public Service Announcement, imagine that. Well, now you don’t have to! This is really something else. Whilst Series 2 of Twin Peaks was airing; Lynch teamed up with the New York Department of Sanitation to address the city’s rat and trash problem. With incidental music from the show distorted and used to dramatic effect, this 60-second film really does hit home and instils fear, which is exactly its intention. We are very much closer to Eraserhead territory with this one. The film was part of the “We Care About New York” series, also featured the work of Lynch’s trusted Director of Photography, Frederick Elmes (Eraserhead, Blue Velvet).
“Dangerous” by Michael Jackson (1991)
Lynch was approached by Michael Jackson to make the trailer for his album “Dangerous”. Now, this ad is one of the most fascinating to me; there is a lot of Series 3 of Twin Peaks in here. During the opening few seconds, silky curtains rush fiercely; you can immediately notice the similarities to the opening titles of Series 3. Behind the silk is a world of strange trees which we fly through leading us to a blazing fire, from out of which pops an orb containing the face of Jackson. Of course, both the faces of BOB and Laura Palmer were seen inside orbs in Series 3, so I’ll leave that to your interpretation as to what Lynch was saying about Jackson when he came up with this idea. Notably, Jackson’s usually white-gloved hand is pitch black here, not unlike the hand revealed within Sarah Palmer’s face after she kills the trucker. Dangerous indeed.
I’m in the living room in L.A. and my phone rings and there’s Michael Jackson on the phone, telling me he wants me to do some kind of trailer for his album “Dangerous.” I said, “I don’t know if I can do it; I don’t have any ideas for it,” but as soon as I hang up and started walking toward the hall, all these ideas came up. I called back and said, “I got some ideas,” and I worked on that with John Dykstra in his studio.
We built this miniature world that was a red room with a little teeny door, and in the room were these weird modern-shaped wooden trees and a mound with silver fluid that was going to erupt in flames and then reveal Michael Jackson’s face. It was stop-action, and it took a long time to do. For me, things don’t have to be so exact, but these people working on it plotted it out to the nth degree. The trees were lacquered red or black and the people who went in to move them wore white gloves and moved them along this precisely marked-out route.
That was one part of the thing. The other part was shooting Michael’s face, and we had a camera rig for that with a circle of lights that created this fantastic look of focus with no shadows. All Michael had to do was stand in one place for a few minutes, but he was in makeup for eight or ten hours. How could someone be in makeup for ten hours? It’s someone very critical about their looks. Finally he was ready and he came out and I met him for the first time and all he wanted to do was talk about the Elephant Man. He tried to buy the bones and the cloak and all his stuff from the museum and he asked me questions about it and was a really nice guy. Then he stood there and we shot it and one minute later he was done. – Room to Dream
“Who is Gio?” Gio by Armani (1992)
Classic Lynch storytelling here in 60 seconds. A beautiful, rich woman of the elite apparently hounded by paparazzi and fawned over by the men of the aristocracy, escapes that side of her life at night to the place she really belongs and can be herself — dancing to Latin Jazz in a backstreet club. That is Gio. Sadly her secret joy is captured on camera, ending in disappointment for the leading lady. But will she now be free? The film noir style cinematography is stunning, the music classic, haunting and uplifting. Not what we have come to expect from Lynch style-wise per se but I think that just goes to show how versatile his Direction is.
“Opium” Opium by Yves Saint Laurent (1990)
This ad has slightly more of a Lost Highway feel to it with the grand architecture and close up shots of pleasure on the Vivien Leigh-esque beauty’s face, reminiscent of Alice and Pete’s lovemaking scenes. But it’s not a man bringing the delectation here, its perfume, and in a totally trademark Lynch shot, we dive down into the bottle to visually experience the bliss for ourselves. Lynch usually uses this technique in darker scenes; the decaying severed ear in Blue Velvet and the creepy and mysterious blue box in Mullholland Drive are just two examples. The cinematography was done by Lynch favourite, Frederick Elmes, and the music is unmistakably Angelo Badalamenti.
Barilla Pasta (1993)
It is really difficult to pull anything typically Lynch out of this commercial for Barilla Pasta. Gerard Depardieu stars as our White Knight (ok maybe there’s a nod to Cooper here if you really want to find something), who after seeing a little girl fall off her bike, commandeers a restaurant kitchen to make her some comfort farfalle. Nicely done! Our hero is justly rewarded when a rather foxy lady crashes her moped and also requires some tender loving care. The accompanying music is perhaps the strangest part of the ad, being horribly upbeat but slightly off-pitch.
“The Wall – Tubular Technology” Adidas
Sport and Lynch don’t really go hand in hand, so it’s no surprise that this is not your stereotypical Adidas ad. It all starts as you’d expect though, an athletic male sprinting towards a wall, it’s only as he tries to push through the pain barrier that it goes full Lynch—we take a trip inside the runner’s body and are shown the true horror that is exercise; electricity, fire, scorpions and internal screaming. Kind of makes you wonder why anyone would do it really, but I jest, the moment of glory is as he breaks through the wall and into the clouds, serenaded with music similar to the love theme to Twin Peaks. This is what Lynch does very well—he paints feelings. This is maybe something we need to remember when trying to decipher his other work.
Tim Delaney (advertising creative): “Working with David Lynch on the Adidas Wall commercial was exciting simply because it’s working with a master film director who’s also a very nice guy. We let him, and just stood back and watched him do things we’ve never seen before. He did it with glee, muse and professionalism. Some people…quite a lot people don’t like the film. I really like it.”
“The way that we approached it was we wanted to go from Hell into Heaven. And that’s what we said David Lynch. We wanted to make a film where a runner goes through the wall, the pain barrier. And is in hell. As he goes through the wall, he comes up, at the outside, into heaven. That’s essentially what we told him.”
“The Instinct of Life” Background by Jil Sander (1993)
This fragrance ad certainly feels like the foundations to the desert scenes in Lost Highway with the flashes of smokey lightning. It is visually stunning, with greens and purples melting into each other to make a gloriously powerful scene. The music here could be taken straight from a love scene in Twin Peaks, building in powerful synth waves, majestically masculine; precisely what the ad called for.
“Sun Moon Stars” Sun Moon Stars by Lagerfeld (1994)
Another fragrance ad, this time starring Daryl Hannah is very short at just 16 seconds, but still incredibly beautiful, perfectly depicting the joy of love that feels bigger even than the Sun, Moon and the Stars.
“Dead Leaves” (not shown), “Aunt Droid”, “Nuclear Winter”, “Rocket” Sci-Fi Channel (1997)
These commercials for the Sci-Fi channel certainly bring a sense of foreboding and in the case of ‘Rocket’ nostalgia that you may expect more from Twin Peaks partner Mark Frost. ‘Nuclear Winter’ is the most typically Lynchian, instilling a sense of fear as the grandfather clock tick-tocks with something coming towards the door. ‘Aunt Droid’ has a kitschy 60s feel, and sense of humour. All in all, they completely sum up the varied content that the channel will bring.
Clearblue Easy (1997)
Any woman that’s ever taken a pregnancy test knows that in those few minutes the world stands still. Three minutes feels like an hour, and your mind travels through a thousand different possibilities. So who better than Lynch to put those feelings into pictures? I love that we don’t get to see the results, but the woman smiles—happy with whatever fate landed on her that day. The story behind the making of this ad is just brilliant (see quote below). Only Lynch could get away with those on set shenanigans!
“The moody black-and-white spots, which started airing last month as part of a $7 million campaign, climb inside the mind of a woman nervously awaiting the result of her Clear Blue Easy One Minute pregnancy test. Everything she sees – from the clock to shampoo bottles to the faucet handles – reads yes or no.
“The client was a little nervous that the spot would be eerie and scary,” says David Cohen, executive producer at Ogilvy & Mather. “But on the set, Lynch was constantly making sure the client was happy.”
Lynch […] heard about the idea for the commercial from his agent. He contacted Ogilvy & Mather saying he liked the bold, simple concept. But copywriter Lisa Mayer knew better: “I said to him, ‘Mr. Lynch, you were attracted to this because it involves the psychological torture of a beautiful young woman.’ And he said, ‘Yes’.
In fact, Lynch engaged in a little good-humored on-the-set torture himself. The veteran director made the spot’s actress (newcomer Marisa Parker) actually take a pregnancy test so he could tape her real-life reaction. The twist: Lynch switched her results with those of a pregnant crew member. Says Mayer, ‘[Marisa] held her own, then as soon as the camera stopped rolling, she screamed, ‘You bastard! Very funny”.
— taken from Entertainment Weekly
“Parisienne People” Parisienne Cigarettes (1998)
Swiss tobacco company F.J. Birrus gave free rein over content and style to several big-name directors for their Parisienne cigarette commercials. These directors included The Coen Brothers, Emir Kusturica, Roman Polanski, Jean-Luc Godard and of course David Lynch. This ad ran in movie theatres in Switzerland in 1999 and is one of the most visually similar to scenes from Twin Peaks Series 3, particularly Part 8, than any other of Lynch’s ads.
Shown completely in reverse, two men look on in awe at a shoal of fish descending from the sky and delight at making, and then extinguishing a fire at what appears to be an abandoned gas station or maybe convenience store? Smoke bellows and lights flash from inside the building, and a sparking electricity cable snakes around uncontrollably. Does it make sense? Not at all. Does it have anything to do with cigarettes? Not that I can tell. Would it make me buy that brand? Damn right it would.
“Welcome to the Third Place” Playstation 2 (2000)
The commercial for Playstation 2 is the only one I can remember ever seeing on television in the UK, and it is full Lynch. Contrary to what YouTube may tell you, Lynch only directed this ad from the series. Seeing this now in light of Twin Peaks S3 is really quite fascinating. A suited young dark-haired man, not unlike Agent Dale Cooper walks a nightmarish corridor from which flames roar, a platinum blonde lady dressed all in pink, who looks a little like Teresa Banks, or maybe (Tulpa) Diane at a push, floats past a window while telling him to ssh. The man sees a sideways version of himself giving him a thumbs up which he returns, then in his doppelgängers place suddenly stands a black silhouette of a creature with a massive grin, hugely reminiscent of the face revealed inside Sarah Palmer’s. The man’s head eventually floats off down the corridor, leaving his body behind, and his arm spews out of his mouth. Smoke pours from his sleeve where his arm once was. Then all of a sudden his doppelgänger confronts him, a duck headed figure and a mummy all sat on a blue velvet sofa, oh and his arm sticking out of the floor. The duck man says, “Welcome to the Third Place”. Perfectly nonsensical and this worked absolute wonders for Sony. Adverts don’t get much cooler or weirder than this. You can read and see more about the making of the ad from Welcome to Twin Peaks, here.
“Do you speak Micra?” Nissan Micra (2002)
Lynch went for modern surrealism with this ad for the brand new look of the Nissan Micra, taking inspiration from Magritte for the electric blue lips. The whole scene is a vibrant neon blue and turquoise, that is until we see a red-haired woman peer out from her yellow-tinted window in a nod to Edward Hopper that we know Lynch has a fondness for from his use of the doomed receptionist at KPJK Radio in Part 8 of Twin Peaks Series 3. This blend of 1950’s Americana and futuristic cityscapes was exactly what the people at Nissan wanted, the car itself was considered modern-retro or Modtro as the lips tell us. Accompanied by a twisted breakbeat score, this ad is very cool indeed.
“I like the Micra, particularly the headlamps. They are like jewels. And I like the concept of ‘Do you speak Micra?’ I like modern and retro put together to make modtro – that’s a very good concept.”
“I think it was [surrealist artist Rene] Magritte who put lips in the sky. This is a bit of the feel of those big beautiful lips speaking in a supermodern and very graphic city [Paris].”
“Gucci” Gucci (2007)
This Gucci perfume ad isn’t a million miles away from the Opium ad from 1990, with its warm copper and gold hues; however, the theme is now thoroughly modern. Three beautiful models dance to Blondie’s ‘Heart of Glass’ in their very luxurious, ornate and windowless city apartments. The smell of the perfume has a similar effect on them as they are taken over by the scent and on a journey of the senses. Elements of Lost Highway are here for sure. The first dancer is shown on her own TV as she brushes by. This ad is far from the stark coldness of the film, though; it is exquisitely beautiful and uplifting. You can almost smell the heady citrus, patchouli and sandalwood through the screen.
“Lady Blue Shanghai” Dior (2010)
Way longer than your average ad at 16 mins, this short film was made for the internet and stars Marion Cotillard. Dior allowed Lynch complete creative control of the Shanghai-set production, providing that three conditions were met: a particular Dior bag had to be featured prominently, the Oriental Pearl Tower had to be seen, and some scenes had to be shot in old Shanghai. The short film is immediately reminiscent of Inland Empire as it too was filmed on handheld digital camera, making you feel slightly seasick, and very much part of what is happening.
The story follows Cotillard as she enters a hotel in Shanghai. In her empty room, 1920’s music mysteriously plays on a vintage record player. This alone understandably unnerves her, then in a puff of smoke arrives a gorgeous blue Dior handbag in the centre of the room. She calls for assistance, but there is no-one in her room. She explains to security that she knows no-one in Shanghai but that she had been to the Pearl Tower earlier that day and had a weird feeling that she’d been here before.
The sound of pearls hitting jade has transported her back to old Shanghai, the 1920’s music plays as she flashes back to that time and into a red draped room. A man enters and kisses her, and then the pair realise two men are after them and flee, running through the streets of old Shanghai. They run and run, until the scenery becomes modern-day, bright lights whizz past. The man’s voice says, “I can’t be here”, “I can’t be here. I wish I could”. He tells her he loves her, and then has to back away, holding out a blue rose in his hand before disappearing.
Back in the current, she focuses now on the handbag, she opens it and inside sits a vibrantly lit blue rose. A gift it seems from her lover from another time. The blue rose, of course, has a whole new meaning in light of Twin Peaks Series 3, which came later than this ad. The significance of a Blue Rose had been a mystery prior to that, but in Twin Peaks at least it means a case that cannot be unexplained in this world. Supernatural maybe, and of course for Diane and the original case of Lois Duffy, it meant Tulpas—thought-forms conjured into real living entities. It may not have the same resonance in this story, but the point of the ad may be that if you want something badly enough and think about it, you can make it happen. In this case, the exquisite blue handbag.
This ad is truly mesmerising and unlike any other. The production by Sabrina Sutherland is sublime, and music by Dean Hurley sets the mood perfectly. Haunting and beautiful.
David Lynch’s Signature Cup of Coffee (2011)
It is no surprise I guess that when Lynch made an ad for his own brand of coffee that he would go wherever he wanted to in terms of direction and story. So what do we get? David Lynch himself having a conversation with a Barbie dolls head that he is squeezing in the palm of his hand. He voices himself and the doll, who asks him several questions about the coffee, and now and then he tells her how beautiful she is. It is quite ridiculous, but I could listen to this man talk forever, and that coffee is damn good.
Louboutin Rouge (2014)
This last ad is perhaps the least like anything we have seen from Lynch before. We travel through a three-dimensional landscape of shadows and crisp, bright whites which highlight the signature Louboutin red nail polish perfectly. There is just one shade of red in the Louboutin range, designed to perfectly match the crimson underside of the designer’s famous high heeled shoe as worn by Gordon Cole’s French lady friend and Chantal in Twin Peaks Series 3.
The accompanying music is ethereal, ambient and with a jazz snare, a mix of old and new styles — this ad perfectly sums up where we are with Lynch today, always one step ahead of the game, but with one foot firmly in the past.
So this is it for Lynch commercials, for now. Hopefully, there will be more in the future. Do you have a favourite, and what influences have you spotted in the ads that I have missed? Let us know in the comments or on our Twitter/Facebook channels.