The World Reveals Itself
Interview with the German design magazine form, issue 158, 2/1997
Sex, violence and madness prevail: With his films, David Lynch has painted a cryptic picture of the States. He sees Eraserhead (1976), Blue Velvet (1986), Wild at Heart (1990) and his current project Lost Highway all as "travelogues from Hell". Hardly any other director is as controversial. And hardly any other has so rejuvenated US cinema. Art vs. kitsch? Lynch does not believe they are opposites. After all, he loves crossing borders: "Design and music, art and architecture they all belong together". And he has been designing furniture for years. Secretly Now he reveals all, in the first interview he has granted a design journal.
You're internationally renowned as a film director, actor and creator of the meanwhile legendary "Twin Peaks" TV series. But your passion lies not only with cinema and television. You've composed music with Angelo Badalamenti. Your a writer. And a painter...Recently, your pictures were on a show in Paris. And now we find out that you've been designing furniture for some time. What else can we expect to find you doing?
Don't worry: I don't want to appear like some all-round talent. Not at all. I just inevitably get involved with different things.
So furniture design is nothing new for you?
Right. I've always been interested in it.
Is there a particular element that connects all of your creative activities?
Well, film brings most mediums together. Painting, building furniture, or working with Angelo in music is like an avenue and is initially it's own thing. Sure, you can get lost in those specific things completely. And if you get an idea for some table or some piece of furniture, it's pretty thrilling.
In April, you are presenting a collection at the world's most important and famous furniture exhibition, the Salone del Mobile in Milan. The furniture will be produced. Are you planning a new career as a designer?
And when did you start designing furniture?
Well, when I started I never really thought of myself as a furniture designer. I would just get an idea and build something.
You actually started building things while a student in the Sixties?
Yes, right. During the decade of change...
Well, what about the tables on show in Milan. How old are they?
The "Espresso Table" is about five years old. The others are newer.
People often associate violence, some special desires and nightmares with you movies. In this context, it seems to be far cry to design.
That could be, but films, paintings, furniture, ect. are all based on ideas. You get an idea. And then you're hooked.
It's not very common for directors to design furniture for their movies themselves.
Could be. But sometimes I see a need for a certain piece of furniture in a certain place. It'd take too much time to search for a specific piece. And it's more fun for me to build it on my own.
Have you ever attempted to sell your furniture?
Well years ago I sold my firs little table to Skank World, on Beverly Drive. Skank World is a small place featuring 50's design and furniture - I love the place. But people don't normally go there to buy new furniture. So, it didn't work out. But since then I haven't worked on selling my furniture again. Till now, that is.
Are you looking to have your designs produced in large numbers?
No. First a small series , but not a limited edition. I hope the series will generate sales and become larger.
Some of your tables are very small. It seems as if they are only large enough for one purpose at one special time. The Steel Block Table, for example, looks as if there's only a space for an espresso cup, or some glasses. Another table is for one coffee mug and an ashtray. What's the secret behind these miniature tables?
To my mind, most tables are too big and they're too high. They shrink the size of the room and eat into space and cause unpleasant mental activity.
Have you considered how the public in Milan may interpret you furniture?
No, not a bit. (laughs)
It's obvious from your movies that wood attracts you. In your office there is a perfectly equipped carpentry workshop. At the premiere of Lost Highway here in Los Angeles you held a speech in which wood functioned as a metaphor for quality of content in films. How did you come up with such an association?
Well, wood is a very special material, and since the dawn of time people have been chopping down these trees and working with wood. Most wood will take a nail and not split apart. And wood can be cut with a saw and carved with chisels and smoothed. It has this beautiful grain, there's something that goes right to your soul.
Isn't such a praise of wood and handicrafts a little anachronistic nowadays?
I've always been interested in industrial structures and materials. Plastic has a place and it's really a cool thing. But it's two or three steps removed from something that's organic. So, wood talks to you and you can relate to it. It's such a pleasant material and so user-friendly, really. There're so many different types of wood - quite amazing. Wood is more than just a material.
What role does architecture play in your movies?
Architecture or space is all around us. But capturing space in a really pleasing way is an art form in its own right. And there're very few people who can do it.. Most houses, generally speaking, and especially the modern US approach, more or less destroy something inside.
While watching "The Elephant Man", I was struck by a scene in which the Elephant Man constructs a perfect model of a church. Did you design the church?
No. Stewart Craig, the production designer, made it. It was based on Victorian cardboard kits they used to sell and a church near the London Hospital.
You wrote the screenplay to Lost Highway together with Barry Gifford. And you said that Lost Highway is "a world where time is dangerously out of control". How is this idea expressed in the set design?
The film deals with time; it starts at one place and moves forward or backwards, or stands still, relatively speaking. But, time marches on and films compact time, or prolong time in different ways. There are sequences built with time in mind, as is the music. So, I guess it really probably has more to do with the story and the editing than with the elements and the set design.
In your screenplay there's no mention of the set design at all. When do you usually start to put such ideas to paper?
They never go on paper. When you get an idea many things come with the idea, most things. And pictures form, in your mind, and those pictures and the mood that comes, and the light, and many things you remember and you stay as true to those things as you can When You're working on a location you might have pictured a different place in your mind, so you look round for the right closest thing to it that you can find.
During "Eraserhead" you were living in the rooms in which you shot the film; in "Lost Highway" your house is part of the scenery. Why do you prefer to use your private space?
If you love the world of the movie so much, you want to be in the middle of things. So, it's great if, while shooting a film, You're always living in the places, and spend as much time there as possible. That way, the world reveals itself more.
And, as far as I know, your house was designed by Lloyd Wright, son of Frank Lloyd Wright.
Correct. Lloyd Wright designed the house that I live in, the Beverly Johnson House, in the Sixties. Lloyd Wrights son, Eric Wright, supervised the building work for his father: 25 years later, Eric designed a pool and a poolhouse on the property in the spirit of his father's work.
And you believe that your house has an influence on your work?
Wright is a great architect. The house has quite a feel of pure Japanese architecture, but also of American modernity, a bit of both. The whole space is just pleasing, gives me a good feeling. So it effects my whole life to live inside of it. And then, sometimes I see things, shapes or something that would go inside of it and that leads to furniture or film.
In your house things are very carefully arranged. You've designed boxes which conceal the phone and the video system. Why do you hide these devices? Do you find technology somehow threatening?
It's a double-edged sword. Technology doesn't threaten me in general. It could, though. It all depends on how it's used. But if it leads to a better standard of living then I think it's really O.K.
So why do you hide your video system, for example?
Well, I could hide everything to keep rooms as pure as possible. You have electronic equipment that works, it's state of the art stuff, but the boxes it comes in are really boring. A lot of thought has gone into the front, but not into the other sides.
Perhaps those sides are more interesting for precisely that reason. They aren't designed as consciously as the front.
But they're always more boring.
You've said that your ideas very often occur in the form of day-dreams. Is the Beverly Johnson House the house of your dreams?
It's a beautiful place. Architecture is something to always think about. Design influences my life. I need pleasing spaces. Often my mind drifts in that direction, but I'm not an architect. Although I really appreciate the great architects, and the difference a great design can make to a person.
Who are the architects you admire most?
From Bauhaus, all the students of the Bauhaus School, and Pierre Chareau, he did the House of Glass in Paris, Ludwig Mies van de Rohe, all the Wright family, Rudolph Michael Schindler and Richard Neutra. I like really beautifully designed, minimal things.
Did you ever dream of furniture?
I day-dream of furniture, yes.
Do you think the spirit of the so-called, "American Dream" produces a special kind of furniture?
Different cultures produce certain things for one reason or another. But a great design is recognized everywhere.
You say you were inspired by Ray and Charles Eames. What is it that you appreciate most about their work?
The design. I love Ray and Charles Eames, yes.
Their entire oeuvre?
Yes, I like their designs.
Did you ever met the Eameses?
I had lunch with Charles Eames, he came to the American Film Institute in 1970 or '71 and took part in a lunch with all of the students. And I sat at his table. He was one of the most intelligent, down to earth, greatest persons I've ever met. He was just a pure, kind of happy person, somehow child like, enjoying life. The kind of guy you'd like right away.
Vladimir Kagan, the New York designer, is also a source of inspiration for you.
He's very old now, maybe around 80. He was kind of famous in the 50's and his designs are coming back into vogue now, as is the work of Charlotte Perriand, who worked together with Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret. They're getting recognition again. And rightly so.
In Europe, incidentally, the work of Eames is more admired than it is in the US. Any idea why?
Because Europeans appreciate the finer things.
Do you like German design?
Yes. German design is usually very pure, and sparse, and solid and functional. And those are exactly the features I like.
In other words, you like the technical aspects of German design?
No, in many cases the look and materials. The Germans are known for very good craftsmanship and so if the thing is built, you know it's going to work. That's for sure.
For many years now, you have worked with Patricia Norris. She designs your productions. Does she influence your own design work?
She is production designer and in charge of costume design. With regard to the costumes, I hardly ever say anything to her, the things just blow out right of her. But when it comes to set design. Well, we always talk about everything.
Are there any other architects or designers involved?
No. Only her.
Are you able to compromise when the locations or interiors that you imagined for your set simply cant be found?
No. There's no compromise possible. You keep looking until you find the place that will work for the story. And that holds for the objects, too. Many places are painted or rearranged, new furniture is brought in. You cant make compromises. Compromises kill the film.
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