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Interview with Italian movie magazine Ciak

David Lynch issue April 1997
With many thanks to Roberto Quirino for providing the interview
Note: this is a translation from the Italian interview, so it may differ from the original wording.

Shopworn. In the luxurious suite of the Lancaster Hotel in Paris, where we meet and photograph for Ciak, the 52 year old David Lynch - born in Missoula, Montana - who presents himself like this: tired as after a sleepless night ("I don't sleep much. I dream a lot, almost nightmares"), the famous hair that defies every law of gravity, rebels against a comb that it probably has never seen. He drinks coffee ("I'm a coffee addicted, I drink it everywhere, continuously, cup over cups") and, of course, he answers to questions as usual, with extreme kindness and reluctance. You delude yourself that this time he will go beyond but at the contrary suddenly, click, he breaks the sentence, always smiling. Loved by the too much self-pleased French critics and booed at the Sundance Film Festival, his last movie Lost Highway marks his return to cinema after the burning crash of Fire Walk With Me. After he spent 4 years on his own furniture works (tables and lamps) and painting, Lynch, head of the row in the dream-like perverse cinema, the author of Eraserhead, Blue Velvet, Wild At Heart and the cult series Twin Peaks, came back behind the camera without any concession to common sense. Coherent with himself he builds in Lost Highway a noir nightmare, daily and thrilling, he pulls the audience to the boundaries of the dark into the unknown.

Opening sequence : we follow him fascinated on the camera flight through the night, close to the asphalt of the highway. Then we'll follow him - and often loose him - in the illogicality of a story without rational footholds (for the "presumed" plot see further). But Lynch doesn't give himself : "there is nothing to explain in Lost Highway. There's no need to explain the uprising of a thousand of sights of the unconscious, of the dark inside of conscience. It's that and that's all." If you insist, he says that the structure of the movie is like the famous virtual "Moebius Strip which has no beginning and no end, in which the end coincides with the beginning, where the two edges overlap themselves." One must be satisfied and, moreover, "why to insist ?" asks us Bill Pullman, leading actor of the movie playing Fred, the murderer, saxophonist who will enter - literally - the body of the young Pete. "If you read a poem you will never have in mind to ask the author for explanations. But David works on the movies and the audience who pays for the ticket, wants the meaning to be explained."

For those who have seen Lost Highway - love it or not - is the sentence valid in which writer Barry Gifford - author of the novel Wild At Heart and screenwriter for this last movie - described during the shooting: "it's as if the protagonists of Wild At Heart meet Kafka, everything in the perspective of the bug. And with a lot of sex." The American magazine Premiere gave Lynch's cinema on the cover the attribute "sick".

Sick cinema. Is this a definition you would accept ?

"No I don't think my film is sick. The movie describes what could be a sickness, its name psychogenic fuge, describes someone who escapes from himself to become another one. Not in the mind, but truly physically another one. That's what happens to Fred in prison: he incarnates in Pete. It's not a dubbing, it's not a pure hallucination, it's a real transformation from the clinical point of view. I like the idea of the escape, even in the musical point of view".

The film opens and closes with a voice stating from a speaker "Dick Laurent is dead". We won't ever know more about it ...

"It happened to me in real life. One day, in the morning, someone rang on my door and said "Dick Laurent is dead." I didn't see him, I've never found out who did say this message. I don't know any Dick Laurent. A mistake, maybe, but this occurrence obsessed me for long time".

So it still happens that your films are born out of dreams or visions? And what did you exactly see 4 years ago?

"The image of a couple in crisis that is receiving some videotapes. They discover that their private life has been observed for days by someone who has even entered their house. This story became a great part of the movie."

The first sequence pulls the watcher violently inside the dark.

"The running asphalt, the yellow line illuminated by the headlights had to give the feeling of pulling the audience in. We worked a lot to find the right speed for the car, the right speed of the camera. I don't always shoot at 24 frames per second. The beautiful thing of film is that every pacing gives you a different feeling and nowadays we have the technology that enables us to express everything we feel. A fantastic interaction between what I want to say and what I'm shooting is possible, even if that all requires many tests, many tries. Anyway, after I'd found the song "I'm Deranged" by David Bowie, I suddenly realized that everything in the scene was working.

In every of your films is the idea of the dark behind the corner, as here, behind the corridor that fades into black in Fred's house.

"Everybody knows mysterious places, there are things in life that are more felt, sensed than rationally known. We often receive signals telling us that things came from far, from a "before", they are not simply happening at that moment. They are signals coming from the mind, from hidden places, you don't really know what's there behind the door at the end of the dark corridor that swallows you. But you can imagine it. And I make films to open that door in front of the nothing."

Is it true that you decided to go under analysis but soon changed your mind?

"Sure. I asked the analyst if the treatment could have dulled or reduced in some way my creativity and visionary skills. He answered that could happen. And I preferred to keep my neurosis. I think it's better to keep a little bit of innocence, of not-knowing for the sake of my creative future".

On the set, while you're shooting, the music by Badalamenti or others is playing at full volume.

"That's true, this allows, in my opinion, a great concentration of the staff and the actors. It's useful to let them fall into the mood of the film. During dialogues, of course, I prefer silence.

Your actors seem to play under hypnosis, slowed down. It's an obsessive form. Bill Pullman told us that at a certain point he sensed too much the eyes of the director on him, it was quite unbearable.

"I know. He wanted to send me away. I was having a zoom on his face, on his eyes. What made me choose Bill were truly his eyes, I saw intelligence and a vein of madness inside them. And to force it to come out I pushed him during the rehearsals. When the time for revelation comes I shoot. Then there's the monitor between me and the actor so that I need to be even closer the subject to sense his nuances. The actors seem to be under hypnosis because I get them to concentrate on the inner mystery which is the only reality I mind".

You're also credited as the Sound Designer of the film and, in fact, the presence and intensity of sounds and noises in the movie is very evident, personal.

"With sound you can really create. I have tried that in every previous film, but only now, thanks to new technologies, I was able to reach the results I wanted. You can really get lost, sound effects are as fascinating as music. Also for the soundtrack I wanted to play with contrast between Badalamenti's melodies and dissonant sounds, such as 'nine inch nails'."

Why those four years of absence? Were they Hollywood's boycott against an uncomfortable author?

"What counts in Hollywood is money and my films don't earn much. I am aware of it, so I produce the films I'd love to make independently, that allow me to tell about the unknown and the mystery. And for this reason I have to have final cut, the control over the final editing, another blasphemy for show business".

So do you hate Hollywood?

"No, I love Hollywood. I live there. It's the place of dreams, I feel free and sometimes you can breath the air at once. Actually, I think that Hollywood loves me too."

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