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Out to Lynch

By BOB THOMPSON Toronto Sun, Sunday, February 23, 1997

You don't always get what you think you want with director David Lynch

HOLLYWOOD -- Who is David Lynch anyway? He's so many things, at so many times, that only a few people know for sure.

One of them might even be 51-year-old David Lynch, director, artist, father, son, and the film flam man most likely to amuse and confuse, confound and be profound, and all at the same time.

Lynch's latest in his series of enigmas is called Lost Highway, a dark tale about love, deceit, death and revenge. Bill Pullman, Patricia Arquette and Balthazar Getty star, but the actors aren't kidding themselves.

They know who the real star is. He's David Lynch.

Who is David Lynch anyway? The actors of Lost Highway aren't sure after shooting his latest picture.

They all figure he's some, but not all, of what they heard: Born in Missoula, Montana, then moved with his family to Washington, D.C., Idaho, and Alexandria, Va., where he spent his middle class teenage years.

Art school in Boston followed. So did nothing jobs. Enrolled in the Pennsylvania Academy Of Fine Arts before making his way to L.A. and the American Film Institute, birthplace of the mood-altering art house hit, Eraserhead.

By 1982, he was a name, and the director selected for The Elephant Man, which earned him an Oscar nomination and the job of bringing Dune to the big screen. Which earned him derisive putdowns.

The violently erotic Blue Velvet changed that. So did Wild At Heart. So did TV's Twin Peaks, although the subsequent Twin Peaks movie seemed to set the way back machine to his Dune period.

As Lynch is fond of saying: "I keep hoping people will like abstractions, space to dream, consider things that don't necessarily add up."

For instance, Lost Highway, which is abstract enough to make you want to ask this.

Who is David Lynch anyway?

"He has a very good way of setting the scene, you know," says Pullman, who plays the central character in Lost Highway. "But he doesn't try to impersonate the people. He goes very neutral, which is really wonderful to see.

"One eyebrow will go up, and it's like really kind of strange and wonderful. And that's the way he would kind of communicate. So, there were a lot of ways in which I was aware of the fact that I was kind of being charmed by him."

Lethal as that may be. For Lynch, some say, is also capable of exploiting actors, and moviegoers, with his ability to hypnotize, while obsessively portraying sexual and social dysfunction where good and evil co-exist, and are often interchangeable.

Fire is important to Lynch, too. So is his cloaking device -- in his movies and in his waking life.

In other words, you don't always get what you think you want -- in his movies and in his waking life.

Talking intensely, but sometimes not all there, David Lynch, confirms Pullman, remembers everything but where he put his cup of coffee.

"He won't give you a lot on set," says Arquette. "He gives you little things."

Pullman insists: "And it wasn't like I really wanted to work with him at all. I was afraid of working with him. But I've always felt an affinity to his world."

And that would be the global experience of?

To further misdirect things, Lynch likes to work out of his Hollywood Hills house and editing area. His tense, strange-days films are made in the most civilized environments.

"He's a painter," explains Arquette. "He goes downstairs and mixes up paint colors to paint the sets and do headboards. You change your clothes in his bathhouse. I see him as a painter. He explores more film territory because of it."

Some say he examines dangerous personal ground. Lynch usually shrugs at the dime store psychology that greets his movies and his alleged personality flaws, supposedly revealed through his movie fixations, that are so precise, they are intimidating.

"I can understand why some actors in certain stages of the game don't become part of his practice," says Pullman. "And I don't know if he would be at his best if you are constantly fighting him."

Pullman knew that, so he hid a fake tattoo he had inked on his hand. It was an actor thing that helped Pullman with the character, but had nothing really to do with what was going on.

Lynch is covetous of every background detail. So Pullman kept quiet about his uninvited tattoo.

Finally, on the Death Valley set, Pullman literally saw his opening. A celestial occurrence positioned "the moon in the crescent of Venus" so the skyward image looked just like his tattoo. That's when Pullman showed the uninvited tattoo to Lynch, and Lynch liked the connection. "He likes things that are mystical and spiritual,"says Pullman.

There is a more ominous association with David Lynch, and that's not just his compulsion for showing body parts in his movies. His female focus, for instance, is not all sweetness and light.

"The problem is that human nature has only so many sides," Arquette says, "and maybe he's a little more honest about his microcosmic dark side than most people are."

Pullman, who got over his fear of friendship with Lynch, actually became a buddy, but one that's still trying to grasp the essential Lynch.

"We have done a lot of things," says Pullman. "We live close, on the same south facing slopes of the Hollywood hills. And we are both building trails up in our back lot.

"He's got a little boy about the same age as our little boy. His wife and my wife get along. So we've been doing stuff. He is fantastic company. He's not weird at all, and he's very courteous."

Pullman thinks about that. "Well, you know, he has these eruptions.

"Like he says, `Do you want to see my rotting bird on my canvas? I've just sprayed insecticide on it, so the maggots will die and stay in place.'"

Who is David Lynch anyway?


A CONSIDERED OPINION: "As much respect as he's had in his life, people seem to catch up to his movies about 10 years later," Arquette says. "I don't know why that is, exactly, but maybe it's because he gives us so much rope, we hang ourselves analyzing his material."

ANOTHER CONSIDERED OPINION: Lost Highway. "This is not a movie for children," says Arquette. "This isn't even a movie for adults who don't want something that goes to dark places or dark experiences. If you are in a sexually vulnerable place, maybe you shouldn't see this."

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