The City of Absurdity Lost Highway funny how secrets travel...
a film by David Lynch
Interviews & Articles

Mystery is like a Magnet

Lynch on German television, April 1997, 3sat, Kulturzeit

Mystery is like a magnet, it pulls us in and we want to know something. It's like going...just like daring down this lost highway. You go into a world and because it's the unknown there's some trepidation like maybe small fears, but the mystery pulls us.

It's a child-like naive kind of thing where you don't try to analyze the mechanism or try to judge what's coming along. I don't want this thing to stop. It's just kind of...there you go and you sink into an unknown world and sometimes the ideas come.

I open doors that would otherwise kept being locked.

Interview with Swiss movie magazine Zoomissue March 1997, by Peter Krobath
Note: since this is a translation from the German interview it certainly differs from the original wording.

David Lynch about the music in his films, the work on the script for Lost Highway, on how to deal with failure, his relationship to Hollywood and other questions.

The worldwide success of "Wild at Heart" initiated a wave of films depicting violence in a completely new, cool way. What do you think about your successors, about directors like Quentin Tarantino or David Fincher?

I have no idea what's going on in their minds. But it's not like I set out to put a cool coat around violence. I always start with ideas and these ideas need a certain form as soon as they're put on film. That's got nothing to do with a wave or a trend. My films play in their very own world. I don't know what other directors learn from them. And I really don't care.

In your new film "Lost Highway" is Los Angeles like a mysterious universe, where time and space loose every meaning. Could you expand on that?

I think everybody knows these mysterious timeless worlds. There are things in life you can feel but not understand. Everybody knows that feeling when he comes into a bar and senses immediately that there's something wrong. He can't explain what's going on but he senses that there's trouble in the air. Why is it? I don't know but in this world of unexplainable things is my film placed. I open doors that would otherwise kept being locked. I go into places that exist only in my mind - but there they're real.

Can "Lost Highway" also being described as some kind of portrait of Los Angeles?

Not really. Every film must play somewhere and of course it's important that the place goes with the story. What I like about Los Angeles is that there are street names that have an unbelievable meaning. Like when there someone says in the film: "I live near the observatory," every film buff knows right away that it can be only the observatory where Nicholas Ray filmed in 1955 the famous scene with James Dean for "Rebel without a cause." So this sentence gets some mythical meaning that goes far beyond the plot - it gets atmosphere, mood. Los Angeles is full of these things, I like that. Besides it was quite convenient to be able to shoot the movie right next to my house. Really, the house where Bill Pullman and Patricia Arquette live in in "Lost Highway" is just around the corner. Of course that was serendipity. For me locations are at least as important as actors: you have to look until you find the right place or the film just doesn't work.

"Wild at Heart" was based on a novel by Barry Gifford. You did work again with him on the script for "Lost Highway." If one compares both films then is "Wild at Heart" a typical Gifford-story whereas "Lost Highway" seems to be more David Lynch. How can one imagine your collaboration?

As for "Wild at Heart" the book existed long before the movie. I read the story and wanted to bring it on the screen. Back then we became close friends. I can't explain how we exactly developed the script for "Lost Highway"; it's always the same thing when several people work on a project: you try to find the same language, you agree on a tune but no one knows exactly how or why that works. There are many things you never talked about loud and yet they flow into the script. I can't explain that. Anyway, it's definitely not like I come up with a scene and Barry writes the dialogues for it.

Go on with the way you work. I've been told that you experiment a lot on the set, that it takes a long time until you get your pictures.

To experiment is a relative term. I'm also shooting at 24 frames per second - though not always... The great thing about film is that every lens can create a different feeling. Only the question what film material I use can be crucial. The image I have in my mind is not necessarily the image the camera provides. And oftentimes I get even due to this discrepancy completely new ideas. For me, technology is an important tool I make best possible use of to make my imagination visible. Take the "Lost Highway" title sequence: you see only a road. Sounds easy and yet we had to experiment a lot to get this shot. The result is simple but it was a very complicated way to get there.

Bill Pullman, one of the leading actors in "Lost Highway," said how close you came with the camera onto his face and that he didn't like it..., he didn't like it, huh? I can imagine that. There's always a very particular reason why I want to have a certain actor in a movie. In Bill's case it were his eyes. In those eyes I can see great intelligence and at the same time the possibility of despair and insanity. He didn't have to express that, I could see it, maybe just for a moment, but that' s why I gave him this role. For me he's the ordinary guy who could be in trouble. As for the rehearsals: they were just like the work on the script with Barry Gifford. We talked with each other until we had found the same rhythm, the same mood and whenever that's the case everything is possible. Most of the time I sit in front of the monitor and see something the actor can't see. In such a situation it is of course possible that I get on his nerves with the camera. But the result is right.

Music is an important part of your films.

Every scene needs a certain mood. Often I have the music in my mind first and only after that the images. And sometimes the scenes come completely mute and then I have to experiment for a long time to find the right music. I see it like that: Only when I find for each frame exactly the right sound, the whole can be more than the sum of its parts. Only then the result can be an overall impression that makes me happy and satisfied. It's some sort of puzzle, a labyrinth of mistakes and errors that leads you always back to the same thing: feeling.

When your last feature film "Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me" was released in 1992 the reviews as well as the audience were not exactly euphoric about it.

That's right

Although it's not half as bad as they wrote back then.

It's the opposite, it's twice as good.

Was this poor reaction the reason why you didn't make a film for so long?

No, the only reason was the lack of a good idea. A failure couldn't ever stop me from working. They don't mean a thing. Failure or success - you have no influence on that, it's in the stars, that's got nothing to do with yourself.

What do you think about Hollywood?

I love Hollywood. There is no second place in the world living so much from its own myth. This town is full of dreams, it's just perfect for a day dreamer like me. Besides I like the light in Hollywood, mostly at night. Of course this town has its dark sides too, but I tend to see only the light.

You say you love Hollywood. Do you think Hollywood loves you too?

Whether they want to make my movies or not - I think they find me quite okay.

You don't deal very sensitive with the fears of the audience in your films. What are you afraid of?

Many things. I fear death most. And torture is a terrible thing for me but I'm not the only one there.

You always focus on things that lie beneath the surface. And whenever you look underneath the surface you find the same things: sex and violence.

The body does nothing of its own, the mind is responsible for everything: violence comes from frustration which on the other hand comes from wishes that didn't come true. I love this world because people do always react in the same way and yet they tell millions of different stories. And sometimes one of those stories hits me so hard that I can't help making a movie out of it.

Have you ever visited a psychiatrist?

Yes I did. It was very interesting. The analyst said he could help me. I asked him if a therapy may influence my creativity and he answered that might happen. So I left. Now I find it quite good not to know about everything what's going on in my head. I think I keep my innocence which I need for my work. To much intellect would block my ideas.

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