Few movie directors are as forthcoming on the screen and as reticent in the press as David Lynch. He tends to keep his cards close to the vest in order to preserve the mysterious quality of such fever-dream pictures as Eraserhead, Blue Velvet, and Mulholland Dr. As he frequently says in so many words, Lynch refuses to filter his more outré fantasies before they reach the screen, or to over-intellectualize them after; before his movie career began, he rejected psychoanalysis following a single session in which the doctor told him that talking everything out might dull his creativity.
Depending on who’s on the other side of the tape recorder, this revelation, or lack thereof, is either a frustrating dead end or a springboard. Unsurprisingly, the best sit-downs of the two dozen collected in David Lynch: Interviews tend toward the latter. The most playful is Kristine McKenna’s 1992 back-and-forth, conducted for a catalog of Lynch’s visual art. Their obvious rapport is partly explained one selection earlier, in a 1990 talk with Michel Ciment and Hubert Niogret of the French journal Positif, when Lynch explains that McKenna urged him to exhibit his paintings and drawings, but it’s largely due to McKenna’s playful queries, like “How old do you feel emotionally?”
Another standout is John Powers’ 2001 profile from L.A. Weekly, which draws on his earlier encounters with Lynch to present a nuanced, affectionate, and critical look behind the director’s deliberately bland persona. Powers also neatly sidesteps the accusation, which frequently comes up here, that the filmmaker’s golly-gee-whiz affect is merely a put-on. It clearly is to some degree, and sometimes that leads to bland-outs such as Lynch’s 1997 conversation with Kathrin Spohr of Form about furniture design, in which Lynch briefly dabbled. But it’s also something of a litmus test, like his movies themselves: He encourages individual interpretation of them and tries to get out of his own way, though as a surprisingly readable piece from American Cinematographer and the two discussions of 1999’s modest, aptly titled The Straight Story demonstrate, he can wax lyrical about the technical side of things without losing the lay reader.
Nevertheless, Lynch’s disinterest in interpreting his own work trips up a few people in this collection, most notably Geoff Andrew of Time Out London, whose huffy 1997 Q&A reads like a self-parody of supercilious British journalism: “Is the inarticulacy an act? If so, it’s boring and dumb; if not… well, judge for yourself.” Lynch’s wholesome middle-American quality jars with his films’ darker elements, all right, but his movies have always played off both sides of the white-picket-fence/churning-visions-of-hell divide; the less surprised his interlocutors are by the fact that the man who invented Blue Velvet’s Frank Booth acts nothing like that character, the better the interview.