Four-time Academy Award nominee David Lynch, director of such contemporary classics as The Elephant Man, Blue Velvet and Mulholland Drive, is currently touring colleges around the U.S. to extoll the virtues of transcendental meditation. In preparation for his speech to Philadelphia students at Harrison Auditorium next Wednesday, Sept. 28 he talked to Street about his life, his films and, of course, transcendental meditation.
Street Film: Let's start by talking a little bit about yourself.
David Lynch: Well, I grew up in the Northwest, and I went to high school in Virginia.
SF: What inspired you back then?
DL: You know everything was sort of inspiring; I was always loving to paint and draw, but I didn't think that adults could do those things. That was in Virginia, when I met a friend whose father was a painter and that changed my life. So I was headed toward being a painter, and painting led to film.
SF: You spent a few years here in Philadelphia, at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Arts. What did you learn there, what were your experiences?
DL: I had a love-hate relationship with Philadelphia, and I've said very nasty things about that place. It was one of the sickest cities in the world when I was living there, and it's supposed to be The City of Brotherly Love. I think transcendental meditation will make it that.
SF: What made it so sick?
DL: I saw hate, anger, corruption, unrest, sorrow, depression, anxiety ... you know, I saw a lot of negativity in Philadelphia, and I felt the fear of Philadelphia so strongly that it took a full year, after I got Los Angeles, to lift.
SF: You studied quite a lot, first in Philadelphia and later at the American Film Institute. Sometimes, when artists go to school for too long, they become too refined -- yet that's not something that characterizes your work. It's always raw and distinctive. How do you achieve that?
DL: We're all different, at least on the surface, and school, I think to me, can be a place of inspiration. But for me the learning was always in the doing. I like to make things and, in making things, ideas start flowing. Transcendental meditation, for me, makes that flow even more, and it makes it flow deeper. Things like intuition start growing, the joy of doing starts growing, energy starts growing, more and more and more, as the negative things recede. Transcendental meditation has been a huge thing for [my] creativity.
SF: So you're passionate about TM because it helps you focus?
DL: Exactly, focus is the key word. Where the attention is, that becomes lively, this ability to focus and this knowingness that grows by diving within and experiencing that field of unity within, that intuition. This is a huge tool in film-making and in every avenue of life.
SF: How did you discover TM?
DL: I got interested in meditation, but I didn't know which one to take. For a while I was not interested in it at all and suddenly I was. So I read things, I talked to people, and I finally got a call from my sister, who had started transcendental meditation and something in her voice caught me and I said, "That's the one I want." And I've been doing it for 32 years.
SF: What made you decide to tell students about it right now?
DL: I know what it's done for me, I know what it's done for other people who've practiced meditation regularly. It's also tied to world peace. This field of unity can be enlivened so powerfully by a group of meditators who are practicing advanced techniques that it can bring enough harmony and coherence and peace to effect the entire world ... I want to try to help make those peace-creating groups a permanent feature in this world.
SF: I'd be remiss if I didn't ask you about your films. Can you describe your directorial style to someone unfamiliar with your films?
DL: I get ideas. Some ideas I fall in love with, and the whole thing is in the idea. I translate those ideas to a medium -- in this case, film -- and I try to stay true to those ideas. So I keep checking back to the idea. Now new ideas can come along, and sometimes they do. But ideas are the key to everything ... [and] with meditation you can catch them at a deeper and deeper level. They have more power, more inspiration, more pieces; this is something that's so important. So I just try to stay true to the ideas.
SF: OK, but is your commitment entirely to the idea and to your own thought processes, or is there anything inside you that says, "I think this time I'm going to direct a film in a way that is more accessible to people?"
DL: Now if you start thinking about an audience, you're in deep trouble. You stay true to the ideas and then, if it feels correct to you, hopefully it will feel correct to others. That's the rule; if you start tailoring things to an imaginary audience, you're in deep trouble. The world is always changing.
SF: What about your actors? On difficult films like Dune and Mulholland Drive, how to do you explain to them your intentions and ideas for the film?
DL: Every element of a film is important so that the whole thing will work and hold together. Acting is one of the elements: the characters, what they say, how they say it. And with them, like all the other people helping you, you talk, then you rehearse, then you talk, then you rehearse. Little by little by little, suddenly they're on the same track you're on. That's the way it works. Once they're on the same track, all their talent is now flowing out right along the line you know you have to go on, based on the ideas. That's how it works.
SF: Some academics have said that you try to express a conservative, moralistic viewpoint about America in your films, is that true?
DL: No, that's a surface sort of thing. I am trying to translate ideas that I get. The ideas tell me everything. It's about those characters, that world; I love going into a different world and going in there as deeply as I can.
SF: What can we expect from your latest film, Inland Empire?
DL: I'm as interested in that as you, maybe more interested. I'm right in the middle of it right now. I'm pretty excited about it, though.