With the revival of Twin Peaks going strong and garnering rave reviews, the world is once again reminded of the unabashed bizarre brilliance of its director and creator, the legendary David Lynch. I myself am among the many whose lives have been changed by his body of work, finding a deep understanding in the abstract lengths of Lynch’s visions.
But even if you don’t quite enjoy the admittedly acquired taste of David Lynch, it is easy to admire the man. A look at his career is a look at a love affair between an artist and his work, all amidst its ups and downs. By watching him stay true to his art, I think we can all learn many lessons about creative persistence.
1. Don’t Let Your Ideas Be Shallow.
I feel like this is a general rule for anyone who wants to create something lasting, whether it be a film, a book, a kitchen table. To make something great, you have to be brave. You can’t settle for the easiest thing to create. Lynch takes such profound risks and puts so much care into his work (see Eraserhead, which took five years and unbelievable practical effects to make), and surely this is part of their lasting power. I won’t even try and say it better than Lynch has said it: “Ideas are like fish. If you want to catch little fish, you can stay in the shallow water. But if you want to catch the big fish, you’ve got to go deeper. Down deep the fish are more powerful and more pure. They’re huge and abstract. And they’re very beautiful.”
2. Be Open To Change.
Often you’ll begin an endeavor and have sort of an idea of how it’ll turn out, but your end product may be completely different than what you started with! Take Lynch’s now classic 2001 flick Mulholland Dr., which first began as a spin-off for his hit show Twin Peaks. In an interview for The A.V. Club, Sherilyn Fenn, who played Audrey Horne in Twin Peaks, recalls the creative team playing with the idea of making a movie about her character in Hollywood. Fenn says, “… They talked about an opening scene of her driving along Mulholland Drive, and how she’s a little bit older. Whatever it was going to be, it never ended up happening for me.” Mulholland Dr. was later conceived with a different storyline altogether as a TV pilot for ABC, but when the executives found it too…uh, idiosyncratic.
It ultimately morphed into the film we know today. Not everything will happen along the timeline you envision, but be open to the fluidity of the creative process! Be open to change! You’ll eventually get something good. In the words of Lynch himself, “Somewhere along the way, when (an idea) looks like it’s taking some sort of shape, the rest of the ideas all gather around to see if they can fit into that shape. Maybe you’ll find out that that thing isn’t going to work, so you save it in a box for later.”
3. Be True To Your Vision.
The Mulholland Dr. idea wasn’t the only one that Lynch “save(d)…in a box for later.” Lynch has an oeuvre of 10 films, and ever since 1986’s Blue Velvet, he’s had total creative control of them. His faithfulness to his definite vision is the reason why we love what he has to say. After all, “why would somebody do something or make something, if they couldn’t make it the way they want to make it?” ponders Lynch. “It’s absurd.” Sometimes it may be a struggle to get your vision into action, but the obstacles shouldn’t discourage you— they didn’t deter Lynch! During the height of Twin Peaks, Lynch wanted to focus more on the character and mystery of Laura Palmer, while his collaborator Mark Frost wanted to go in a different direction.
Eventually, the difference in artistic vision caused Lynch’s artistic stamp on Twin Peaks to slip away from him…but Lynch didn’t give up. Without the collaboration of Mark Frost, as well as the absence of notable cast members such as Sherilyn Fenn and Lara Flynn Boyle (whose absence as Donna Hayward was filled by being replaced by a completely different actress), Lynch took to making the Laura Palmer project himself— a film, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. The ball was entirely in his court, and in 1992, he released it to the world.
4. Sometimes People Won’t Understand You Immediately…
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, opened at the Cannes Film Festival to be flogged with booing, and Quentin Tarantino famously quipped, “After I saw Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me at Cannes, David Lynch had disappeared so far up his own ass that I have no desire to see another David Lynch movie until I hear something different.” Yikes.
5. …But Just Be Patient.
Eventually people came around to recognizing Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me as, in the words of The Telegraph’s Robbie Collin, “a misunderstood masterpiece.” Now that Twin Peaks has made its return, people have gone back to Fire Walk With Me, enthralled by its rawness, originality, and unadulterated emotion. Try and watch it without being seriously affected— it is moving in both its harrowing power and its beauty, and I’m honestly surprised people didn’t catch on sooner!
Fire Walk With Me isn’t the only film of Lynch’s that didn’t win everyone over the first time. Roger Ebert infamously gave Blue Velvet 1.5 stars, and even some of the most dedicated Lynch devotees can’t get behind the 3 hour puzzle of Inland Empire. Plenty of people dismiss the legend of Lynch, but that in itself is exactly what the legend of Lynch is— dedication to originality, no matter what anyone says. For every naysayer, there’s a person such as myself whose life has been touched by David Lynch and his work. Yes, his work is strange. Sometimes it makes no sense at all. But his work is honest.
Lynch won’t give you anything that isn’t completely from his soul; and so the connection between his soul and the viewer’s soul is genuine. And that’s the true lesson you can learn from David Lynch— let your creativity express everything you wish it to express. Display your creativity with sincerity. Tell your stories as they were intended to be told. Not everyone may see it at first, but resonance is inevitable when you’re honest.
“If you stay true to yourself, film-making becomes an inside-out, honest kind of process,” Lynch declares, but you could replace “film-making” with any other creative act and it would be just as true. So take a cue from David Lynch. Start fishing for ideas. Let yourself make great things.