Saturday, January 13, 2007

An Evening With David Lynch and Donovan @ Lincoln Center

Lynch has been going all around on a promotional tour for INLAND EMPIRE and his book, Catching the Big Fish. Lynch is a great speaker, and obviously a master filmmaker, so I always like to see him speak. Back in September 2005, I saw him speak at Yale, a promotional event in conjunction with the Maharishi University of Management. Here, I was very impressed by his discussion of filmmaking, but less thrilled with his discussion of transcendental meditation. Back in October, I saw him again, at the New York Film Festival. Here, he stuck mainly to film, and it was much more interesting to listen to.

This event had more in common with the Maharishi tour, though it wasn't so strictly focused on promoting meditation. Rather, it was a celebration of what Lynch had done, and another venue for him to promote his general ideas on meditation, creativity and life to a large audience. Entering the theater, I was looking down at a moody stage, populated with a grand piano, bongos, guitar and a couple of podiums. Things started up and Justin Theroux came out to ask Lynch a bunch of questions that had been submitted by fans earlier in the evening.

I've read so much about Lynch that very little he has to say is surprising to me anymore. He told some classic stories, the Toby Keeler's dad becoming an artist story, the getting into meditation during Eraserhead story and a lot of general discussion of his creative process that I was familiar with. The best new material was an odd, funny story about how Lynch discovered masturbation. As he said it, in the fourth or fifth grade, some friends told him that you get a really good feeling if you rub a certain part of your body, and the more you do it, the better it gets. He was very skeptical, but decided to try it, he didn't get anything, but then the feeling starting rising, and it all hit him. The reason for telling this story was to say that the feeling you get from TM can actually top the orgasm because it never ends.

I respect Lynch's interest in TM, and I think it's critical to his success as an artist and in life in general. But, it can be tiresome to continually hear him talk about it. I suppose the whole point of the evening is to promote this stuff, not give me anecdotes about the production of Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, but Lynch is much more interesting talking about film than when repeating the same beats about TM and the unified field. I suppose I wasn't the target audience for this, having already heard him do virtually the same presentation, but still, give us some more info on the experiences making the films.

It was still fun to hear him speak, but I think the two of us need to take some time off, so he can get some new stories to tell. I suppose it's the same with any artist, they create a myth that has a set of anecdotes. I have the same experience with Lynch as I do with Grant Morrison, the new interviews mostly retread stuff I've already heard, with a sprinkling of new material in there. When I actually met Grant, it was surprising to hear him talk so openly about the meaning of the end of The Invisibles, and what exactly the supercontext entailed. I was used to the Lynch style of total ambiguity with regards to the intentions of the film.

I think their difference in approach is largely due to the medium. Grant has little control over the end product of his work, he writes it, and sends it off to the artist. Lynch writes, directs and edits, refining the film until it's exactly what he wants. Grant doesn't have the same luxury, and as a result he can be more open about where the published work doesn't convey everything he intended. Plus, Lynch's work is never meant to be an espousing of personal philosophy. The Invisibles is a cosmology, it is Grant's view of the universe, so it serves a dual purpose. Lynch's doesn't, it's just an experience in the moment.

I deeply respect Lynch for not giving people the 'answers' to his films, he knows that meaning lies in the mysteries. In the book, he talks about how people know much more than they think they do, it's just a matter of talking about the work and bringing that knowledge to the fore. I would agree with that, in looking at works like Seven Soldiers or INLAND EMPIRE, the more I wrote about it, the more I understood what were initially rather opaque pieces of art.

I bought the book at the event and read about half of it on the trainride home. That tells you something about how dense this book is, but it does have a lot of good material in there. I think Lynch on Lynch is a more essential book to understanding his work process, but there's a bunch of good stuff in there. I particularly like the advice he has for people making their own films. It's not a great value at $20, but if you can get it cheaper, it's worth picking up. If you have a coffee table, this'd be a great book to put on it, with a bunch of short chapters that you can pick up and read in the downtime between other stuff. After I finish reading it, I might do a more in depth writeup, though I feel like I've already covered most of the issues raised by the book.

After Lynch, we got a performance by Donovan. I'm only really familiar with one Donovan song, 'Atlantis,' and I was disappointed that wasn't played. But, it was still a good show. Donovan has a great voice, and he told some bizarre anecdotes between songs. It was interesting hearing him analyze the songs he'd written years ago, finding meaning in them he didn't have then. I would have liked a few more people in his band, to vary the sound more, but considering it was free, I left happy.

So, this was another entertaining event from the Lynch foundation, but I'd prefer to hear Lynch speak with a focus on film, rather than this general lifestyle promotion.


RAB said...

Um. I'm not sure likening transcendental meditation to masturbation is quite the ringing endorsement Lynch intends it to be.

(Yes, I know that's not actually what he's trying to say or how he phrases it...but it's a really unfortunate parallel for him to draw even obliquely, as it seems to invite the conclusion that this is precisely what TM is.)

Patrick said...

Yeah, I would agree. The point he was trying to make was that at first he was skeptical, but then when he tried it, it was great.

The thing that still bothers me about all his events is that he's constantly talking about how great TM is, but he never gives you an exercise or something you could try, it's just pay the money to take the course and it'll be great. It's like if you go to see someone talk about cooking and all they do is talk about how great the food is and you should buy it. Why not give us a little sample? Sure, it won't be the whole meal, but people are more likely to buy into it if you give them a simple 3 step guide to starting TM, and a place to go to learn more, rather than just saying, "Trust me, it's great."