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Review: Book explores weird, wonderful filmmaker David Lynch

August 27, 2018

This cover image released by Random House shows "Room to Dream," by David Lynch and Kristine McKenna. (Random House via AP)

“Room to Dream” by David Lynch and Kristine McKenna (Random House)

The simplest avenue for beginning to understand filmmaker David Lynch might be found in a childhood friend’s observation: “David’s always had a cheerful disposition and sunny personality, but he’s always been attracted to dark things. That’s one of the mysteries of David.”

Dark things abound in Lynch’s signature films — the grotesque infant in “Eraserhead” (1977), the disfigured adult in “The Elephant Man” (1980), the violent and perverse Frank Booth in “Blue Velvet” (1986) — and in his first TV series, the offbeat murder mystery “Twin Peaks” (1990-91). When his cheerful and sunny side shows itself, and that’s not often, the result is “The Straight Story” (1999).

Like a David Lynch film, the biography-memoir “Room to Dream” is set in a world we recognize but one with a dreamy, compelling perspective at its core. Co-author and Lynch friend Kristine McKenna writes from interviews and other research in one chapter while the filmmaker’s own recollections of events follow in the next. It’s a unique structure that’s perfectly suited for a cheery fellow with dark fantasies.

Lynch has always been drawn to art of some sort — paint, film, video, music, sound design, photography, acting, even carpentry. Friends and colleagues say he is smart, nice, generous and outgoing — and insist that he isn’t weird. Well, how would you describe someone who dissects a mackerel, lays out the parts, labels them for reassembly, then photographs the display and calls it a Fish Kit? Oh, and a Chicken Kit and a Duck Kit follow.

Curiously, Lynch’s life lacks the elements of evil and tragedy and the bizarre found in his art. McKenna describes an all-American 1950s boyhood in the Northwest. Taking his turn, Lynch recalls an idyllic youth, too, but one with the occasional disturbing image — like the night a nude and beaten woman stumbled down his street. (If you’ve seen “Blue Velvet” you’ll recognize that childhood memory.)

At one point Lynch writes: “Almost everybody has a bunch of stuff swimming in them, and I don’t think most people are aware of the dark parts of themselves. People trick themselves and we all think we’re pretty much OK and that others are at fault.”

McKenna doesn’t omit unflattering details — Lynch’s extramarital flings, for example, and the crumbling of the first three of his four marriages. Actress Isabella Rossellini describes how Lynch used a phone call to end their years-long relationship, a subject on which Lynch contributes only silence.

Importantly for cinephiles “Room to Dream” explores such things as how “Mulholland Drive” (2001) rose from the ashes of a failed TV project to the cult film that the website BBC Culture declared to be the best movie of the 21st century. That backstory and so many others provide a window into the mysteries of creativity.

Lynch once told director Steven Spielberg, “You’re so lucky because the things you love millions of people love, and the things I love thousands of people love.” Yet Lynch thrives as an artist and as a human being because he fuels his passions with curiosity, discovery and a sense of fun.

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Douglass K. Daniel is the author of “Anne Bancroft: A Life” (University Press of Kentucky)

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