A horde of David Lynch devotees descended on New York venue Brooklyn Steel this weekend to drink Log Lady Lager, watch Blue Velvet with an intro by its stars and soak in some avant-garde ambiance via a stacked lineup of musical performances.
The first New York–based, Lynch-curated Festival of Disruption featured talks with Lynch-approved actors
Kyle MacLachlan, Isabella Rossellini and Naomi Watts, a keynote speech by the
filmmaker himself and performances by Animal Collective (who used a psychedelic, biology-inspired
backdrop), My Morning Jacket’s Jim James, Flying Lotus (who
performed a Lynch-themed DJ set) and Rebekah del Rio, who sang the Spanish-language Roy
Orbison cover “Llorando” in Mulholland
Drive, among others, over two days. There was also the U.S. premiere of
Lynch’s black-and-white short film, What
Did Jack Do?, in which Lynch plays a detective interviewing a criminal
But beyond the main stage, everything about the festival reflected Lynch’s aesthetic. Twin Peaks–related ephemera, including key fobs for the Great Northern Hotel, filled the merch tables, Lynch’s sayings – “The artist doesn’t have to suffer to show suffering” – plastered the floors, log benches were available to sit on and an Eraserhead-themed photo booth where you pose like the Lady in the Radiator welcomed fans. There was also a meditation tent, since the whole weekend was presented by the David Lynch Foundation – a nonprofit established to teach transcendental meditation to children and adults who’ve suffered abuse, soldiers experiencing PTSD and at-risk populations in general.
Organizers packed the whole weekend with information about meditation and all things Lynch. Here are the 20 most interesting things we learned attending the festival.
1. Kyle MacLachlan horrified his mother by asking her to read the Blue Velvet script.
“My mom read the script, and she didn’t say anything,” he recalled. “The script was quite graphic. Everything you saw was written out quite detailed. And there were a few moments there where Isabella and I got to know each other very well. So my mom was worried, but she was fine. She came ’round and saw it.”
2. Isabella Rossellini worked hard to sing in Blue Velvet.
“David thought it had to be me because I have an accent and it would be really difficult to do my voice, so we tried,” she said. “I remember that David had a little local band from North Carolina, where we shot the film, but I had an idea that when my character, Dorothy, sang, she had to sing all her melancholia – all her sadness. The original Bobby Vinton version isn’t particularly sad; I thought it must be the way I had to deliver it. … I didn’t really like working with that band, and then the producer said, ‘I have a friend who does jingles for commercials and he’s very flexible,’ and here came Angelo Badalamenti. So he helped me find the right tone for the song and he helped me because I don’t have a very good voice, so it was all edited so it looked like I was singing beautifully.”
3. Isabella Rossellini had to film some uncomfortable scenes with Dennis Hopper right away.
“One of the first scenes we shot was where Frank Booth, Dennis’ character, comes to Dorothy’s house and he’s raping her in a way that you see it’s something he does every day,” she recalled. “Dorothy is obedient and terrified, and David decided that was the first scene to shoot. … Every time he punched me, my blue-velvet robe would open and you would see that I was wearing underwear. David said, ‘You have to remove your underwear because otherwise you see that you’re wearing underwear and the whole idea is that he’s worshipping your vagina.” “First day,” MacLachlan joked to laughs. She went on, “So I took my underwear off, I spread my legs and I said to Dennis, ‘Sorry.’ And he said, ‘Ah, don’t worry, I’ve seen it before.’ That was Dennis.”
4. Blue Velvet’s producer marketed it unconventionally in Italy, hurting Rossellini’s career.
“When the film research came back negative that the film was not going to be appreciated by the audience, [producer] Dino De Laurentiis decided to distribute it in Italy as a midnight film, like a porno,” Rossellini said. “So that was really damaging. Still today I have some problems in Italy with my career.”
5. Kyle MacLachlan learned the hard way about David Lynch’s meditation routine.
“David’s been meditating ‘for 45 years,'” MacLachlan said, doing an impression of the director’s nasal speaking voice. “When I was working with him on Dune, I knew he would disappear for a few days to meditate. One day in particular, we were all staying in a dorm room in a studio and I went down to his room to ask two questions, and on the door was a sign that said, ‘No Mole Stars.’ I was like, ‘No Mole Stars?’ And I knew David was a little eccentric. And it was drawn in a particular David way with a star on it. And I knocked on the door and asked, ‘Am I interrupting?’ He was meditating. He said, ‘That’s OK, Kyle, come on in. Did you notice the sign on my door?’ I said, ‘Yeah, “No Mole Stars.”‘ And he said, ‘It’s No Molestar‘ [Spanish for ‘do not disturb’]. So that’s how I learned Spanish. That was the first and last time I interrupted him.”
6. The Festival of Disruption raises funds to teach meditation locally.
“What I love about these festivals is that nobody is pocketing the money,” David Lynch Foundation CEO Bob Roth says in a backstage interview. “This is not lining somebody’s pocket. People are showing up for free and performing for free. One-hundred percent of the expenses are going to help kids in the Bronx or East L.A. for free.”
7. Lynch thinks big with his meditation foundation.
“One time I was with him at a meeting somewhere and I said, ‘We want to bring this to at-risk kids,’ and he interrupted with, ‘All kids!‘” Roth recalls of a time he was on the road with Lynch discussing the foundation. “Later on, I said, ‘We really want to bring this to the at-risk population,’ he goes, ‘Everybody.’ So he just keeps reminding that everybody’s at risk.”
8. Rossellini thought Laura Dern was blind when they first met.
“She did a film before Blue Velvet called Mask and she played a blind person,” the actress recalled. “When David told me he’d found Laura Dern, I thought, ‘Wow, I didn’t imagine the character to be blind,’ – because I thought Laura Dern was a blind actress. But I thought, ‘It might be symbolic, because she is so naïve when she talks.’ So I saw it all in my head. And when I met Laura for the first time, and she said, ‘Hello, how are you?’ I would grab her hand. And we were walking, and I whispered to her, ‘There is a step.’ She said, ‘Yes, I can see it.’ ‘You can see it? You see?’ She said, ‘Yes.’ I said, ‘I thought you were blind.’ I said, ‘But in Mask.’ But she said, ‘I’m an actress.’ She’s so convincing.”
9. Flying Lotus is a David Lynch stan.
Not only did the producer plug transcendental meditation during his set (“and no one paid me to say that,” he said), he remixed the Eraserhead song “In Heaven,” snuck in quotes from Lynch movies and gave the theme song from Twin Peaks a trap beat.
10. Twin Peaks fans love to cosplay.
One festivalgoer wore black-and-white, zigzagged pants and a red jacket to resemble the “red room” from Twin Peaks. Another wore a “Have you seen this man?” wanted-poster shirt with a picture of the character Bob from Twin Peaks on the front. Multiple people wore blue suits with FBI badges. Another brought the creepy white masks that some Twin Peaks characters wear.
11. Lynch has a very particular casting process.
“He goes through a stack of photographs, and he picks out four or five pictures, and if you’re number two and he falls in love with you then he doesn’t see the other people,” Naomi Watts remembered of how she was cast in Mulholland Drive. “As we know, David works very much from his gut and his intuition. I thought, ‘Well, those are better odds.'”
12. Naomi Watts has only ever seen Lynch get mad once.
“The only time I’ve ever seen him angry is when he got kicked out of a building for smoking,” she said to laughs. “And even then it was beautifully controlled anger.”
13. Much of Twin Peaks: The Return was a surprise, even to the actors.
“All the pages were blacked out, and I just had the scenes that I was in,” Watts recalled. “I just had the scenes that I was in. Some of the lines that other people were saying were blacked out. So there were a lot of question marks. But by then, you know how things work and you trust David. Obviously I’ve been through it with great success. … I kept asking, I knew I wasn’t going to get anything out of David, but I thought I could trick Kyle into giving me some clues but he’s pretty good too at keeping the secrets.”
14. David Lynch really loves to smoke.
“I think when things are too clean and sterile, it’s not a good feeling – out in the world anyway,” Lynch said during his talk. “I smoke cigarettes. I went to Seattle one time and was checking into a hotel and they had these chocolate chip cookies on the check-in counter, and I took a cookie and it was really good, and I slapped the table and said, ‘I’ll take a smoking room.’ And they said, ‘Oh, no, no, no, there’s no smoking in this hotel.’ … So I said, ‘I’m not gonna be able to stay here,’ and [Bob Roth] got me a Motel 6. This Motel 6 was run by a beautiful older woman, a real salt-of-the-earth room, very soiled carpet and seediness. It was so cozy and fantastic. Nobody gave me any trouble about smoking. It was so comfortable. So I appreciate the seediness and the comfort that comes with it, and it is a sense of nostalgia. It’s a different world now. It’s much better really – I’m not promoting smoking, but smokers are seen as animals and they’re sent out to pasture to smoke. There’s no chair for them and no comfort whatsoever. I think it’s wrong.”
15. Lynch has a very vivid analogy for negativity.
“I call it the suffocating rubber clown suit of negativity,” he said. “It’s like we’re in a very heavy, foul-smelling, thick clown suit. No one wants to be a clown. It starts dissolving automatically [when you meditate].”
16. Mel Brooks was an early Lynch champion.
“I always talk about final cut, and I didn’t have it on The Elephant Man,” Lynch said, referring to the idea of getting the last word on a movie’s edit. “But Mel [who coproduced it] in effect gave it to me and supported me and fought off a lot of attacks to the film as it was being finished. Mel is a very special, highly intelligent human being. And my work on The Elephant Man ended up putting me on the map.”
17. Lynch once had a smoke with Kurt Vonnegut – by accident.
“We had a smoke in the stairwell of a restaurant here in New York City,” he recalled. “The smokers were made to go in the stairwell. Now, I don’t think you can even smoke in the stairwell. I don’t remember what we said. There was many people around me. We just looked and enjoyed the tobacco.”
18. Lynch doesn’t feel he has to justify himself to anyone.
“My films have to mean something to me, but I don’t need to tell anyone else what that meaning is,” he said. “I always say it’s like an author who’s passed away. You can’t dig him up and ask him what he meant by the book. You just have the book. And the film or the book is the thing. So as I always say, you finish a film and right away they want you to start talking about it in words. And unless you’re a poet, words are going to fail you. So nothing should be added to the film, nothing should be subtracted. It is the thing. The film is the same at every screening, but the audience is different, so it’s a completely different feeling every screening. People make up their own minds with their own feelings, and I always say every one of them is valid.”
19. The director plans everything for his Festivals of Disruption in a Google doc.
“There’s a giant spreadsheet we work from where he has all of his ideas categorized by discipline,” producer Erik Martin says. “So it’s, like, dance, music, film, art, exhibits. And it’s ever-evolving. As he discovers new things. He’s following cars now so maybe next year we’ll have the building of a car onsite. So when it comes to artists, it just comes down to scheduling. David sends them a letter and invites them.” Producer Jessica Harris says, “We always talk about, ‘What are we gonna do next year?’ and David always reminds us the ideas are endless. So it truly is original each time.”
20. Lynch insists that his festivals “can’t be boring.”
“When we were planning the first festival, David told me, ‘Erik, it can’t be boring, and they have to leave with knowledge – real knowledge.'” Martin says. “He was basically saying, this is an opportunity. Don’t waste it by just putting on some shows. That kind of leadership and vision brings everybody’s best ideas out. And at the end of it, he said, ‘And don’t take no for an answer.'” And with Harris, he got her to think big. “I said, ‘David, our goal in the first few years is to make a few hundred thousand. He goes, ‘No, Jessica. You have to think in the millions.‘ His message was don’t think small. Don’t make this a punch-in, punch-out event.”