“It’s beautiful,” filmmaker David Lynch says backstage at music venue Brooklyn Steel, thinking about all he’s seen at the first Festival of Disruption to take place in New York. He’s sitting in a folding chair, leaning forward attentively in his trademark black suit, his hair a perfectly Lynchian asymmetrical mess. He looks attuned and is big on eye contact when speaking. Lynch has just finished sitting for a talk where he teased his upcoming quasi-memoir Room to Dream and gave a U.S. premiere to his short film, What Did Jack Do?, which he made in 2014. His smile alone shows how proud he is with how the weekend has turned out.
The two-day festival also featured performances by Animal Collective, Flying Lotus, Jim James and Angel Olsen, among others, as well as a screening of his celebrated 1986 avant-mystery Blue Velvet and talks with actors who’ve long worked with him like Kyle MacLachlan, Isabella Rossellini and Naomi Watts. The event, which will return to Los Angeles in October, served as a low-key benefit for his David Lynch Foundation, which aides at-risk populations by teaching them the virtues of transcendental meditation. It’s the marriage of these two ideas that inspired Lynch to put together the festival.
“I hope people have a good time primarily,” he says in a brief chat with Rolling Stone about the weekend. “And maybe get some information and awareness about the benefits of practicing transcendental meditation.”
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You screened Blue Velvet this weekend, as well as Psychogenic Fugue, a short by Sandro Miller that features John Malkovich portraying several of your characters. Malkovich was once interested in playing the role of Frank Booth in Blue Velvet, which went to Dennis Hopper.
Oh, I didn’t know he did. John would have been interesting. But Dennis Hopper was born to play that role, hands down.
Did you have to direct Dennis much?
Dennis said a truthful thing. He called me on the phone before and said, “I have to play Frank Booth because I am Frank Booth.” So I always say, it’s good news and bad news at the same time.
That had to make for a fun time on set then.
It was fantastic.
“Very rarely have I gotten ideas from nighttime dreams, but I love dream logic.”
Isabella Rossellini said that there was a deleted scene in Blue Velvet where her character, Dorothy, had red shoes. Was that a Wizard of Oz reference on purpose?
It swims in there sometimes, yeah. I don’t know why. It’s just a magical film. There’s something about it.
Did it have anything to do with its dreamy quality?
I honestly don’t know exactly what it is, but it has to do with the line, “There’s no place like home.”
What role do dreams play in coming up with your ideas?
Not much, except daydreaming. Very rarely have I gotten ideas from nighttime dreams, but I love dream logic. And cinema can [show] dream logic.
Are you saying Blue Velvet came from sort of a “What if?”–type dream?
No. What I mean is cinema can say abstract things. It can say things that are difficult to say with words. And sometimes, if I’m lucky, ideas come for those types of things in the middle of the story – things that are difficult to say with words. They don’t necessarily have to be any kind of one emotion or another, they can be abstract things in one film that emotions – some emotion of sadness or some abstract thing that conjures some other feeling. It’s just that the language of cinema can say abstract things – and concrete things, of course.
“I like to watch Investigation Discovery. It’s incredible what human beings do to one another.”
Blue Velvet ends with a shot of Dorothy and her son, and she looks so happy. Have you wondered what else happens to her after that? She must have PTSD.
No, because that’s the end right there [laughs]. But that’s the name of this book that’s coming out, Room to Dream. Endings can leave room to dream. So what you’re saying right there is a nice thing. You can wonder after what Dorothy’s gone through what her life would be. And each person can wonder along.
You did that yourself recently when you did Twin Peaks: The Return. How do you feel now that that’s behind you?
I feel good.
Is it something you feel like you’ll continue?
I don’t talk about that.
Are you working on any new film projects right now?
I’m doing painting right now.
When I was watching Blue Velvet, I noticed you do these long shots of dark roads at night – something you also have done in Lost Highway and Twin Peaks. What is the appeal there?
Going into the unknown is a thing for human beings that’s fearful and exciting and hopeful. It’s many different things.
Similarly, with Twin Peaks, what is the feeling you get when you’re on the set for the Black Lodge? Is it a warm feeling?
I call it the “Red Room.” And the Red Room is sort of a junction point. It can be a very good feeling and it can be not so good.
It looks oddly comfortable.
Those chairs are nice, yeah [laughs].
There’s a lot of good music at the festival this weekend. What has been moving you lately?
Honestly, I keep listening to Junior Kimbrough just over and over [laughs].
Do you have a favorite album of his?
I just have a favorite song, “All Night Long.” And it’s on YouTube. I like the feel of that, the way he plays and sings. It’s real.
I remember an interview you did on late-night TV in the Nineties where you said you played heavy-metal guitar.
[Laughs]. I like the blues. I play guitar, but I play it differently. I play it upside-down and backwards. One of my sons is heavily into heavy metal.
And you’ve featured metal in Wild at Heart and Lost Highway.
Absolutely. Rammstein. The crew took to Rammstein big time, and in the trucks you’d hear it pounding away. In Wild at Heart we had Powermad, and Elvis and Gene Vincent, “Be-Bop-a-Lula,” and a lot of other music, too. And Angelo Badalamenti for sure.
When you spoke at the fest, you had this no-phone policy. What do you make of the phone-dominated culture now where everyone is documenting everything and everybody can be a director?
It’s OK. I think it’s good to document things. The reason I did that was because of the film. It’s not good to have your iPhone film a film and then put it on the Internet. It’s going to be lousy quality, lousy sound, lousy picture. That’s theft. So that’s not good.
In your talk, you mentioned some the TV you watch, including the Velocity channel, which shows people making cars, and crime shows. Which ones specifically do you watch?
I like to watch Investigation Discovery, whatever shows. It’s incredible what human beings do to one another.
What is it about Kyle MacLachlan that had you cast him as a detective twice – in Blue Velvet and in Twin Peaks?
Jeffrey Beaumont from Blue Velvet is a young Special Agent Dale Cooper. But I always say everybody is a detective. And we notice things. We’re always thinking and looking for clues to figure out what is truly going on. It’s difficult these days because there’s so much disturbance. And I think people have fewer moments just with themselves. Mystery has always been important to me because we [as people] want to know.
That’s like what you’re saying about looking at the everyday and thinking about what else could happen.
That’s the flow of ideas. You could call it imagination, but imagination is just ideas flowing. So you look at something and ideas can start pouring out of that, what you’re feeling and looking at. So it’s all about ideas.