David Lynch is a director that the term divisive could have been invented for, you either “get” him or you don’t. Playing heavily on surrealism and visual metaphor, Lynch is a director who has carved out a diverse career in film and indeed in television with the massively popular Twin Peaks which saw its return to our screens this year. This is probably without doubt the most difficult Top 5 I have tried to compile. I feel guilty for not mentioning the likes of Lost Highway, The Straight Story, Inland Empire and I even have a soft spot for Dune but this is my personal Top 5 and one I have possibly taken the most time to compile because the choices are so difficult to make, anyone of the aforementioned films could have made the list but the 5 I have picked, some may argue that they are quite populist choices, they are also the films I keep returning to. So here we go.
After its polarising second season, it didn’t take Lynch long to return to the world of Twin Peaks with this beguiling prequel documenting the last week of Laura Palmers life. A much more Lynchian affair than the prior series which for the most part had descended into almost soap opera territory without his influence, this was the captain steering the ship once more. Here Lynch was planting seeds that would start to sprout in the third series and FWWM’s more elusive plot elements would start to make more sense to the perplexed.
David Lynch reunited with one of his many muses, Laura Dern for this slice of road movie insanity from 1990. Adapted from the Barry Gifford novel of the same name and winner of the Palme d’Or at the 1990 Cannes film festival, coupling Dern with the ever gonzo Nic Cage and support turns from Dern’s mother Diane Ladd, Willem Deffo, Harry Dean Stanton and Isabella Rossilini. The film received praise & condemnation in equal measure on it’s release and I do believe it is a film you either love or hate, I’m in the former camp.
No Lynch Top 5 would be complete without the inclusion of this 1977 surrealist masterpiece. Set in an industrial dystopian world and starring perennial Lynch collaborator Jack Nance, Eraserhead was the movie that introduced the world at large to the mind of David Lynch. Strange mutant babies, inexplicable hairdo’s and puffy-cheeked singing ladies who live behind radiators, standard.
This biopic from 1980 telling the sad tale of Joseph Merrick, referred to in the film as John and known historically as The Elephant Man. The Elephant Man was quite a departure for Lynch, told relatively straight and without much of his trademark surrealism, the cast including the likes of John Hurt , Anthony Hopkins, Anne Bancroft & John Gielgood provided a robust, powerful & moving account of the man’s tragic life.
In Blue Velvet we get Lynch’s take on a conventional mystery, well, conventional for David Lynch anyway. A work that combines a dark noiresque styling juxtaposed with the white picket fences of idealic suburbia, the threat of something sinister just lying beneath the surface of the societal norms of a sleepy town. Lynch’s surrealism peaks its head out from time to time, most iconically in this film with Dean Stockwell, covered in make up miming Roy Orbson’s In Dreams into a work lamp. Kudos to Dennis Hopper in this film for giving us the absolutely terrifying Frank Booth.
The top spot is of course a no-brainer, arguably Lynch’s finest cinematic offering. This wonderfully dreamlike film noir tribute has you questioning so many aspects of its narrative that your head is swimming by its conclusion leaving so many facets to the viewers own interpretation of events, trying to piece its strands together long after it has ended. It is gorgeously, lavishly shot with an excellent cast and I defy anyone not to return to this film multiple times to secure their own interpretation of its narrative.