David Lynch at the BFI London Film Festival

Last month began one of my favourite annual rituals: the receiving and study of this year’s BFI London Film Festival programme. It’s always packed with premiers and director talks to make the seasoned film fanatic blow a month’s wages with blatant disregard. This year was no exception, with premiers by David Cronenberg and Wes Andersen topping the bill. However, it was a curious entry towards the final pages that caught my eye. Was I reading correctly? ‘Catching the Big Fish: Meditation and Creativity with David Lynch and Donovan.’ I was aware of Lynch’s book on the subject but he is notoriously reluctant to be interviewed and above all else, what connection does he have with English folk-music legend Donovan? It was clear that such a random opportunity does not arise every day. I booked my ticket and waited in anticipation.

I arrived at the Southbank in London with the hope of learning about Lynch’s working method, the fuel behind his ideas in TV series ‘Twin Peaks’ (1990) and his masterpiece ‘Mulholland Drive’ (2001). The buzz around the bar was clear, the chance of splitting open the mind of a maniac and seeing what resides within was obviously a rather appealing image to those who had made the journey to the National Film Theatre that night.

After taking our seats the audience studied the room, two microphones on the stage, one on each side and one acoustic guitar. Lynch was finally introduced after various speeches and the format of the evening was revealed. For forty-five minutes members of the audience cued at either side of the stage for their chance to ask Lynch a question about meditation, his work method or any of his films. We were warned, ‘If you don’t ask him anything, he will not speak… he’s done this before’. The brave among us made sure this was not going to happen and Lynch was bombarded with interrogation from both sides. The questions were obviously inconsistent and often failed to provoke an informative response. However, Lynch did go on to explain how ideas, ‘come up like bubbles while in meditation,’ through a blur of enthusiastic waving hands. All the talk of meditation was a little confusing for the most part, but what was clear to everyone was Lynch’s passion and belief that it can make each and every one of us both happier and more productive. This in itself may be enough to encourage some to give meditation a second look.

His relationship with Donovan was made clear, they had both been taught the technique of transcendental meditation by the same Maharishi, Mahesh Yogi. These two men are poles apart in terms of their art, Lynch often excelling in tense and uncomfortable suspense through exquisite sound and lighting, Donovan revelling in up beat sing-along folk of the 1960’s. Despite this, the two men have both been aided in their creativity by the same source and have been united in their desire to push the message of their beloved teacher to a new audience.

After several clips of Lynch’s work he was drawn into anecdotes of on set behaviour. One of note was regarding the scene at Ben’s house in ‘Blue Velvet’ (1986). He seemed to delight in the random nature Dean Stockwell came across an artist’s lamp that led to one of the most iconic visual moments of the critically acclaimed film.

‘Still to this day we don’t know how that lamp got on the set,’ He grinned.

As this section of the evening’s entertainment ended, the enigmatic folk legend Donovan took to the stage. He played through his back catalogue of hits such as ‘Mellow Yellow’ and ‘Sunshine Superman’ with the charisma of a seasoned performer, even faced a far different audience to his usual concerts. He told stories of visits to India ‘with four Beatles and a Beach Boy…’ and the onlookers applauded and cheered after every song or speech.

Overall this was almost as strange and surreal experience as one of Lynch’s films, his ability to have the crowd hang on his every word rescued a night that was filled with enjoyment but lacked the informative quality that a professional interviewer may have provided. I will sum up Lynch’s need for meditation to help creativity with the first few lines of his accompanying book, which is certainly worth a read. ‘Ideas are like fish. If you want to catch a little fish you can stay in the shallow water. But if you want to catch the big fish you have got to go deeper. Down deep, the fish are more powerful and more pure. They’re huge and abstract. And they’re very beautiful.’

Ben Corbett

3 Comments

  1. TheoB says:

    What a strangely brilliant interviewing technique! Blatantly the official interviewer dropped out at the last minute so they had to think on their feet… Great article.

  2. Steve says:

    Abstract. Deep. Beautiful – but enough about Donovan! Awesome snapshot-still of the writhing maggots beneath the surface of Lynch’s brain… Proof that he’s still curiously balancing on that fibre-thin line between genius and insanity. Nice one.

  3. Ben Corbett says:

    I think the idea was that Lynch would not be grilled on the meaning of his films as he never reveals things like that. This means he hates interviewers so thats why he let teh fans ask him stuff!