Sound and musical score is an integral part of the filmmaking process, an extra arm of creativity for film directors that allows them to explore themes and ideas that transcend the literal truth of the story. Simply ask Wes Anderson, whose collaboration with Alexandre Desplat is a co-dependent creative union, or Quentin Tarantino, whose punk repurposing of classic pieces of music have come to define some of modern cinema’s most memorable moments.
Though for David Lynch, music is indispensable, melting into the fabric of each and every ethereal filmmaking project he carries out. Deploying music to staggering effects, David Lynch once said: “Sound is almost like a drug. It’s so pure that when it goes in your ears, it instantly does something to you,” in the book Beyond the Beyond.
Along with being the experimental writer, director and all-seeing auteur of his own film projects, David Lynch has also been responsible for the sound design of several of his previous films, composing music for Wild at Heart, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, Mulholland Drive, and Rabbits.
Lynch also produced and wrote lyrics for Julee Cruise’s first two albums, Floating into the Night and The Voice of Love, with much of her music appearing throughout the director’s surreal crime drama, Twin Peaks.
Conducting some of the finest scenes of musical cinema by combining captivating visuals and alluring sound design, let’s look into ten of David Lynch’s greatest musical moments.
David Lynch’s 10 greatest musical moments:
Blue Velvet (David Lynch, 1986) – ‘In Dreams’ by Roy Orbison
Releasing the whiff of America’s bleak underbelly, Blue Velvet is arguably David Lynch’s masterpiece, winning the director his second Best Director nomination at the 59th Academy Awards.
As if a dreamlike predecessor to Twin Peaks, the film follows teenager Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle McLaughlin) experience the surreal nightlife of North Carolina after he finds a decapitated ear in a field. Taken to the house of drug dealer Ben, by Dennis Hopper’s snarling Frank Booth, the dealer begins lip-synching to the tune of ‘In Dreams’ by Roy Orbison whilst Hopper experiences a strange emotional breakdown. Staring at Ben longingly as he performs, it looks as though Frank knows something we don’t, unlocking a complicated enigma in his mind as he stares into an ethereal reality.
Eraserhead (David Lynch, 1977) – ‘In Heaven’ by Peter Ivers
David Lynch’s experimental debut feature film, Eraserhead, would introduce the world to the mind of one of cinema’s most idiosyncratic thinkers, with Peter Ivers’ performance of ‘In Heaven’, written by Lynch, standing out as one of the film’s most memorable scenes.
Appearing to the lead character Henry Spencer (Jack Nance) in dreams, the song is performed by a woman with large, bulging cheeks, named ‘The Lady in the Radiator’. The first great musical moment from David Lynch, the song is performed by Laurel Near, a woman who lives in a dusty radiator in the film who hypnotically drones, “In heaven, everything is fine”.
Inland Empire (David Lynch, 2006) – ‘The Locomotion’ by Little Eva
Inland Empire, the most recent feature film from David Lynch, is a true nightmare for the digital age. Following an actress who begins to embody the character she is trying to portray, she descends into a nightmare world of surrealism.
Together with Lynch’s own subtly genius sound design that links the mind of Nikki Grace (Laura Dern) to an accelerating vintage machine, ‘The Locomotion’ by Little Eva captivates the audience, if just for a moment, in the abrupt dance performance. Arriving as quickly as it departs, the performance feels like a strange fever-dream, worsened by a jarring strobe light and a camera angle that places us askew and detached from the action.
Lost Highway (David Lynch, 1997) – ‘This Magic Moment’ by Lou Reed
Many scenes throughout the history of cinema match a love song to the very first time we see a particular character, projecting the emotional perspective of the protagonist. Though in Lynch’s Lost Highway, this cinematic cliche is carried out with aplomb.
Transitioning from the film’s opening storyline that followed Fred (Bill Pullman) and Renee Madison (Patricia Arquette), we are introduced to Ed (Louis Eppolito) a car mechanic with seemingly no relation to the story at hand. That is until Patricia Arquette’s Renee pulls into the garage, stares into Ed’s eyes and leaves in a different vehicle parked outside. Slowing the film to a snail’s pace whilst using a subtle strobe light on Arquette’s face, Lynch creates a lustful scene, with the soft pulsing of the light replicating Ed’s fluttering heart.
Lou Reed’s longing vocals singing ‘This Magic Moment’ is simply icing on the cake.
Mulholland Drive (David Lynch, 2001) – ‘I’ve Told Every Little Star’ by Linda Scott
“This is the girl,” utters Adam (Justin Theroux) to the studio executive, Jason as Melissa George’s Camilla Rhodes performs ‘I’ve Told Every Little Star’ by Linda Scott in Lynch’s Hollywood nightmare Mulholland Drive.
“Excellent choice,” the executive eerily responds as the ghostly echo of Camilla Rhodes’ performance rattles around every inch of the vast recording studio. It’s a wondrous, even heavenly scene, that alludes to how Hollywood’s finest moments of fame are often spiked by commercial interests and personal greed. Underlined by a dull drone from Lynch’s sound design, Melissa George’s sparkling performance turns into something far more sinister.
Mulholland Drive (David Lynch, 2001) – Llorando by Rebekah Del Rio
From the introduction to the facade of Hollywood glitz to the tragedy of the industry’s shortcomings, the second grand performance from Rebekah Del Rio in Mulholland Drive is as staggering as the first.
A Spanish translation of Roy Orbison’s song ‘Crying’, Rebekah Del Rio performance is one tinged with devastating emotional power, constantly flittering between beauty, sadness and fear in her song spanning three octaves. Appearing during a pivotal point in the film her performance is witnessed by lovers Betty (Naomi Watts) and Rita (Laura Harring) who visit the ghostly Club Silencio. Hitting seemingly impossible notes, Rebekah Del Rio collapses to the floor upon the song’s climax whilst her voice continues to echo throughout the hall. It’s a haunting, emotionally-piercing scene.
Twin Peaks (David Lynch, 1990-2017) – ‘A Violent Yet Flammable World’ – Au Revoir Simone
Concluding the majority of the episodes of 2017s Twin Peaks with a musical performance at the fictional ‘Bang Bang Bar’, in episode nine of the revived series, Au Revoir Simone performs a ghostly rendition of ‘A Violent Yet Flammable World’.
One of the very best performances that bookend any of the episodes, the sounds of Au Revoir Simone are reminiscent of the iconic Julee Cruise, blending into the identity of the ‘Bang Bang Bar’ whilst eliciting their own sound and style. Augmenting chords and vocals, the band layer their melodies to create a truly beautiful, strangely melancholic track that is simply perfect for David Lynch’s ethereal dreamworld.
Twin Peaks (David Lynch, 1990-2017) – ‘Rockin back inside my heart’ / ‘The World Spins’ by Julee Cruise
Equally joyous and deeply heart wrenching, David Lynch spins the emotional resonance of this classic scene on its head, mixing the sounds of Julee Cruise alongside the spine-chilling performances from the whole present cast of Twin Peaks.
Forget the best musical scene, this is one of David Lynch’s greatest ever moments, eliciting an astonishing level of intensity and emotional sensation as the scene transitions from the joyous romance of ‘Rockin Back Inside My Heart’. Suddenly Carel Struycken’s Giant appears on stage and utters: “It is happening again”, to the vacant stare of Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan).
Julee Cruise takes to the stage once more, though this time with the more emotionally melancholy, ‘The World Spins’ as the aura of the room fills with visceral pain like a gentle blanket over a weary heart.
What did Jack do? (David Lynch, 2017) – ‘The Flame of Love’ by David Lynch Featuring Jack Cruz
To mark his 74th birthday, David Lynch celebrated in a style only he himself could pull off, by interviewing and interrogating a talking monkey called Jack. For all his monochrome fur, Jack is an adorable suited figure with an elderly, borderline senile, dreamlike tone, akin to the Twin Peaks red-room dwarf.
The indecision of whether to laugh or cry results in a recoil of sorts as Jack’s manic anthropomorphic ramblings quickly descend from charming into peculiarly creepy, all before his troubles are shrilled out in bizarre, yet purely ‘Lynchian’ song. Though despite its nature, Jack’s performance is strangely melancholy, like a once-famed film star who has lost his way. For all we know, in this eerie reality, that may well be the case; a theory accentuated by the inclusion of ‘Jack Cruz’ as ‘himself’ in the credits.
Wild at Heart (David Lynch, 1990) – ‘Love me Tender’ by Elvis Presley
This iconic love song from superstar Elvis Presley is borrowed by Nicolas Cage in the finale to David Lynch’s wild love story, as Cage’s Sailor stands on top of a car and cradles Laura Dern’s Lula as he intimately sings to her.
It’s certainly one of Lynch’s most romantic moments, providing a surreal climax to the frantic love story between star-crossed lovers Lulu and Sailor. “I just met the good witch,” Cage groans before engaging in surprisingly melodic tones, ending the film with an impressive flourish and an achingly beautiful ode to the fantasy romance of Hollywood filmmaking.
Someone get Nicolas Cage into a musical.