David Lynch has travelled to a lot of places over the course of his fascinating career, experiences which have undoubtedly influenced his artistic vision and inspired him in a lot of ways. However, for the most part, Lynch manages to capture a vision of America in his films that is unlike any other. Characterised by nightmarish, atmospheric constructs, Lynch has painted highly bizarre portraits of America which have been widely celebrated.
Born in Montana, Lynch’s childhood was influenced by suburban sensibilities which he found to be fake even as a child. He later tore apart the facade of American suburbia in films like Blue Velvet, showing how overwhelming ugliness and human depravity lurk behind the illusions of white picket fences and freshly mowed grass. “I discovered that if one looks a little closer at this beautiful world, there are always red ants underneath,” Lynch once explained.
However, the city that inspired Lynch’s unique vision the most was Philadelphia and all its urban filth. “We lived cheap, but the city was full of fear. A kid was shot to death down the street,” Lynch recalled. “We were robbed twice, had windows shot out and a car stolen. The house was first broken into only three days after we moved in … The feeling was so close to extreme danger, and the fear was so intense. There was violence and hate and filth. But the biggest influence in my whole life was that city.”
Anyone familiar with Lynch’s works can immediately identify that all the things he is describing are omnipresent throughout his oeuvre. His experiences in Philadelphia ultimately helped him make one of the definitive masterpieces of the 20th century- Eraserhead. “I saw so many things in Philadelphia I couldn’t believe,” Lynch once said. “I saw a grown woman grab her breasts and speak like a baby, complaining her nipples hurt. This kind of thing will set you back”.
Even before he finished Eraserhead, Lynch had moved to Los Angeles with his family in order to study at the prestigious American Film Institute. His relationship with Los Angeles and Hollywood would eventually manifest itself in his 2001 neo-noir opus Mulholland Drive which translates the anxieties and fears associated with the Hollywood dream into a meditation on the human condition.
In one interview, Lynch was asked to describe how Los Angeles had influenced his works and the first thing he could think of was the brightness of the lights that dominate that urban hellscape. “Number one, the intense light. Also, the different feelings in the air. But like every place, it’s always changing. And it takes a lot longer to appreciate L.A. than a lot of cities because it’s so spread out and every area has its own mood,” Lynch commented.
Despite the fact that it took him some to time to get used to Los Angeles, Lynch claimed that there was one thing he absolutely loved doing and that was reconnecting with the rich history of the film industry that was still alive in the city. Lynch said: “What I really like about it is, from time to time, if you drive around – especially at night – you can get a little gust of wind of the great days of the silver screen. All there in, like, living memory”.
He also noted that if he had the opportunity to travel back in time, he would use it to revisit the Los Angeles of yesteryears populated by the pioneers of cinema. “It just makes you wish that you’d lived in those times,” Lynch sighed. “I think that if you could go back, that’s the one place you want to go back to. Maybe they didn’t appreciate it at the time but it was an incredible place to be at the beginning of cinema.”