Cherry pie and a cup of coffee. A translucent green nitrous oxide mask. A blue key. There are so many wonderfully evocative images that come to mind when we think about David Lynch’s movies. America’s mainstream surrealist master is an artist’s artist who cheerfully points out the rot inside the oak trees lining our suburban streets.
He’s also far more than a filmmaker. The man behind Eraserhead (1977), Mulholland Drive (2001), Twin Peaks, and more is also a painter, a musician, a furniture designer, and a big fan of transcendental meditation. Let’s all firewalk together through these idiosyncratic facts about David Lynch.
1. He considered school “a crime against young people.“
Lynch perfectly fits the mold of the artist who rebels against the status quo—especially the need to go to school, which he felt numbed his inherent curiosity about the world. “For me, back then, school was a crime against young people,“ he said in his official biography. “It destroyed the seeds of liberty. The teachers didn’t encourage knowledge or a positive attitude.“
2. He attended JFK’s inauguration.
On January 20, 1961, Lynch’s 15th birthday, he and more than 1500 other Boy Scouts were part of a group meant to help VIPs find their seats at John F. Kennedy’s presidential inauguration. After climbing some bleachers to spot Kennedy’s car, he ran up to greet it with several other boys who were all turned away by the Secret Service—except for Lynch. He was allowed to stand in the service line and witness the limousine carrying Kennedy and Dwight D. Eisenhower, followed by one carrying Richard Nixon and Lyndon B. Johnson. “I realized I saw four consecutive presidents in that short amount of time—10 inches from my face,“ he told Scouting Magazine. “It was a great, great experience.“
3. His first film involved a group of people vomiting.
And it was animated. Six Men Getting Sick (Six Times) (1967) was Lynch’s first foray into filmmaking as a student at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. The visual artist’s effort resembled a moving painting more than a traditional bit of short filmmaking. With a siren blaring, the short features the six figures (little more than faces, esophagi, and stomachs) who claw at their abdomens as they fill with colors, scrape at their faces briefly, then vomit white lines down the black background.
4. Mel Brooks launched his career.
Lynch was one of the American Film Institute’s early beneficiaries, scoring a $7200 grant to make a film about a boy who grows a grandmother from a seed to look after him. He then studied at the AFI Conservatory and secured another $10,000 grant to help make Eraserhead, his first feature, and a dark gem of cult cinema that changed the way many people viewed our radiators. It also caught the attention of Stuart Cornfield, an executive producer working with Mel Brooks, who found the Elephant Man (1980) script for Lynch. After Brooks saw Eraserhead, he ran out of the theater, grabbed Lynch, and reportedly told him: “You’re a madman! I love you!“
5. Lynch turned down the opportunity to direct Return of the Jedi.
Viewers can look to Lynch’s Dune (1984) for a fraction of an example for what he might have toyed around with in the Star Wars universe, but there’s a big difference between trying to launch a difficult space opera series based on ultra-dense novels and closing out a blockbuster, toy-selling powerhouse about space wizards with glowing swords. Despite Return of the Jedi (1983) being a dream gig for tons of directors at the time, Lynch has a simple reason why he turned it down: he wasn’t interested.
6. Lynch’s name isn’t on the extended cut of Dune.
Speaking of not letting the Spice flow: Lynch was disappointed with Dune, blaming the finished product on its status as a studio picture and the subconscious compromises he made in his approach to it. It was one thing to stomach the artistic and commercial flop, but when Universal Studios released an extended cut to make some money back on television, Lynch felt so betrayed by the edit that he had his name removed from the credits. “Alan Smithee“ is a standard name directors use as a pseudonym when they don’t want to be associated with a movie, but Lynch went a step further and had them change his screenwriting credit to “Judas Booth,“ too.
7. He wrote a comic strip.
From 1983 to 1992, The Village Voice and other alt-weeklies ran Lynch’s comic strip, The Angriest Dog in the World, which featured (you guessed it) an angry dog chained to a stake in a yard. Each of the four-panel strips was exactly the same except for the philosophical word bubbles coming from the owner’s house. Lynch had thought of the idea a decade before it launched, spurred by his own intense feelings of anger. According to Lynch, “the memory of the anger is what does ’The Angriest Dog.’ Not the actual anger anymore. It’s sort of a bitter attitude toward life.“
8. Lynch has received a ton of award nominations—but few wins.
Lynch is a rare filmmaker who makes supremely weird, legitimate art and is also largely welcomed by the mainstream audiences—but that has not resulted in many actual awards from the TV and film industry. Among his nearly 30 Oscar, BAFTA, Primetime Emmy, Golden Globe, Independent Spirit, and Cannes Film Festival nominations, Lynch has won only four times. Wild At Heart (1990) won the Palme d'Or and Lynch snagged a Best Director award for Mulholland Dr. (which he shared with the Coen brothers’ The Man Who Wasn't There), both from Cannes. He won an Independent Spirit Special Distinction Award (along with his frequent star Laura Dern) in 2007 and was bestowed with an honorary Academy Award in 2019.
9. He blames big tables for causing “unpleasant mental activity.”
Making furniture isn’t just a hobby for Lynch. He made a small table and VCR cabinet for Lost Highway (1997), but it wasn't a one-off lark to give the trivia section at IMDb a boost. The famous filmmaker is a legitimate furniture professional, having presented a full collection to the prestigious Salone del Mobile in Milan in 1997 and selling pieces throughout the world. According to Lynch, “To my mind, most tables are too big and they’re too high. They shrink the size of the room and eat into space and cause unpleasant mental activity.“
10. He knows you know what Mulholland Drive is about.
Mulholland Drive—perhaps the greatest puzzle box from a filmmaker who doesn’t really think of himself as a creator of puzzle boxes—tells the story (probably) of a young actress who comes to Hollywood thinking of it as a breezy dreamscape only to find rejection, heartbreak, disillusionment, and a hitman. Many fans want to root out the “right answer“ to the film’s winding plot, but Lynch claims that we’re all correct. “I think people know what Mulholland Drive is to them, but they don’t trust it,“ he told Criterion. “They want to have someone else tell them. I love people analyzing it, but they don’t need me to help them out. That’s the beautiful thing, to figure things out as a detective. Telling them robs them of the joy of thinking it through and feeling it through and coming to a conclusion.”