Wednesday, August 1, 2012


Mel Brooks and David Lynch Receiving Honorary Doctorates from the A.F.I. - June 2012 
Last month David Lynch received an honorary doctorate from his old alma mater the American Film Institute (AFI) Conservatory. He was honored alongside a fellow recipient, Mel Brooks, who as the producer of The Elephant Man (1980) helped usher David Lynch from relative cinematic obscurity into the Hollywood big leagues. So now that we have an excuse to call the visionary director "Dr. David Lynch," let's take a look at what movies the good doctor prescribes.

The list of Amreican filmmakers with comparable sensibilities to David Lynch is fairly short and Stanley Kubrick easily tops that list. When it comes to mastering the craft of film making, few directors are as respected and revered as Stanley Kubrick. Developing the equivalent of cinematic calculus while most contemporary filmmakers were stuck on their multiplication chart, Kubrick was a director that other directors followed avidly to better understand the potential of this relatively new artistic medium. In fact, the next article series we are preparing is 44 Years of Stanley Kubrick.
David Lynch once remarked, "I also like Stanley Kubrick. I think right now he's about the coolest, I guess. The Shining (1980) really grew on me. I never miss it when it's on cable. His best film for me, though, is Lolita (1962). I'm absolutely captivated by it. Also, I like him because he likes Eraserhead (1977). He said at one time that it was his favorite film" (City of Absurdity).
Lolita (1962) is one of David Lynch's all-time favorite films, and is a mainstay for all the classic film screening events he has the chance to program, like at the AFI and the opening of his nightclub in Paris. Although David Lynch loves all of Kubrick's films,  Lolita earned a special place in his heart as his favorite. In our analysis of David Lynch's Dune (1984), we mentioned a similarity between the career transition points of Lynch following up his biggest blockbuster with a personal drama/thriller Blue Velvet (1986) to Stanley Kubrick following up Spartacus (1960) with his personal drama/thriller    Lolita (1962).
The Shining (1980) seemed to be remarkably polarizing for film viewers at first, really taking time to percolate in the subconscious for most of the original audience. Even David Lynch seems to admit that it took time for him to grow fond of the film until it became a "don't miss" when he comes across it on television: "The Shining (1980) really grew on me. I never miss it when it's on cable" (City of Absurdity). Whatever the case, Stanley Kubrick actually screened Eraserhead (1977) for the cast of  The Shining (1980) to help set the tone of their performances.

When David Lynch programmed a week of classic film screenings for the opening of his Parisian nightclub Club Silencio, he bookended the 7-part event with screenings of two different Billy Wilder films: Sunset Boulevard (1950) and The Apartment (1960). David Lynch remarked in this interview: "A sense of place is so important in any movie. A sense of place, like Billy Wilder's film The Apartment (1960). [In] that film and  Sunset Boulevard  (1950), Billy Wilder really made a place, he really made a place in my mind.... place is super critical to me."
Sunset Boulevard (1950) is a staple of classic American cinema and is probably the most iconic film about Hollywood ever made. Billy Wilder crafts a film here that is at once playful and deadly serious. One could reasonably argue this is the most influential film for David Lynch to develop his own disputed masterpiece: Mulholland Dr. (2001). The sense of violence seething under the story's surface combined with its near-whimsical sense of humor was clearly a style Lynch found himself attracted to in his own work.
The Apartment (1960) is a brilliant drama that seamlessly blends romantic comedy and drama into a quirky character piece that found a unique tone that appears influential in the development of other filmmakers, too. In particular, the career of Woody Allen appears to be heavily influenced by the film, since he would go on to mimic this same in the majority of his films, most successfully in Annie Hall (1977) and Manhattan (1979).

Next is an internationally acclaimed film director who effortlessly blends the cerebral dream worlds of his central characters with their actual realities in astoundingly original ways, Federico Fellini. A director who carefully crafts fantastical cinematic worlds grounded in everyday reality, I imagine Fellini might have looked favorably at David Lynch as his best successor. And Lynch commented about meeting the man himself, "I have a profound admiration for Fellini. I met him lately and he's just fantastic. I feel very close to him even though he's very Italian. But his films could have been made in every country. When I say, 'I feel close to him,' then also because we're both born on January 20th" (City of Absurdity).
8 1/2 (1963) is a remarkable, game-changing film that opened many Lynchian doors for the world of independent cinema. The film is almost a meta commentary on the process of a director's attempts to overcome his own version of writer's block, staunching his creative expression. David Lynch remarked about the film: "Myself, I love  8 1/2 (1963). My take on what Fellini was trying to do there may be different from other people's" (City of Absurdity).
La Strada (1954) shares a lot in common with Ingmar Bergman's Sawdust and Tinsel (1953) and was likely an influence on the way David Lynch shot the carnival freak show scenes in  The Elephant Man (1980). David Lynch once stated, "I started getting excited about movies, it was foreign films.  La Strada for instance, and  8 1/2 (1963), Persona (1966), Hour of the Wolf (1968), all of Jacques Tati's films. I also liked  Sunset Boulevard (1950) and Hitchcock, particularly  Vertigo (1958) and  Rear Window (1954)" (City of Absurdity).
I Vitelloni (1953) focuses on five young men as they make decisions during the crucial transition into manhood, a theme that David Lynch has frequently focused on during his own career, particularly in Eraserhead (1977), Dune (1984), and Wild at Heart (1990). David Lynch once commented: " Sunset Boulevard (1950) Persona (196)Lolita (1962); [those] are my favorite movies.  8 1/2 (1963),  La Strada (1953) I Vitelloni (1953)."

Known as the master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock began directing films in the silent era, before the development of talkies. Hitchcock had remarkable staying power, revolutionizing the thriller and suspense genres throughout career, and essentially creating a new slasher horror sub-genres with his startling original Psycho (1960). Hitchcock is marked for his peculiarly good artistic tastes in spite of his humorous penchant for the macabre. And like David Lynch, Hitchcock was one of the rare A-list filmmakers who would cross over between directing highly successful movies at the cinema with directing, creating, and showrunning a popular TV series of his own titled Alfred Hitchcock Presents(1955-61).
Vertigo (1958) is widely considered Alfred Hitchcock's masterpiece and is frequently included on film critics' all-time top 10 lists. Never before has any other director so deftly managed to blend together a traditional narrative film with such a highly subjective view of its protagonist's mental state. The effect is altogether magical, transporting us through a bizarrely mystical story that touches on reincarnation, spirit possession, without ever disregarding the firm threshold of reality. And the innovative camera movement (dolly zoom) Hitchcock devised to mimic the mental sensation of vertigo frequently referred to as the "Vertigo-zoom," which has since become a staple for modern film making. The Vertigo-zoom was even recently used in the blockbuster The Lord of the Rings Trilogy  (2001-03).
Rear Window (1954) is one of the most suspenseful movies ever created and managed to do this while essentially keeping all the action limited to the main charaacter's living room as he remains shut indoors due to a broken leg, entertaining himself by watching what his neighbors are up to across his apartment's courtyard. This film is likely the single greatest source of cinematic inspiration for one of David Lynch's most popular films, Blue Velvet (1986), and the two films' parallel voyeuristic themes are fascinating to contrast. David Lynch once commented: " Rear Window (1954) is one of my favorite movies. I love  Rear Window because it got such a mood, and even though I know exactly what happens next, I enjoy to be in that room and feel that time. It´s almost like I could smell it" (City of Absurdity).

We frequently reference the work of Swedish film director Ingmar Bergman, whose fascinatingly personal approach to film making has long been a powerful influence on David Lynch's aesthetic. There's really no other filmmaker completely analogous to Bergman, whose emotionally charged yet intellectual slices of human consciousness are nothing short of miraculous. But as we remarked in a previous article, David Lynch is an apt pupil of Bergman's school of cinematic thought.
Persona (1966) could be looked at as an astoundingly brutal exploration into the human psyche's attempt to cope with loneliness and despair in a frequently absurd and cruel world, but whatever your personal reading is of this remarkable film, it seems to have made a tremendous impact on David Lynch's development of Mulholland Dr. (2001) and shares more than a few parallels with its look at dangerous feminine codependency.
Hour of the Wolf (1968) truly defies all description, obviously influencing David Lynch's development of the surreal Black Lodge sequences in his TV series Twin Peaks (1990-91). Perhaps best looked at as the story of an intellectual who gets trapped by his own explorations into the reaches of human understanding, Hour of the Wolf  (1968) was selected by David Lynch to screen at the AFI and the opening of his Parisian Club Silencio grand opening screenings of seven Lynchian classics.

Who could have predicted that Great Britain's Mr. Bean (played by Rowan Atkinson) and David Lynch would have a common source of inspiration? Few filmmakers have enthralled David Lynch under their spell like the charming French film director Jacques Tati, whose physical humor could easily fit alongside that of Charlie Chaplin's or Buster Keaton's during the silent era of Hollywood, but whose atmospheric use of sound added a whole new dimension of humor, further inspiring David Lynch to pay strict attention to his own soundscapes.
M. Hulot's Holiday (1953) is the complete encapsulation of everything physical comedy should be. Rather than conventional word-driven jokes and punchlines, here Jacques Tati masters the art of absurd humor inherent to human nature and basic everyday activities. Essentially, the titular character M. Hulot simply tries to enjoy a pleasant vacation by the seaside. Yet, chaos ensues wherever he turns up, although much of it cannot be directly blamed on him, but is simply the result of random human interactions piling up in unfortunate ways until a humorous disaster strikes.
Mon Oncle (1958) is proof that modern comedies can still be made with hardly any dialogue at all. And while many filmmakers formerly trained in shooting black and white film struggled to translate their aeshetic for color, Tati certainly did not have any trouble. In fact, David Lynch once paid homage to this film's use of color in his own film Wild at Heart (1990), briefly featuring a laborer carrying a long red pipe in the background of a scene. David Lynch said, "Almost every film I like is black and white:  Sunset Boulevard Lolita (1962), Citizen Kane (1941) 8 1/2 (1963). The only exception is Mon Oncle (1958) by Jacques Tati: I find the colors in that movie really extraordinary. (City of Absurdity). This film was also included in David Lynch's AFI screenings.

Werner Herzog is a talented German filmmaker whose heavily accented English ruminations on the meaning of life while narrating his documentaries is as intellectually stimulating as they are simultaneously entertaining. David Lynch once remarked, "I like Coppola's work. And Jacques Tati. Kurosawa. John Ford. Some films by Herzog. And Billy Wilder. (City of Absurdity).
Stroszek  (1977) has been specifically mentioned as one of David Lynch's favorite Werner Herzog films. A darkly humorous film that may have helped inspire the visiting Norwegians and Icelanders subplots of David Lynch's TV series Twin Peaks (1990-91). Quirky yet lovable characters in small-town America have often found their place in David Lynch's work, which is likely one reason why he gravitated to this Herzog film in particular.
My Son My Son What Have Ye Done  (2009) is actually not specifically referenced as one of David Lynch's favorite films, but he did loan his name as a producer on the project to help Werner Herzog get this film made. Although never involved directly in the creative development of the film, Lynch's presence is clearly felt throughout on account of Herzog's clear allusions to Lynch's style within the work.

Citizen Kane (1941) is frequently named the greatest film ever made, particularly by David Lynch's alma mater, the AFI's Top 100 List. Although controversial at the time for its not-so-subtle parallels with the life of media magnate William Randolph Hurst, Orson Welles's film would only become more mainstream through time until it has grown into being recognized as the paragon of bold film making, a classic story with a unique narrative structure that could only exist this powerfully in the medium of film.

W.C. Fields's It's a Gift (1934) is a film devoted to physical comedy, very similar in style to Jacques Tati's M. Hulot's Holiday (1953), but with a distinctly American setting and tone. Norman Z. McLeod cunningly directs this tale of a family inheriting money from a recently deceased relative and trying to move to a California orange orchard. But like M. Hulot, W.C. Fields's character finds himself frustrated at nearly every turn by the exigencies of fate.

The Wizard of Oz (1939) was not immediately embraced by the film-going public, but has easily grown into one of the most popular films ever made. Nearly every child has been introduced to this enchanting classic, belying the uncannily sophisticated narrative structure at work in the piece. Victor Fleming was busy bee that year, also finishing up his co-directing duties on the most popular and financially successful film of the 20th century: Gone with the Wind (1939). David Lynch commented about the movie: "I really like Fellini, Bergman, Kubrick, Hitchcock, Tati, and  The Wizard of Oz" (City of Absurdity).

Japanese director Akira Kurosawa made a name for himself in the international film community with such nuanced and entertaining films as Rashomon (1950), Ikiru (1952), Seven Samurai (1954), and The Hidden Fortress (1958), a film George Lucas noted as a strong source of inspiration for Star Wars (1977). David Lynch remarked about Kurosawa and the other filmmakers on this list when he said, "I like Coppola's work. And Jacques Tati. Kurosawa. John Ford. Some films by Herzog. And Billy Wilder." (City of Absurdity).
John Ford was a remarkably prolific American film director whose career rose with the twin success of the Western genre and his favorite actor John Wayne. And although the Western genre would come to define his long and acclaimed career, he would actually win the Academy Award for Best Director on four separate occasions, each time for films that were not Westerns: The Informer (1935), The Grapes of Wrath (1940), How Green Was My Valley (1941), and The Quiet Man (1952).
Francis Ford Coppola was one of the most successful American film director of the 1970's, directing a string of artistically sound box office hits starting with The Godfather (1972), The Conversation (1974), The Godfather: Part II (1974), and ending with the oneiric Vietnam War epic Apocalypse Now  (1979). David Lynch remarked, "I like Coppola's work. And Jacques Tati. Kurosawa. John Ford. Some films by Herzog. And Billy Wilder."
Martin Scorsese is a film student's dream director because, like Quentin Tarantino, he loves to talk about movies as much as he likes to make them. And Scorsese makes them exceptionally well. His films have represented the epitome of dignity and class in spite of their colorful cast of evil characters. Scorsese has created some of the best made films of the 20th and 21st centuries, with Curriculum Vitae containing such iconic films as Taxi Driver (1976), Raging Bull (1980), Goodfellas (1990), Academy Award Best Picture winner The Departed (2006), and last year's Academy Award's darling with a strong film preservation message Hugo (2011). David Lynch remarked, "Kubrick is the coolest, and Marty is right next door." (City of Absurdity).

Mad Men (2007-2014) is set during 1960's America, a time period and style frequently referenced throughout David Lynch's work (read our article on the topic). But we will go a step further and say that no other TV show has come so close to capturing the magic of David Lynch's Twin Peaks (1990-1) as has Mad Men. Its special world and quirky cast of characters is profoundly enjoyable to spend time with, and its exploration of conflicted man in many ways parallels the very best aspects of Twin Peaks's bold storytelling.  Mad Men won the Emmy Award for Best TV Drama four times in a row and still stands a good chance of winning a fifth time for its recently aired fifth season.
Mad Men is the brainchild of meticulous creator/showrunner Matthew Weiner, who sharpened his chops on The Sopranos (1999-2007), a TV show with distinctly Lynchian facets greatly influenced by Twin Peaks. David Lynch described his opinion of Mad Men in an interview: “I like Mad Men. They’re great characters and whoever cast that show did a sensational job. It’s great writing, great atmosphere.... I had the opportunity to meet Peggy Olsen and Don Draper... That’s who they are to me. I called Peggy, ‘Peggy’” (Short List).
Breaking Bad (2008-2013) was AMC's second TV series after Mad Men, making it the strongest opening salvo of TV shows ever developed by a cable station first developing original programming. Breaking Bad centers on a conflicted Walter White (Bryan Cranston), who we witness transform from a good-natured high school chemistry into a ruthless drug kingpin over the course of five brilliant and meticulously paced seasons. Even before knowing David Lynch's love for this show, we had already begun Breaking Bad Podcast to discuss and analyze the program in minute detail.
Breaking Bad's creator/showrunner Vince Gilligan apparently developed a strong learning curve with the medium of television from his work on The X-Files (1993-2002), another TV show tremendously influenced by David Lynch's Twin Peaks (1990-91). Vince Gilligan's Breaking Bad has grown to be widely considered the gold standard of consistently excellent and well paced drama. David Lynch recently said, "I don't watch too much TV. I like Mad Menand I like Breaking Bad, but I'm not caught up with that yet. I love continuing stories, so cable is having a real good time these days, but I'm trying to catch ideas for the next film" (PaperMag).
We find it worth mentioning that Matthew Weiner and Vince Gilligan both mastered their craft on TV shows that had been directly influenced by David Lynch's Twin Peaks (1990-91), demonstrating the invaluable service Lynch had in inspiring the current golden age of television. And as much as we enjoy and admire several other shows out there, including HBO's Game of Thrones, David Lynch is clearly a man of refined tastes and we agree that  Mad Men and  Breaking Bad are the cream of the current crop of brilliant television. In fact, they are probably better than anything screening at movie theaters in recent years, too.

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