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David Lynch on Inland Empire

David Lynch might have been crowned the king of weird, but as he sits across from Total Film, he looks more like a friendly uncle, relaxed, smiling, and with a twinkle in his eye. Still, we know it’s him: his attire is classic Lynch, a white-shirt buttoned-up to the Adam’s apple, a smart, pressed, black suit, and his iconic ice-cream scoop hair reaching for the ceiling. And then he opens his mouth to speak, and he starts to earn his title...

You’re certainly going to get quite a reaction from audiences for this one...
I try to stay true to the ideas that I fall in love with, and try and get those things to feel correct in the translation to cinema and hope that if they feel correct to me, and if I’ve been true to those ideas, they’ll feel correct to others, but you never know. You can’t control that – audiences are so different, varying. Like they say, we’re all a little bit different. And when cinema gets somewhat abstract, many different interpretations and feelings come.

There are some dark feelings...
There are some dark feelings and some lighter feelings. Stories hold many things, and it is a story of a woman in trouble, so it goes.

But obviously it goes a lot deeper...
Sure, but you already know what those things are, for yourself.

You didn’t have a name for the project when you started...
No, I didn’t have a name. I didn’t even know it was going to be a feature film when we started and somewhere along the line, I was talking to Laura Dern after we’d been shooting for a while, and she was telling me that her husband grew up in the Inland Empire, which is an area to the east of LA, and she went on talking about something and my mind stopped on those words, even though I’d heard them before, even though I’d heard them in a different way, and I stopped her talking and I said ‘That’s the name of this film.’

Strangely, at that same time, my brother was up in Montana, going through my parents’ log cabin, and in the basement behind a bureau he finds this old dusty scrapbook fallen back behind there. And he dusts it off, looks at it, determines it’s my scrap book from when I was five, and sends it to me, when I was living in Spokane. I get this, I open it up, and the first picture in the scrapbook is an aerial view of Spokane Washington and underneath it says, ‘Inland Empire’ so I felt very good then about the title.

We’ve got our own interpretation of the film and how we feel when we watch it, but how did you feel when you watched it as the final product? What does it do to you, does it hypnotise you as well?
Yeah, it hypnotises me. And you see the idea go from when it goes into your conscious mind, now you see it on the screen, and it’s a beautiful thing. You can go in there, and experience it all together. It’s a good thing.

Inland Empire’s full of references, it feels like you’ve built to a climax of the imagery that runs through your films...
Give me an example, ‘cause I don’t feel that. I know there’s red curtains in it...

There’s a lot, the painting of the birds nods to Blue Velvet, the guy cutting the log à la Twin Peaks...
(Laughs) Yeah, I guess!

You didn’t see that?
Well, I can see it through your eyes, but they’re there for different reasons, than to gather things from the past.

You used a cow to push for an Oscar nomination for Laura Dern...
Well, I got this idea. I didn’t have the money to support Laura Dern in the traditional way, so I thought ‘Oh, I’ll go see what happens at the corner of Hollywood and La Brea.’ We found a place that we could go to there, it was very nicely situated. I thought, ‘I’ll take a cow and this placard and promote Laura in this way.’

Within one hour Channel Four News and Channel Five News were there, and a good size crowd was there, really nice people. I didn’t realise the love people have for cows. Tremendous love, and curiosity. So it worked to the point of getting the word out on her behalf, but it didn’t get her a nomination.

It’s a stunning performance. How would it have felt if she had been given an Academy Award nomination?
I would have felt very good. Laura is a great actress and she’s a daring bold, brave actress, and at the same time she’s grown up in LA, from showbiz parents, and that statue has a certain glimmer. I think she might have been very happy to get it.

To what extent did your use of transcendental meditation inform the film?
Transcendental meditation is a mental technique that allows any human being to dive within. And diving within, one experiences subtler levels of mind and intellect; the border transcends and experiences this ocean unbounded, infinite, eternal, pure consciousness, modern science’s unified field, the kingdom of heaven, the absolute, totality, absolute intelligence, creativity, bliss, energy, dynamic peace, all these qualities exist in this unmanifest field in the base of mind and the base of matter. The experiencing of this deepest level enlivens it and one grows in those qualities and they say it’s a holistic experience.

Transcending this deepest level is the only experience that lights the full brain on the EEG machine. And we’ve been told we only use 5 or 10 per cent of our entire brain and here’s the whole brain engaged with this experience.

So what happens is consciousness starts expanding, bliss starts expanding, intelligence and understanding, wakefulness, awareness, appreciation, all avenues of life get better, creativity flows, and the side effect of all this is that negativity starts to recede, things like anger, anxiety, stress, fear, depression, sorrow, they start to go, clearing the way for enjoyment of the doing.

It’s appreciation magnified, energy to do things without that heavy weight that kills creative flow, and things get very, very good. Intuition grows, it’s an ocean of knowingness, pure knowingness, unbelievable. It’s a beautiful thing, it feeds the creative process, feeds the enjoyment of the doing and people like coming to sit next to you and give you money.

You’ve said that you liked digital so much, you’re not going back to film. What is it you like so much about shooting digitally?
You’ve got a smaller camera, and you’ve got 40 minute takes, so you can really get down in there without breaking it and you’re seeing exactly what you’re going to get. In film you learn close to what you’re going to get but you don’t really know until the dailies. Now you know, and if you don’t like it you can fix it and see the fix right in front of you. It’s very, very good. Automatic focus – on 35 mm, you’ve got a guy focusing, if I want to move in, they’ve got to rehearse, the dolly’s got to move, he’s got to pull the focus, that’s a horror.

Are there any contemporary filmmakers that you’re interested in at the moment?
I haven’t seen a lot of contemporary films. I’m not really a film buff. I liked Aki Kaurismäki’s film Man Without A Past.

If you could spend time with any filmmaker from the past, to be their pupil, who would it be?
I got the opportunity to spend time with Fellini, on a Friday night, for a half an hour - him holding my hand, speaking to me and Sunday he went into a coma. That was worth it right there. And that’s who I’d choose anyway.

You’re friends with Eli Roth, is that right?
I’m buddies with Eli.

How did that friendship come about?
Eli was working for a Broadway producer when I became somewhat interested in doing something on Tesla, Nikola Tesla, and so Eli did a lot of research and we became friends, like that.

How’s your music coming along?
It’s coming along really good, thanks for asking. I don’t know what’s going to happen but you need time. I want to do some music when I go back home. I’m working with this girl, Christa Bell. She sings in Inland Empire and I’m doing an album with her. Then I was involved with producing a group called Fox Bat Strategy but the lead guitar player and singer died suddenly, so it’ll be a tribute album to him, so it’ll be six or seven tracks, but that’s all we had. Angelo Badalamenti and I did this thing called Thought Gang and that’s almost finished. A lot of things are almost finished, but not quite.

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