The David Lynch at HOME season has an inescapable problem – an elephant man in the room, if you will. That is, David Lynch isn’t at HOME at all. Despite their best efforts, the organisers haven’t been able to persuade the great man to come over from LA. So, has it been possible to somehow summon up his spirit in spite of that?
There’s no faulting the programme. Over the next few weeks it will take in screenings of each of his own big-screen outings plus his chosen desert island films in top-notch quality with guest introductions, plus a series of three music shows featuring Lynch collaborators and admirers. The HOME bookshop is brimming with desirable Lynch merch, too.
The centrepiece to all this is a specially curated exhibition, My Head is Disconnected, bringing a raft of Lynch’s original artworks to the HOME gallery space until the end of September. The likes of Mr Redman, I Was a Teenage Insect, Bob Finds Himself in a World For Which He Has No Understanding and Ricky Finds Out He Has Shit for Brains speak vividly of dislocation and stark, flickering existential terror, but often they’re actually riotously funny with it. That’s a hell of a trick and pulling it off is what lifts Lynch up as an artist.
The season is launched with a video-link Q&A direct with Lynch himself in his LA home studio. This could absolutely go either way as he can be a slippery interviewee. Actually, it’s a total delight from the moment the link goes live and Lynch’s face appears on the screen to tumultuous applause. Chaired by season co-curator Sarah Perks, the event is billed as an Artist’s Talk but it’s not unlike a twisted version of one of those An Audience With… shows that ITV use to put on with Kenneth Williams or Frankie Howerd, whereby guests take turns asking questions and the man in the spotlight proceeds to bring the house down. Well, possibly that crossed with a family Skype call to a much-loved overseas relative.
Lynch is smart, honest and sharp, gifted with terrific timing. He seems happy to suggest what someone allergic to broccoli could try with his quinoa recipe (peas, apparently) or which trees an aspiring art student might study (the Ponderosa pine and the Douglas fir). Most of the chosen questions from the audience tend be about his creative processes rather than full-on trainspottery stuff. More than once, his own reflections on these processes end with the sage, reflective tag “…with the exception of Dune”.
He is discreetly affectionate when asked about his late friend Catherine Coulson (Twin Peaks‘ Log Lady) and can barely contain his admiration for regular musical collaborator Angelo Badalamenti.
Other times he’s wonderfully insightful. He responds to a query about what might be happening in the town of Twin Peaks right now with a long, thoughtful pause, before declaring, “Well… it’s a very troubling afternoon there.” When questioned about what he’d do if put in charge of a big superhero franchise, he responds, “I would look around the room and give it quickly to someone else.” His beloved Transcendental Meditation gets a quick glowing plug, too – “Money in the bank! Common sense! Get this technique and boogie!”. Only one questioner lets the side down by saying that the exhibition is ‘damn fine’, but Lynch is kind enough not to reply that 1990 has called and wants its patter back.
All told, it’s a wonderful and – yes – strange experience, watching Lynch conjure up his trademark weird associations in real time while you watch, with his head looming from the big screen, effectively looking right at you. He’s terrific company, unfailingly good-humoured and polite, responding to each guest questioner’s effusive thanks with a gentle “You bet”.
The next day there’s a celebration of Twin Peaks, with a talk by Dr Kirsty Fairclough and screenings of the much-maligned Fire Walk With Me film and key episodes from last year’s third series. At the time there seemed to be a real possibility that Lynch, 11 years after his last screen work, could have lost it. These things happen. We needn’t have worried, thankfully, and the series was a remarkable thing, taking the Twin Peaks format in bold, unexpected directions. None more so, in fact, than the mind-bending eighth episode, already spoken of in hushed tones among Lynch cognoscenti as his secret late masterpiece. So, does it explore the origins of the Twin Peaks story via a nuclear take on Kubrick’s Stargate sequence from 2001, the oddly terrifying query ‘Got a light?’ and a remote radio station? Well, kind of, yes – but putting it all down into words like that is seriously reductive. Ideally it needs to be seen and watching it here on a big screen in a sold-out auditorium is a proper treat.
Despite the absence of the man himself, then, could David Lynch at HOME succeed in bringing the spirit of the man and his work to Manchester? You bet.
By Andy Murray, Film Editor
Manchester International Festival presents David Lynch at HOME.