Like all poets, David Lynch divides contemporary audiences with his insistence on creativity and his fearless use of abstraction in creating his films. His recent film, INLAND EMPIRE (the title was intended by Lynch to be capitalized), is a challenging, but ultimately rewarding work that requires the kind of free-form viewing that most American audiences refuse to do. Which is why you won't find INLAND EMPIRE on many of the year's best lists of films, although I consider it the best film of 2006. But our culture needs poetic filmmakers like Lynch. Cliche after cliche; sentiment after sentiment; stereotype after stereotype, film-goers are buried under a mount of banality that conditions us to reject the unusual and distrust the ambiguous. David Lynch asks us to "go for a little buggy ride with him" in his films. And he takes us to some pretty strange places because he uses his imagination freely without the constraints of genre or form. He collaborates with wonderful artists like Laura Dern, Dennis Hopper and Jack Nance. And they all say he is unique and "fun" to work with. This is because David Lynch wants to involve other people creatively with his work without "fear" (as he puts it in his book). And this combination of generosity with his collaborators and insistence on creativity make him highly influential to those (like me) who are inspired by his work and want to learn from him.
And so David Lynch has written a book, published in December, 2006 by Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin. His last book was "Images", published in 1994. This new book, "Catching the Big Fish", is a result of his continuing practice of transcendental meditation and his creation of a foundation to encourage young people to practice meditation in school to help them with the stress of growing up and give them a tool to cope with life. While David talks about TM in the book, he doesn't hit you over the head with it, or pitches any kind of sales talk. Smartly, he clearly states that TM is not a "religion", but a method to achieve personal freedom. He states he has used TM continuously since the 70's and it has aided and, at times, guided his creativity.
He feels much calmer and able to cope with the difficulties of life and of his job as a filmmaker.
"Catching the Big Fish" is the closest thing we have to an autobiography of David Lynch. The phrase refers to meditation (or daydreaming) as a way of "fishing" for ideas in the big stream of consciousness he believes exists in all of us. If you want to catch little ideas you fish in shallow waters, if you want big ideas you have to go deeper. While the analogy might seem simplistic, it is remarkably apt, especially when David begins to relate the many ways his "fishing" expeditions have helped him in creating his films or coping with depression or disaster (remember "Dune", anyone?).
Broken up into 82 short chapters, each with their own chapter title, "Catching the Big Fish" is very much in the style of the modern writers like Barthes or Wittgenstein who chose to write in short, epigramatic style. The chapter title announces the topic and then David riffs on the theme for a short while and then stops. The movement of the book is light and quick, which lends itself to re-reading (which I intend to do). David's writing style is almost exactly like he speaks. Short, compact sentences that illustrate his ideas perfectly. While reading the book you feel as if David Lynch is talking to you on the front porch is a large rocker with a robin singing in an oak tree nearby.
"I went to a psychiatrist once. I was doing something that had become a pattern in my life and I thought, 'Well, I should go talk to a psychiatrist'. When I got into the room, I asked him, 'Do you think that this process could, in any way, damage my creativity?'. And he said, 'Well, David, I have to be honest; it could'. And I shook his hand and left"
Some of the stories in the book are ones that David has told for the last decade (they are still interesting in spite of their familiarity), but most of the book is original and unique. He discusses the casting process, his working methods, the development of some of his most famous films. And he openly addresses issues like why he chooses not to record director's commentary for any of his films ("...we've got to protect the film... Director's commentaries just open the door to changing people's take on the number one thing - the film")
"Most of filmmaking is common sense. If you just stay on your toes and think about how to do a thing, it's right there"
There are no great personal revelations in "Catching the Big Fish". But through chapters titled "Light on Film", "Sleep", "Suffocating Rubber Clown Suit" and "Having a Set-up", you get the feeling David is trying to tell us some of what we want to know about him, but providing the answers couched in epigrams or short tales. In other words, this is a poets work of essay and autobiography and criticism and meditation; a unique creation unlike any other.
I highly recommend "Catching the Big Fish". It's a beautiful square-shaped Navy blue book with the photo of a splash of water across the page. Designed by Claire Vaccaro, it's as beautiful on the outside as it is on the inside. Fascinating if you don't know much about David Lynch; essential if you do. "Catching the Big Fish" is an inspiring, important book even for an aging cynic like me.
I can't wait to read it again.
PS There's an audio book version read by Lynch himself that sounds great. I'd like to download it to my new Creative Zen V Plus player. Just think I can have Lynch talking inside my head while I walk around looking for inspiration.