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Catching the Big Fish: David Lynch

 | Book Review |

  BY Anamaria Dobinciuc

“Cinema is a language. It can say things – big, abstract things.” This is how David Lynch explains his love for cinema, in just a few simple words. And it is enough.

In Catching the Big Fish: Consciousness, Meditation, Creativity, Lynch takes a look back at his artistic trajectory, declaring his love for cinema as a medium and sharing a few things about his creative process. The book is part of a bigger lynchian project, that of spreading out the word about transcendental meditation – because this is David Lynch’s big secret. The filmmaker claims that transcendental meditation, which he started practicing as early as 1973, is what helped him get out of the “Suffocating Rubber Clown Suit”, i.e. get rid of all the negativity. This further helped him with his creative process, being able to think more clearly and “to catch” ideas more easily.

“Films are as you are”

Being exposed to something like Twin Peaks as a child is a visual experience one does not forget. It would take many years till this reviewer’s next immersion into the lynchian universe. Although this new introduction to David Lynch, in the form of Mulholland Drive, was not as frightening as watching Twin Peaks at the age of six, it was just as bizarre. With each Lynch film there seems to be one constant – that strange feeling you’ve been inside someone’s head and witnessed some of their darkest nightmares.

“Darkness” is what defines Lynch’s world, which is why his dedication to meditation might come as odd. In fact, Lynch himself says: “People have asked me why – if meditation is so great and gives you so much bliss – are my films so dark, and there’s so much violence?” The filmmaker’s explanation is a simple one: “There are many, many dark things flowing around in this world now, and most films reflect the world in which we live. They’re stories. Stories are always going to have conflict. They’re going to have highs and lows, and good and bad.”

While Lynch suggests he does not think about the audience during the making of a film (“[…] if you thought about how it’s going to hit people, or if it’s going to hurt someone, or if it’s going to do this or do that, then you would have to stop making films.”), he does however trust his audience in quite a refreshing way. More specifically, he trusts the viewer’s intuition. Whatever might be the conclusion the viewer gets to, that conclusion is a valid one. He firmly believes that “a film should stand on its own” and that the filmmaker needn’t explain in words the meaning of a film. He goes on saying:

The world in the film is a created one, and people sometimes love going into that world. For them that world is real. And if people find out certain things about how something was done, or how this means this or that means that, the next time they see the film, these things enter into the experience. And then the film becomes different. I think it’s so precious and important to maintain that world and not say certain things that could break the experience.

Unfortunately, this refusal to engage in discussions about the implications of his films can be a double-edged sword. It can keep the films wrapped in a veil of mystery, and at the same time, it can become quite frustrating for critics who are interested in discussing the (social) implications of a film. The violence against women represented in Blue Velvet, for instance, has put the film on the blacklist of feminist critics as well as that of film critics like Roger Ebert. 

Finally, Lynch also explains that he sees films as a puzzle, and a lot of the times one small element is enough to give him an idea for a film. “In Blue Velvet, it was red lips, green lawns, and the song – Bobby Vinton’s version of ‘Blue Velvet’. The next thing was an ear lying in a field. And that was it.”

Lynch is not a “traduttore, traditore”. His vision of film, as presented in Catching the Big Fish, is faithfully translated in all his films, even in the ones which are not based on his original screenplays. 

“Film is dead”

Inland Empire, Lynch’s most complex film to date, was shot in digital video. Surprisingly or not, Lynch fell in love with the flexibility of digital filmmaking, so much as to declare the death of film as a medium. At the time he wrote the book, Lynch was using a Sony PD-150 and he was raving about its… low quality. He explains: “The quality reminds me of the films of the 1930s. In the early days, the emulsion wasn’t so good, so there was less information on the screen.” And as opposed to HD, the result one gets with a digital camera of lower quality, like the Sony PD one, is that there’s room for a little mystery – “sometimes, in a frame, if there’s some question about what you’re seeing, or some dark corner, the mind can go dreaming.”

Catching the Big Fish promises a rare glimpse into the mind of a mysterious filmmaker, and in many ways, the book is exactly that. However, with the turn of that last page comes the feeling that we’ve been barely allowed in the antechamber; whatever is in the main room is left to our imagination, or better yet: to our intuition. The biggest strength of the book must be its accessibility and David Lynch’s candid style. Judging by its accessible language, Catching the Big Fish is clearly intended for a general audience, which makes it no less interesting for cinephiles and fans of the filmmaker.