It doesn’t get much bigger than this. Manchester International Festival have invited film director David Lynch to take over HOME as part of this year’s festival. The cult filmmaker behind Eraserhead, Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks has a practice that extends to visual art, painting and music. Thrillingly, fans will be able to engage with Lynch’s work as a whole at HOME, with the multi-arts venue providing a gateway into the mind of America’s premier surrealist. In the gallery space, MIF present My Head Is Disconnected, the first major UK exhibition of Lynch’s paintings, drawings and sculpture. The theatre will play host to a series of one-off live shows featuring Lynch-inspired musicians, presented by Lynch collaborator Chrysta Bell. In the cinema, moviegoers can feast upon screenings of Lynch’s features and rare shorts, alongside a selection from directors who have influenced him.
Surely there is no better contemporary artist to make use of the space
As a venue, HOME functions best when it provides an interplay between artforms; allowing for harmony across its screens, galleries and theatre. Surely there is no better contemporary artist to make use of the space than the former Eagle Scout from Missoula, Montana? The programme is curated by Sarah Perks and Omar Kholeif working with BBC Radio’s Mary Anne Hobbs and HOME’s Jason Wood who have also scheduled a series of talks, panels and introductions, including a session titled David Lynch: The Power of Transcendental Meditation which will see the filmmaker appear via video link. Over the course of the season, audiences can expect of moments of horror, lost innocence and the uncanny contained within dreamlike mysteries delivered with profound menace. In short: the Lynchian.
It’s a term now included in the Oxford English Dictionary and an idea first encountered in 1977’s Eraserhead, Lynch’s black-and-white, sci-fi debut which uses moments of the surreal and the grotesque to provoke feelings of overwhelming dread at impending fatherhood. Family and small town America would become key subjects across hit films such as Blue Velvet (1986) and Wild at Heart (1990), as well as the pseudo-soap opera series Twin Peaks (1990-91) and subsequent movie prequel Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992). Lynch probed the heart of America, unearthing the strangeness and savagery lurking beneath placid surfaces. His appeal stretches to both the cult movie crowd and the art house with thick meta-textual irony and a gee-golly sense of humour placed alongside moments of extreme violence and a supreme talent for sustained, anxiety-inducing atmosphere.
Later big screen work relocates proceedings to Los Angeles and Hollywood, adding fragmented, almost puzzle-box narratives. Lost Highway (1997) takes us to the hills and highways for a tale of sexual exploitation, gangsters and jazz, twisting upon what Lynch terms a “psychogenic fugue”. The dream-logic of Mulholland Drive (2001) pushed things further and remains the fan favourite, before Lynch’s three-hour, digitally shot INLAND EMPIRE (2006) exploded everything, baking together the story of Laura Dern’s Hollywood actress with a sitcom about rabbits and a journey into the Polish underworld. A head-trip and decidedly uncommercial masterpiece, it marked the start of a ten-year directorial hiatus, ended by 2017’s revelatory Twin Peaks: The Return – an 18-hour opus that expands the original universe thematically, geographically and cosmically.
As an artist, he has always had more on his mind than just cinema
Audiences will have the chance to revisit Lynch’s directorial work at HOME, alongside that of his influences (including The Wizard of Oz and Sunset Boulevard) but as an artist, he has always had more on his mind than just cinema. Indeed, after completing work on the latest Twin Peaks, Lynch apparently launched into a cathartic act of carpentry, constructing from scratch a desk for his studio. The 2017 documentary, David Lynch: The Art Life digs into this duality, exploring how the darkly cerebral meets the artist’s hands on, practical side — visitors to My Head Is Disconnected, MIF’s exhibition, will be the first in the UK to properly explore the physicality of Lynch’s visual art.
It’s work that fans of his films will find instantly familiar. Speaking to The Independent last year Lynch said, “All I wanted to be was a painter, since the ninth grade…Painting led to film, but in between every film I’m painting.” Influenced by Francis Bacon, his paintings and three-dimensional assemblages are dark, stark and macabre. He builds out or cuts into canvas, while his subjects — a pale grey woman in a blue dress holding a small dead bird; a house-sized man with an elongated nose that reads “philadelphia” etc. — are evoked with crude lines, emphatic text and scuzzy textures. The exhibition starts on Saturday 6 July and continues until 29 September, providing ample opportunity to revisit.
Any discussion of David Lynch would be woefully incomplete without discussion of his work as a musician. Walk into any record store and you’ll find a fistful of original recordings and soundtracks that combine compositions made alongside long-term collaborator Angelo Badalamenti with additional tracks from everybody from Nine Inch Nails to Roy Orbison to Julee Cruise. Lush or frenetic, but always unsettling and filled with dark meanings, it’s the kind of music for wandering city streets at night or speeding along deserted highways. Working on Lynch and Badalamenti’s caustic jazz record Thought Gang, bassist Reggie Hamilton recalls his direction, “[Lynch] said imagine you’re a chicken with your head cut off running around with a thousand bennies shoved down your throat.”
The intense, fleeting combination of vulnerability and raw creative expression
One of the key images of Lynch’s films is a lone female singer on stage, isolated by spotlights and overcome by emotion. The intense, fleeting combination of vulnerability and raw creative expression is one the director returns to again and again: Isabella Rossellini memorably sings the title song in Blue Velvet; Mulholland Drive sends its leads to a revelatory performance at Club Silencio; whilst Eraserhead provides the Lady in the Radiator with a haunting solo. But it was Twin Peaks: The Return that pushed the idea of David Lynch as curator. Near every episode ends with a gig at the Roadhouse, a fictional rock club located in the woods just out of town. Playing into the credits, the line-up includes dreamy numbers by the likes of Chromatics, Au Revoir Simone and Sharon Van Etten.
It’s this energy and eye for talent we’re looking forward to when it comes to the Manchester International Festival live shows scheduled for HOME’s Theatre space from Friday 12 – Sunday 14 July. Performed on a Roadhouse-inspired set and presented by Chrysta Bell, a musician and Lynch-collaborator who played FBI agent Tammy Preston in Twin Peaks: The Return, the shows will feature musicians inspired by the director, including These New Puritans, Anna Calvi and Oliver Coates.
Lynch and Bell met twenty years ago, bonding over a shared interest in the “great unknown” before going on to write music together, including a song featured on the INLAND EMPIRE soundtrack. Asked by The Guardian for a quote, Lynch offered, “Chrysta Bell is round and fully packed, and what comes out of her reminds me of a light blue songbird with extended wings, and a shining beak.”
The man certainly has a way with words.