Origin of the Lynch species

Lim is a freelance writer.

In recent years, David Lynch has become at once more accessible and harder to pin down. For one thing, he’s not really a full-time filmmaker anymore. Upon the release of his last feature, “Inland Empire” (2006), a three-hour waking nightmare shot on consumer-grade video, he renounced celluloid for the democratic promise of digital.

A large-scale retrospective of his paintings and photographs in Paris last year reinforced his renaissance-man credentials. And he’s emerged as a tireless proponent of transcendental meditation, touring college campuses and meeting with world leaders on behalf of the David Lynch Foundation for Consciousness-Based Education and World Peace.

At the same time, this longtime master of the enigmatic has allowed himself to be demystified, albeit on his own terms. He recently took part in an intimate documentary, “Lynch (One),” and wrote a memoir-cum-self-help manual called “Catching the Big Fish.”


At 61, Lynch still seems open to reinvention. There is also the impression, amid his myriad activities, of an elder statesman taking charge of his own legacy. His 2001 masterpiece “Mulholland Dr.,” which he reshaped from an abandoned TV pilot, was the last straw in terms of playing the Hollywood game. But the painful experience appears to have honed his entrepreneurial instincts. How many other filmmakers have a paid-subscription website and a line of organic coffee?

Lynch has also dabbled increasingly in self-distribution -- a venture that reaches a kind of apotheosis with this week’s release, on his own Absurda imprint, of the David Lynch Lime Green Set.

The retail price of $179.95 might seem steep for 10 discs, with only four feature films among them. But for Lynch cultists, it’s the trove of supplemental esoterica -- in particular, one tantalizingly labeled “mystery disc” -- that will be the main attraction.

The features are drawn from the first half of the filmmaker’s career, and all come in their most souped-up versions. “Eraserhead” (1977), his sui generis debut, is accompanied by a CD of its soundtrack, itself a seminal slice of ambient electronica. “The Elephant Man” (1980), his Oscar-nominated Victorian fable, gets a separate disc of extras (including a documentary on the real elephant man and interviews with Lynch and star John Hurt).

Also included: “Blue Velvet” (1986), the indelible suburban horror show that single-handedly turned “Lynchian” into an adjective, and “Wild at Heart” (1990), his neo-rockabilly road movie that won the Palme d’Or at Cannes. (Conspicuously missing: 1984’s “Dune.”)

One disc is devoted to “Dumbland,” a crude Flash-animated series that premiered on and that is not for all (or even most) tastes. Another contains a selection of short films, including a cluster of distinctive work from the late ‘60s and ‘70s.


Which leaves two discs of material not previously available on DVD. “Industrial Symphony No. 1,” a recording of a musical play, combines the eerie, gossamer lullabies of Angelo Badalamenti and Julee Cruise with spectacular staging. The set evokes a post-apocalyptic junkyard. Cruise is suspended in mid-air, like a marionette. A half-man, half-deer creature materializes, as does the “Twin Peaks” dwarf, a.k.a. the Man From Another Place. (Lynch himself describes the production best, in the accompanying interview, as “one great big long mood.”)

As for that mystery disc, it contains hours of ephemera as likely to annoy non-initiates as it is to delight fanatics. There are a whopping 32 deleted scenes from “Wild at Heart.” The rest of the material is roughly divided between early and late Lynch: 16-millimeter doodles from his art-school days, including a funny mock-commercial for the painkiller Anacin starring his good friend Jack Fisk (the production designer), as well as selected episodes from recent online serials (the surrealism of “Out Yonder,” the brilliant absurdism of “Rabbits”).

Although somewhat hit-and-miss, the early analog experiments and the recent digital ones suggest a curious trajectory. Liberated by new technologies, Lynch has entered a period of experimentation as unfettered as his initial burst of productivity. Artistic twilights are for more timid artists; as the likes of “Inland Empire” and “Rabbits” confirm, this is a career that has, in the best sense, come full circle.