It has been 53 years since the making of David Lynch’s very first film, Six Men Getting Sick (Six Times), a student project made during his time at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1967. The following years saw the rise of Lynch and his career as he became responsible for creating and influencing some of the boldest and most influential films of the time. Evidenced by his oeuvre, he has been a distinctive and prolific filmmaker – having directed a total of fifty-three films to date. The influence of Lynch has helped redefine a generation of cinema and television by forcing surrealist filmmaking into the mainstream which earned him the title of the “first popular surrealist” by Pauline Kael (1986).
The term ‘Lynchian’ was soon coined by critics and audiences alike; it is described by novelist David Foster Wallace (David Lynch Keeps His Head, 1996) as referring “to a particular kind of irony where the very macabre and the very mundane combine in such a way as to reveal the former’s perpetual containment with the latter.” With this in mind, Lynch’s surrealist style and recurring themes, which rely on aspects of neo-noir, mystery and non-linear dream sequences, form seductive and compelling stories that audiences cannot look away from. Lynch’s brand of filmmaking inspired other creatives to delve further into how the hypnotic manipulation of the uncanny can be explored on screen.
Following the popularity of the short-lived Twin Peaks in 1990, the landscape of television was drastically changed. Although only running for two years, Twin Peaks proved that television shows could have film-level production value, narrative complexity and emotional depth that keep an audience hooked. An auteurist murder mystery series like this had never been seen before on the small screen and became an instant phenomenon pop-culture landmark. During the time of Twin Peaks’ first broadcast on ABC, the landscape of television was very narrow. Formulaic anthology style detective shows where a victim would die and the crime would be solved by the end of the episode by a hard-boiled detective, with no emotional investments from the audience or long-term consequences for characters, dominated the screens.
Lynch turned this profitable yet surface level style of drama on its head with Twin Peaks, forging the way for emotionally poignant and immersive storytelling on television. This led the way for series such as The X-Files (1993), Lost (2004) and trickled down even further, lending blueprints to more recent shows including Game of Thrones (2011) and Riverdale (2017). It would be a challenge to find a TV show in recent years that does not reference or is not indebted to Twin Peaks, even if the creators don’t realize it.
By the 2000s surrealist cinema had come into its own in the mainstream. Some of the most famous titles to be included in this are Fight Club (1999), Donnie Darko (2001), Inception (2010), and Black Swan (2010). These films challenge formulaic narrative and push the uncanny the way Lynch pioneered. Lynchian influence defies genre, and if you look out for it you can find it in drama, horror, sci-fi, fantasy, drama and even comedy.
List of references:
Kael, P. (1986). ‘Blue Velvet: Out There and In Here’, The New Yorker, 22 September 1986.