Suffice it to say interviewing David Lynch constitutes a white whale for yours truly, let alone the Film Stage as a publishing entity. But let’s not turn sentimental. This conversation occurs on the occasion of Janus Films’ 4K remastering of INLAND EMPIRE, which commenced its national rollout at New York’s IFC Center followed by (one might guess) Criterion’s home-video release. Happy though I am to see this film reentered into Lynch appreciation, this remastering was a slightly worrying prospect for anybody who loves INLAND’s sui generis resolution and textures: look over the details of how one converts a circa-2000s Sony camcorder’s footage into 4K is, well, ones thinks they know some things about preservation and such until…
Lynch’s time was limited to 10 minutes and I’d sooner anger Nikki Grace’s husband than ask a question that doesn’t use that precious period to its full advantage—accordingly, what follows is an attempt at balancing purely technical inquiries with some view towards INLAND EMPIRE’s place in a vast corpus.
The Film Stage: Are you in the woodwork studio?
David Lynch: I’m in the woodshop, yes.
It looks fantastic.
[Laughs] Yeah. It’s a great place, yeah.
Were you working on anything today?
I’m working on a lamp. I’m working on a lamp that’s mostly metal. My friend Alfredo does the metal work of my design; then I do the woodwork part. I’m building this, you know—can you see that? And see? It’s hollow inside. If you look close you see a little place for indentations there for a biscuit, and in this side it’s the same, and this will hook together to form a 90-degree angle. They’re hollow because they’ll have electrical wiring inside. I’m putting these things together that will go into the metal part. So it’s part-wood, part-metal, part-resin, and this is the resin part here. This is the back, and a lightbulb will be in here. And then you’ll see this in the front.
That’s absolutely beautiful. I love that.
I could probably talk to you about woodworking all day, especially because I have to get into it more. It would probably be a valuable addition to my life.
Exactly. There’s nothing quite like it!
How much of a given day are you at work in the studio?
All day. These days it’s all sculpture and painting and, you know, some… some film work. Color-correcting and sound work. But mostly it’s painting and sculpture.
I have some questions about INLAND EMPIRE, if you want to talk about that.
Yeah, absolutely! Beautiful, buddy.
I saw INLAND at IFC on Friday. Of course I’ve seen it many times before, and this is one of my favorite things you’ve ever done across any medium. The color and texture of the Sony PD150, the soundtrack—all so intoxicating. Admittedly I was a little nervous about a remaster, because what if something were lost in this transition to 4K? You had a number of choices for the systems being used, and clearly you’ve chosen something accurate to the image. But did you also see this as an opportunity to, speaking metaphorically, add a splash of color, paint with a new brush?
The restoration was… kind of magical. But all of the things there try to be true to the original ideas that conjured the whole thing to begin with. So because we were shooting with the Sony PD150 it was low-res, then it was up-ressed with that day’s technology, and now things have progressed—we’ve got this AI thing going towards it with algorithms, or whatever they use—and lo and behold: I saw now this… depth coming. Beauty coming. Deeper colors. More focus. Richer look. It was a miracle. It was so beautiful. And then in sound, these new technologies for cleaning dialogue. Both those things were utilized for this restoration. So it is a much better INLAND EMPIRE because of this modern technology, but it’s the same in another way. Same ideas and being true to the same ideas.
When you do this remastering you have to spend so much time rewatching and relistening. I remember an interview where someone asked if working in one medium forbids developing another, and you said that in fact one thing is always feeding another. Of course you always talk about fishing for ideas, catching the fish. Do the remasters feed anything? Are you catching anything unique from them?
Anything and everything can conjure new ideas. It just depends! What things trigger? We don’t know. We just live our life and, lo and behold, something happens and we get an idea. It happens to be an idea and we say, “Whoa, that’s a special idea.” They say ideas are thoughts. So we have many thoughts. But some thoughts, they lead to cinema; some thoughts lead to paintings; some thoughts lead to, you know, lithography. Whatever. For doctors, some thoughts can lead to a breakthrough in heart transplants or something.
So these ideas exist as thoughts. Trillions and trillions of them. And we’re lucky if we catch one that we love that leads to something that we love to do—like making films. So we’re hunting for those things. Sometimes, in working… if you were in Telecine and working with color and trying to solve some problem and they push something too far and you see something that—“Whoa!” That can conjure an idea. You see what I mean? Any kind of thing, any kind of new technology can conjure a whole string of ideas. Any kind of thing. So the more you get out and fiddle with different things, the more chance to trigger new ideas.
Well, I found myself energized seeing this film again. I saw it with a group of friends and we were talking about how we needed to get moving on our project.
Good for you. Good for you.
It won’t be like INLAND EMPIRE because nothing is.
But nothing is like anything else! So it’ll be your thing. And it’ll be her thing and their thing. That’s right.
The musical soundscape in a theater was so special. I’m usually restrained as a viewer but the end credits, with “Sinnerman” after three hours of nightmare and torment, had me rocking in my seat, drumming along. I first saw INLAND in 2009 and “Ghost of Love” has been playing somewhere in my head since.
[Laughs] Fantastic, man. I remember doing “Ghost of Love” with Dean. See, the thing is, there’s another whole thing: I don’t ever call myself a musician. I play the guitar but I play it differently. It can conjure certain things that are musical, and ideas come streaming out of it.
All of life is so fantastic. It’s just, like, you go here and you get some ideas; you go there and get some more. You go to this restaurant and you get this fantastic thing. You go to that restaurant and they got that. It’s just fantastic!
I once asked you a question about music at Camerimage; you called yourself “a non-musician musician.” But I think it’s great.
[Laughs] Bless your heart.
Our time is up, but thanks for everything. Not for nothing that I practice TM because of you.
How long have you been meditating with TM?
Wow, Nick. That’s beautiful, bud. Well, you know, keep up the good work. Good luck catching ideas. Thanks for getting the word out on INLAND EMPIRE coming back. And let’s hope for the best in the world.
INLAND EMPIRE is now playing at New York’s IFC Center.