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New Review of Film and
Television Studies
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The Architecture of David Lynch
Reno Lauro
University of Arizona
Published online: 24 Jul 2015.
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To cite this article: Reno Lauro (2015): The Architecture of David Lynch, New Review of
Film and Television Studies, DOI: 10.1080/17400309.2015.1061410
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New Review of Film and Television Studies, 2015
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The Architecture of David Lynch, Richard Martin, London, Bloomsbury, 2014,
230 pp., £22.99 (paperback), ISBN 978-1-4725-0881-2
For the better part of 50 years, David Lynch has been exploring the permeability
of the varied levels of human existence and the (often) uncanny nature of human
creativity through painting, film, television, music, photography, and even
furniture and interior design. In the past 10 years, the David Lynch Foundation
for Transcendental Meditation has shed light on the influence of Eastern
meditation in his own creative practice. Lynch’s work has been that of an
imperfect and often misunderstood seer and maker – a shaman for an age of the
In a recent public interview at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, which
offered its own moments of the strange like something out of one of Lynch’s
creations, Lynch drew on a curious metaphor to explain where (creative) ideas
come from: ‘Desiring an idea is like a bait on a hook. You can pull them in. If you
catch an idea that you love, that’s a beautiful day. And you write it down. That
idea might just be a fragment of the whole, but now you have even more bait.
Thinking about that small fragment, that little fish, will bring in more. Pretty soon
you might have a script. Or a chair, or a painting, or an idea for a painting. I like to
think of it as in the other room the puzzle is all together, but they keep flipping in
just one piece at a time.’ ‘In a sense, David’ interviewer Paul Holdengräber
pensively commented with dramatic flair, ‘there’s always another room
somewhere.’ ‘That’s a beautiful thing to think about,’ Lynch confidently
acknowledged. Here, Lynch offers us a glimpse into the heart of his work. It is
the terrible beauty of our attunement to the movement from ‘the other room(s),’
the threshold between, and the structure of the whole that well describes the
dominant curiosities of Lynchian spaces.
The completeness, then, of Lynch’s vision lends to the creation of permeable
worlds that obey their own internal logic. The Philadelphia-inspired industrial
wasteland of Eraserhead (1977); the back-alley freak show and medical theater
of Victorian England in The Elephant Man (1980); the noir-baroque empire of
Dune’s (1984) Padishah Emperor; Blue Velvet’s (1986) Lumberton, NC; Twin
Peaks, WA; the gothic back roads of the American South in Wild at Heart (1990),
The Straight Story’s (1999) corn-rowed roads of Iowa, and the neo-noir purgatory
that is Los Angeles, CA, are all built up to reflect the manifold architecture of the
human soul. It is for this reason, then, that an architectural study of David
Lynch’s cinematic worlds seems so natural and even necessary. Richard Martin’s
The Architecture of David Lynch is such an outing.
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Book Review
A thoughtful exploration of Lynchian space, The Architecture of David Lynch
might not be the book readers are looking for, though it will win them over with
what it is – a wealth of architectural readings, a diverse bibliography, and a
wonderfully insightful analysis of Lynch’s filmography that inspire and enrich reviewings. Bloomsbury generously includes 62 color plates, beginning with Frank
Ghery’s design for a new cultural center in Łódź, Poland, replete with a massive
glass fac! ade with scenes of Inland Empire (2006) projected, and ending with an
image of Lynch’s proposed movie studios in Łódź to be built on the grounds of an
old factory. In between, we move through Lynch’s oeuvre via painterly,
cinematic, and architectural visual references.
Martin’s architectural analysis of Lynch falls in line with recent spatial
studies of Lynch’s work by Akira Mizuta Lippit, Todd McGowan, Tom
McCarthy and Justin Nieland. Currently, an instructor at King’s College London
and the Tate Modern, Martin is able to put Lynch’s films into conversation with
Adolf Loos, Jean Nouvel, and Frank Ghery in a manner that both brings
architectural theory closer to the reader and also extends the possibilities of
understanding Lynch’s work. Another unexpected treat from such an
approachable text under 200 pages is Martin’s diverse research. Thumbing
through the bibliography yields a collection of diverse works, which should
scatter the seeds of this work into several fascinating directions in the future.
What makes Architecture so compelling is Martin’s wonderfully insightful
analysis of Lynch’s filmography. Particularly, Chapters 3 ‘Road’ and Chapter 5
‘Room’ offer insightful theoretical readings of Lost Highway, Wild at Heart, and
Inland Empire that will no doubt compel the reader to return to those spaces with
new insights.
As one might suspect, the book is ordered spatially rather than
chronologically or topically. The text moves from ‘Mapping the Lost Highway’
(the introduction) to ‘Town and City,’ ‘Home,’ ‘Road,’ ‘Stage,’ and ultimately
‘Room.’ While certainly appropriate, this editorial strategy does prompt the
temptation to rearrange the chapters and change how meaning is constructed in
the book. For example, ‘Mapping the Lost Highway’ is an excellent introduction
but is dominated by a chasm between what Martin understands as ‘world,’ ‘set,’
and ‘place,’ and our experience of those elements. Without an adequate
exploration of the phenomenological implications of architecture, Martin’s
connections between cinema and architecture seem to be limited to things – sets,
props, and furnishings – and their fantasmatic implications. Somewhere, Slavoj
Žižek tersely nods in approval.
This is not strictly the case, however, with Chapter 4 – ‘Stages’ – which
makes reference to painter Francis Bacon, filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky, and the
poetic ephemerality of late-Heideggarian phenomenology in the first paragraph
alone! Stages connote boundaries and Lynch’s boundaries connote new
possibilities and new modes of being. Perhaps nothing evokes the uncanny
experience of this Lynchian boundary more than the curtain, which acts as
signifier for this spatial transgression. ‘The boundaries between the screen and
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Book Review
the audience, and between communal experience and individual subjectivity,’
writes Martin, ‘are placed in question [in Lynch’s films]’ (135). Martin
splendidly fastens Lynch’s theme of spatial transgression – between this room
and ‘the other room’ – to the counter-sites of Foucault’s heterotopias. These are
places (and spaces) that challenge hegemonic spatial logic by existing ‘outside’
prompting layers of physical and psychological meaning.
Ultimately, The Architecture of David Lynch comes dangerously close to
emphasizing the binary of the material and psychological at the expense of (a) the
phenomenological, poetic, and even metaphysical possibilities that are seemingly
implicit in Lynch’s films; and (b) his Transcendental Meditation concerns, which
have played such a large role in his creative endeavors. On the surface, this
emphasis may come from a theoretical project centered on uncovering
ideological meaning in Lynch’s narrative structures and production design.
Indeed, The Architecture of David Lynch is riddled with intrusions of authorial
politics early on. This, in and of itself, would be fine, but they show up
unannounced (it’s either genius or ludicrous to mention Sarah Palin in reference
to Lynch’s films) and as a result cause the first two chapters to be weighed down
by ideological readings of Lynch’s films that often feel forced and unnecessary.
In the final chapter, ‘Room,’ Martin concludes with a wonderfully
provocative extended reading of Lynch’s seemingly impenetrable final feature
film, Inland Empire. Here, the depth of Lynch’s work challenges Martin’s
theoretical focus on urban change and the social relations of architecture. Inland
Empire’s strange simultaneity and lack of definitive spatial boundaries (perhaps
his most difficult film since Eraserhead) push Martin to his most interesting
conclusions: ‘Inland Empire creates a series of uncertain regions between the
supposedly ethereal world of film and the traditional materiality of the built
environment, undermining regular conceptions of both cinema and architecture.
It is a film with unexpected depth’ (175). However, Martin makes Inland
manageable by declaring that all rooms exist in one room – cinema –
presumably to render the film accessible to epistemological concerns.
Reducing the films of David Lynch to concerns of knowing to make sense of
his films spatially and to understand how the spatial ordering of his films help
make sense of his stories certainly inspires re-viewings. However, this current
course in Lynchian scholarship could ultimately be a counterproductive project,
one that defangs and pacifies some element of the mysterium tremendum at work
in them. Contrary to Slavoj Žižek’s pronouncement in The Art of the Ridiculous
Sublime: On David Lynch’s Lost Highway, an ontological approach to Lynch’s
films does not necessarily mean that we are saying that his films are ‘overcomplex’ and that we do not care for the plot because imagery and sound only
matter (18). It is not that the line is blurred, but it simply is doing more work that
Žižek allows. The line is not separating ‘reality’ from ‘mad hallucination,’ but
simply the everyday from some undefined yet deeply rich other room.
Now that Lynch is at work writing and preparing to direct 18 new episodes of
Twin Peaks (2017), we will have more to consider. Ten years since his digital
Book Review
Inland Empire, after which Lynch declared that he would never work with film
again, the sinuous line between world and screen – a line that both separates and
binds – is far more encompassing than it was in 2006. Lynch initially walked
away from the new Twin Peaks believing that it should be shot primarily on film.
What we may discover is that the true building blocks of David Lynch’s
architecture are celluloid and pixels and the strange movement between this room
and ‘the other room’ is now the norm.
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Reno Lauro
University of Arizona
[email protected]
q 2015, Reno Lauro