Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Signs That Let You Know You’re In a David Lynch Film

Women Protagonists/Femme Fatales

David Lynch loves women; this is why they are always protagonists in his films. Many of his films explore the female side of life and the men in their lives, there’s a palpable sympathy towards women. He also admires women from an aesthetic point of view; he always uses extremely beautiful actresses.

Stage Singers

At some point or another in a David Lynch films, somebody is going to get up on a stage and sing a song, usually a sad one. And usually they’ll make someone cry.

Zig Zag Designs

He loves the zig zag, be it on walls or floors, you will most likely find this design in some of his films

Curtains, Curtains, Curtains

I think Lynch uses curtains a lot because they remind him of theater curtains going up before a play, also because Lynch’s films are very theatrical.

Low lighting and Lamps

Lynch loves dark, mysterious looking rooms in his films; the low lighting created by lamps does the trick.

   Night Clubs, Motels, Diners

Characters always go to Night Clubs, Motels and Diners, and usually they have cool names made up just for the movie. Like the 'Winkies' diner or the 'Club Silencio' in Mulholland Dr. or the 'The Bang Bang Bar' in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With me. 

Droning Sounds

This is something Lynch has done from day one in Eraserhead, his first film. And he has repeated it all throughout his career, the use of the droning sound. Basically, from hearing this sound in a scene you get the feeling that a giant spaceship is hovering somewhere outside; but also, it creates a really foreboding atmosphere, a really eerie mood, like something evil is about to happen.

Jack Nance

Eraserhead himself, Jack Nance, actually appeared in almost every single Lynch film made up till he passed away in 1997. Nance’s last Lynch film was Lost Highway.

Roy Orbison or Chris Isaak Songs

Lynch loves his Orbison and his Isaak, he’s used their songs repeatedly. Examples: Orbison’s ‘Crying’ in Mulholland Dr.; ‘In Dreams’ in Blue Velvet and Chris Isaak’s ‘Wicked Game’ in Wild at Heart. 

Small town U.S.A.

Many of Lynch’s films focus on small town suburban life. Lynch likes to contrast the pretty houses and white picket fences with the messed up lives behind them.  

 Characters Switching Bodies or Lives

Lynch has gone down this road a lot, for example Mulholland Drive, Twin Peaks and Lost Highway all play with this idea of characters switching bodies or lives. He uses this plot device as a symbolism for our ever changing lives, sometimes we change because we want to, other times the change is out of our control. In Lynch films, when someone wants a different life, they either die and come back or steal or posses someone elses body to do it.


Lynch loves his blondes! They make their way all throughout his body of work. Sometimes they are fake blondes and sometimes very obviously so! If gentlemen prefer blondes, than Lynch is one hell of a gentleman!


Lynch himself is an avid smoker. Chances are if you see a picture or an interview of Lynch, they guy is probably smoking a cigarette. Characters in his films smoke just as much, in fact, in Wild at Heart there’s a whole conversation about cigarettes brands, there's a similar conversation but about beer brands in Blue Velvet.  

Blue Lights

They appear on those Lynch films that have a supernatural element to them. For Lynch, electric blue is synonymous with the supernatural or the dreamlike.Usually these lights are accompanied by a strobing effect which he also uses a lot.

The Color Red

In Lynch films, red is almost as important as blue. You’ll see lots of red curtains, red lipstick, red cars, red shoes, it dominates Lynch’s cinematic world, of course passion and sensuality accompanies the use of this color.

Characters Simply Disappearing

Don’t know why he does this so much, but he does! And it freaks me out! Frank disappears from the screen in Blue Velvet when he says “I’ll fuck anything that moves!” Betty and Rita disappear after they open the Blue Box in Mulholland Dr. and Peter disappears when Fred steals his body in Lost Highway!

Highway at Night 

Lynch also uses this image a lot in his films, that of the camera focusing exclusively on the highway. In some of his films it represents escape, like in Wild at Heart where both of the characters find their freedom riding the highways of America, or it can represent entrapment, like in Lost Highway, which represents the main character forever wandering in an eternal 'limbo', in that film, the never ending highway is the road to hell. 

A Mystery

This is the one element that bonds all of Lynch's cinematic universe together, the eternal mystery. Where did that human ear come from in Blue Velvet? What does the Blue Key open in Mulholland Dr? Why does Frank mutate in Lost Highway? What happened to Laura Palmer in Twin Peaks? Will the actors in Inland Empire die making their remake? Lynch understands that a good mystery will keep his audience captive and he uses that to great effect, he not only uses mystery thematically, he also creates mystery through mood and lighting. Lynch as a filmmaker is the ultimate Mystery Man; if you haven't done so yet, I urge you to check out some of his films and discover what the mystery is all about, chance are  he just might freak you the hell out, but in a good way. Did I leave any Lynch trademarks out? Comment on them below!


Mette said...

Nice. The only DL film I've seen so far is Inland Empire which was one hell of an experience.

Lucius said...

Blue Velvet and Mullholland Drive get the most attention and acclaim but Lost Highway is my overall favorite.An Underrated Film in my opinion.

Franco Macabro said...

Mette: Wow Mette, do you have some good films left to watch! I recommend Mulholland Dr, which I consider his best!

Lucius: That's the one I watched most recently, I discovered just how much I love it, in fact, I think I want to rewatch it again soon. If you want to know more about Lynch and Lost Highway, I recommend you check out a documentary called Pretty In Pictures: The Art of David Lynch, it follows Lynch during his production of Lost Highway, it's a real eye opener as to how Lynch works while making a film.

Roman J. Martel said...

Great job breaking down all the key elements that make a David Lynch film... a David Lynch film.

I've noticed that most of his male protagonists have black hair, sometimes obviously died black.

He also loves the era of the 1950s. Many of characters are costumed like they are still living in the 50s or there is a 50s song playing in the background. "Twin Peaks" is filled with that look. So much so, that you might think it was period piece. I think it ties to that innocence concept you mentioned. The 1950s have this image of blissful innocence before things went crazy in the 60s. But Lynch is showing that that blissful "perfection" often has something dark underneath.

You also touch on sound design, specifically his droning sounds. His work with sound is one of the main reasons his films feel dreamlike to me. He uses sound to create atmosphere and mood. His films never feel "real" because there is this otherworldly sound, or a wind sound appears, or a crackle of electricity. I love that he boldly uses sound to create moments of tension or horror. And working with the music he really creates his own world - even in something as straight as "The Straight Story". But in films like "Lost Highway" or "Inland Empire" his sound design is essential. It is rare to see a director use sound with such confidence these days. Most of them stick to realism at all costs. But Lynch understands how powerful a simple drone in the background really is.

Franco Macabro said...

Roman J. Martel: Agree about the black hair on his male protagonists, also, sometimes they have a striking resemblence to Lynch himself.

He definitely loves the 50s!

Yeah, I recently saw an interview to Lynch in which he mentions that sometimes sound and music overpowers the visuals. In that documentary Pretty as a Picture: The art of David Lynch he mentions this, and also, he is shown working side by side with Angelo Badalamenti, who does the music for most of his films. Lynch is very hands on when it comes to the music and sound effects on his films, highly recommend that documentary. You'll see Lynch in action behind the camera!

I personally don't like how movies nowadays don't use music as much...it's such an important part of what makes a movie effective. I think they do this to lower costs in making films. Paying a whole orchestra to compose music must not come cheap! Paying one guy with a synthesizer and a computer must be cheaper. So sad though...to me music is one of the most important things about film, it becomes part of the memory, part of what you relate to the film when you remember it and how it made you feel.

I know I couldn't see a film like Blade Runner without Vangelis's score you know what I mean? Some films wouldnt be the same without the music that is attached to the images.

Maurice Mitchell said...

I didn't even recognize Lance in "Dune"!

Franco Macabro said...

Yup, Nance was a chameleon, he was always in a cameo somewhere in most of Lynch's films. In Lost HIghway he was a car mechanic who liked listening to Jazz! His appearances are always really weird, like in Wild at Heart, he has this whole weird conversation about Toto and his dog, funny stuff. Of course, his biggest thing was Eraserhead, that's the one he'll be remembered by the most.

Jennifer Croissant said...

Merry Christmas Francisco.


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