As David Lynch turns 72 today, there's one thing that can be said looking back over his work - it's weird. Very, very weird.
In fact, his style is so recognisable that it's coined the term Lynchian - a mixture of the familiar, the absurd and the surreal all meshed into one. Beginning his career by studying fine arts in Philadelphia, his short films gained him enough success and notoriety - something he's always actively courted - to produce his first feature-length film, Eraserhead.
Since then, David Lynch has been credited as director on at least 48 pieces of work, including several episodes of the cult TV series Twin Peaks.
Here's just a small sampling of some of his best work.
5. TWIN PEAKS: FIRE WALK WITH ME (1992)
Conceived as a sort of prequel of the aforementioned Twin Peaks, Fire Walk With Me was answer questions that the TV series never did. Instead, Lynch ploughed ahead with something tangentially related to Twin Peaks and something much, much more darker than anything he'd done before. As Lynch himself described it, Fire Walk With Me was about "the loneliness, shame, guilt, confusion and devastation of the victim of incest." Heavy stuff, to say the least. Sadly, Fire Walk With Me is only just now receiving the accolades it so richly deserves. It's an intriguing companion to piece to his most well-known work with some incredible performances by Kyle MacLachlan and the sadly departed David Bowie. As a film, sure, it's absolutely weird - but David Lynch's films were never supposed to be taken as a narrative. They're more closer to an experience, if anything.
4. DUNE (1984)
It's hard to believe, but David Lynch was one of the first directors approached to take on Return of the Jedi. So to was David Cronenberg. However, when both passed, the job went to TV director Richard Marquand and the rest is history. However, Lynch must have felt something like regret when he passed and so decided to take on Frank Herbert's Dune, easily one of the most densest novels in science-fiction. From the very beginning, Dune was tough for directors to get a handle on. Alejandro Jodorowsky originally planned a massive, sprawling universe that featured Salvador Dali and his own son as the film's protagonist and Orson Welles as its villain, production designs by H.R. Giger and Moebius and a soundtrack by Pink Floyd. Lynch's version, however, was equally weird - but in a much different way. It's probably the closest thing he's done to a blockbuster, but Lynch takes a harsh view on it and has pretty much disavowed the film entirely. It's a shame because, although it's a bit of a mess, there are some moments of brilliance in it and you can see that Lynch was fighting through studio controls to get his version made. It's a shame he won't go back and try his hand at it again.
3. ERASERHEAD (1977)
From the very outset, it's clear that David Lynch was going to be unlike any other director working. The experimental nature of his work, combined with his frequent themes and motifs, are all on shown in his first feature-length film, Eraserhead. Trying to describe the plot is like trying to describe a dream, but that's how Lynch wants it. It's supposed to be off-putting, surrealist and dream-like, but not a good dream - a weird dream where everything's in black and white, industrialised and frequently disturbing. The performances are heightened, the constant low-level noise in the backgroud is off-putting, the music is jarring and scary. From the very beginning of watching Eraserhead, you're on tenterhooks. In fact, that sense of dread and foreboding was exactly what Stanley Kubrick wanted in The Shining. Kubrick screened Eraserhead for the cast and crew of The Shining, explaining that the tone and feeling was what he wanted to recreate in The Shining.
2. THE ELEPHANT MAN (1980)
Probably the most straightforward film Lynch has ever made, The Elephant Man still has elements from Eraserhead and his future works as well. Mel Brooks - yes, that Mel Brooks - acted as the film's producer and hired Lynch after a screening of Eraserhead. Brooks specifically refused a credit as producer, fearing that people would confuse the film with one of his own comedies. John Hurt stars as John Merrick, the titular character, who is taken in by Anthony Hopkins' kindly doctor in Victorian London. At first viewed as a freak, Merrick struggles to bring out his humanity and move past his horribly disfigured visage. It's as touching a film as any you're likely to see about how what is on the outside has no bearing on the inside. Hurt's makeup took approximately seven to eight hours to apply with just under two hours to remove it. Widespread criticism of the Academy Awards' failure to recognise the incredible makeup effects meant that a category was created the following year.
1. BLUE VELVET (1986)
One of the main arguments put forth by David Lynch's detractors is that his work is impenetrable, that it's too dark and violent and often with a hint of misogyny tinged with it. Whatever your opinion on the subject, one thing is clear - Blue Velvet's every bit as disturbing, beautiful and mysterious as you've heard. Isabella Rosselini, in a career-best performance, is a nightclub singer who is brutally tormented by a raging psychopathic crime boss with a gas-mask, played by Dennis Hopper in one of his most iconic roles. Kyle MacLachlan, a frequent collaborator of Lynch's, plays Rosselini's love-interest whilst Laura Dern and Dean Stockwell act as the supporting cast. Like Twin Peaks, Blue Velvet was as much about the line between waking life and dreams as it was about the facade of modern life; white picket-fences and what goes on behind closed doors. He'd later expand on those themes in Twin Peaks, but he never did it as well as he did it here.