In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section David Lynch

  • Introduction
  • Reference Works and Biographies
  • Lynch’s Writings and Interviews
  • Book-Length Studies
  • Essay Collections
  • Book Chapters
  • Lynch’s Short Films
  • Films on Lynch
  • Lynch’s Artwork

Cinema and Media Studies David Lynch
Richard Martin
  • LAST REVIEWED: 17 August 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 November 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0145


David Lynch (b. 1946) is among the most significant filmmakers alive today, with a cultural influence stretching far beyond cinema. Although resistant to precise definition, the term “Lynchian” is now used to describe strange and compelling scenarios not only in film, but also in television, music, and art. After growing up in small towns across the United States, Lynch attended art school in Philadelphia, before moving to Los Angeles in 1970. His first feature film, the darkly comic Eraserhead (1977), was a slow-burning success that brought him to the attention of large studios. After the critical and commercial failure of the sci-fi adaptation Dune (1984), he returned to independent filmmaking with the disturbing small-town drama Blue Velvet (1986). His next film, Wild at Heart (1990), won the Palme d’Or at Cannes, while the television series Twin Peaks (1990–1991) became a cultural phenomenon around the world. In more recent years, Lynch’s work has focused intensely on Los Angeles, the myths of Hollywood, and the filmmaking process, in films such as Lost Highway (1997), Mulholland Drive (2001) and Inland Empire (2006). His creative activities have also expanded to include music, painting, sculpture, photography, advertisements, online films, and furniture design, and he has become a vocal advocate for Transcendental Meditation. Lynch’s films, nonetheless, have repeatedly returned to a familiar, if often unsettling, group of concerns: the uncanny power of dreams and fantasies; the excitement and dangers of detective work; sexual intrigue; disrupted families; abrupt incidents of violence; dramatic shifts in tone; and crude and absurd humor. Formally, his work is characterized by its narrative complexity and innovative sound design, while incorporating a diverse range of influences, from classical Hollywood and the styles of 1950s America to European artists, writers, and filmmakers such as Bacon, Kafka, Fellini, and Godard. The rich and highly suggestive nature of these films has prompted a large body of scholarship in which critics have paid particular attention to questions of gender, postmodernism, and psychoanalysis. Given Lynch’s highly unusual career—perhaps no other contemporary director has shifted so often between avant-garde circles and mainstream success—these critical debates seem certain to deepen and widen in the future.

Reference Works and Biographies

To date, Olson 2008 is the only full-length biography of Lynch, though Hughes 2001 collects extracts from the countless newspaper and magazine profiles of the director.

  • Hughes, David. The Complete Lynch. London: Virgin, 2001.

    A useful compendium of production information, press coverage and plot descriptions.

  • Olson, Greg. David Lynch: Beautiful Dark. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 2008.

    A thorough, if often repetitive, summary of Lynch’s life and career, with invaluable biographical information. Contains little engagement with critical debates surrounding Lynch’s work.

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