David Lynch: Czar of Bizarre

As his haunting Twin Peaks begins a new season, David Lynch tests whether a brilliantly eccentric film artist can move into the mainstream

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A peg-legged woman walks past David Lynch's table. She might be a victim from Blue Velvet or local color from Twin Peaks. But the man who dreamed up both of those nightmare entertainments pays her no heed. In the woodsy main dining room of Musso & Frank's, Hollywood's oldest eatery, the 44-year-old multimedia auteur concentrates on ordering his usual lunch: "A Swiss cheese, real Swiss cheese, on whole wheat. A side order of steamed broccoli. And a Coke." In his soft tenor voice, he discusses nutrition: "Do you like it when your sandwich is burned like that? That's not supposed to be good for you. But it sure tastes good, though." He chats with the waiter: "Does this bread get thrown away? It could go to the homeless. They'd only have a little-bit-later lunch."

Some people want to know who killed Laura Palmer, the Twin Peaks homecoming queen with a past, the identity of whose murderer has been kept secret nearly as long as that of Jimmy Hoffa. More people, it seems, want to know about David Lynch's eating habits. How many damn fine cups of coffee (lots of milk, gobs of sugar) does he drink each day? Does he share the cherry-pie fixation of his TV hero, Special Agent Cooper? On the Tonight Show, Jay Leno quizzed Lynch about his Guinness Book-worthy consumption of chocolate milk shakes at the Bob's Big Boy chain in Los Angeles. The astounding stats: one every day at 2:30 p.m. for seven years, 1973-79.

So let's break the big news first: David Lynch's current favorite liquids are red wine, bottled water and coffee. "I like cappuccino, actually. But even a bad cup of coffee is better than no coffee at all. New York has great water for coffee. Water varies all around. We've got to drink something. Do . you just drink water, sometimes? It's very good for you." And, stop the presses, David Lynch doesn't cook at home. "No, ma'am! I don't allow cooking in my house. The smell. The smell of cooking -- when you have drawings, or even writings -- that smell would go all over my work. So I eat things that you don't have to light a fire for. Or else I order a pizza. The speed at which I eat it, it doesn't smell up the place too bad. The smell doesn't last too long."

In Hollywood nothing lasts long -- except the work. Lynch has earned his 15 minutes of celebrity with 15 years of the strangest characters and most hallucinogenic images an American filmmaker ever committed to celluloid. His early career traced a paradigmatic arc of hotshot movie eminence, from a $20,000 underground classic (Eraserhead in 1977) to a $5 million Oscar nominee (The Elephant Man in 1980) to a $50 million sci-fi dud (Dune in 1984). Each film had segments of bafflement and spectral beauty. But Hollywood, looking at the escalating price tags and plummeting ticket sales, wrote the director off. So Lynch made Blue Velvet (1986), a magnificent revenge drama -- his revenge on fettered movie conventions -- about small-town life and lust, drugs and death. Twin Peaks, you could say, is only the TV domestication of that warped masterpiece.

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