More or less everyone with an interest in film has at least heard of writer-director David Lynch, but many people would be hard-pressed to say what he's been up to in recent years unless they were a keen follower of his work.
Lynch has definitely been busy; aside from lending his voice talents to The Cleveland Show and making cameo appearances in Louie, he's released a blues album (and will be releasing a second next month), created his own blend of coffee, and has made a return to his origins as a fine artist.
Since Lynch is best known for his wonderfully weird feature films like Eraserhead, Mulholland Drive and Lost Highway, a recent interview with The Independent naturally turned to the topic of whether or not he was planning to return to the career that made him famous.
In response, he expressed a deep lack of enthusiasm for the state of the modern film industry:
"It's a very depressing picture. With alternative cinema – any sort of cinema that isn't mainstream – you're fresh out of luck in terms of getting theater space and having people come to see it.
"Even if I had a big idea, the world is different now. Unfortunately, my ideas are not what you'd call commercial, and money really drives the boat these days. So I don't know what my future is. I don't have a clue what I'm going to be able to do in the world of cinema."
It's hard to tell whether or not independent filmmaking or the making of art house films is more difficult today than it has been before, since there is often an inclination to view the past with rose-tinted nostalgia goggles. Given that it has been so long since Lynch released a film - and given the fact that his critical acclaim has never quite been matched by great box office success - his skepticism over the matter of whether or not he'd be able to get funding or distribution for a film is understandable. Of course, there's always Kickstarter.
"I like the idea of a continuing story... and television is way more interesting than cinema now. It seems like the art house has gone to cable."
Comments about TV shows becoming generally more diverse and well-written than mainstream cinema are not uncommon. From beautifully crafted and often surreal horror shows like Hannibal to the gripping fantasy drama of Game of Thrones and the addictive mysteries of Orphan Black, we are uniquely privileged when it comes to the current quality of TV drama. This is particularly interesting since film has always been considered the home of high art in the visual media, whereas TV tends to be classified exclusively as "entertainment."
The question of why we rarely hear discussions of "art television" along with all the talk of art house film is a complex one, but there are a few factors that may have thus far been holding critics back from taking television as seriously as film.
Many of the most notable art house films have been produced independently, with a great deal of creative control on the part of the director. When a film is financed by a major studio, there seems to be an implicit understanding that it is somehow less pure, artistically speaking, since it becomes subject to overhead interference for the sake of improving marketability. It is certainly true that the greater a film's budget is, the greater the pressure becomes to make not simply art, but also make a profit. In the case of TV, a show requires decent ratings in order to survive.
Since TV shows are entirely reliant upon network approval and popularity in order to be made and sustained, there really isn't a TV equivalent of the independent film market. However, with that in mind, the budget for television drama is actually far more comparable to independent film than it is to mainstream movies. The Walking Dead costs $2.8 million per episode, but it is something of an anomaly in an industry where $1-2 million is far more the average for an episode of a drama series.
What does all this mean for Lynch? He's confirmed definitively that he's not interested in bringing back Twin Peaks for another season, but could whatever idea he's had cooking for a movie be translated into cinema, or might he express his enthusiasm for a continuing story in a brand new show?
It would be nice to think so, but based on this interview, a move back into either TV or film isn't looking all that likely. Lynch expressed contentment with his current focus on a music career and "small projects," and his caveat of "even if I had a big idea" suggests that he doesn't have a big idea for a film brewing at the moment.
For now, it looks like Lynch fans will have to settle for enjoying his music... and the coffee, of course.