Jeremy Saunders has been taking a well deserved break from the world of key art, and in the tradition of all great designers he’s been spending his time off working. Unveiled this week is a new self-directed project titled Lynched, a collection of film posters that cover the entire feature filmography of David Lynch.
Here Saunders provides a detailed look at each poster and film, with some great insights into his process.
I’ve been wary of entering into the world of ‘minimal posters’ or redesigns for existing films. Despite there being some great work around, it always felt to me like cheap shorthand – a way to reference ideas that the audience is already familiar with and award them smugness points for getting those references. This is pretty much the exact opposite of what the actual work of designing movie posters is all about: creating a desire and expectation for a piece of art that the audience largely has no preconception of. I suppose I was a little snooty about the whole trend, but this year as I edged toward the unlikely and hugely tiring statistic of having created key art for 185 films, which left me feeling totally burned out and pretty depressed. I decided to take a long break (which I am currently doing) and in the middle of trying to create some Real Art (which just takes ages, doesn’t it?) I thought I should flex my design muscles to keep them in trim. So here we are. Never say never! — JS
At age 16 this was the first ‘arthouse’ film I’d ever seen. I never looked back, really. The ear is the obvious image to choose. It’s the portal into the adventure that Jeffrey goes on, his opening to the underworld. And the ear’s a useful reminder that as with all of Lynch’s work, the movie is at least 50% about the sound. I’ve spent the last 10 years watching films that haven’t had their sound done at the editing stage when I watch them to start work on the poster, and it’s always, always a huge shock how much the sound changes the experience. Lynch is a sound designer without peer.
The red curtains are a recurring motif for Lynch (although this film is of course in black and white) – all kinds of exciting associations with performance, mystery, anticipation, wombs… you name it. In the film Henry tries to escape his new, horrifying fatherhood by daydreaming about a lady that lives in the radiator, singing a song about how everything is fine in heaven…. the Pixies do a great live version of it.
THE ELEPHANT MAN
In the course of rewatching all the films, The Elephant Man was the biggest surprise. It’s such a great film. It walks a really fine line between biopic conventions and Lynch weirdness, and it’s really unafraid of sentimentality which makes it pretty rare in his oeuvre. This portrait of Victoria is similar to one that hangs in the hospital where John Merrick is first cloistered by Dr Treeves. I chose it to reflect the austere propriety in the social mores of the time which were balanced out with abject poverty and the kind of freak shows that Merrick was forced to live in until he is briefly determined to be ‘fit to view’. Lynch spends a good 20 minutes only showing Merrick in shadow so I thought I’d do the same.
Oh man, everyone makes a dud. This was torture to sit through. Trying to find one object that encapsulated the swirling mess of the plot was only solved when the line ‘the slow blade penetrates the shield’ is uttered about 17 hours in. It works to imply the guerilla war aspect of the plodding messianic tale in the film. I didn’t spend too long justifying my choice to myself here… Sometimes you need to get in and out cleanly and quickly.
WILD AT HEART
This is undoubtedly the most ‘surface’ of all of Lynch’s films. It’s really flashy and loud and funny and crazy, but the chase for ‘cool’ rides a 1976 Cadillac Eldorado over any substance. I had wanted to do something with cigarettes and matches which are massive metaphors (actually every metaphor in the film is massive, sometimes hilariously so), but watching the film the thing that stuck out was how damned violent it is. So there had to be lots of blood. This has a snakeskin background – it’s a symbol of individuality and my belief in personal freedom.
TWIN PEAKS FIRE WALK WITH ME
A true horror film. There’s an element of tantrum-throwing by Lynch in the movie (which was a response to the cancellation of the TV series) and I think that clouds a lot of interpretations of it, but it’s a really harsh and brutal piece that works pretty well in isolation. And there are some great moments, such as a deafening nightclub scene with totally inaudible dialogue that stretches on and on like a nightmare. The blue rose is a motif that is used to further the sense of mystery – “it’s one of Gordon’s blue rose cases” is all we ever find out, and never knowing quite what that means I find extremely compelling. Again with the red curtains.
This is a story that begins with a couple receiving a series of video tapes on their doorstep, showing their house, and then the inside of their house, and then them in bed. This creeping horror increases in intensity until the man cannot bear it any more and literally disappears, regressing into becoming a completely different person. The film is also a story stuck in a loop. Which in the logic of the film makes perfect sense. So the idea of the infinite video tape shown here was a home run. I probably spent more time finding the exact right ‘Lost Highway carpet’ for this piece than all of the others put together.
THE STRAIGHT STORY
This is the (largely true) story of octogenarian Alvin Straight, who journeys hundreds of miles on a ride-on lawnmower to see his dying brother. Some people dismiss The Straight Story, because it’s not a ‘proper David Lynch film’. To those people I say: phooey to you, idiots. It’s a beautiful, beautiful picture, full of wonder and delight in people’s eccentricities and especially their humanity. Check it out.
This is the Hollywood story. A riddle to which this blue box was central. So: a page from the script itself, and a distorted reflection of LA (actually taken from Mulholland Drive, for you fans of authenticity!).
And finally (at least for now) is this, which for me is his greatest film. It might be my favourite film of all time. The performance from Laura Dern is astonishing. Apparently she would get calls from him out of the blue and he’d get her to show up and play a scene and then a couple of weeks later he’d have another idea and they’d be off again, and it wasn’t til much later that it all the disparate ideas came together in his mind. Know this: Rabbits are important. I really wanted to do the key art for this but it never came about. That key art probably wouldn’t have looked like this, to be honest. But each piece here is part of a whole, so once the style has been set up, you have to retain the consistency and work within the guidelines you create for yourself. Beginning is hard enough when you have parameters. Without them it’s impossible.