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David Lynch on Michael Jackson and That Crazy Frog From ‘Twin Peaks’

If you expected a David Lynch biography to be just like any other biography, you’ve never seen a David Lynch movie. In what world would the film director behind such askew moments as the mewling baby from “Eraserhead,” the dumpster monster from “Mulholland Drive” and Richard Farnsworth on a tractor participate in something … normal?

Instead of writing a straightforward memoir or handing his life story over to someone else, he did something predictably idiosyncratic. In “Room to Dream,” (Random House) Mr. Lynch and his co-writer, Kristine McKenna, alternate chapters — Ms. McKenna combines research and interviews into a recognizable biographical narrative, while Mr. Lynch follows each section with his recollections (sometimes different) and feelings.

And while the writers assure that “this book is a chronicle of things that happened, not an explanation of what those things mean” (an attitude familiar to anyone who’s ever heard Mr. Lynch obfuscate about his work), there are still fascinating insights into the director’s process. “There’s this ravine and you’ve got to build a bridge to the other side, and the bridge is the scene you’re going to shoot,” he writes. The following three mini-excerpts from “Room to Dream” demonstrate Lynch’s attempt to build the bridge. GILBERT CRUZ

In one of the most memorable scenes in Lynch’s 1986 dark Freudian fairy tale, Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper) rants and raves alongside his “suave” associate, Ben (Dean Stockwell), who lip syncs Roy Orbison’s “In Dreams” while wearing white face makeup and a smoking jacket.

Dennis was originally supposed to sing “In Dreams,” and the way it got switched to Dean Stockwell was fantastic. Dean and Dennis go way back and were friends, and Dean was going to help Dennis work on the song and they were rehearsing. Here’s Dean and here’s Dennis, and we put the music on, and Dean is in perfect lip sync. Dennis is going along fine at the beginning, but his brain was so fried from drugs he couldn’t remember the lyrics. But I saw the way Dennis was looking at Dean and I thought, this is so perfect and it switched around. There’s so much luck involved with this business. Why did it happen like that? You could think about it for a million years and not know it was the way to go until you saw it right in front of you.

So we know now that Dean’s going to sing. Frank says, “Candy-colored clown” and puts in the cassette and Dean picks up the light. Patty Norris [the production designer] didn’t put that light there. I didn’t put that light there. Nobody knows where it came from, but Dean thought it was for him. It was a work light, and nothing could be better than that being the microphone. Nothing. I love it. We found a dead snake in the street around the time we shot that scene and Brad Dourif got hold of it, and while Dean was doing “In Dreams,” Brad was standing on the couch in the background working this thing and it was totally fine with me.

‘Dangerous’

In 1991, Lynch directed a 30-second teaser trailer for Michael Jackson’s album “Dangerous.” Opening with the very Lynchian image of fluttering red curtains, it concludes with Jackson’s head in a floating bubble. Jackson expressed great interest in the topic of Lynch’s 1980 film, “The Elephant Man.”

I’m in the living room in L.A. and my phone rings and there’s Michael Jackson on the phone, telling me he wants me to do some kind of trailer for his album “Dangerous.” I said, “I don’t know if I can do it; I don’t have any ideas for it,” but as soon as I hang up and started walking toward the hall, all these ideas came up. I called back and said, “I got some ideas,” and I worked on that with John Dykstra in his studio.

We built this miniature world that was a red room with a little teeny door, and in the room were these weird modern-shaped wooden trees and a mound with silver fluid that was going to erupt in flames and then reveal Michael Jackson’s face. It was stop-action, and it took a long time to do. For me, things don’t have to be so exact, but these people working on it plotted it out to the nth degree. The trees were lacquered red or black and the people who went in to move them wore white gloves and moved them along this precisely marked-out route.

That was one part of the thing. The other part was shooting Michael’s face, and we had a camera rig for that with a circle of lights that created this fantastic look of focus with no shadows. All Michael had to do was stand in one place for a few minutes, but he was in makeup for eight or ten hours. How could someone be in makeup for ten hours? It’s someone very critical about their looks. Finally he was ready and he came out and I met him for the first time and all he wanted to do was talk about the Elephant Man. He tried to buy the bones and the cloak and all his stuff from the museum and he asked me questions about it and was a really nice guy. Then he stood there and we shot it and one minute later he was done.

‘Twin Peaks: The Return’

Episode 8 of 2017’s oft impenetrable sequel series was roundly praised as one of the decade’s most memorable hours of television, full of unforgettable moments: a slow tracking shot into the core of a nuclear blast, an evil woodsman asking for a light and a winged frog crawling into the mouth of a sleeping child. Here’s the origin of that last image.

Because of where I grew up and what my father did, nature is a big part of “Twin Peaks” and the woods are really important. That’s a huge part of the thing. And you’ve got the Fireman and you’ve got the frog-moth, which came from Yugoslavia. When Jack and I were in Europe, we caught the Orient Express in Athens to take us back to Paris, so we’re going up through Yugoslavia and it’s really, really dark. At a certain point the train came to a stop and there was no station but we could see people getting off the train. They were going over to these canvas stalls with dim little lights, where they had these colored drinks — purple, green, yellow, blue, red — but it was just sugar water. When I got off the train I stepped into this soft dust that was like eight inches deep and it was blowing, and out of the earth these huge moths, like frogs, were leaping up, and they’d fly and flip and go back down again. So that was the frog-moth — things just sort of show up in the world of “Twin Peaks.”

Everybody has theories about what the show is about, which is great, and it wouldn’t matter if I explained my theory. Things have harmonics, and if you’re true to an idea as much as you can be, then the harmonics will be there and they’ll be truthful even though they may be abstract. You could come back in ten years and see it in a completely different way, and you may see more in it — that potential is there if you’ve been true to that original idea. That’s one of the beautiful things cinema can do: You can go back into that world later and get more if you’ve been true to the basic notes.

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