- Jocelyn Chase
Director David Lynch will open himself up to Paul Holdengräber—New York City’s most lively, multi-lingual, and erudite conversationalist—on the stage of BAM’s Opera House tomorrow night to a sold-out crowd of more than 2,000 people. As founder and director of LIVE from The New York Public Library, Holdengräber engages influential public figures from Wes Anderson to Brooklyn Brewery cofounder Steve Hindy, usually when they release a new film or book. The Lynch event, however, is part of no press tour. Traveling to Brooklyn from his home in Los Angeles, the filmmaker will explore his overall vision and creative process with Holdengräber, who last interviewed him in 2012 at the Grand Palais in Paris. More recently, Holdengräber facilitated the Paris Review’s first interview with a psychoanalyst for its Spring 2014 issue. He took a break from his deep, and often disturbing, immersion in Lynch’s body of work—including Eraserhead, his first feature, the Oscar-nominated Blue Velvet and Mulholland Dr., and the haunting television series Twin Peaks—to take the seat of interviewee, for a change.
What can the audience expect from your conversation with David Lynch?
I don’t quite know, which is exciting. Lynch, as you might know, is reluctant to ascribe meaning to work he has created—to say, “This means that.” He finds it limiting to do so. With that in mind, and with his very keen sense of the limits of language to describe our feelings, I want to find a trigger—a trigger for him to talk about beauty, and how his concept of beauty contains the concept of ugliness. Horror is part of beauty. What is repulsive is part of beauty. There’s a lot of emotion in his movies, and a near incapacity, in my case, to see them, because they’re really troubling. But trouble is what happens when we look in our soul and enter that space behind the skull. I want to find a way to talk about what moves him.
He once joined you onstage for an interview in Paris. What was that like?
Yes, in November 2012, I interviewed him in front of a very large audience at the Grand Palais, and we spoke about images. He was asked to choose 100 images from thousands among the Paris Photo exhibit there, and he agreed to do so on the condition that the show’s curators would send them without captions. I found that to be extraordinary. This is a man who relies on something volatile, and which people don’t often rely on, which is taste. I would like him to talk about the things he loves. I may, for instance, show an image by the painter Francis Bacon, whom he loves very much, and ask him to respond to it.
As you’ve done with music.
I did this to great effect with Jay-Z. When his parents split up, they split the record collection in two: Mother’s and Father’s records. I played records from each collection, which was a good way to have him talk about his parents. There’s nothing in my interviewing which is meant to be a trap. Ever. I’m interested in bringing out the best in people, which might not always happen with a journalistic approach.
How does it feel to interview an artist who’s not promoting a new project?
It’s so magnificent to interview someone with nothing to peddle. I contacted Lynch, and he said yes. He nearly never does this, and I hope he’s doing it because he trusts the process. I’ve done events before at BAM, interviewing actors after performances. My being at BAM is a wonderful way to introduce people in Brooklyn to the New York Public Library, where my position is one of eliciting from people their stories.
What does BAM represent to you?
It represents 550 steps from my home, so the commute is easy. It represents one of the most outstanding cultural centers in New York. I love it. It’s a fantastic place to see theater, and the movie theaters are greatly important to me. I took my two boys to see Once Upon a Time in the West, the great Morricone movie. It’s wonderful to see such things on a massive screen. It’s an embarrassment of riches to be able to show clips from Lynch’s work in that full capacity, projected behind us at the Opera House, where more than 2,000 people can be exposed to it.
Having lived all over the world, why do you choose to live in Brooklyn?
There’s a Latin phrase, festina lente, which means, “Take haste slowly.” There’s a pace of life in Brooklyn, and where we live in Fort Greene, that somehow manages to temper the madness of New York’s electrical energy.
How is the experience of raising kids in Brooklyn?
When I take them on the subway to school, I feel that their vocabulary expands greatly. Growing up in Brooklyn, they don’t have real nature, in some ways. They have culture, rather than agriculture. They have Greenlight Bookstore. Our only form of Shabbat is that every Saturday or Sunday, or both, we end up going to Greenlight, and they always have the ability, as long as it’s not some silly sticker book, to get a book. I love the fact that the neighborhood is a neighborhood. They go to public schools in Carroll Gardens and Park Slope, and I think they’re learning something.
How would you describe your work at the main branch of the New York Public Library?
It’s fabulously interesting. In the coming weeks, we’ll have George Prochnik talking about Stefan Zweig, Kara Walker with Jad Abumrad of Radiolab, Geoff Dyer, and John Waters, who will speak about the year he spent hitchhiking. It’s just endless. What is great is that I’m able, in some way, to be the curator of public curiosity. One wonders, what is a library for today? In part, it is to inspire people to think. And to enter into the space, metaphorically, or in reality, or both, of the Reading Room. The Reading Room is sort of the Ellis Island of New York City in that it’s an entry point. In that grand space, people are both alone and together.
Follow Cara Cannella on Twitter @caracannella
Disclosures: This interview has been edited and condensed. The L‘s parent company publishes the programs for BAM.