Several people have written me about watching David Lynch for the first time. I was trying to remember how I found him: what order I took the films. A prescriptive order is necessary for medications, and, well, nevermind. David Lynch constructs a universe and it is an easy one to get immersed in. Much has been written about when/why/where his work is so appealing to certain people, but I don't want to do that (instead, see DAVID FOSTER WALLACE's article on Lynch that appeared in A SUPPOSEDLY FUN THING I'LL NEVER DO AGAIN, which does an incredible job of expressing such). These films are not meant to be 'understood' as much as they meant to be experienced. Many of his images and ideas are burned into my mind as well as any of my own memories, as if they belong. That is a bizarre feeling.
If I were going to watch these films over again without having seen them but still knowing what order would be best to watch them in, it would be as follows:
BLUE VELVET: This is the logical beginning spot to any Lynch experience because it encapsulates a lot of Lynch's themes and sensibilities and ideas into his probably most easy to like film, without sacrificing any of the FUCK. I remember seeing this and knowing immediately that I was going to be absorbed. There's something important about energy here. There is something about time and place. You need to get the special edition because there is a deleted scene that only exists as still frames and it is frightening.
ERASERHEAD: This is the progenitor of all of Lynch's ideas and probably the most visceral of his films still. You might need the platform of Blue Velvet to help get into this one. You should probably watch it in a dark room after a day where nothing much has happened. You really need to get the version Lynch released himself on DVD because if you try to watch it on VHS a lot is obscured by the low quality. One scene near the end of the movie I always thought was mostly just a white blur and when I watched it on DVD I realized the figures in the haze. Jesus christ.
TWIN PEAKS (series): An obvious commitment here, seeing as it is 29 episodes long, but once you get through the second episode and view the Red Room scenes, you will not want to stop. Not all of the episodes are directed by Lynch himself (he only does episodes 3, 8, 10, 15, 29) and near the middle of season two when he leaves the set, the show begins to take a bit of a swing for the worse, but the final episode is itself perhaps one of the most disconcerting pieces of film ever recorded. You will drown in this show if you allow it.
TWIN PEAKS: FIRE WALK WITH ME: This is my favorite Lynch film, I think, but you can't watch it without having seen the series to its completion. Or you could, but you wouldn't enjoy it as much. David Bowie's presence in the beginning of this film still haunts me for reasons I'm not quite sure about and I sometimes have a yearning to eat creamed corn. There is a reason this film was panned and it is not because critics are intelligent.
MULHOLLAND DRIVE: This film, coupled with INLAND EMPIRE, its sister, are perhaps now becoming my favorite experience in Lynch's set. This film isn't as bizarre or jarring as the previous ones, but there is something skewed and otherworldly about it, sort of drug-state-is (not that I'd know, never having used drugs), sort of like being asleep with a television on. One of the great things about Lynch to me is his cryptic weaving, in which the films all seem to run together in slight ways, and the little loopholes in the film that lead off to other places. There is a cryptic reference to TWIN PEAKS in here that I read about on the internet that is one of the most chilling cross-referential moments in film history, though I won't mention it for spoiler's sake. If you're curious and don't know, email me.
INLAND EMPIRE: I saw this in the theater 3 times. It's about 3 hours long. Most people I went with did not like it. This film, as I said above, is a sister to Mulholland Drive for many reasons, not all of which can be outlined. This film will hang in my mind as one of those I always come back to and never quite fully understand. I have always wanted the ability to record my dreams and this is probably the closest incarnation of that I'll ever have. This film also contains the greatest and most important closing credits sequence of all time.
WILD AT HEART: You just watched all that heaviness. Now you need to see Lynch sort of mocking himself. This movie is probably the funniest of his movies, unless you think Blue Velvet is funny, which I kind of do. I can't stand Nicholas Cage but he works perfectly in this film. This film contains one of the most iconic Lynch scenes of a woman covering her face with lipstick. Also contains an appearance by CRISPIN GLOVER, which is one of the best scenes in the film and one of Glover's best scenes. WILLEM DEFOE's character alone makes this movie worth seeing.
THE ELEPHANT MAN: This is probably the saddest film of all time. It is unlike all of Lynch's other films in that it is mostly based in reality and does not employ the absurd. This film will crush you in a way completely different from all of his other films.
LOST HIGHWAY: Probably one of the most shit on of Lynch's films, though the first 40 minutes of this movie are some of the creepiest viewing ever put on tape. It is filmed at Lynch's home and contains shots of people just walking into black, as if the home is endless. Architecture is strange in this film. The second 2/3rds of the film contains some very hard to follow alinearity, if you are perturbed by that kind of thing. To me it works. Richard Pryor makes an appearance in this film in a state where he is clearly mentally destroyed and it is strange to see. The MR. EDDIE character and his driving scene make me want to be a different person. If anything, the ending of this movie kind of bugs me because it almost feels hokey, but if you think about it the right way, it works.
SHORT FILMS OF DAVID LYNCH: By now you've seen most everything and you'll be wanting more. If you've made it this far you'll want the rest. There are a lot of excellent minor things left to see. THE GRANDMOTHER, on the short films DVD Lynch put out himself, is just as iconic to his filmmaking as ERASERHEAD, and is a must see. There is some filler on the rest of the disc, but this alone is worth it, and the rest is nice to see for context, but not vital. There is a best of the web disc that features short films that he put on davidlynch.com, but nothing on there is that important, though certain short films help illuminate INLAND EMPIRE, and are again somewhat engrossing as a mind state if nothing else. HOTEL ROOM is more difficult to find but is pretty interesting and again features CRISPIN GLOVER.
DUNE I did not include above as I don't really see it as a Lynch film, particularly because it was butchered by the studio and not his story (though ELEPHANT MAN still feels like Lynch's), but it is still worth seeing and could be one of the better science fiction movies.
THE STRAIGHT STORY I also did not include even though I like it, because it is different than all of the above, being a G rated Disney movie (for real: which alone is Lynchian enough) but probably still fits with everything else in some strange way.
You need to watch these movies from beginning to end without stopping, in a dark room with the volume very loud. Sound in Lynch's films is vital moreso than any other filmmaker I can think of.
I think one day Lynch will be remembered as the greatest video artist of all time. He has influenced me as much if not more than any writer. He is one of the few things I am still fanboy about, the others being David Foster Wallace and candy.