‘Films start with a fragment, a piece of the puzzle,’ he explains. ‘The puzzle exists in the other room. I get hold of one piece, and I love it so much that it attracts other pieces to come in and join it. And pretty soon the puzzle is in my room. I certainly don’t know what the film is about until further down the line.’
He cites the example of his 1976 breakthrough feature Eraserhead, an impressionistic portrait of a shy young man trapped in a nightmarish industrial town as he faces up to the birth of his bizarrely deformed, screaming child.
‘I didn’t know what Eraserhead was about. Then I was reading the Bible and I came upon a sentence and my head was blown off.’ Whatever that sentence was, Lynch isn’t saying. ‘The point is that these things come later. A lot of people say: “I want to do a film about a certain thing.” For me, it’s not that way.’
Even if the idea comes from a piece of writing already out there, Lynch sees the process as the same. ‘Books and scripts are ideas in organised form,’ he says. ‘There isn’t a difference between an original idea and getting excited by a book or a script because it involves the same process of falling in love with the thing. Wild at Heart was a novel by Barry Gifford, and when you read a great book it comes alive in your head, just like catching an original idea. You see it all, and then you just have to turn it into a film.’
Lynch’s last film was the supernatural mystery thriller Inland Empire, released in 2006. Since then he has presented a series of short, touchingly direct profiles on everyday Americans called Interview Project, which share the innocence and guileless charm of The Straight Story, Lynch’s 1999 road movie about an elderly man riding a lawnmower from Iowa to Wisconsin to mend his relationship with his sick, estranged brother. He has also been painting, working with wood, and giving lectures on transcendental meditation. Given the evangelical zeal Lynch has for transcendental meditation – he’s never more animated than when describing the remarkable calming effects it has had on violent prisoners and children diagnosed with ADD – it’s tempting to believe that this has taken precedence over movie-making. Lynch refutes this.