May 24, 2018

Behind the Scenes at David Lynch’s Festival of Disruption

Article submitted to the Polaroid Originals Magazine by Patrick W. Gallagher.

The worlds David Lynch creates are by turns exquisite, absurd and deeply unsettling. But his annual Festival of Disruption, now in its second year, could not be a more opposite experience. After recreating the Red Room for the Festival in 2017, we partnered with the Criterion Collection and Bang + Olufsen on The Eraserhead Experience for this year’s event.

This May, Brooklyn Steel in Greenpoint, Brooklyn hosted the second Festival of Disruption: a celebration of art, music and film curated by David Lynch. It featured talks, screenings and musical performances by Lynch and frequent collaborators including actors Isabella Rossellini, Kyle MacLachlan and Naomi Watts; musicians Animal Collective, Angel Olsen, Au Revoir Simone, Jim James, Hudson Mohawke, Rebekah Del Rio and more. The goal was to raise money to fund Transcendental Meditation programs for students at underserved schools, adult and child survivors of domestic violence, and military veterans and others suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Polaroid Originals partnered with the Criterion Collection and Bang + Olufsen on The Eraserhead Experience, an immersive homage to Lynch’s nightmarish, black-and-white fever dream of unexpected parenthood in a desolate yet noisy industrial setting. Festgoers could enter the Experience through a black curtain and then wait in a room, steeped in shadow, with Criterion’s newly restored cut of Eraserhead playing ominously on a TV set on the floor. They had no way to know what would happen next.

The theme of the festival was the mind’s self-discovery, but as an occasion for joy rather than horror. (The name of the festival itself is a quotation from the modern popularizer of Transcendental Meditation, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, “Life is a festival of disruption.”) Lynch Foundation CEO Bob Roth talked about the power of TM with Billions producer Brian Koppelman and, later, Naomi Watts, star of Mulholland Drive and Twin Peaks: The Return. Watts discussed how Lynch had meditated every day on the set of Mulholland Drive; at another point in the festival, Kyle MacLachlan admitted that he had once interrupted Lynch while meditating on the set of Dune, a mistake MacLachlan would not make again over many years. When Lynch himself spoke about Transcendental Meditation, he called it a tool that turns consciousness “around 180 degrees, so that it points within,” where can be found “the eternal and uncreated capital-s Self” that all beings share and that in turn will liberate the meditator from all “fear, anxiety, desire for revenge” — negativity in general.

The seeming disconnect between Lynch’s Transcendental Meditation practice and the depiction of various kinds of horror in his films turned out to be a major theme the speakers returned to frequently during the festival. Lynch emphasized that “You don’t have to suffer to depict suffering.” In conversation with Blue Velvet costar MacLachlan and New York critic Lindsay Zolandz, Isabella Rossellini spoke about how the set of Velvet was a veritable White Lodge of “warmth” and “a lot of laughter” and that “I don’t think we could have gone that far if it had not been.” Watts related how difficult it was to shoot the grim masturbation scene in Mulholland Drive, but that she pulled it off because Lynch made her feel so supported.

The shock discovery of warmth and community hidden behind the abyss manifested at the end of The Eraserhead Experience, too. After waiting for a few minutes in the shadowy room, visitors were invited to pass behind another black curtain into yet another space, where they found themselves standing on top of some kind of dais. They were asked us to remain still, and a blinding flash of light followed. Finally, they were given a Polaroid photograph of themselves in black and white, standing on a stage just like the one inhabited by the mysterious Lady in the Radiator in the Eraserhead film.

Isabella Rossellini and David Lynch both got their pictures taken on the Radiator stage. An attendee complimented Rossellini on a story that she had told about how when she first met Laura Dern she had thought that she was blind, because Rossellini had seen her play a blind teenager in Peter Bogdanovich’s film Mask and Dern’s performance was just that good. Others lined up to ask Lynch a question after his talk, but were told by security that they were not allowed to because there were already too many people in line ahead of them. It was okay though: as in every incarnation of Twin Peaks, it ended at what felt like an inappropriate time, leaving questions that will never be answered.

Thanks to The Criterion Collection and Bang + Olufsen for making this partnership possible. Images curtesy of Kris Mae Photography.