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David Lynch’s First Film, a Moving Painting


Lynch’s first film was an animated short-film in which painting, sculpture and cinema came together.

Not many people know that before devoting himself to making films, David Lynch was a diligent student who dreamt of being a painter. And it was a dream, surely, which defined his cinematic vocation.

The year was 1967. The future director tranquilly painted alongside other classmates at Pennsylvania University. Set in a huge studio, the students worked separately in small individual stalls to avoid distractions. Busy with a painting that represented a green garden that emerged from a deep black shadow, Blue Velvet’s would-be director felt a slight breeze crossing the studio’s window (something similar to a drala). Thus taken by his extreme sensitivity, Lynch was able to suddenly see how that painting began to move, and this was the fundamental drive that would lead the budding painter to conceive his first film, a moving painting accompanied by sound: Six Men Getting Sick, (Six Times).

Glimpsing at the possibility of participating in the school’s annual contest, Lynch busied himself in creating a screen —an ideal sculpture to project his particular pictorial animation. The large screen was conceived as a tall relief that, through processes of molding and modelling, included three figures with agonizing expressions. Upon this surface, Lynch elaborated an animated projection that would then become an indissoluble part of the project.

Six Sick Men screamingly announces its author’s unmistakable personality. His particular aesthetic seal Influenced by Francis Bacon and Kafka, close to Dadaist and Surrealist tendencies form a coherent whole that seems to get ahead, albeit more violently, of future cinematographic approaches.

As if this were about a statement of intent, Lynch is clear about his scatological inclinations and his morbid curiosity for the deformities of the human soul. The purely intuitive creation process that he would later use with all its consequences in films such as Inland Empire seems to derive from this first contact with the moving image through painting. The monstrous and the intestinal shake hands in an obscene and disquieting frieze whose main theme seems to be the corruption of the body through the process of disease. With a hardly digestible crudity, Lynch’s tableau vivant makes it seem like the bodies trapped within Francis Bacon’s paintings are enjoying a summer’s distension. And as if it were not enough, the irritating wailing of a siren ceaselessly accompanies the long minute of the projection.

The work earned him the first prize in the contest. Lynch invested 200 dollars in the production and, while it was screened, he asked himself whether the absurd work —as he described it— would be the beginning or the end of his career. That day one of the attendees went up to Lynch. He wanted one just like it for his home, and was willing to offer him a thousand dollars for it. Lynch didn’t give it a second thought and accepted immediately. A thousand dollars were a lot at the time, especially for a young art student. The budding promise immediately envisioned a film camera.

Even before he had the money, Lynch jumped to the Philadelphia suburbs possessed by the idea of having his own camera. He found his legendary Bolex in a famous store. What came next is well-known. Eraserhead, Elephant Man, Dune… David Lynch still has the old receipt for his first Bolex.

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