Photography by Heather Kaplan
“We need people like David. They make it okay for weird people to be accepted by society,” Mel Brooks explained to a sold-out audience within The Theatre at Ace Hotel on Saturday afternoon. The 90-year-old comedy legend’s insights weren’t lost on a faithful crowd that came to worship the work and wisdom of David Lynch. They proudly applauded and cheered, some clutching on to hundreds of dollars worth of Twin Peaks merchandise, others sipping from whiskey-infused drinks honoring Blue Velvet. Sure, Downtown Los Angeles can be weird any day of the week, but this was indeed a strange, strange world.
What do you expect, though? When Lynch announced his Festival of Disruption back in June, the Internet — or, at least those who regularly listen to Angelo Badalamenti or participate in Tibetan Rock Throwing each summer — collectively lost their minds. Given the filmmaker’s seemingly divine penchant for throwing extraordinary benefit concerts over the years, it was only a matter of time before the auteur stepped into the music festival scene. He picked a hell of a time, too, considering this year’s offerings have never been so boring, predictable, or homogenized. Again, what do you expect from the guy?
Certainly nothing standard. As with anything Lynch has touched in his decades-long career, the Festival of Disruption ran wild with big ideas and broad pictures, eschewing the paint-by-numbers performances that have plagued the festival landscape in recent memory while refusing to become a Remember When convention. Of course, that didn’t stop die-hard fans from showing up dressed as Nadine Hurley and Dorothy Vallens, or the more casual folk from shuffling around in Winkie’s and RR Diner tees. There’s no limit to nostalgia these days, and god knows it’ll help keep the lights on for those interested.
Of major interest is to the David Lynch Foundation (DLF), whose grand mission is to bring Transcendental Meditation (TM) to children and families at risk from trauma and chronic stress. “We live in an epidemic of stress,” Bob Roth, the Executive Director of the DLF, warned festivalgoers during a short panel on Sunday afternoon. “A black plague of stress.” One hundred percent of the festival’s proceeds went directly to the DLF, which is currently working on integrating this therapy into public schools all across the nation and countries beyond. So far, they’ve reached over half a million kids with more to come.
Lynch named the festival after a quote from the late founder of TM, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who once proclaimed: “Life is a festival of disruption.” The rationale being that the purest art may heal life, that an explosion of creativity could lead to a change for the better — from within or by proxy. (In other words, even if the thousands who attended walked away without ever thinking about meditation again, they helped bring the DLF closer to those who actually will. That’s a good thing.) As such, Lynch pieced together an event that stressed the concepts of disruption, from the eclectic lineup to the handful of screenings to the one-of-a-kind setting itself.
Walking around the Ace Hotel, it doesn’t take a film scholar to recognize that things are fairly Lynchian. The low lighting, sharp industrial motifs, and anachronistic Art Deco architecture are straight out of the filmmaker’s milieu. As Blondie co-founder Chris Stein joked Sunday morning during his talk, “The hotel looks like Eraserhead, only without the neon signs.” This wasn’t so much a coincidence as it was a message of sorts: After all, the entire building was once home to United Artists, the film studio pioneered by Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Charlie Chapman, and DW Griffith in an effort to break away from the traditional Hollywood system and do something different. You might say … disrupt it?
History lesson aside, the Ace fully embraced their role, offering infinite warm cups of David Lynch Signature Cup Coffee and themed menu items that ranged from Little Ear Pasta to mini cherry pies. Over the PA, one could hear the sounds of past and present collaborators that have stuck their proverbial spoons in the director’s proverbial bowl of sacred creamed corn. From Moby to Chris Isaak, Smashing Pumpkins to Julee Cruise, the Lynchian score and soundtrack never stopped rolling and only added to the subconscious feeling that you were floating within another one of his constructs.
Incidentally, there was also the mild frustration that often transpires from some of his work, mostly due to execution. Although the festival was spread out over three venues — the Ace Hotel, Within (at Bold), and The Well — every performance, talk, and screening took place at the Ace. Which means by Sunday night, the place felt more like a balmy waiting room than an open theater, especially since seats were first come, first serve. To their credit, they did try to steer crowds out of the Ace by splitting up the activities and closing off the main theater, but the question boiled down to: Now what?
With only an hour and a half between each of the day’s two blocks of festivities, and half of that devoted to lingering around the theater’s lobby to secure ideal seats, most fans wandered around for a quick minute before retreating back inside for six more hours of sitting. It didn’t help that The Well’s art exhibit, which showcased Lynch and Stein’s vivid, black-and-white photography, was bare bones, bereft of any placards or literature. Within’s Virtual Reality Theater fared a little better, but felt more like an offline promotion for the Oculus Rift, though the shared simulation activity was a quick jolt of surprising ingenuity.
These are the growing pains of any festival, though. What really matters is the talent at hand, and Festival of Disruption did not disappoint. Save for a fumbled discussion with John Malkovich, mostly due to an unfocused moderator and the lack of a compelling subject (Psychogenic Fugue was cool, but hardly worth a 30-minute Q&A), every event on the schedule was at worst entertaining and at best revelatory. The Festival of Disruption was an enviable two days that shared enough similarities to work together and enough differences to stand apart, which in itself is a very Lynchian thing — another exploration of duality.
If we’re lucky, we’ll get another.
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