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.
Click ahead to revisit the 10 best moments you missed and our full gallery of photos.
The Wizard of Disruption
Not surprisingly, David Lynch was nowhere to be seen all weekend, though his presence was felt from beginning to end. Based on the festival’s Instagram account, he was palling around behind the scenes, and made a far greater appearance at the kickoff party Friday night. So, when he finally arrived late Sunday night to introduce the weekend’s final event, The Music of Twin Peaks, the entire crowd jumped to their feet and showered the man with applause. After he asked how everyone was feeling and if they enjoyed the Festival of Disruption, he teased fans by saying, “I’m also here to tell you some secrets about Twin Peaks,” before he looked off to the side of the stage, and said, “What was that? Oh, we’re out of time…” It was incredibly short-lived, and felt like something out of The Wizard of Oz, but it was everything one could want from the maestro: a glimpse.
Heart of Fire
Chris Stein and Debbie Harry
After a temporary delay, Sunday eventually tipped off with a warm conversation between moderator Jason Bentley (of Morning Becomes Eclectic) and Blondie co-founders Chris Stein and Debbie Harry. The two shared humorous anecdotes revolving around Stein’s photography and working together in 1970s New York, eliciting plenty of laughs from the hundreds that showed up early. One curious tale involved a fire that erupted in Stein’s apartment after Harry plugged in an old television. Although Stein’s prized comic book collection went up in flames, the fiery incident spawned an intimate portrait of Harry comically cooking with a spatula at the stove. “Nothing ever goes as planned,” Harry would later muse. Bentley, quite a pro at the art of discussion, kept things lively and focused, drawing some great bits from Stein, who freely admitted he’s a “big fan” of both chaos and Instagram and wishes he could “put out an album every six months like Drake.” Instead, Blondie’s got one and it’s coming next year with a tour to follow. But you knew that already.
The energy inside the Ace was electric moments before Rhye hit the stage. Although the R&B duo consists of Canadian singer Milosh and Danish instrumentalist Robin Hannibal, the group prides itself in being based around Los Angeles, and their local pull was alive and well on Sunday evening. Heavy shouts and thunderous applause struck down every time they finished any of their emotional cuts off 2013’s Woman. It was quite the juxtaposition, to go from such a controlled silence to such a blistering ruckus, but that only added to the gravity of the performance. As the night inched on, Milosh and Hannibal shook things up with their five-piece band, drawing some hands in the air for “The Fall” or “Last Dance” as they tried to turn the theater into a smoky nightclub. “We’re gonna end this on a sad note for you guys,” Milosh explained. “Just feels like the right thing to do.” On that note, Rhye closed with “It’s Over”, which offered an ideal segue into the aural tragedies of Angelo Badalamenti that would soon follow.
Producers in the Radiator
Jon Hopkins and Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith
Likely part of Lynch’s pre-disposition towards duality, English producer Jon Hopkins and American producer Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith were tasked in cracking open the nighttime festivities for Saturday and Sunday, respectively. Both leaned on radiating visuals from the silver screen above, both offered expansive atmospheres that drew the mind into a daze, and both were relatively silent with a few minor exceptions. Hopkins, whose brand of microhouse electronica reached for the stars above, would occasionally hop over to the grand piano for a few earthly compositions. While Smith, whose intricate blend of ambient synths plunged into the depths of an unmarked sea, would often loop or distort her own vocals to great effect. It was a nice way to let the mind stew, reflecting on what had come before and what would soon follow — a very transcendental experience, if you will.
Over the Peaks and Far Away
Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters
“For better or worse, we’re not in the desert tonight,” Robert Plant quipped to the rock ‘n’ roll faithful who made the Ace’s Theatre feel like a sweltering, swampy arena. Maybe he was angry he wasn’t invited to Oldchella — dude, that’s what happens when you refuse to reunite Led Zeppelin — or maybe he was just arguing that we were at the better party. Either way, he made a case for both inferences, unlocking a bluesy set that mixed in a little Led and a few newer jams. Admittedly, it was strange to see the famed vocalist on Lynch’s bill, but the director has always been a fan of the blues and Plant tickled that fancy with aplomb. As expected, the real thrills came during the hits — especially during deliciously upgraded covers of “What Is and What Should Never Be” and “Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You” — but those feelings extended throughout the entirety of the performance. “What a great crowd you turned into,” Plant observed, probably chasing away any demons he might have heard calling out of Indio.
Leave it to Lynch to book a world renown architect as part of his festival lineup. On Sunday afternoon, Frank Gehry, the 87-year-old mastermind behind some of this planet’s most diverse buildings (see: Spain’s Guggenheim Museum, Seattle’s Experience Music Project, or even Los Angeles’ own Walt Disney Concert Hall), sat down for an elaborate discussion with acclaimed journalist Kristine McKenna. Although things started out rocky, McKenna shattered any of the ice and brought out the humanity of the famed creator, who waxed both nostalgic and existential, thanks to the exhaustive line of questioning that touched upon nearly every facet of the man’s extensive career.
“There’s gotta be a little trepidation, a little uncertainty, and a little angst in the creative process,” he wisely extolled to McKenna. When she pressed him about the lack of female architects in the industry, he couldn’t agree more with her, addressing how there are more female graduates in the field than ever. He also championed the use of computers in the field, especially 3D models, stating how they could benefit the industry by saving money with insurance agencies and providing safer buildings for society. By the end, Gehry was leaving the crowd in stitches, going way over the allotted time, to which McKenna observed, “We defied our time limit here.” Oh, but for good reason.
The Man Behind the Elephant Man
Kevin Salter knows Mel Brooks; they work together at Brooksfilms. Which is probably why he was so patient as the 90-year-old veteran took over the stage on Saturday afternoon, completely ignoring his duties as a moderator. “Why are you sitting here?” he asked Salter after going off on one tangent after another. But if you know Brooks, or worshipped his films growing up, this was the Mel you wanted: crazy, reckless, and unrestrained. Whether he was talking about the impetus behind Brooksfilms (“You put Mel Brooks on a movie and little old Jewish ladies want to laugh”) or his crackerjack discoveries (“The only screenplay about Burke and Hare was written by Dylan Thomas and I found it — I’m a fucking genius”), it was impossible not to sit back and shake your head at his energy and passion and, well, the fact that you were watching Mel Brooks.
Somewhere in there he talked about how Brooksfilms produced The Elephant Man, which opened the festival earlier that morning as a special screening, and how Lynch originally told Brooks he could do the film for $200. “David was really excellent with money,” he quipped, adding, “bit of a dreamer.” He also spent a great deal of time talking about the Elephant Man himself, John Hurt, and how he later got the star to appear in both 1981’s The History of the World: Part I and 1987’s Spaceballs. One particular highlight was watching Brooks dial the clock back to his early days working in Hollywood, specifically how he once caused a ruckus at Columbia for pulling down the placards of various employees and making everyone think they were fired. “It was certainly a day of disruption,” he concluded, bringing it all back home on a blazing saddle.
Blue Velvet Revisited
Kyle MacLachlan and Laura Dern
This year marks the 30th anniversary of Blue Velvet and the festival celebrated the occasion by premiering Peter Braatz’s experimental documentary Blue Velvet Revisited — this wasn’t any old retrospective, though. Back in 1985, Braatz was given carte blanche to film whatever he wanted during the shoot around Wilmington, North Carolina. As such, the film features an intriguing array of never-before-seen footage that captures the cast and crew in a unique light. The film’s formless execution left a little to be desired, but you really got a sense of Lynch’s creative genius, watching him carefully design a Lumberton sign out of masking tape or embodying the character of Jeffrey Beaumont as he similarly tossed rocks or shuffled around silently.
But, it was even more special to see Kyle MacLachlan and Laura Dern 15 minutes after the screening. The two stars were joined by film critic Elvis Mitchell, who kept things very conversational, touching upon Lynch’s process and the familial experience of the shoot, which Dern likened to “the most amazing summer camp ever.” MacLachlan recalled meeting with Lynch at a Bob’s Big Boy, explaining how they’d “sit and draw and drink coffee.” Both were quite transparent in their love for the director. “He has this magical way of being deliciously irreverent,” Dern admitted. “Literally, day one, it felt like I had found my maestro.” MacLachlan, who recently reunited for Twin Peaks, confessed: “On the first day on set, I was so happy. It was like no time had passed.”
The same could have been said for MacLachlan and Dern. The two appeared inseparable, glowing with chemistry as they revisited the past together — it was like something out of a Richard Linklater film (think: Before Sunset). A couple of stories really struck the heart, specifically one where the cast bundled together at a stony mansion in Wilmington, where they braced for a torrential hurricane that never came. As MacLachlan said, “It was just a windy night.” Or when Dern and MacLachlan stumbled into Griffin Dunne after he had just seen Blue Velvet at a nearby theater, scaring the American Werewolf in London star. In hindsight, they could have kept going for another two hours before the crowd would start losing their ears.