Although David Lynch, known for films and TV series such as Blue Velvet (1986), Mulholland Drive (2001) and Twin Peaks (1990-91), can be considered one of the most distinctive and influential directors of modern cinema, filmmaking cannot be considered his first artistic medium. Growing up Lynch was far more interested in painting, and focused on this artform during his enrolment at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.
During his studies he frequently played with the medium of painting, expressing a wish for his paintings to ‘move’. For the Academy’s annual end-of-year exhibit in 1966, Lynch brought cinematic techniques of stop motion to his paintings. On a $200 budget, Lynch produced the short film Six Men Getting Sick (Six Times) (1966), a looped stop motion animation of his painting accompanied by a wailing siren, described by Lynch as described as “57 seconds of growth and fire, and three seconds of vomit.” The piece marked Lynch’s first venture into the world of film. Although far more abstract than anything Lynch may be known for today, it can be said to contain the nucleus of the ‘Lynchian’ film. Author, David Foster Wallace (1996) defined ‘Lynchian’ as referring “to a particular kind of irony where the very macabre and the very mundane combine in such a way as to reveal the former's perpetual containment within the latter."
The film won first prize in the school’s experimental-painting-and-sculpture contest, with fellow classmate H. Barton Wasserman so impressed that he agreed to fund Lynch’s next short, The Alphabet (1967). The surrealist approach continued, with Lynch able to add live action to his animations. The film portrays a girl, played by Lynch’s wife Peggy, chanting the alphabet in her sleep, before encountering a bloody death. The use of dreams is common to all of Lynch’s later cinematic and television work, from Agent Coopers visions in Twin Peaks, to the dreamlike narrative of Mulholland Drive.