The first David Lynch work I ever saw was his 2000 commercial, Welcome to the Third Place (2000, dir: David Lynch), for the Sony PlayStation 2. The ad is a one minute long, black and white spot and features such Lynch hallmarks as doppelgängers, industrial and noise-influenced soundscapes, exaggerated thumbs-ups, and unsettlingly weird and “amateurish” visual effects. Even though only a minute long, it’s definitively Lynchian and, in its subversion, even Surrealist. Pieter Dom (2014) has an excellent piece on the making of this commercial which provides more detail as to how it came about. When I first saw it, I’d never seen anything like it before and it lodged in my brain gradually growing into a fanaticism for Lynch’s work and Surrealist filmmaking.
When I went hunting around for this ad on YouTube recently, I was thrilled to come across several other commercials directed by Lynch for Sony PlayStation. As I watched though, it became clear very quickly that these ads were not actually directed by Lynch. They’re all wildly different in style and tone; they lack the Lynchian qualities that distinguish Lynch’s work; some lack even the Surrealist elements that would put them in the same stylistic category as Lynch. Most importantly they don’t feel like Lynch.
Here’s just some of the ads misattributed to Lynch in either the title or the description or both on YouTube. I’ve made an effort to track down the actual director of the ad where possible.
Dog (2002) (sometimes referred to as “Rabbits” and not to be confused with Rabbits (2002, dir: David Lynch), Lynch’s series of short films depicting a sitcom featuring rabbits)
Jimmy Dynamite (2002)
The Wolfman (2002, dir: Tim Hope)
Bambi (2004, dir: Kevin Thomas)
Blind (2004, dir: Kevin Thomas)
Lynch’s (semi-auto)biography, Room to Dream (Lynch and McKenna, 2018: p. 529), contains a more extensive filmography of Lynch’s work and correctly only includes the Welcome to the Third Place commercial.
These misattributed commercials are all from the “The Third Place” advertising campaign for PlayStation 2. They were among a series of unconventional commercials for Sony products which were commissioned and produced by the ad agency TBWA under creative director Trevor Beattie. In this 2013 article, Buzzfeed collects some of their print ads. TBWA’s London office also commissioned Lynch’s commercial based on an idea by Beattie (Dom, 2014; Monahan).
This case of misattribution raises some points about attribution in the age of the internet, the ‘fake news’ and ‘post-truth’ of the 2010s, and allowing commercial services like YouTube to preserve our cultural memory with no oversight for accuracy or attribution. I want to focus on why people have misattributed these ads to David Lynch specifically and what this says about our cultural acceptance of the unconventional.
In this blog post on the making of the Jimmy Dynamite ad, Kieron Monahan — the group account director at TBWA/London who produced Lynch’s ad — discusses their thinking behind The Third Place campaign:
Our brief was simply to demonstrate the extraordinary lives and imaginations of people who embraced living The Third Place in the real world — the third place came from psychological studies into where human behavior was leading to, it wasn’t just a tag line. Part of that research looked at how people were starting to have much stronger views of what their life should be like and were actively looking for ways to make it clear to others they wanted to live life on their own terms.
This brief is similar to Lynch’s thinking on creativity (which is, we can assume, why Beattie approached Lynch in the first place). The language of this paragraph could almost come from Lynch talking about Transcendental Meditation or the art life or artistic creativity. Even if the ads themselves do not, The Third Place campaign has a Lynchian vibe as does some of the print ads produced by TBWA for Sony in the years following the Third Place.
The Third Place ads share an unconventional structure and tone for advertisements. They eschew — and even subvert — the tropes and stylistic conventions of commercials. Some contain elements of Surrealism, a style not frequently found in mainstream fare like advertisements. David Lynch is perhaps the foremost popular Surrealist filmmaker. Pauline Kael (1986) referred to him as ‘the first populist surrealist’. Between this and the wider ethos of the Third Place campaign, it’s easy to make the conceptual link between a series of Surrealist (or at least, weird) ads and David Lynch.
When confronted with art that is difficult, challenging, or otherwise unconventional, we feel a desire to categorise it in someway: to fit it into a conceptual framework with which we are familiar so as to rob the artwork of its troubling alienness. We deal with the weird through categorisation and classification: through putting it in a box that makes it understandable. Lynch has established a reputation as the mainstream-weird film director of note and so it’s easy and convenient to push unconventional films into the Lynch category. It makes those artworks easier to process. I’m not suggesting that anyone is actively challenged or disturbed by the Third Place ads or even that adverts themselves constitute art necessarily but I argue that we see some form of this categorisation of the weird in the misattribution of the ads.
While we can understand this categorisation, using Lynch as the conceptual box in which to deposit weird and surreal films does a disservice to other Surrealist filmmakers. At best, it ignores the labour and creativity of those filmmakers and at worst, it actively erases their work and their creative contributions. I’ll use Tim Hope as an example. The Wolfman commercial for Sony PlayStation 2 is adapted from Hope’s 1999 short film also titled The Wolfman. Faber and Walters (2004) say that this film took Hope four months to create. It won the New Perspectives award and the Best Film at the Cutting Edge award at the British Animation Awards in 2000 (Osmond, 2000). The Wolfman ad was also the one that prompted my investigation into the origin of these ads since it was so obviously stylistically not-Lynch and has such a strong visual aesthetic of its own. It’s unfair for Hope’s work to be mislabelled as Lynch’s.
More than just being personally unfair to the filmmakers personally, it does a disservice to culture when we fail to acknowledge the wide range of unconventional filmmakers. Whether making short films, feature films, exhibition pieces, or advertisements, there are loads of filmmakers working with a Surrealist aesthetic and producing creative content like the Third Place ads. Lynch is not the only contemporary Surrealist filmmaker or even the only popular contemporary Surrealist filmmaker. Aside from the directors of the Third Place ads including Kevin Thomas and Tim Hope, there’s a range of filmmakers like Becky Sloan and Joseph Pelling, The Brothers Quay, Guy Maddin, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Roy Andersson, and Jaco Van Dormael working in the Surrealist or absurdist aesthetic.
The categorisation of the weird as “Lynchian” or “Kafkaesque” robs us of appreciating the extent of unconventional artwork. When we assume that all Surrealist film must be directed by David Lynch, we do a disservice to the cultural unconventional and therefore to culture as a whole.
Dom, Pieter, 2014. ‘The Making of David Lynch’s PlayStation Commercial: The Third Place (Video)’, Welcome to Twin Peaks, 5 May 2014 <https://welcometotwinpeaks.com/lynch/david-lynch-playstation-commercial-making-of/>
Faber, Liz, and Walters, Helen, 2004. Animation Unlimited: Innovative Short Films Since 1940. London: Laurence King Publishing Ltd.
Kael, Pauline, 1986. ‘Blue Velvet: Out There and In Here’, The New Yorker, 22 September 1986.
Lynch, David, and McKenna, Kristine, 2018. Room to Dream. Edinburgh: Canongate Books Ltd.
Monahan, Kieron. ‘What working with David Lynch taught me.’, Kieron Monahan <http://thekview.com/inside-my-head-kieron-monahan/#/david-lynch-playstation-the-thrid-place-kieron-monahan/>
Monahan, Kieron. ‘To see creative opportunities we have to keep our minds open.’ Kieron Monahan <http://thekview.com/playstation-the-third-place-jimmy-dynamite-kieron-monahan/>
Osmond, Andrew. 2000. ‘The 2000 British Animation Awards’, Animation World Network, 1 May 2000 <https://www.awn.com/animationworld/2000-british-animation-awards>