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June 04, 2024

'Very pure, very filthy': A guide to David Lynch's life-long roast of Philadelphia

The 'Twin Peaks' director has teased a new project dropping Wednesday. He was heavily influenced by his early years in Philly, a city he loves to hate in interviews.

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David Lynch David Lynch Theater/YouTube

As David Lynch prepares to release a new project on Wednesday, look back on some of his most colorful quotes on Philadelphia, the city that inspired 'Eraserhead' and much of his work. He attended PAFA in the mid-1960s.

David Lynch's films and TV shows are known for their haunting images of mutant babies, atomic bombs and supernatural evil — and if you ask the director, he got a lot of it from Philadelphia.

The man behind "Twin Peaks" and "Mulholland Drive" started his arts career as a student at the shuttering Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts college. He lived in Philly between 1965 and 1970, leaving just before he made "Eraserhead," his breakout surrealist horror film. Its grotesque images were directly ripped, he said, from his time in Callowhill.

If that doesn't sound like a compliment, it's not, but it's not quite a burn, either. Lynch has frequently cited Philadelphia as his biggest inspiration in colorful quotes that paint the mid-1960s city as a virtual portal to hell. On the occasion of the director's new project — whatever he's releasing Wednesday will be his first work since "Twin Peaks: The Return" in 2017 — here's a look back at Lynch's darkly hilarious assessment of the city that made him, and that he admits is much cleaner nowadays:

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"Philadelphia, Pennsylvania was…a hellhole. It was filled with fear, and corruption, and it was filthy, there was soot on the buildings and there was a lot of kind of insanity and a feeling in the air that was very uneasy." - Philadelphia Weekly, 2022

"The people had stories etched in their faces, and I saw vivid images — plastic curtains held together with Band-Aids, rags stuffed in broken windows." - Label from his 2014-2015 PAFA exhibit "David Lynch: The Unified Field"

"It wasn't a normal city when I was here. ... When I was here, it was a very kind of lost, remote corner of the world." - PAFA news conference, 2014

"I always say, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is my biggest influence. There is something about the mood here. The fear, insanity, corruption, filth, despair, violence in the air was so beautiful to me." - PAFA new conference, 2014

"When I was here, every building was black, soot-covered. And every building had a mood and it was before graffiti so it was very pure, very filthy, but it had a beautiful mood." - PAFA news conference, 2014

"It was a mixture of heaven and hell, Philadelphia." - Loud and Quiet, 2013

"It's the sickest, most corrupt, decaying, fear-ridden city imaginable. I was very poor and living in bad areas. I felt like I was constantly in danger. But it was so fantastic at the same time." - Time, 1990

"Yes, (Philadelphia is) horrible, but in a very interesting way. There were places there that had been allowed to decay, where there was so much fear and crime that just for a moment there was an opening to another world. It was fear, but it was so strong, and so magical, like a magnet." - The Face, 1987

"I just have to think of Philadelphia now, and I get ideas, I hear the wind, and I'm off into the darkness somewhere." - The Face, 1987

"It was like sitting next to a power station with a radio and getting nothing but static." - New York Times, 1986

"I saw horrible things, horrible, horrible things while I lived there. It was truly inspiring." - Philadelphia Inquirer, 1986

"All of Philadelphia is a bad area, really." - NO Magazine, 1978

Correction: A previous version of this article called the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts defunct. The institution still exists, but it announced earlier this year that the degree program will end in 2025.

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