Such is the extent of the enigma of director David Lynch’s work that it may seem slightly disrespectful to try and even explain it, or indeed the man himself. If you are aware of his catalogue of creativity it’s probably due to his prodigious movies that have changed cinema forever, always visually stunning, always deliberately ambiguous (well maybe except for The Straight Story, 1999), and in a world saturated and overloaded with information/exposition/comfort, his creations bring refreshing and stimulating confusion, questions and agitation, effectively waking you up from the coma or the sedation of modern life.
Depending on your appreciation of his work (I’m 100% biased in my love for it) may affect the way you embrace or shun this incredibly beautiful and appropriately equivocal documentary ‘David Lynch: The Art Life’ (2016) directed by Jon Nguyen, Rick Barnes and Olivia Neergaard. Quite astutely matching the pace of the subjects cadence, his fecund thinking and the lush textured graphics that are evocative of his paintings/sculptures/creations, with a beautiful dark score by Jonatan Bengta that again is reminiscent of David’s own music, and rich cinematography by Jason S. (and everyone else involved) it all adds up to a work that quite happily sits beside the artists own creations, which is an incredible achievement.
Well know for not wanting to give explanation for anything he forges, again which is extremely refreshing in a world where everyone has multiple self promotion avenues to talk about any hot air that belches into their mind. It becomes immediately clear why this film happened when in the opening titles the credit ‘for Lula Boginia Lynch’ pops up, Lula being his beautiful young daughter who would have been about 4 when the film was being made. So being that Lynch is 71, it’s a shrewed and gorgeous way of recording some of her dads history. She’s on camera a few times, and it really is a delight to watch them spending time together painting side by side or happily sitting on her father’s knee and listening to his brooding dark music compositions, that’s sterling parenthood in my books.
Like sitting around a camp fire or the red warmth of a mic light, Lynch embarks on the journey that is his life, from a clearly idyllic childhood that could easily have been a Norman Rockwell painting through the different places he’s lived and how they contributed to his development, or changed him, for good and bad.
Peppered throughout are singular moments that may seem innocuous, but if you are aware of his body of work, these moments are represented in what are effectively large scale paintings that are pretty much diary pages, but also the seeds to elements in his later film career. Indeed there are fragments for the attentive that explain his movies more than anything else previously, or indeed hopefully anything to come. There’s a very nice fine balance between looking behind the red velvet curtain (changing the Oz curtain to a Twin Peaks dressing) and getting to how the wizard makes the magic and losing the spectacle completely, never to return, The Art Life maintains the wonderment of the spell.
Lynch is the consummate story teller, not necessarily in the traditional guise being that his inflection is so laconic or as if he’s vocalising Willaim Burroughs cut-up technique, but there’s a sense he’s in constant Transcendental Meditation, which he’s a huge advocate for.
That brings another great pleasure to the film in that it’s incredibly soothing and relaxing, enabling the words, ideas and visuals to sink ever deeper. It’s one of the few documentaries that I’ve seen, that I immediately wanted to tell the projectionist to restart it after it ended, and the cinema really is where this should be seen.
We get only a glimpse, which is enticingly rich of how he grew from his gentle childhood into the world of ‘Art Life’ where he was able to visualise the dreams he experienced both in sleep and wakefulness. The documentary focuses on the time period right up until he’s about to make his first feature movie ‘Eraserhead’ (1997), his natural evolution from painter to film maker. Given his desire to never explain his movies, this makes complete sense in that I don’t want them ever explained.
There’s a lovely moment where he’s describing how as a child his mum had dug a small hole under a tree on a hot sunny day. She filled the hole with water and created a little mud wallowing hole that David and his friend could sit and play in. His brief description inadvertantly explains a great deal about him as the mud he was fascinated and played with squeezed between his fingers, becoming the paint on the canvas and in turn the visuals on the silver screen. Anyone who has seen the latest series of Twin Peaks will be acutely aware that he’s still doing this, but now he’s squeezing our minds, and I truly love him for it.
10/10 ‘David Lynch: The Art Life’ is in UK cinemas and on demand now.
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