David Lynch The Art Life (2016)


Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5

USA/, 2016. , , , . Screenplay by . Cinematography by . Produced by Jon Nguyen, . Music by . Production Design by , . Film Editing by Olivia Neergaard-Holm.

Beloved by his film fans for his distinct visual style, in which nightmare visions are treated with a strangely acceptable nostalgic warmth, actually began his training and career as a painter, and his journey through what he calls The Art Life (coffee, cigarettes, painting and nothing else) is the central focus of this beautifully shot documentary interview.

Filmmakers Rick Barnes, Olivia Neergaard-Holm and Jon Nguyen take their cameras into Lynch’s studio in the Hollywood Hills and observe him creating one panel after another while, over the soundtrack, we listen to him narrate the bullet points of his early life leading up to his breakthrough as a filmmaker: a childhood in suburban idyll in towns in Montana, Idaho and Virginia, being raised by a kindly and generous agricultural scientist father and loving housewife and educator mother, his burgeoning interest in art that took him to university in Boston, his early days as an artist in the inspiring but rough parts of Philadelphia, his first marriage and the birth of his daughter (future Boxing Helena director Jennifer Lynch) and, eventually, his interest in taking his ideas for images into a more malleable and complex medium of cinema (particularly given attention is his first feature, Eraserhead).

Viewers looking to connect Lynch’s life with his work will find much to enjoy in these recollections, such as when the man who located the rot beneath idealized suburban life in Blue Velvet recalls playing on the streets of his neighbourhood and seeing, out of nowhere, a naked, injured woman walking down the street, tearing his sense of privileged stability in two. Lynch is never guarded or cagey in his testimonials, but he never comes across as being anxious to question every possible motivation behind the choices he has made in life either, having only positive things to say about the people he came up with and appearing to be quite satisfied with where he is at this point (which, as we learn here, is primarily in his studio making paintings, he hasn’t completed a feature in ten years when this film is made).

What makes this an absorbing work of art that might pique even the interests of those not familiar with Lynch’s filmography is the flawless collage work that the directors do in marrying his voice to his images, picking exactly the right paintings or drawings (sometimes film footage) to go with the stories Lynch is telling, or emotional memories he is recalling. Vivid and colourful, the great director’s artwork is as complex and powerful as his films and, in some cases, tell some pretty dark and memorable stories.

The Criterion Collection: #895

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