David Lynch: The Art Life
by Hope Madden
Filmmaker David Lynch is nearly as enigmatic a cultural fixture as his films. Indeed, as is the case with most of his cinematic output, you might be tempted to assume that his own folksy exterior covers something dark and lurid.
The new documentary David Lynch: The Art Life does what it can to confirm that impression. While it hardly resolves anything in a concrete way, if Lynch’s art imitates the artist, then this film imitates both.
Co-directors Jon Nguyen, Rick Barnes and Olivia Neergaard-Holm recorded Lynch as he mused on childhood stories and the events that led him into the world of art and film. The audio is used to narrate footage – some recent, some archival – working together to illuminate the artist and his work. To a point.
Nguyen, who produced the doc Lynch about the making of the auteur’s 2006 film Inland Empire, has created another appropriately Lynchian film.
Once again there is a sweetness, almost innocence, about the filmmaker that feels wildly at odds with the darkness and macabre of the art we watch him create – and at the same time, seems fitting.
Much of the film is spent with Lynch in his studio as he molds, spreads and sculpts materials for art pieces. His artwork is far more immediately disturbing than his films, which tend to situate the horrifying inside a landscape of beauty. On canvas, the horror is right up front.
The work and process behind it give the film a wonderfully tactile quality and the team of directors frame and shoot the proceedings in a style Lynch himself would appreciate.
The doc takes us through Lynch’s artistically formative years and ends somewhat abruptly around the time of Eraserhead. The goal is not to document his life’s work, nor even to truly shed light on the conundrum of his particular artistry.
Instead it is a fascinating and beautifully filmed piece of what you might expect. You’ll find a lot of cigarette smoke and Coke bottles, unassuming odd-duckery and gruesome imagery.
But if you’re hoping for insight into what exactly inspires David Lynch’s fears, obsessions and grim work, be warned: The Art Life does more to continue the mystery than to solve it.