David Lynch: The Art Life really couldn’t have come along at a better time, being released into cinemas right in the middle of the new season of his recently resurrected cult hit Twin Peaks.
This documentary takes a look at the formative years of the reclusive and ever evasive filmmaker, and finds out, or at least takes a stab at finding out – what makes him tick. Lynch is a favourite among film buffs for films such as Blue Velvet, Mulholland Drive and Eraserhead, but his artwork has never gotten as much attention – at least until now.
The film takes quite a minimalist, contemplative look at it’s subject. Narrated entirely by the man himself who we see busy at work in his Hollywood Hills home, occasionally joined by his five year old daughter Lula. Lynch’s paintings are large canvases of stark, disturbing images that mix various materials and aren’t easy to categorize or explain, much like his films. In some cases you can see what may have inspired some of the paintings, but mostly it’s anyone’s guess.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that a film about Lynch’s early days would reveal some dark upbringing that caused him to have such an inclination to making disturbing, abstract work. But Lynch has nothing but good words to say about his upbringing and his parents, putting most of the blame for his twisted creations on his time living in Philadelphia. Bizarre encounters with the locals were an early influence on Eraserhead, and left a lasting impression on Lynch ever since. There is however a scene where Lynch reveals his father was worried after seeing that he was keeping a basement full of dead animals to study for his artwork, which is pretty understandable really. In that situation you’re either raising an eccentric artist or a serial killer, and in the days before Eraserhead you can’t really blame him for being concerned.
This is undoubtedly a documentary exclusively for fans, casual viewers would be put off by Lynch’s occasional restraint to get into grizzly details, even if there are some revealing tidbits here and there. This is above all a film about David’s love of painting, not a scandalous tell-all full of juicy gossip. There are hints here and there of where David may have gotten inspiration for certain sequences in his films, such as the scene where a naked Isabella Rossellini is found in the street in Blue Velvet. But mostly Lynch remains tight-lipped on where the inspiration for his darker moments come from. In one scene he begins a story about seeing a neighbour of his come out of his house and then abruptly stops, saying he can’t tell the story, making you wonder just what exactly happened. Some people may find the ambiguities frustrating, but anyone frustrated by a lack of answers probably doesn’t spend much time watching David’s films to begin with.
David Lynch: The Art Life is for committed fans, as his most famous films bar Eraserhead are not even mentioned, with the same going for his music. But for any long-time fans of the director or even anyone who loves painting, this is a very worthwhile watch.