Cinema/TV, Film Notes

Film review – David Lynch: The Art Life

My notes on the documentary.

David Lynch is a famously difficult interview – reluctant to talk in any but the most generalised terms about his art and if anything even more reticent about his life.  He’s not the only creative to be like that – Ridley Scott and Tim Burton are also visionaries who seemingly can’t string a sentence together when questioned about what they do – but plenty of auteurs (Guillermo del Toro, Martin Scorsese, John Milius) are also articulate, self-reflective and interesting when on the interview circuit, which makes them popular with publicists and journalists.  This is the team of Jon Nguyen and Olivia Neergaard-Holm’s third docuchat with Lynch (following Lynch One and Lynch Two) … and there’s a sense of relief that he’s finally comfortable enough with them to open up a bit, though as in his work he’s a master of hinting rather than saying outright and leaves whole unexplored submarine depths while skimming allusively over the surface.


Here, Lynch is in his studio in the Hollywood Hills, working intently on his very tactile paintings, without an entourage or any visitors apart from his youngest daughter (who shoots up over the four years it took to get this in the can) … and is encouraged to unearth his earliest memories (sitting in a mud puddle) and recount his life through to the shooting of Eraserhead, specifically his gravitation away from two different strands of American archetype (basically, Andy Hardy and James Dean) into ‘the Art Life’.  He talks about his supportive mother, doubting father and a kindly artist role model (plus best friend collaborator Jack Fisk) and has detailed recall of some specifics in terms of dates, names and set dressing while letting whole periods slide by.  Of a particular school, he remembers his first day during a blinding rainstorm and starting at the same time as two other guys who became his friends but ‘they were not the friends I should have had’.  In a few segments, Lynch talks but his mouth is hidden behind an old-fashioned microphone or a much-manipulated cigarette as if prepared to be dubbed into Japanese … and his distinctive voice-over commands attention in a way his print interviews often don’t.


He’s dryly funny about walking out on Bob Dylan (he lost a roommate over this) or his drug experiences (slowing on a freeway by fixating on the white line) and impassioned when talking about his early work – not so much the content (as ever, he gives that a wide berth) as the process of making it.  There are photographs and snippets of film from his early years – in which he seems a good-looking, James Spaderish young man (he didn’t appear in his own works until he was craggy enough to fit in with his preferred actors) and enjoying himself, making films with his hands as he makes paintings (it’s a jolt to think of this guy going on to something like Dune or even Twin Peaks), while an early marriage comes and goes (and Jennifer Lynch is seen as a baby) and there are wry accounts of his father’s buttoned-down dismay at some of his artwork (the fish kit, which is still a rather winning concept) and his family’s attempted ‘intervention’ during his protracted work on Eraserhead which seems to have shocked him most because they couldn’t see how satisfying he was finding the process of creation.


What this conveys powerfully is the attraction of the Art Life – in Lynch’s reminiscences but also in his current work – the processes of working in a studio on a personal project (we see a lot of Lynch’s witty creepy paintings) are all-absorbing and satisfying in themselves, trumping the financial and other insecurities which come along with it.  Sceptics might note the hermetic nature of Lynch’s work and his against-the-grain marketing of himself, and there is something sinister in that near-fifty-year gap between parallel sisters that hints at the ruthlessness probably necessary to pursue art this personal.  I get the sense that there’s a cool Strangers Kiss/Ed Wood-style film to be made about the making of Eraserhead, but someone else will have to do it.  One also wonders what happened to those wrong friends and whether they were the origins of fiends like Frank Booth and Bobby Peru …


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