“You have to sometimes make a huge mess and big mistakes to find the thing you are looking for,” an at ease David Lynch imparts while painting and smoking in a sun soaked yard as his young daughter swirls about before him. In David Lynch: The Art Life, the genius artist/director reflects on his early years, recalling childhood memories, troubled youth and identity crisis’.
Combined with insights from the man himself, Director Jon Nguyen captures petite ticks, character traits and scenes which shed light onto Lynch as painter/film-maker and old/young man. New filmed footage of Lynch tearing up a croissant and staring curiously at a stick as though seeking inspiration, is both endearing, wry and enlightening, alongside his stories of infancy (playing war) and the living “hell” of adolescence due to routine intestinal spasms and living with a conflicting personality.
What isn’t explored or addressed in Nguyen’s documentary is how Lynch’s childhood manifested in his later films. There is very little analysis at all, in fact. Lynch recollecting on how he regularly watched his father walk to work in a suit and Stetson brings to mind Mulholland Drive’s cowboy, while the time he witnessed a crazy naked lady on the street as a child recalls the barmy antics of Dorothy Vallens in Blue Velvet. Lynch’s paintings and snippets from short films The Alphabet and The Grandmother are integrated but The Art Life is far from a flat assemblage of past footage or a talking head montage.
Nguyen’s film has its own commanding voice and is not afraid to burrow into the background of scenes to haul up sooty realism (lovely close ups of dead bugs on the window sill). The Art Life may only chart the journey from Lynch’s birth to Eraserhead but it remains rich, fulfilling, light, refined and graceful like one would imagine spending an afternoon in the company of the great man would be. Offering more insights than it does explanations or deliberations, David Lynch: The Art Life is very much synchronised with the style of his work (open to interpretation) and is a fascinating breeze through his character/mind-set.
Lynch tells of his father’s concern after stumbling on David’s experiment with dead mice before calmly imploring; “Don’t ever have children”. Lynch also tells of the time how he moved to Philadelphia (“a mean place”) and met a weird woman whose nipples hurt. And when he first moved into his own apartment then just sat there for two weeks listening to the radio. It is these memories and insights where The Art Life finds enchantment, adorning Lynch’s work/personality with magic, depth and complexity.
Considering everything that Lynch has created in the run-up to Twin Peaks 3, in his late sixties (at the time of filming), it is understandable how he can view the past as a “big mess” making sense from the present. David Lynch: The Art Life is a scintillating, elegant plummet into the past and mind of one of our greatest living surrealists. Its mesmeric, involving and stirring study absorbs and educates more than confounds and is as wonderful as the man it’s about.
David Lynch: The Art Life is released on July 14th.