DAVID LYNCH: THE ART LIFE
Review by Michael Jacobson
Directors: Jon Nguyen, Rick Barnes, Olivia Neergaard-Holm
Audio: DTS HD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.78:1
Features: Director interview, trailer
Length: 88 Minutes
Release Date: September 26, 2017
“I knew my stuff sucked, but I needed to burn through, I needed to find what was mine, and the only way to find it is just to keep painting, and keep painting, and see if you catch something.”
I’m using this review to preserve a time capsule moment for me…at the time of this writing, it’s just on the eve of the finale of Twin Peaks: The Return; an 18 episode continuation of David Lynch and Mark Frost’s groundbreaking and over-too-soon series from the early 90s. The Return has been the most enthralling, original, confusing and exhilarating experiences I’ve ever had watching television.
I’ve been a David Lynch fan for as long as I can remember. I easily recall the first time I saw movies like Eraserhead, Blue Velvet, The Elephant Man and more. One of my greatest cinematic experiences was seeing Lost Highway in a theatre, because the lights just went out and the movie started. From light to darkness. From silence to sound. No ads, trailers or anything.
David Lynch: The Art Life is an intimate look at the man, and mostly another side of him…the painter. Those expecting to see a traditional documentary with stars and co-workings sharing anecdotes and looks at his amazingly brilliant film career, be warned: this movie ends with the start of his first film Eraserhead.
Everything else is Lynch in his own words, filmed lovingly at work, smoking constantly, and creating his newest art piece, seemingly titled “Things I Learned At School”. He is a modern Marcel Duchamp, not only painting, but affixing objects directly to canvas. We see him using sanders to create effect, bending wires into words with pliers, and lovingly shaping weird masses to glop onto the work.
We see a lot of his art in this movie, all the while listening to Lynch talk about his family, his youth, his discovery of his passion, his first marriage and the birth of his first child, and more. In some scenes, we even see him sitting in front of the microphone as he records his narrative.
The strangest thing about David Lynch to me is simply how normal the man is. I didn’t really get to know much about him until after I’d seen many of his films, and I expected some oddball artist with tics and hangups and eccentricities. No, Lynch is an everyman, born in the Pacific Northwest, growing up in Virginia, and honing his craft in Philadelphia. Coversationally, he is relaxed, and really only spills one odd story, about a time in his childhood when a naked woman bleeding from the mouth approached him and his brother asking for help (likely brought to life in a scene from Blue Velvet).
Mostly, he speaks about discovering his passion for art and how he has pursued painting his entire life. But it was when he became obsessed with making paintings move that the defining chapter of his life began. He earned a grant to make a film, and the rest was history.
Some of Lynch’s early experiments with film are captured here, and they show an artist already defining himself with strange, frightening and beautiful images, many including his first wife Peggy.
And then, it’s over…like I said, this is not a documentary about David Lynch, the director. I admit, I was hoping for looks at the creation of his many masterpieces, but we stop just short.
I still enjoyed the film, while recognizing it’s going to be a movie for very limited tastes. Casual fans won’t dig it much, but as someone who’s spent most of his life enraptured by David Lynch, I appreciated the intimate look at the man and another side of his boundless creativity.
The film looks great in high definition, even though there are no chases, car crashes or explosions. Coloring is very beautiful throughout and helps bring a vivid look at Lynch’s art.
Not sure why an essentially talking-head documentary needed a DTS HD 5.1 track, but no complaints. Not a lot of surround usage, but dialogue is extremely clear, and the one or two pieces of original music play through nicely.
Not a lot of extras; you get an interview with co-director Jon Nguyen and a trailer, plus a booklet with an essay.
David Lynch: The Art Life won’t please everyone…it may not even please many. For those who are die hard fans (like me) though, this is a pleasant journey through the mind of a master…a portrait of the artist as an old man.