29. August 2017

A film about – and above all with – David Lynch is showing in cinemas. In it, the cult director talks first and foremost about himself, and is revealed to be a magnificent storyteller.

By Jens Balkenborg

“I think every time you do something like a painting, or whatever, you go with ideas. And sometimes the past can conjure up those ideas and color those ideas. Even if they’re new ideas, the past colors them,” David Lynch murmurs profoundly, smoking as he talks into the condenser microphone at the very beginning of the film. The blue haze of a cigarette butt will color almost every scene of the documentary “David Lynch –The Art Life”. Lynch smoking in his armchair, smoking as he works on his half-sculpture, half-painting artworks in his studio, smoking in his car; he is always presented casually while he – and only he – tells his story.

David Lynch, The man was shot

The directing trio of Jon Nguyen, Rick Barnes, and Olivia Neergaard-Holm remain firmly in the background, offering the cult director, who wrote film and television history with his disturbing, nightmarish works like “Mulholland Drive”, “Lost Highway”, “Blue Velvet” and “Twin Peaks” and who has also always worked as a fine artist, practically a blank canvas, which he fills with anecdotes and biographical details. It’s clear here that this master of film cultivates his own myth; any critical distance in the form of a commentator or contemporary witnesses is entirely lacking. Yet that does not detract from the quality of the film, since instead of vile hero-worship, it offers – entirely in line with its “subject” – a Lynchian view of creativity in general and the world of this exceptional artist in particular.

Family idyll and surreal chasms

The whole thing is also immensely entertaining, since Lynch quickly proves to be a magnificent storyteller. From his childhood in the American idyll of small-town Montana to his youth in Virginia and his first forays into art in Boston, he ultimately makes the link to his first films in Philadelphia. The explanations are illustrated with shots of Lynch at work in his Hollywood studio, as well as old family videos and photos. An interesting line is spun between the surrealist worlds of his films and art, on the one hand, and his almost childlike curiosity, his adoration of his loving parents and his evident affection for his youngest daughter Lula, who occasionally waddles into view in the studio, on the other.

Portrait of the young David Lynch, NFP
David Lynch, Bob’s Second Dream

What emerges, bit by bit, is the portrait of a man whose fascination for the unfathomable and the other-worldly finds expression in various creative activities. The world of insects, and his father sparked his interest in it, inspired him just as much as certain strange events that Lynch, the master of the mysterious, discloses in anecdotes that are not explained any further. For example the encounter with a woman who stinks of urine, or with a madman who can do nothing more than yell “I am a chicken”. Even more impressive are the stories told through the skillful montage of eerily beautiful artworks and gloomily swirling music.

The man and the darkness

“Inspiration lurks everywhere” appears to hang over the scenes, quite concretely when we realize the picturesque small town of his childhood, with its perfectly manicured lawns, could easily be the location of “Blue Velvet”. Or when a damaged roll of film serves as inspiration for his feature film debut “Eraserhead”, which has long since become a classic. “David Lynch –The Art Life” offers an albeit stylized, but nevertheless intimate insight into the life and work of the enfant terrible, all the while without focusing in more detail on his films. And it does so regardless of the fact that much of this may be part of the myth-making and is charged with meaning. After all, you leave the cinema with the feeling of understanding this man somewhat better – a man who reaches out into the dark in order to know himself.

David Lynch, two friends
David Lynch - The Art Life, NFP