Monday, September 11, 2017

Review: 'David Lynch: The Art Life' Blu-ray Review

David Lynch the filmmaker has been the subject of such documentaries as Toby Keeler’s Pretty As a Picture and Jason S.’s Lynch 1 and Lynch 2. These films were fascinating opportunities to watch Lynch work despite his notorious reluctance to explain the meanings behind his cryptic works. Lynch has also shied away from talking about his personal life aside from a few stock stories, such as his disturbing sighting of a naked, battered woman when he was a child and the violent nightmarishness of his time in Philadelphia. These tales primarily serve as all the explanation he’ll give about the inspirations behind Blue Velvet and Eraserhead respectively.

Director Jon Nguyen and cinematographer Jason S.’s recent documentary David Lynch: The Art Life manages to finally dig deeper into the artist’s origins. Jason S. had apparently been living with Lynch since making Lynch 1 in 2007, allowing him greater access to Lynch’s work, thoughts, and trust. The fruit of this is a revealing story that goes well beyond the stock ones. We learn that Lynch was not just an “Eagle Scout,” as his Twin Peaks-era bio read in full. He also went through a phase as a Bobby Briggs-style J.D., drinking and causing trouble with a bad crowd. He has discussed his parents in stock stories about Donald Lynch’s habit of walking to work in his “ten gallon hat” every day and Edwina Lynch’s refusal to allow her son to use coloring books since she thought it stifled true creativity. In The Art Life he goes beyond those stories to discuss a dad who was deeply disturbed to witness his son’s approach to art that sometimes involves rotting plants and dead animals and a mom who encouraged her son’s creativity but withheld more physical affections. Some stories, such as one involving a neighbor named “Mr. Smith,” are too painful to tell, and he leaves them hanging and elliptical like so much of his film work.

Those films do not get much attention. Lynch’s “pre-professional” movies The Alphabet, The Grandmother, and Eraserhead are discussed briefly, leaving the focus more on his work as a painter and sculptor. His artworks can be very revealing regarding his film work, though. Those who were captivated by Twin Peaks: The Return will be thrilled to see how much of his non-filmic artwork reflects imagery from his recent 18-hour film.

The opportunity to watch Lynch create such works is invigorating too. They are three-dimensional pieces very much in the physical realm, and he creates them using thick, almost alive materials, grabbing and pulling them and spreading them on boards with his hands. I personally found Twin Peaks: The Return to be the most stimulating piece of art I’ve encountered since Lynch’s previous film, Inland Empire, in 2006. Watching him create is equally stimulating. So is hearing him speak. Lynch’s awkwardness and reluctance as a speaker is well known, but that somehow also makes him a mesmerizing communicator, and his is the only voice we hear in the film.

David Lynch: The Art Life comes to blu-ray from the Criterion Collection. The film looks great, making the deliberately Lynchian booth from which he speaks (Ribbon mic. Green trees. Red light) pop off the screen. Of course, it is the less pristine footage of him as a child and teenager, his parents, and behind the scenes footage of his early films that is most electrifying. This disc is oddly short on supplements for an installment in the Criterion Collection, especially considering how much outtake footage Jason S. must have accumulated over ten years, but an interview with director Jon Nguyen makes the main feature even richer and more revealing.
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