David Lynch: The Art Life

Studio: Criterion

Oct 11, 2017 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

If you wondered what David Lynch was up to in the eleven years between 2006’s Inland Empire and this year’s Twin Peaks revival, this documentary would leave you to believe he was happily living the art life. As Lynch defines it, that means “drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes, and painting. That’s it!” As this film makes clear, the art life is Lynch’s ideal mode of existence.

For two-and-a-half years, documentarians Jon Nguyen, Olivia Neergaard-Holm, and Rick Barnes – with the help of Lynch’s assistant, Jason S. – shot more than 1,000 hours of footage of the enigmatic auteur at work and rest in his home studio in the Hollywood Hills. Over the course of many, many interviews, Lynch tells his life story, from early childhood through his artistic breakthroughs in Philadelphia. Scenes of Lynch creating his present-day artwork are intercut with old, home video footage and pieces from his painting archives. It’s cathartic, and surprisingly straight-forward; the filmmakers just let Lynch talk, and if you’re interested in hearing about his background, it’s engrossing.

Fans looking for hints as to the meanings of his films will find no obvious ones in The Art Life; the documentary ends with Lynch starting work on Eraserhead, thus avoiding his career as a filmmaker almost entirely. Listen closely to Lynch’s stories from his youth, however, and you might be able to draw lines of inspiration to scenes that later manifested in his movies. For example, Lynch recounts the first time he saw a naked woman: wandering onto his family’s suburban lawn, her mouth bloodied, and crying. The story sounds an awful lot like a moment in Blue Velvet, and there are other parallels between Lynch’s life and work to be drawn within.

Criterion’s release of the film is one of their lighter efforts, but that’s not a knock given that the movie more or less speaks for itself. Filmmaker Jon Nguyen gives a 16-minute explanation of the project’s origin, and hearing what he perceived to be the most enlightening points in the interviews – having been there, in the room with Lynch – is quite interesting. 



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