More noise than signal

David Lynch: The Art Life

Republished from the show notes of my other site, Fuds on Film.

We of course have a healthy respect for the works of David Lynch, as evidenced by the length of our January 2016 episode, but I’d never claim to know all that much about Lynch himself. So of course I’d jump at the chance to find out a bit more about him, in his own words, with perhaps a slight hope, however unlikely, that this would help decipher some of Lynch’s more obscure leanings.

The Art Life is fittingly a slightly odd documentary inasmuch as it’s told entirely in Lynch’s voice, with the presumable interlocutors and directors Jon Nguyen, Rick Barnes and Olivia Neergaard-Holm staying entirely off camera and off mic, giving this the feel of Lynch having sat next to you with an armful of his creepy paintings and started telling you his life story.

This covers his small-town upbringing, realisation of his interest in art, and the subsequent moves around the country to schools and such pursuing this goal of living the Art Life, ending up with him in the American Film Institute creating Eraserhead, where we leave him.

What there’s precious little of, whether Lynch didn’t deign to say or wasn’t challenged to bring up, is any sort of drama or struggle whatsoever. While it’s great that Lynch had, at least as he tells it, a happy upbringing with supportive family and friends, and opportunities to follow his dreams, the seeming ease at which he’s had doesn’t make for a hugely interesting life story.

Not that I’m suggesting that tragedies be invented to spice things up or wished upon Lynch, but given the art that we’ve seen from him, both his films and the painting/sculptures seen in this documentary, there’s surely got to be more layers to Lynch’s worldview that this film either has no interest in, or more likely, that Lynch doesn’t want to talk about. I think, however, I might have gotten more understanding of his character by hearing him refusing to answer that line of questioning than in hearing how he played in the mud as a kid.

Lynch is an engaging enough speaker, and, hey, I’ll take what I can get in term of his story. I have rather less patience for the film-maker’s decision to futz with their footage with a seemingly arbitrary selection of After-Effects filters to graft on some visual “flair”, which when juxtaposed with Lynch’s unique, weird artwork looks a bit amateurish.

Look, if you’re a follower of David Lynch’s work, while I don’t think I’ve gained a damn thing by watching this documentary, it’s worth watching simply because he’s so guarded about the meaning of his work that anything’s a bonus in terms of background material.

If, however, you’ve not spent the last decade and a half trying to unravel the meaning of the occurrences surrounding the man behind ‘Winkies’, there’s not a great deal for you in David Lynch: The Art Life.