David Lynch: The Art Life
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…explores yet another facet of a fascinating creative person.
David Lynch is a deadset legend in cinema circles. You could say he is everyone’s favourite weirdo. His surreal small screen saga Twin Peaks was the granddaddy of cult series with its noirish touches and high gloss held against those Lynchian tropes – midgets spouting nonsense, beautiful women being driven to madness. And, of course, one could go much further back. Eraserhead (1977) remains one of the most alienated and alienating films of the ’70s. It was an unforgettable calling card. Everything from the post-industrial degradation and the hero’s haircut (not unlike Lynch’s own hair) to the unforgettable mewling rabbit carcass ‘baby’ drilled straight into your subconscious and you couldn’t say quite why. Cinema wasn’t quite the same thereafter.
That film, by the way, is more or less the end point for this fascinating glimpse into the director’s world. Lynch being Lynch, this isn’t a conventional documentary. The directors John Nguyen, Olivia Neergaard-Holm, and Rick Barnes, have decided to concentrate solely on the man and his ideas. (Incidentally this is not the first film about Lynch’s art. Toby Keeler’s Pretty as a Picture (1997) covers some of the same ground).
Here we don’t have any other voices or descriptions, nothing in fact to triangulate his gently obsessive perspective. He made a world of his own and he lives in one. It’s Lynch in a studio endlessly smoking and not so much chatting as expounding; letting his stories and reminiscences unfurl like a skein of smoke.
Actually, that’s not entirely true, there are some glimpses of him at home and playing very sweetly with his young daughter. Also, we do get a little account of his growing up. He has nothing but praise for his loving parents and he has siblings too, all of whom seem to have been normal. It is clear looking back that he had a comfortable start but, like many artists, something in him recoiled from the suffocating niceness of the bourgeois world and, in a way, that was to affect his whole oeuvre. He saw something almost terrible underneath all the picket fence niceness. In that sense, the flawless opening scenes of Blue Velvet could stand as his epitaph.
But the concentration here is almost solely on his fine art. Like Peter Greenaway (another notable visual stylist), Lynch was a painter long before he segued into film and it is his paintings that he seems to care about most here. He admits they are ‘not that good’ but there is a fascination to them too and the camera lingers over them to a satisfying degree. He likes huge canvases smothered in impasto pastel colours onto which he sticks little oddities; wire lettering, found objects and so on.
The paintings, like most of his films, resist easy interpretation but that has always been the point. Lynch is the fullest sense of an artist. He makes his art primarily to explore the world and himself, whether the audience ’gets it’ or not has never been the test. Those going expecting a guided tour of his films might be baffled but for the many dedicated Lynchians this explores yet another facet of a fascinating creative person.