David Lynch: The Art Life

Jacob Richardson | 03/05/2017

Meandering and aggressively dour, but also exceedingly funny, David Lynch: The Art Life mirrors its titular subject in that it is absolutely, unequivocally, cool.

Jon Nguyen, Rick Barnes and Olivia Neergaard-Holm direct this documentary, which heavily features David Lynch seemingly alone in his studio, postulating on his formative years. He chronicles his idyllic upbringing in small town America, his wild days as a Virginian high-schooler, and his artistic success on the dark streets of Philadelphia. He is one of cinema’s most enigmatic directors, and this film gives us an insight into the mind of the man who has brought us such classics as Mulholland Drive, Eraserhead and Twin Peaks.


The Art Life is a remarkable movie, and a definitively introspective one. The three directors have presented an interesting take on the typical documentary style. Whereas usually one might expect narration and straight to camera address to share relatively equal screen time, here, we barely ever see the man himself talk. We hear his voice wafting over images of him working in his workshop on new art; over old childhood photos, grainy behind the scenes footage of his early films, or over still shots of some of his most famous artistic works. But we only see him speak a few times, and the vast majority of these occurrences involve him, sitting at a table alone, in his trademark outfit, with his silver quiff dangling over his forehead almost as artfully as the cigarette hanging from his lips, and the palms of his fingertip-connected hands pulsating in and out as he muses on his life.


Indeed, what these directors have managed to do is create a film that truly feels like it is being told by Lynch himself. In this way, they have somewhat critique-proofed their own work. How indeed can one critique a movie that is so intrinsically about someone that it feels like it is that someone? The Art Life feels like it is David Lynch. When it’s meandering, and plodding, it’s because Lynch himself is meandering. He is in no rush to tell his story, and the filmmakers often draw out beautiful scenes of him sitting, head bowed in a bedraggled white chair, or staring intensely into the silver maw of the microphone. Then again, when the film succeeds – when it is funny, or surprisingly emotional – it succeeds because it is showing something truly human; something that is undeniably David Lynch.


Sure, the film skirts over much of Lynch’s past (his divorce is a particularly noticeable exclusion), and some of the editing is a little too on the nose. But it is a beautifully shot, and remarkably frank, insight into the formative years of the artist. David Lynch: The Art Life feels a lot like some of the man’s artworks. It’s somewhat brutalist, unknowable and inaccessible, but much like Lynch’s art, the viewer resonates with it in a myriad of ways.


It winds between humour and seriousness, perplexity and shining revelations, all the while giving us a look at the early formations of a man who lives “the art life”. David Lynch: The Art Life won’t be for everyone, but if you give it a chance you might just find yourself immersed in, and in love with, the crazy world of David Lynch.