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David Lynch: The Art Life Explores The Filmmaker's Creative Beginnings


Written by Oliver J. Hunt
12 Friday 12th May 2017


Cigarettes, black coffee, and the underbelly of the American Dream; these are the key totems of the well-loved writer-director David Lynch. Known for his genre-spinning movies, filmmakers Jon Nguyen, Rick Barnes, and Olivia Neegaard-Holm instead focus on Lynch's early, more experimental work and how it informed his style in their new documentary David Lynch: The Art Life. With this focus on the artist instead of the filmmaker, the viewer takes a gallery walk through the surreal and macabre paintings that predate his filmography.

Somewhere in the Hollywood hills, baking in his black attire under the Californian sun, David Lynch is painting. With his young daughter playing around him, unaware of the beguiling creativity taking place, Lynch sits with his trademark fag in mouth. Using all manner of industrial appliances, something strange is emerging on the canvas. With Lynch's popularity and credibility stemming from his small contributions to television - On The Air and more notably Twin Peaks - plus his trademark so-weird-it's-great subversive cibema, it's clear to see why the filmmakers discussed his early life and his artwork following on from Lynch’s pesudo-retirement from film.

Shot beautifully by Jason S, we visit Lynch’s garden as he paints by day and reflects on life by night. In the dark conservatory, Lynch talks about his family, growing up strange in a buttoned-up neighbourhood, and his humble beginnings as an artist. It's uncertain whether the filmmakers wanted to separate the persona from the man himself, but the decision to end the documentary at a point before his filmmaking career took off was an interesting choice.

With the information stemming from Lynch himself, however, we only see one side of the coin. With family photographs and personal celluloid memories accompanying Lynch’s narration, there's only so many details that can be mined. Personally, I wanted the documentary to reached a little higher or dig a little deeper with its subject matter. Why does Lynch prefer the canvas over celluloid? Who inspired his direction as an artist-turned-filmmaker? Perhaps these are superficial quibbles, but maybe I expected something meatier.

For fans of David Lynch, The Art Life is worth seeking out, even more so if you intimattely appreciate the multi-media madman. For the uninitiated, you may be left confused. This is a documentary for fans of cinema, it implores you to already possess a grounding in the form. Outsiders, however, maybe left in the dark.

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