Thursday, March 30, 2017

David Lynch: The Art Life

There are two types of David Lynch fans who will want very different things from a Lynch documentary. Casual fans will just want Twin Peaks relaunch spoilers and Dennis Hopper anecdotes from the production of Blue Velvet. Serious fans will want something as inscrutable and ambiguous as Lynch’s most recent films (that really aren’t that recent anymore). Jon Nguyen, Rick Barnes, and Olivia Neergaard-Holm do not even try to find a middle ground, fully opting for the latter option throughout David Lynch: The Art Life (trailer here), which opens tomorrow in New York.

Shot in stylized grainy sepia-tones, Art Life looks like it might exist in the world of Eraserhead, the pseudo-climatic event Lynch’s reminiscences sort of build towards. Rather than moviemaking, we see Lynch painting in his studio and telling stories from his suburban youth. Mostly, these are just hints of artistic bildungsroman, but he gives us one obviously significant and cinematic incident that clearly helped inspire Blue Velvet. If anyone ever produces The David Lynch Story as a narrative feature, it will surely start with that scene.

Beyond that, Nguyen and company go about soaking up the Lynchian atmosphere rather than push him to be more revealing or to stay on topic. It is interesting to see photos and footage of Lynch as a Kyle MacLachlan-looking youth and he has some pleasant memories of his old art school buddy and future production designer Jack Fisk, as well as his early mentor, Bushnell Keeler. However, audiences should understand going in, there is much more discussion of Lynch’s paintings (they’re dark, go figure) than say Dune, Wild at Heart, or Mulholland Drive.

As a result, Art Life is bound to be divisive. It is deliberately slow and resolutely coy, readily allowing Lynch to maintain his guarded defenses. Yet, as a double irony, the mounting anticipation for the return of Twin Peaks makes it seem relatively commercial, even though Lynch and the filmmakers do everything in their power to undermine any possible popular appeal. For mere mortals, it is a frustrating film that often has a rather lulling effect. Hence, David Lynch: The Art Life is only for the diehard initiates in the Lynchian cult when it opens tomorrow (3/31) in New York, at the IFC Center.