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Documentary Review – David Lynch: The Art Life

David Lynch is a larger than life film director and artist who has over the years brought us such surreal delights as Eraserhead (1977), Twin Peaks (1991 and 2017) and Mulholland Drive (2001). What is perhaps a more surreal story than anything feature in his work, is his own story and the development of his career. Directors Jon Nguyen, Rick Barnes and Olivia Neergaard-Holm set out to unearth the early life of Lynch and discover the events that shaped his outlook on art and the creative process. Lynch takes us on an intimate and personal journey through the formative years of his life, from his idyllic upbringing in small town America to the dark mean streets of Philadelphia. David Lynch: the Art Life infuses his own art, music and early films, in an attempt to give audiences a better understanding of the man and the artist. As Lynch puts it, “When you’re doing a painting or whatever… sometimes the past conjures ideas. The
past colours them.”

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This is quite a personal project for Lynch, and the director works invites Nguyen and co. into his word in order for his young daughter to hear his life story in his own words, and appropriately enough the toddler is the only other person in the film not just seen in home movies, there is a touching scene where the father and child sit together creating art and expressing themselves in a creative fashion. This film shows us a more human side to the man who has created such surreal and often haunting pieces. The documentary consists of many home movies and still photographs, as Lynch recounts his childhood and his mother’s encouragement to pursue art, she refused to buy him colouring books so he could use his own imagination to put pen to paper. Like a Lynch film, there was something dark briming under the surface, and he recounts a rather haunting story about playing in the street with his brother, only to be disturbed by a naked, bloody woman who is speechless and sits down on the curb to sob. This moment certainly left an impression on the young boy and influenced one of his most well known films, Blue Velvet (1986).

Lynch details the challenges he faced during his adolescence, revealing how he fell into the wrong crowd and rowed with his parents. His interest in art blossomed as a teenager. And as a result he moved to Philadelphia to study art. Lynch’s tales of his life in Philadelphia paint this dystopian existence, in one monologue he recounts the story of a couple of particularly eccentric neighbours. “One woman, who was my neighbour, reeked of urine and she was a complete racist. There was another woman, who was totally crazy. She was a neighbour. Lived down the street with her parents. And she would go around the backyard on her hands and knees and squawk like a chicken and say, “I’m a chicken! I’m a chicken!” And squawk and squawk and go around and around in this tall white grassi n her backyard. She came up to me one day on the street and she said, “Oh, my nipples hurt!” And she was squeezing her breast and standing in front of me squeezing and shaking. “My nipples hurt!”” It sounds like a bizarre time, and we can see how these encounters bled into Lynch’s later work.

The documentary leads us to the beginning of Lynch’s career, and we reach the birth of his debut feature film Eraserhead, but that’s where we stop (the rest is history). And perhaps what is more interesting than Lynch’s films, is his relationships with his parents, especially his father. We hear how Lynch’s dad visited him Philadelphia only to discover a very strange series of experiments on the various rates of decay of small animals in David’s basement. Lynch remembers looking back at his father only to be greeted by a sad expression and the words “David, I don’t think you should have children.” It seems that even to his father, Lynch is too much of an outsider.

Personally I am not a huge fan of Lynch’s work, I enjoyed Blue Velvet and The Elephant Man (1980) but I didn’t enjoy Mulholland Dr, however regardless whether you are a fan of his work or not, there’s something memorizing about watching Lynch paint and listening to his extraordinary tales. Apparently the film was funded by a Kickstarter campaign, and took several years for completion, but it is well worth wait because it offers a fascinating insight into an exclusive and reclusive character. Even if you aren’t a fan of his work, you will still be left entertained and engaged by this documentary. Hopefully, we will get a follow up as I feel there’s far more that needs to be explored.

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