Reviewer: Chris Haydon
Director: Jon Nguyen
Starring: David Lynch
Release Date: Currently Pending (UK)
For a factual study of an auteur famed for remarkable controversy and flamboyancy, it is most surprising just how nuanced David Lynch: The Art Life feels. Debutant director Jon Nguyen is granted unprecedented access to the genius behind such works as Inland Empire, Eraserhead and Blue Velvet, and yet the results are hauntingly still.
This reflective documentary underpins Lynch’s love for traditional painting and is stationed in his secluded studio atop the Hollywood hills. Sequences are drawn with a equal patience as that of a brushstroke; lens lingering on heavy lungfuls of nicotine as Lynch drags his cigarette and gulps his espresso. His characteristic wave of silver-grey hair flops as he vacantly stares at his canvas, or fiddles with latex.
Whilst Lynch the director is unquestionably dexterous, Lynch the painter isn’t quite as skilled. Most of his works are onscreen for prolonged periods and rarely are they better than average, but the luxuriously hypnotic voiceover – captured with earthy rusticity thanks to a vintage microphone – is what gives them texture.
Despite Nguyen’s film being anything but flashy, in fact portions of it are so deliberately static that clocks will be watched, the audio reflects a career of much complexity, and a life of much transformation. Speaking most intimately, Lynch recalls his small-town America childhood, his beguiling array of anxieties and doubts, and the pivotal figures who helped render him into the visual artist he is today.
Combining grainy stock footage and weathered home movies, paired with his peculiarly moody artworks and observations, David Lynch: The Art Life endeavours to broaden its own canvas throughout the 93 minute duration, and to an extent it achieves. There is only so many times audiences can hang in the haze of Lynch’s tobacco smoke and arabica before they start craving more. There is little doubt that portions of Nguyen’s film are well, boring, and a lack of any particularly juicy original footage from his famed filmography is frustrating, but the meditative, almost tranquil nature of this visual essay is admirable.
Die-hard fans of Lynch really cannot afford to miss Nguyen’s film – which is competing in the 60th BFI London Film Festival’s Documentary Competition – as it sheds an ambient light on a master of celluloid. Those less familiar or infatuated will likely find their patience tested. David Lynch: The Art Life is guilty of repetition, but has a soulfulness equal to the man himself.