David Lynch: The Art Life is a deeply revealing and personal documentary about David Lynch and his life up to Eraserhead. The documentary is part biography and part an examination of his concept of “the art life.” It’s all told through extensive interviews with Lynch at his home just off Mulholland Drive.
Lynch grew up in all around the US, with a good chunk of time spent in the Pacific Northwest (mainly Spokane, Washington and Boise, Idaho.) He had a perfect, idyllic childhood and even was an Eagle Scout, but he had a disdain for school. Lynch is on record as saying, “I found the world completely and totally fantastic as a child. Of course, I had the usual fears, like going to school … For me, back then, school was a crime against young people. It destroyed the seeds of liberty. The teachers didn’t encourage knowledge or a positive attitude.”
The film covers this childhood, but it’s mostly concerned with the period after Lynch left home, during which he spent time in Boston and eventually in his much-loved Philadelphia. He knew from a young age that he wanted to a painter, so he enrolled in a fine art school in Boston and eventually moved on to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts after his long-time friend Jack Fisk (his production designer and Sissy Spacek’s husband) suggested it. Lynch eventually moved into filmmaking because he had the desire to see his paintings “move,” which is not a bad way to describe his early experimental short films.
The film had three directors, although Jon Nquyen did all the press (I Interviewed him here), who worked together to shoot it over the last few years. The trio also did the feature-length Lynch One, which was a making-of featurette for Lynch’s last feature, Inland Empire, so they had a relationship with him already. This made it possible to get more personal than most people have in previous documentaries and interviews. Lynch is a very private man, but he speaks very candidly about his films and his art without explaining his intent. You also never see the inside of his house, just his art studio within his L.A. compound, so I can only imagine what it looks like.
Lynch’s sense of humour, which is often overlooked (especially when it comes to his films), is on full display here. One of the film’s many humorous highlights is Lynch describing the first couple of times he smoked marijuana. The funniest one is hi story of the time he stormed out of a Bob Dylan concert in the ’60s. His then-flatmate Peter Wolf (later of the J. Giles Band) said “Nobody walks out on Dylan!” and Lynch replied “I walk out on Dylan, get the fuck out of here!” Peter moved out soon after.
The entire film is a wonderful reminder that you can pursue a life in the arts if you want and live on your own terms. Lynch is always a fun person to listen to, but don’t expect him to explain anything—to be honest, that is probably for the best, your interpretation is better than anything he would answer with anyway. The film ends with Lynch finishing Eraserhead, at which point the rest is history, I kind of wish they could do a sequel. but I guess there are plenty of docs on his films. Still, while perhaps it’s kind of unnecessary, it would be fun to hear him talk through them unfiltered, like the De Palma doc from last year.
The disc’s sole feature is the theatrical trailer, sadly.