David Lynch: The Art Life is a peculiar sort of documentary which explores director David Lynch as an artist with a decidedly Lynchian sensibility of its own. The film is abstract and subversive in its own right, much in the way that many of Lynch’s films are, and it allows the director himself to be both the literal and figurative voice through which his story is told. On top of the biographical nature of the film is a fascinating look at both Lynch’s artistic process and his pronounced style as a visual artist that sheds light onto the unique worldview which has shaped his work in film.
The documentary is directed by the trio of Jon Nguyen, Rick Barnes, and Olivia Neergaard-Holm. The three did a spectacular job of emulating Lynch’s own dark and expressive manner, particularly in the way that his art is used to complement his voice over and inform his perspective. Certainly the process of directing a documentary like this one took place largely in the editing room. Still, the way that they capture Lynch’s artistic process is utterly fascinating. The viewer watches several works of art evolve and come together as the film progresses, and Lynch’s vision becomes more and more apparent.
Lynch narrates that entirety of The Art Life via what seemed to be mostly interview footage specifically done for the film. However, his story is not presented as a question and answer segment, but as an autobiographical soliloquy which, in typical Lynchian fashion, is frequently both dark and humorous. He describes the process by which he became enamored with what he calls “The Art Life” and how his familial relationships evolved as he became more engrossed in his art. He also walks the viewer through the evolution of his career and his time in art school as well as the figures that lead him to filmmaking specifically.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about The Art Life is the fact that it hardly delves into Lynch as a filmmaker. It instead explores him as a man and an artist. It portrays him as a painter and a builder as he creates abstract visual art, but only barely touches on the making of Eraserhead, and doesn’t delve into any of his other films by name (though a Mulholland Dr. street sign is quite intentionally featured).
The Art Life is a humorous and revealing trip into the mind of what is assuredly one of the greatest modern artists and an immortal filmmaker. Viewing this film in what may be (but hopefully is not) the twilight of Lynch’s film career makes it even richer. It manages to be reflective of Lynch’s work and style, while not broaching nostalgia. It is also a welcome opportunity to understand Lynch’s evolution as viewers see it take place before their eyes with his ongoing reboot of his Twin Peaks TV show. More importantly it provides new insight into who David Lynch is as a human being. To hear such a controversial artist describe his relationship with his parents and sibling as well as the evolution of his first marriage, and to watch him interact with his child is completely humanizing. The Art Life is certainly worthy viewing for all Lynch fans, but it is also incredibly informative for any who seek to understand this complex and masterful craftsman.