It’s just a weird as you’d expect.
Janus Films announced on Wednesday that David Lynch: The Art Life, their documentary on the bizarre auteur, will get a March 31st theatrical release. The trailer for the film, in true Lynch fashion, is trippy and disturbing as hell ‐ but the promise of the project transcends mere oddity. The question posed by Lynch’s work has always been defined by the character of the man himself: how does such an apparently foursquare, unassuming Midwesterner produce such confounding, surrealist, grotesquely satisfying work?
The Art Life seeks to provide an answer to this question ‐ or, at least, as much of an answer as we can hope for (this is David Lynch we’re talking about here). The film features a new long-form interview with the Blue Velvet director, along with a home video of his upbringing in Missoula, Montana and intimate footage of his creative process as a painter, musician, and filmmaker. Lynch himself has attempted to open up his creative process in recent years, penning a slim volume on creativity and transcendental meditation entitled Catching the Big Fish, as well as producing a documentary called “Meditation, Creativity, Peace.” Both are fascinating and enjoyable (despite a few too many reverential references to Maharishi Mahesh Yogi), but because they’re both by Lynch himself, neither provides the sort comprehensive bridge to understanding his worldview that one would hope for. The Art Life, directed by Jon Nguyen, Rick Barnes, and Olivia Neergard-Holm, might do better on this front.
The definitive account of Lynch’s work to date, if not exactly the most comprehensive one, is David Foster Wallace’s famous essay, “David Lynch Keeps His Head.” Written for Premiere after the novelist visited the set of Lynch’s Lost Highway, the essay sets out to define “What ‘Lynchian’ Means and Why It’s Important.” For Wallace, a person or scene can be called “Lynchian” if it combines “the very macabre and the very mundane […] in such a way as to reveal the former’s perpetual containment within the latter.” Think of the character of Log Lady on Twin Peaks; or Betty’s combination of naiveté and madness in Mulholland Drive; or indeed the figure of Lynch himself, whose good manners and gentle demeanor contrast starkly with the brutality of his work.
But, as Wallace announces at the outset, he never spoke to Lynch, and as such his essay contains a great deal more critical acumen than creative or personal insight. Wallace’s prodigious powers of observation help him to define in clear and articulate terms what Lynch’s work is like, but the source of that work remains opaque. The Art Life, with its combination of third-person distance and first-person interviews, might provide more clarity. Or it might be another hall of mirrors, a provocation ‐ like Lynch’s best work ‐ to turn the critical eye inward at our own unfathomable strangeness.
Related Topics: Documentary