Acclaimed director David Lynch is known for his hallucinatory and bizarre style of cinema. But he’s not just an auteur. He’s more of an arts decathlete with unrestrained talent: musician, designer, writer and painter, the latter the medium in which he was originally trained.
The documentary David Lynch: The Art Life focuses principally on the early and formative experiences of this creative virtuoso.
Though the documentary doesn’t touch on his film career until the last quarter, it casts considerable light on the genesis of his sensibilities and provides a biographical lens through which aficionados can probe and understand his cinematic work.
For much of the film Lynch reminisces while images of his visual work interlace with his direct presence on camera, usually in his wonderfully untidy workshop. Sometimes Lynch sits pensively amid the potpourri of items strewn about his imagination playland, other times he uses his electric sander to fashion a piece, makes subtle adjustments to a complex object, or fusses with impasto blobs on a canvas. It would be a day well spent to nestle into a corner and watch him play.
Lynch relates many rich and illuminating anecdotes, including an arresting childhood experience of a nude, frenzied woman on a sidewalk that left an indelible mark on him. He also shares how his mother recognized his talent for drawing and made certain to guard his creativity by never buying him colouring books. Lynch’s reflections are honest and unadorned, simultaneously unpretentious and profound.
The visual spirit of the film is itself very much Lynchian and the ambient score heightens the mood. However, as striking as Lynch’s unruly mop of white hair and visage are, the multiple sequences of him broodily taking drags from his cigarette quickly lose their original mystique.
The film’s final scene showcases a beautiful poem that begins with the line, “Dark, deep darkness, and splendor, all around.” This verse perfectly captures the aesthetic mojo of Lynch. David Lynch: The Art Life gives us an absorbing peek into the experiences that shaped that very mojo.
TIFF Lightbox is currently screening David Lynch: The Art Life until April 20th.