Sparked by the spectacular return of Twin Peaks, interest and enthusiasm for the man Mel Brooks described as “Jimmy Stewart from Mars” has reached new heights in recent weeks. Following on from several one-off Lynch-based events in Manchester, Jon Nguyen’s new documentary, David Lynch: The Art Life reaches cinema screens on the crest of this renewed wave of affection for the director behind Mulholland Drive and Blue Velvet.
The film is part of a recent trend of recent feature-length documentaries valorising great filmmakers. Recently, Jake Paltrow and Noah Baumbach’s De Palma sat down with the legendary Brian De Palma for an in-depth dissection of his work and critic Kent Jones plundered the archives and invited his friends to bring the conversations of Alfred Hitchcock and Francois Truffaut to the big screen. Robert Altman, Woody Allen and even Nicolas Winding Refn have also been given similar treatment in the past few years.
David Lynch, though, is notoriously reticent when it comes to opening up about his films. Predictably, this proves something of a problem when it comes to constructing a feature-length interview with a filmmaker. Nguyen dances around the problem, focusing on Lynch’s early years and his approach to what the director calls “the art life”. Fans will enjoy watching Lynch potter around his studio as he paints and crafts his mixed-media canvases – images of which are used here as a sort of visual padding. Unfortunately, die-hards will have already heard versions of most of the stories he repeats for the camera.
The Art Life suffers due to the basic fact that the charm, mystery and sheer strangeness of David Lynch are ultimately far better articulated in his films – which are more revealing and personal than any interview could hope to be. Not that the doc isn’t studded with some belting anecdotes. There will always be something to recommend about a film which sees the normally soft-spoken Lynch recount (with a bellow) the time he was challenged walking out of a concert:
“Nobody walks out on Bob Dylan!”
“I walk out on Bob Dylan! Now get the fuck outta here!”