Mysterious sensations and surreal encounters: “David Lynch: The Art Life”

By on April 17, 2017

David Lynch: The Art Life — a brand new and uniquely personal documentary about the life and work of director David Lynch, distributed by Janus Films — continues its run of screenings this week at the Cinefamily in Los Angeles, where it screened this past weekend (April 15th and 16th).

Our friends at The Cinefamily will screen the film again this week, on April 17th and 18th (10:30pm), April 20th (5pm), and on April 23rd (9:15pm).

Check the Cinefamily’s calendar for more details.


Here’s more from the Cinefamily’s page:

Sketching and smoking in his home studio, David Lynch –- a lifelong artist whose fixation on the concept of moving, audible paintings begat arguable cinematic masterstrokes like Eraserhead and Mulholland Drive –- credits not his “normal” childhood, but the mysterious sensations and surreal encounters within it, as coloring a lifetime of the work we know well: one that explores, challenges, subverts (and yet, celebrates), the inherent darkness within American normalcy. As textural and synesthetic as a Lynch film itself, David Lynch: The Art Life is the rare artist’s biography that lets the subject – and his eerie and thrilling visual art – speak for itself.


David Lynch: The Art Life (88 minutes, 2017) was directed by Jon Nguyen, Rick Barnes and Olivia Neergaard-Holm, who had previously collaborated on 2007’s Lynch.

Here they tell Lynch’s own story using three years’ worth of interviews they did with the director at his compound and painting studio in the Hollywood Hills, in addition to showing us lots of footage provided by Lynch and members of the Lynch family.


The feature-length interview with Lynch (and no other on-screen contributors) offers us a unique look at Lynch through his own eyes, with the director sharing his thoughts, telling his stories and showing us a side of himself we rarely get the opportunity to see.

The offbeat film documents early aspects of Lynch’s life, including his idylic childhood in the Pacific Northwest U.S., and his first marriage to wife Peggy (with whom he had a daughter, Jennifer, who we told you about in this post).


We get extended looks at his early creative work, including the short films he made at both the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (Lynch called Philadelphia a city that would “suck your happiness away and fill you with sadness and fear”), and the American Film Institute (AFI) in Los Angeles.

The film closes with the story behind the creation of his first feature, 1977’s Eraserhead, which took five years to complete.


Lynch: “I think every time you do something, like a painting or whatever, you go with ideas, and sometimes the past can conjure those ideas and color them. Even if they’re new ideas, the past colors them.”


Here’s more from Variety‘s Guy Lodge, who reviewed the film last year, shortly after the partially crowdfunded documentary formerly (known at one time as LynchThree) premiered at the 73rd Venice International Film Festival on September 4, 2016.

“Lynch was very much a child of the picket-fence America given such warped reflection in much of his most well-regarded work. Hopping from Missoula to Boise to Spokane to Alexandria as his itinerant father switched jobs, the young Lynch nonetheless occupied a world he describes as ‘no bigger than a couple of blocks’ in each place, developing a fascination with the social and environmental minutiae of suburbia. Yet if armchair psychologists assume that the darker currents of Lynch’s American dreams betray a troubled upbringing, they’d be wrong.”

“He speaks with unqualified fondness of his parents and the ways in which they nurtured his creativity, while acknowledging how he tested them with his own adolescent errors of judgment. It was befriending West Virginia artist Bushnell Keeler while in his teens, however, that Lynch credits with putting him on the right path, however off the beaten track; further recollections dwell on his time at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, where he formed a close bond (and hatched a longstanding professional collaboration) with future production designer Jack Fisk.”


“Inspired by Keeler, painting was Lynch’s early conduit into filmmaking; it’s a medium to which he evidently returned with gusto. When not comprehensively raiding the Lynch family photo archive, The Art Life follows its subject in the present day as he potters around his vast studio high in the Hollywood Hills, tinkering away at a range of canvases and sculptures, with only his adorable infant daughter Lula Bogina (to whom the film is dedicated at the outset) for company. (Though Lynch talks here about his first marriage, his subsequent personal life isn’t directly addressed.)”

“Lynch’s artwork — much of it unsurprisingly oblique and dark-hued — regularly fills the frame, but isn’t addressed or annotated in his running commentary. It’s left to the viewer to forge the link, if any, between their imagery and the personal challenges and catharses he recalls, but it’s often a witty game of implication. The words ‘HELP ME’ are scrawled on one particularly blackened canvas; whether it’s an actual cri de coeur or a facetious send-up of his more sinister creative inclinations, he’s not telling.”


“Nguyen and his team were previously responsible for 2007’s similarly fond, close-quarters doc Lynch, which followed the director through the completion of what remains his last feature film, Inland Empire, a decade ago. They know their subject intimately by this point, and not just in an interpersonal sense: The Art Life‘s own construction is colored by an understanding of Lynch’s aesthetic, from the serenely brooding, grainy textures of Jason S.’s camerawork to the thrumming, Badalamenti-channeling menace of Jonatan Bengta’s score, which moves from swarming synths to sparse, dripping-tap keyboard plinks.


Regarding Eraserhead, here’s what the CInefamily’s description says:

David Lynch’s infamous debut mind-scraper is the full embodiment of pure cinema, and, four decades later, has lost none of its primal power to shock and amaze. A key player in the original midnight movie revolution of the 70s, and one of those rare films that truly deserves its cult status, Eraserhead is horrifyingly original: a nightmarish landscape where stunning B&W cinematography, groundbreaking industrial sound design and a singular hallucinatory vision — brimming with images of bodily assault and decay, sexual revulsion and unidentifiable mechanical constructions — all melt into a glorious subconscious abyss.


On April 23rd, there will also be a presentation of The Early Short Films of David Lynch (7:30pm), and these early films will screen again on April 25th (10:30pm). Read our post about them here.

On Friday, April 21st, David Lynch’s Eraserhead will screen by itself at 10:30pm.

The Cinefamily is a non-profit cinematheque featuring special programming that includes independent film screenings and other special events, held at the Silent Movie Theatre, the historic 184-seat theater located at 611 N Fairfax Ave, in Los Angeles, CA.

The documentary David Lynch: The Art of Life also offers up a somewhat timely reminder of Lynch’s mercurial artistic filmic output for those of us who are also anxiously waiting for the revival of his Twin Peaks television series, which will return to the Showtime cable network on May 21, 2017.


About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.