David Lynch: The Art Life 16.07.17
I had a choice, to go and watch the latest Planet of the Apes blockbuster, or a documentary about a director whose art deeply disturbs me. Well, there's always next week for the apes, or next year for the sequel.
I don't think there will be a sequel for David Lynch: The Art Life, simply because his storytelling is unique. This is the man who produced the most convincing and accessible plunges into cinematic surrealism I have ever been fucked up by, including one of the greatest noir movies of all time – Mullholland Drive – and one of the most enduring TV shows – Twin Peaks. The documentary says nothing of these mainstream works or any other except Eraserhead, his first. What we get instead is his upbringing, his life story tied to art.
What aroused my curiosity was the single moment that changed everything: the scholarship Lynch won to film school in LA. At the time he was struggling to pay the bills with a printing job, having just become a father and husband. He had just missed out on previous funding, and lacked the time to be creative. What if the scholarship hadn't come? It was from this secured position, for several years, that Lynch worked on Eraserhead, which would propel him towards fame and fortune.
These moments, of course, can be overestimated. Lynch had already produced a troubling semi-animation called The Grandmother, and it was this that left a scholarship board wondering: 'genius or madness?' Prior to this, we see him as a driven artist, handsome, enigmatic, stuck in a troubling neighbourhood of Philadelphia, making ends meet. I'm glad he said he hated school. His childhood was idyllic but marred by two harrowing visual experiences, one of which he couldn't bring himself to describe in full.What makes an artist? He believed in the twisted nature of his depictions, and the scholarship came at a pivotal moment. I don't think, though, that you produce a body of work like Lynch unless something is driving you. In a documentary where he doesn't cite a single director or movie as inspiration, or even any genre or medium, Lynch is conveying ideas, and would have continued doing so whether the big break came or not.