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David Lynch – The Art Life

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A fascinating portrait of Lynch’s formative years

Image of David Lynch – The Art Life

Jon Nguyen, Rick Barnes, Olivia Neergaard-Holm/ USA Denmark/ 2016/ 90 mins

As part of Glasgow Film Festival

Shot during three years, The Art Life is an original portrait of one of the most enigmatic contemporary filmmakers. It is a hypnotic documentary that allows us to explore the psycho-social background of David Lynch’s education in plastic art, and understand his artistic approach. From an ideal early childhood to the dark streets of Philadelphia and his first movie, Eraserhead (1977), the film takes us on an intimate voyage, marked by a mesmeric mise-en-scene.

Lost in curls of cigarette smoke, the man is absorbed, staring beyond what we can see. He is groping for ideas and illumination in matters, experimenting with objects and materials on the sunny terrace of his Los Angeles studio. Those sequences of pure creation alternate with a sensitive narration as his captive voice-over searches the intimate past and impactful experiences of his life. A young girl (his daughter) sometimes pops in to play with him and sits on his knees to listen to smooth rock (Lynch’s own composition?).

It is interesting to discover that such serenity, paradoxically, allowed monsters to pop out of his imagination (connecting him to Francis Bacon), upsetting clichés about conflict and misery at the root of inspiration. To become an artist and find one’s own path, for Lynch, one needs to be surrounded by kind and encouraging people.

Alternatively, Lynch confesses a schizophrenic desire and need to separate his different lives. That is where the force of the documentary lies, as the brilliant mise-en-scene displays a deep understanding of the artist’s quest and work.  Balancing the artist’s inspirations and arts, it reveals unexplored zones of creation and a modest, terribly poignant man.

More than a simple portrait of an artist, the film is about what makes us human and go further: passion, accidents, emotions and obsessions, disillusions, and life-changing encounters.

A must-see for all those interested in the act of creation.