David Lynch: The Art Life Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review
David Lynch could be one or many things, depending on the viewpoint. He is a filmmaker. A painter. A musician. A spokesman for Transcendental Meditation. A designer. A style icon. A (former) Bob’s Big Boy patron. Above all, it should be agreed, David Lynch is an artist.
In DAVID LYNCH: THE ART LIFE, the filmmakers limit the focus to the period just prior to Lynch helming ERASERHEAD, his 1977 underground classic released a decade after his first short film, SIX MEN GETTING SICK (SIX TIMES). It begins, as we see him delicately brushing paint along a canvas with his hand, with Lynch touching on his earliest days. He remembers how his mother didn’t allow him to have coloring books, because the lines would restrict him. With that thought, it is apparent that Lynch could never bother with lines, could never fathom artistic restrictions.
Throughout the documentary, Lynch recalls stories from his youth, teenage and college years. Each lends directly or indirectly to who he was and who he would become. He notes that when he moved from Boise to Virginia, he developed spasms and habits related to smoking, drinking and sneaking out. It sounds like an uncontrollable spiral, and the story is accompanied by a collection of his more disturbing drawings. The scene then cuts to Lynch, now, at a certain peace as he works on a large-scale piece in his studio. Could someone (here, Lynch, but really anyone) approach that level of art without a past trouble?
Not long into the the film, Lynch shares what he considers “the art life”: “You drink coffee, you smoke cigarettes and you paint. And that’s it.” He goes on to underline the happiness of such an existence, in which he practices and practices. At one point, he betrays his father’s curfew not as an act of adolescent defiance (he is clear in noting his love for his parents), but so he can paint. The idea of a curfew, to someone like Lynch, is just like the lines in a coloring book–only without them can he commit to “the art life”, the only life.
This “art life” began and it continues. The viewer hears stories like the aforementioned one and then is permitted to watch as Lynch, today, uses his tools to create. He, as he did in his youth, makes mistakes. But then he, as he did in his youth, continues. As with coffee, cigarettes and paint, such an “art life” cannot exist without persistence. (There are several instances, too, of the coexistence of happiness and unhappiness lending to creation.)
DAVID LYNCH: THE ART LIFE could be seen, at the very least, as a portrait of an artist during a certain period of his life. But at its best, it is an inspirational work to those in search of a certain existence. A version of this existence is on intimate display in this documentary; and its subject encourages the nourishment of one’s own at nearly every chance.
Video: 1.78:1 in 1080p with MPEG-4 AVC codec. “The film was shot with a Canon E0S 5D digital camera and an iPhone 5, and the entire production was completed in a fully digital workflow. The final color-corrected DPX files were output to Rec. 709 high-definition color space for Blu-ray and DVD release.”
Considering the various sources, it’s expected that some portions of the documentary will look better/worse than others. For example, the older elements that show Lynch as a child still show up just fine despite wear due to age and source, while the recently shot sequences of Lynch in his studio have a clear image.
Audio: English 5.1 Surround. “This film features a fully digital soundtrack. The 5.1 surround audio for this release was mastered from the original digital audio master files using Pro Tools HD.”
The dialogue (more or less solely from Lynch, in new recordings) comes through nicely and the score has an effective presence.
Director Interview (16:24): Co-director Jon Nguyen discusses DAVID LYNCH: THE ART LIFE and its subject.
Also included with this Criterion Collection release is an essay by critic Dennis Lim.