Review: ‘David Lynch: The Art Life’ explores the creation of ‘Eraserhead’

This Buffalo News review of the documentary “David Lynch: The Art Life” ran just a few days before the return of “Twin Peaks.”

For the first time in roughly a decade, David Lynch fans have reason to be breathless with anticipation. On May 21, Showtime debuts the 25-years-in-the-making return of Lynch’s television masterpiece, “Twin Peaks.” All 18 new episodes are directed by the man himself.

Therefore, the release of “David Lynch: The Art Life,” a feature-length documentary exploring the filmmaker’s work, is a case of very good timing. Director Jon Nguyen’s 90-minute interview with Lynch (and only Lynch) is a rather extraordinary opportunity to hear one of culture’s most unique artists discuss his life, his work, and where it came from.

The documentary is the highlight of the North Park Theatre’s “Lynchfest,” a week celebrating one of cinema’s most unique, unyielding artists.

One of the reasons the film is so successful is its narrow focus: “The Art Life” looks only at Lynch’s childhood, his wild-at-heart teenage years, his time in college as a young artist, and, finally, the creation of “Eraserhead.”

That means no “Elephant Man,” no “Blue Velvet,” no “Twin Peaks,” no “Mulholland Drive,” no Transcendental Meditation. (And no “Dune”!) Still, the DNA of Lynch’s later works can be traced directly to the events and individuals he references in “The Art Life.”

This should come as no surprise. For Lynch, there is no divide between life and art. This makes his work distinctly personal — and utterly inimitable.

“I was always drawing,” Lynch says while pondering his childhood. His mother refused to allow him to have coloring books. “Those would be restrictive, and kill some kind of creativity,” she believed. He calls this decision “a beautiful thing.”

Drawing (and, later, painting) allowed his imagination to flourish. But so, too, did strange occurrences like the sudden appearance in his neighborhood of a completely nude woman, her mouth bloodied. (Shades of Dorothy Vallens from “Blue Velvet.”)

The latter memory is particularly shocking, especially since Lynch’s childhood “was no larger than two blocks.” There were “huge worlds in those two blocks,” he says. (This seems an allusion to the small-town horrors that lurk in “Velvet” and “Twin Peaks.”)

Discovering that a friend’s father made a living as an artist led Lynch to learn of “the art life,” which he defines as “You drink coffee, you smoke cigarettes, and that’s it. Maybe girls come into a little bit. But basically it’s the incredible happiness of working and living that life.”

This was an appealing concept, and it led Lynch and his friend and future production designer, Jack Fisk, to Boston, Europe (“We were going to go for three years, but we came back in 15 days”), and, eventually Philadelphia. It was this “weird town” and its “art spirit” that put Lynch on the path to “Eraserhead.”

It has always been a joy to hear the voice of Lynch, whether as part of interviews or in his shout-y role as “Twin Peaks”’ Gordon Cole. The Lynch onscreen in “The Art Life” is older (he’s now 71), a bit weathered, and perhaps a tad slower. But his voice, his hair and his mind are as glorious as ever. It’s a joy to watch Lynch at work in his stunning home studio, especially when his infant daughter wanders into the room.

“The Art Life” is a must-see for Lynch obsessives, but it’s also worth watching for anyone with an interest in the creation process. It’s hard to watch the film and not feel inspired to create … and to immerse yourself in the filmography of cinema’s darkest poet.

Wednesday Round-Up: Is Woody Allen America’s Most Secretive Filmmaker? Plus, a Month of Truffaut on TCM

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I love the secrecy that surrounds every Woody Allen project, the way a film would be mentioned as “Woody Allen Fall Project 2002” or “Woody Allen Summer Project 2008.” That is still the case; sometimes little is known about his latest film until just weeks before it opens.

Take “Blue Jasmine,” which opens later this month. I’m not sure if anyone was certain that it was a drama until the first trailer dropped. After all, this is a cast that includes Louis C.K. and Andrew Dice Clay (!). Surely, we could expect laughs, correct? Perhaps not, as the trailer seems quite dark — darkly comical, perhaps, but dark all the same. I think? This IFC.com post summed it up nicely:

“The tone of this trailer is all over the place, making it difficult to tell if ‘Blue Jasmine’ is meant to be funny or sad. The story, the music, the fact that we see two comedians who don’t actually do anything funny — everything could be taken both ways.”

We’ll find out in just a few weeks. Until then, let’s start our round-up with some nicely vague details on Woody’s NEXT film, set to star Colin Firth and Emma Stone. (It looks like this level of secrecy is nothing new; check out this article from 1982.)

Photo: Left to right: Director Woody Allen, Cate Blanchett, and Alden Ehrenreich
Photo by Jessica Miglio © 2013 Gravier Productions, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

Wednesday Round-Up: I Wonder What Andy Warhol and Jack Nicholson Were Talking About …

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A diverse mix of links highlight this week’s round-up, including the U.K. debut of Shane Meadows’ new Stone Roses doc, the screening of a Woody Allen classic in Buffalo, and, of course, more on the box office failure of “After Earth.”

  • I hope you’ll be reading more from me soon on “Made of Stone,” Shane Meadows’ fly-on-the-wall documentary about the reunion of the mighty Stone Roses. It likely won’t get much play in the United States — and the meh reaction to the band’s Coachella headlining performances won’t help — but hopefully American anglophiles and Britpop freaks like myself will have a chance to see it soon. The film’s website has some cool details on the production and some great interviews, like this one, with Meadows. He seems to have a real understanding of how utterly important this group is to fans, and I’m sure that comes across in the movie; as the director of the great “This is England” puts it, “If you attach yourself to certain people at a certain point in your life, they never become human again, they’re always gods. The Stone Roses are like that for me.”
  • The web has been aflutter with David Lynch news this week, including word of a new album (featuring the lovely Lykke Li) and a strange piece of video that seems to indicate a new film is in the works. Lynch holds a special place for me, which I’m sure will come up on this site. Two of my favorite DL memories involve his 21st century classic, “Mulholland Drive.” The first is seeing it with my girlfriend (later wife) and friend while he smuggled in a messy Arby’s meal, and the second is staying up until the wee hours of the night with friends in college, breaking down “Mulholland” for our Paranoia and Film class. These five theories on WTF is happening in the film have been around for ages, but it’s always fun to revisit.
  • Coming this Friday and Saturday at the Screening Room in Amherst: “Sorry, Wrong Number” at 7:30 followed by “What’s Up, Tiger Lily?” at 9:15. I imagine Woody Allen’s “Tiger Lily” would be a fun group watch.
  • I really enjoyed this piece on the horrendous “A Good Day to Die Hard” that Scott Mestow wrote for The Week. I’ve always been a big fan of the series; “Die Hard 2” was one of the first R-rated films I ever saw. And I even thought “Live Free or Die Hard” was moderately acceptable. But “A Good Day” … It was a stunner on every level, and not in a good way. The film is on DVD and Blu-ray now. See it, and you’ll agree with me.
  • New York Magazine has a cool slideshow featuring images from the Andy Warhol: American Icon exhibit in Maine; my favorite is the Jack Nicholson pic above.
  • I’m not sure anyone is truly shocked that “After Earth” flopped, but the complete failure on every level, from box office to reviews, is noteworthy. So for Sony, what now?
  • I’m on the Indiewire network of sites several times a day, and Shadow and Act is one of my favorites. Here, the site’s Tambay A. Obenson points out how a recent New York Times story on what he refers to as “The New York Times’ annual ‘state of black cinema’ (broadly speaking) nod,” is pretty much “the same damn thing” he wrote on the blog recently. As a longtime reader of the site, I can tell you that Shadow and Act offers a far superior analysis of these issues day-in and day-out than the Times does in one story.
  • Finally … What the hell happened to Mary Harron?