David Lynch no longer remains a mystery. Well, that’s not entirely accurate, but John Nguyen’s documentary “David Lynch: The Art Life,” which screened at South by Southwest, does shed some light on what led the man behind “Twin Peaks,” “Eraserhead,” “The Elephant Man” and more to begin his filmmaking career.
Nguyen takes us through Lynch’s early adolescence and formative years and his dedicated journey to becoming a painter by adhering to a philosophy of “the art life.” It’s a Beat-aesthetic philosophy that consists of painting, drinking, coffee, cigarettes and occasionally opening some time up for women, Lynch says .
“The Art Life” essentially is a feature-length interview married with a slickly produced art show — dark and comic vignettes that resonated with Lynch contributing to his creative psyche. We also get to bear witness to some making-of footage as we get to watch Lynch smear, tug and screw various materials into his mixed-media canvases high in his Hollywood Hills studio, where most of the film takes place.
Fanchildren of Lynch will be enraptured; the casual observer of Lynch’s work might find the documentary tedious and self-indulgent. However, Lynch is one of America’s last true auteurs, so Nguyen’s rendering is par for the course in its well-composed oddity. In this age of celebrity, it is refreshing that “The Art Life” sheds more light on the man’s methods and philosophy behind his artistic processes than the man himself — though the ubiquitous presence of Lynch’s very young daughter throughout the documentary as they paint, sit and listen to music together leaves more questions than answers about the enigmatic man. Intimate, yet somewhat contrived, beautiful and frustrating, “The Art Life” is still psychedelic through all its slickness.