Told entirely via Lynch's own narration, The Art Life contrasts meditative shots of Lynch working on abstract art projects with grainy Super 8 videos and creepy drawings. Following a loose chronology, Lynch retells key moments in his life, from his childhood in the kind of eerie, uncanny suburbia he likes to depict to his early fascination with what he calls "the art life." Touching on his films only briefly, The Art Life won't satisfy viewers who are looking to hear more about Twin Peaks or Mulholland Drive, but it's an invaluable resource for those who want more insight into the personal experiences that shaped Lynch's work.
Much time is spent on Lynch's childhood and upbringing. He describes suburbia as "worlds within blocks," and many of the stories he tells about the neighbourhood he was raised in sound like scenes from one of his films. Lynch's recollection of seeing a nude woman run out of the woods and sit, crying, on a street corner recalls elements of Blue Velvet, for example.
He often ruminates on his relationship with his parents, especially their distaste for his chosen career. If there's any wider narrative to The Art Life, it's that it may take a bit of experimenting to find your niche — but when you do, run with it. Lynch's dabbling in "the art life" and the people he met who encouraged (or discouraged) it eventually led to his emergence as a filmmaker.
Lynch's dreams, visions and anxieties, as well as their particularly tactile nature, are all discussed here, providing an engrossing peek into what predominantly influences his work. As he speaks about his dreams and memories, his frank and sometimes harrowing words are contrasted with scenes of Lynch at home, smoking peacefully, drinking a Coke or playing with his young daughter. These scenes are grounding, and provide the humanizing touch that The Art Life needs to work.
While having the documentary be entirely narrated by Lynch gives the film a personal feel, his propensity for minute details can sometimes drag the film down. Although his is a compelling voice ("Like punching a pin into a bug" is one of his many unique turns of phrase), there are times when it isn't quite clear what the point of a particular story is; tales of his early projects and collaborators may be fascinating for huge Lynch buffs, but casual viewers might not catch the significance.
At times the doc feels alienating, and indeed it is, as much of Lynch's work is too. The details in The Art Life are rich, even if they sometimes make it a bit tough to wade through.
(Pacific Northwest Pictures)