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Saturday, September 30, 2017 | Blu-ray/DVD, Review

Starring David Lynch (as self)
Directed by Jon Nguyen, Rick Barnes, and Olivia Neergaard-Holm
Produced by Jon Nguyen, Jason S., and Sabrina S. Sutherland
The Criterion Collection

David Lynch fans know that any story the writer/director tells is going to be unique. Whether it is as accessible as THE STRAIGHT STORY or as cryptic as INLAND EMPIRE, viewers are in for a journey. Fortunately for horror fans, much of Lynch’s work is heavily enveloped in dark atmosphere. The new documentary film DAVID LYNCH: THE ART LIFE, recently released on Blu-ray and DVD by The Criterion Collection, explores Lynch’s formative years as an artist with his trademark that uncanny atmosphere intact.

DAVID LYNCH: THE ART LIFE spans Lynch’s upbringing and concludes after the production of his first feature film, ERASERHEAD. The narrative is constructed using interviews and footage culled from over 1000 hours worth of material (shot using a Canon 5D and an iPhone), all of which centers around Lynch in his home/studio environment. The use of Lynch’s spoken accounts and the incorporation of his editorial choices regarding archival imagery (as well as the film’s title) really make the subject seem like a fourth director, joining Jon Nguyen, Rick Barnes, and Olivia Neergaard-Holm.

The story, as Lynch tells it, reveals a lot about the artist’s other-worldly development.

Lynch’s story reveals a lot about the artist’s other-worldly development. He describes his mother’s refusal to offer him coloring books on the basis that they would restrict his imagination. He talks about seeing, as a child, the surreal and nightmarish spectacle of a perhaps victimized naked woman stumbling into the street of his otherwise safe, familiar suburban world [BLUE VELVET, anyone?]. Then there’s the period when Lynch was introduced to “the art life,” which consisted solely of smoking cigarettes, drinking coffee, and painting.

After discovering in his art life a world in which he could thrive, Lynch’s isolated work habits gradually developed. His themes reflected his observations of the fear and racism in the outside worlds of the cities he inhabited, especially Philadelphia. He also began experimenting with different mediums to explore his burgeoning interests in textured and communicative forms; these included animal flesh and, of course, film. Before long, Lynch’s film work received the notice and support from American Film Institute, which led to a grant and the creation of ERASERHEAD, which he regards as one of his happiest experiences in making movies.

Criterion’s Blu-ray release is presented in the original High-definition digital master with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. The release also includes liner notes by critic Dennis Lim, a trailer, and an interview with co-director Jon Nguyen. The liner notes essentially offer a summary and commentary peppered with images from the film. The Nguyen interview provides insight into the process of capturing the footage and working with Lynch on this project; additionally, Nguyen elaborates on topics that the film only briefly covers, like the elusive story of one Mr. Smith — the mere utterance of whose name makes Lynch emotionally seize — as well as the story of the reaction that Lynch’s father had to his son’s macabre artistic experiments.

Given Lynch’s own level of involvement in this film as well, DAVID LYNCH: THE ART LIFE really feels like a Lynch movie. The atmosphere is suitably creepy for horror fans, yet the narrative appeals to a broader audience with its impressive biographical content. DAVID LYNCH: THE ART LIFE is highly recommended for fans of art, film biographies, and the independent spirit.