Watching the documentary “David Lynch: The Art Life” is reminiscent of watching a David Lynch film. It is a bit off-putting and you leave the theatre feeling exhausted, not fully knowing what you just watched, but happy for having watched it. The Art of life is a simple documentary showing us the upbringing of Lynch through old images and home movies as Lynch talks us through his life as done mostly through voice-over.

Directors Jon Nguyen and Rick Barnes doing an excellent job of showing us a side of Lynch we have seen before but we were never really aware that we were seeing it and that is his life as an artist. Not an artist in the aspect we know such as filmmaker but painting, crafting and molding art.

Throughout the film we see Lynch working in his home studio as he tells us how he first began his craft as an artist even before he knew that is what he wanted to be. His mother taking away his coloring books because she could see that he was an outside the lines kind of person. Another story about a naked woman wandering the streets of his neighborhood reflecting the image of Isabella Rosaline that we get in Blue Velvet. Growing up he lived all over middle America something he portrays in a fetishized way in his films of small towns.

As the film plays along we sit through long silent pauses, moments of music interlaced with the bizarre yet brilliant images of David Lynch’s artwork that makes so much about his movies more clear. As a filmmaker, he is simply pulling from these still creations into a story to share with the rest of us.

The movie is nearly two thirds complete before we even hear a mention of his filmmaking and it is simply to show us the transition from artist to a filmmaker, something he simply refers to as a moving painting. This isn’t a documentary of his films. You won’t hear the words Twin Peaks or Blue Velvet out of his mouth. The only reference is to Mulholland Drive by a sign on the wall for one shot. We learn about the inspiration behind his film school films, about the short film that gave him the opportunity to make Eraserhead.

The editing by Olivia Neergaard-Holm is an excellent example of how to take something such as a dialog driven documentary and portrays it in a fascinating series of cuts and graphics.

For the cinephile out there who loves the unusual and independent filmmaking scene, this movie will not disappoint. For the rest of the world who loves nonstop action, I would recommend it be avoided. I don’t know if we learn more about Lynch or not. Leaving the theatre after watching this film I feel I know more about him while also feeling that there is so much more to want to know. The film left me a bit unsettled and a bit inspired just like one of his films.

David Lynch: The Art Life is available on VOD and DVD

  • Directors: Rick Barnes, Olivia Neergaard-Holm, and Jon Nguyen
  • Starring: David Lynch
  • Rated: Not Rated
  • Running Time: 1 hour and 28 minutes
  • Released Date: US March, 31st 2017 | UK July 14th, 2017

Review by Milo Denison, the author of How to Manage Your Manager and host of podcast The 80s and 90s Uncensored.