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Film review: David Lynch - The Art of Life

Film & TV

“Everything about it was beautiful.” So says David Lynch of his important first film, Eraserhead, at the end of this absorbing documentary about his early life.

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Many people who have seen that movie might challenge Lynch’s comment, but after watching this film, which takes us deep into his childhood and early artistic life, probably not so much.

The now 70-year-old Lynch sits in his studio, quietly thinking, often smoking; voice-overs capture reminiscences of his early life in Mid-West middle-class Perfect-ville, many of them illustrated by family home movies. Young Lynch mowing the lawn with his dad, family holidays, posing with Mom and siblings.

We switch to the senior Lynch working in his studio, still experimenting with bread, soft dough and sticks of wood in 3D artworks – face serious, concentrating. New images that haunt ideas from his early movies.

Lynch dwells on childhood memories. One day when he was “only little”, playing in his sealed middle-class world of “only a few blocks”, suddenly a naked woman came walking down the street, mouth bloodied, dazed – a surreal moment.

“You can’t help wondering what’s behind things,” he says. “That’s where stories come from.”

So they do. Fans of Twin Peaks and Blue Velvet may recall images; behind every pristine exterior there lurks a Dennis Hopper character.

It’s not as if Lynch had any tragic family life that made him see the world as weird. “You couldn’t have got a better dad,” he says. His parents never fought; it was a “super-happy” household with lots of freedom. Maybe too much freedom.

His mom wouldn’t give him a colouring-in book because she thought it might inhibit his imagination – all those lines! By the time young Dave was 14, he hated and despised school and was pretty much off the rails.

But the great focus of this film is the vindication that visual art gave him in these early years – the inspiration he drew from having a friend who was a painter, the help that people gave him along the way. Ultimately, we see the transition from his painting and model-making through to the synthesis of skills which ended up in Eraserhead (and the experience of paternity and responsibility that was twisted into it, too).

So is Eraserhead all beautiful? I understand this documentary will be screened at the American Essentials Festival in a pairing with that cult classic. I’d recommend taking the trip.

David Lynch – The Art of Life will be screened on Sunday, May 21, and Saturday, May 27, as part of the American Essentials Film Festival, which is at Palace Nova Eastend Cinemas until May 28. This Sunday’s screening, at 2.15pm, is a double feature, which will see the film paired with Eraserhead.

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