David Lynch: The Art Life


Smoke ’em if you got ’em.

(2016) Documentary (Janus) David Lynch. Directed by Jon Nguyen, Rick Barnes and Olivia Neergaard-Holm

 

David Lynch is one of the most celebrated, iconoclastic and cerebral directors in cinematic history. From his breakout in 1977 with Eraserhead, his filmography has an impressive list of films including Elephant Man, Dune, Mulholland Drive, Wild at Heart, Blue Velvet, The Straight Story and of course the legendary TV series Twin Peaks which he has just resumed with a sequel on Showtime. While he hasn’t made a narrative feature film since 2006 (Inland Empire), he has remained busy with a plethora of short films (most of which can be found on his website) as well as writing music and painting.

This documentary is mainly directed by longtime admirer Nguyen and the hero worship is evident. Nguyen emulates the style and the pacing of a Lynch film which I suppose is appropriate; therefore rather than getting a straight documentary film that tells Lynch’s story as a filmmaker, we get the director himself narrating the story of his childhood, adolescent and young adult years essentially leading up to Eraserhead. We see that his first love is painting (which he continues to do to this day) and that he lived a fairly normal, suburban life in the 50s and early 60s as his research scientist father moved them regularly to states in the Pacific Northwest and Big Sky country.

Lynch speaks very warmly about his mom who once she discovered his talent at drawing refused to buy him coloring books although she bought them for his siblings. This had the effect of forcing Lynch to use his imagination and coming up with his own pictures rather than filling in the blanks for someone else’s.

So where does the darkness that fills almost all of Lynch’s art, both cinematic and painting, come from? Lynch, notoriously reticent, is cagey about that. He discusses an incident in which he and his siblings were playing outside after dark when a naked woman, bleeding from the mouth, staggered onto the cul-de-sac on which he lived and sat down on the curb and wept. Lynch talks about not knowing what to do, and apparently the incident stayed with him; it sounds very much like a moment out of his own films.

Lynch had a love of painting and when he discovered that the father of one of his school chums was artist Bushnell Keeler, he knew he had a calling. Keeler encouraged him, allowed him to rent space in his workshop and when David’s father threatened to throw him out after the two argued about a curfew, Keeler came to the rescue and assured the elder Lynch that his son was working hard on a passion, something he wished his own son would do. Keeler also helped get Lynch into the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts where Lynch began to thrive.

If you’re looking for a movie that is going to explain the influences on Lynch’s cinematic career, or explore his methodology and inspirations, you’ve not going to find it here. The film ends essentially with Eraserhead and none of his other cinematic works gets so much as a mention here. In true Lynch style, we get next to nothing of what we want to know and instead have to make do with what he’s willing to tell us. That may drive less enthusiastic fans bonkers but his diehard followers will nod sanguinely and enjoy the ride.

This is the rare documentary that isn’t a parade of talking heads. There’s only one here – Lynch himself – and we see him throughout, wreathed in a fog of cigarette smoke (Lynch is more or less a chain smoker and has been since youth), an everpresent glass of Coke at his side. Mostly he paints on-camera although from time to time he plays with his toddler daughter Lula (to whom the film is dedicated) or stares off contemplatively into the distance. This is a bit of a double-edged sword. The film isn’t cluttered but at the same time we get no other viewpoints. We see images of his brothers, his sister, his friends (like the inimitable Jack Fisk) but we don’t hear from them. Everything in this movie is through Lynch’s eyes, or the eyes of the filmmakers.

Consequently we’re left to gaze at Lynch painting, smoking and reminiscing. He can be a charming raconteur but there are times he starts an anecdote, pauses, then says “I can’t talk about that right now” and moves on. Like the painting he is working on, it is left intriguingly but infuriatingly unfinished for the audience. Sadly at least for my part, I found this somewhat boring after awhile. It was the cinematic equivalent of reading a Wikipedia entry and served to make one of the most interesting filmmakers extant actually boring. That’s unforgivable as far as I’m concerned.

REASONS TO GO: The filmmakers do an admirable job of making this look and pace very much like Lynch’s own work.
REASONS TO STAY: This is very much for Lynch fans. We get no other point of view other than Lynch’s own.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a little bit of profanity, some art nudity and a whole lot of smoking.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film was funded through a Kickstarter campaign; those who gave money at a certain level were awarded Producer credits.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, iTunes
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/29/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 89% positive reviews. Metacritic: 75/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Richard Linklater: Dream is Destiny
FINAL RATING:4.5/10
NEXT: Fate of the Furious

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Robot Overlords


Robot riding: the next Olympic sport.

Robot riding: the next Olympic sport.

(2015) Science Fiction (Vertical) Ben Kingsley, Gillian Anderson, Milo Parker, Callan McAuliffe, Geraldine James, Steven Mackintosh, Tamer Hassan, Ella Hunt, Justin Salinger, Craig Garner, Roy Hudd, David McSavage, Michael Stuart, Jimmy Johnston, Laurence Doherty, James Tarpey, Sonny Green, Ciaran Flynn, Edna Caskey, Neil Brownlee, Abigail Castleton . Directed by Jon Wright

So, let’s say that a race of giant robots have occupied the planet. We’ve all been essentially grounded, informed in no uncertain terms that we are to remain in our homes at all times or be vaporized (which must absolutely suck for the homeless). What’s a teenager to do?

That’s what’s happened to Sean Flynn (McAuliffe), whose RAF dad (Mackintosh) has been missing for two years. He’s living with single mum teacher Kate (Anderson), her comely daughter Alexandra (Hunt) and her jokester brother Nathan (Tarpey). Added to the mix is Conor (Parker) whose dad just lost it and ran outside, which led to him being disintegrated in front of his own son and now has joined Kate’s sorta happy family. Her ex-colleague, Smythe (Kingsley) is a collaborator with the robots and quite sweet on her, although the feeling isn’t reciprocated. The kids despise him, rightfully believing him to be a traitor to his own species.

Whilst fooling around in the basement, Conor discovers that electrocuting himself with a car battery can short out the tracking devices installed on every human’s neck, which allows them to go outside without being detected by the robots. At first it’s a lark until it gets curmudgeonly grandpa Morse Code Martin (Hudd) captured and essentially lobotomized, all his thoughts stolen from his head by something called a Deep Scanner. The robots are apparently studying humans and intend to take their ideas from them and use them for their own. Let’s hope they didn’t scan the humans who created this film.

While out they make the amazing discovery that Sean has the ability to control the robots through telepathy, albeit only one at a time. Still, this could be the turning point in getting the robots off our planet and allowing humans to take back their homes after all, although not if Smythe and the robotic Mediator (Garner) have anything to say about it.

This is a family-oriented sci-fi action film which should appeal to Anglophiles and Giant Robot enthusiasts alike. The story is a bit disjointed and the ending a bit anti-climactic but there’s nothing here that is likely to offend anyone, unless they have an unreasonable hatred of all things British. Although filmed in Northern Ireland and on the Isle of Man, the story is set in what appears to be either a Northern English or Scottish town – the accents run along those lines and they can be thick at times.

Kingsley has made a career of being a smarmy villain and while I’d prefer to see some different roles for him because he is such a talented actor, he does make a superior bad guy and he is one of the highlights here. Anderson is a fine actress but doesn’t get a lot to do here. Most of the focus is on Sean, Conor, Alexandra and Nathan and quite frankly they’re okay but little more. McAuliffe is an Australian actor who has received rave notices in his homeland for other roles and some say is likely to become a big star worldwide eventually, which can only help this film that has bombed at the box office both in its native land and here.

There are a few other interesting performances besides Kingsley’s; Hudd does a fine job as the defiant pensioner, while Tamer Hassan is excellent as Wayne, a criminal sort with a heart of gold who assists the kids. He is a right proper villain, you might say, although he feels like he comes from an English gangster flick and was deposited somewhat unceremoniously into this Transformers-like affair.

The story tends to be a bit on the kid-friendly side; teens and kids save the world, which might not appeal so much to adults. What really doesn’t appeal to adults is thinking about the mechanics of the story; if people are confined to their homes and are never allowed out, how do they get groceries, clothes and other necessities? What do people do when they get sick? Who ya gonna call?

The special effects range from awful to not bad, although they’ve been savaged pretty thoroughly in the British press. While the explosions looked cheesy, the robots were effective enough although not as detailed as others in bigger budgeted films. Still, I found the entire movie to be entertaining overall in a Saturday morning cartoon kind of way. And we all know you never outgrow those.

REASONS TO GO: Some decent special effects. Kingsley is always swell.
REASONS TO STAY: Story is disjointed and ending anti-climactic. Most of the rest of the cast is merely adequate.
FAMILY VALUES: Robot violence and some human-on-human violence, a rude gesture and a few sexual references.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The Deep Scanner resembles the main monsters from the film Grabbers which Wright also directed.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/1/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 60% positive reviews. Metacritic: 47/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: V
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: Men in Black II