Lynch is a documentary about director David Lynch. It covers a lot of ground, but in a very scattershot and mostly superficial way.
I almost get the feeling that because Lynch’s movies are often impressionistic, dreamlike, not fully coherent, etc., that the folks making this documentary felt immune from any criticism that their film is disorganized or confusing, like it’s intended to be “Lynch-like,” where logical structure is optional and anything goes.
Lynch is done in the minimalist cinema verité style with no narration, background etc.—other than a very small number of title bumpers and captions—where you’re just a fly on the wall observing Lynch in various situations. He’s shown on the set conferring with actors, painting, taking photographs, making webcasts, chatting with people about Transcendental Meditation, telling stories about living in Philadelphia as a young man, etc.
Most of it is shot “poorly,” no doubt intentionally for artistic reasons. Sometimes his face is in shadows or blurry, often he is shot from below with the camera at or near ground level.
At times the film looks like it might be headed in a biographical direction, providing tidbits of information such as where and when he was born, but that always quickly peters out. It’s a little closer to a “The Making of Inland Empire” film, as that’s the movie he was working on during the time this documentary was shot.
I really think how a person will react to this film will be almost solely a function of whether they were already a David Lynch fan coming in. If you had never heard of him or didn’t care for his work, I don’t see much if anything in here that will be of interest. There just isn’t much that’s deep or insightful that reveals who he is and what he’s about that would draw in a non-fan.
On the other hand, if you’re a big Lynch fan, and you’ve always wondered what he’s like, how he talks, how he behaves on the set, etc., this could be really good. For example, when I was growing up (and to some extent as an adult for that matter), I was a huge Muhammad Ali fan. A documentary like this that simply followed him around, showed him casually chatting and interacting with some of the people in his life, training for a fight, etc., with no background or commentary or anything, would have fascinated me. I wouldn’t have needed all the context and extras; just vicariously hanging out with Ali would have been plenty.
I’m kind of on the fence with Lynch. I’ve mostly liked what I’ve seen of his movies, but I’ve been selective and skipped a good number of them that didn’t sound like my cup of tea. So I suppose I’m a fan to an extent, but he’s not a big favorite of mine.
And that’s reflected in how I feel about this documentary. I was mildly interested in him coming in, and so I experienced the film as OK. I kind of faded in and out, with some bits holding my interest more than others. (I appreciated, for instance, seeing the way he and Laura Dern seem to have a nice chemistry on the set. She’s someone I’ve liked throughout her career, in his movies and just in movies in general.) But I can’t say I got more than a little bit out of it.
But related to that point about the relevance of how big a Lynch fan one already was, one thing watching this inspired me to do is go back and check what films of his I’ve seen and what I thought of them. As best I can remember, this is my experience with David Lynch:
Eraserhead: I actually mostly liked this, though typically I have no patience for confusing, conceptual art type movies. But for some reason I accepted the dreamlike quality of it, and the fact that you can’t expect everything in a dream to hang together as a coherent story. I just thought so many of the characters and incidents were inventive, and in some cases laugh out loud funny, that I made it sort of my “token” weird artsy cult film to like.
The Elephant Man: Good solid movie, but for the most part not a weird movie, not something I would probably have associated with Lynch if I hadn’t been told he directed it.
Blue Velvet: Probably my favorite Lynch movie, and would rank reasonably high among all the movies I’ve seen. Certainly top 50, maybe top 20, probably not top 10. A little more quirky than something like The Elephant Man, but certainly not nonsensical like Eraserhead. (Or maybe it’s weirder than I picked up on. I remember mentioning to a friend a certain aspect of the film I hadn’t been able to figure out—why was this person killed, or why was this dead body positioned such-and-such a way, I don’t remember—and he chuckled at the very notion that one would pick out one little detail as needing explanation when the whole movie was an exercise in surrealism. But I thought that even though it had weirdness—mostly weirdness I found entertaining—it was still 95% coherent in terms of just its story.) Dennis Hopper certainly is a terrific, memorable bad guy.
Wild at Heart: I remember very little about this one. I think I liked it OK, but it didn’t have anything like the impact Blue Velvet had on me. I may be misremembering, but my impression is it was comparable to Blue Velvet in realism, i.e., not as conventional and understandable as The Elephant Man, and not as bizarre and incoherent as Eraserhead.
The Straight Story: I don’t remember it super well, but I recall it as being a “normal” movie rather than a surreal “Lynch-type” movie, maybe even more conventional than The Elephant Man. I liked it. A little less than The Elephant Man, but still a thumbs up.
I’m pretty sure I never saw any of his other movies. I also never saw that Twin Peaks TV show. I did see one short film he did—The Cowboy and the Frenchman—which I thought was about 5% quirky and interesting, and 95% colossally dumb.
But really as I look back on the list, Lynch has a pretty darn high batting average with me. Again, maybe that’s in part because I skipped so much of his work that sounded like it would just be bizarre and hard to follow. But given my track record with him, and having now seen this documentary, I’m inclined to try out some of his more recent movies if I come across them, and maybe just try to go into them with the attitude that, like Eraserhead, they could be worthwhile even if they don’t add up in terms of conventional narrative, so if I actually can make sense of the story it’ll be a bonus.