London Film Festival 2016: David Lynch: The Art Life dir. Jon Nguyen (+Interview!)
David Lynch is probably one of the most intriguing directors of the time, with a career of spectacular films that defy interpretation and continue to fascinate even today. His last film (Inland Empire) was last made in 2008, and the one before that in 2001 (Mulholland Drive). To feed Lynch fever then, one can only turn to documentaries and interviews such as this one.
As it’s title suggests though, David Lynch: The Art Life is in fact, not about his films, but about his life as a fine artist. Before he began making films, and in the course of him making films, Lynch has always put his (visual) art first, and much of The Art Life reveals his motivation and aesthetic behind his films.
Most of The Art Life plays out like a one man interview, shuttling between shots of Lynch at work, digitally animated reproductions of his paintings and of the man himself speaking. His art resembles his films – dark, and often abstract and defiant of definition. As much as they are a mystery though, Lynch, in his conversations, ends up revealing a lot about his life as a person, from his agoraphobia to seeing the still body of a woman on the side of the street one time.
The Art Life still keeps most of Lynch a mystery, and for good reason too, for Lynch wouldn’t be Lynch if he were easy to interpret. What it does do is tell us a bit more backstory than we’ve been privy to in his not so public life so far, and certainly a treat for Lynch-heads to get that much closer to the man himself, fascinating and hypnotic with each passing frame.
If you’re hankering for more Lynchian material, don’t worry – he’s currently working on a new season of Twin Peaks (also created by him) which is set for release in 2017.
Director Jon Nguyen previously worked on the documentary Lynch in 2007, where the crew followed David Lynch as he directed his last film Inland Empire. Now, he’s back with yet another Lynch documentary, albeit quite different from the fly on the wall style of Lynch, instead focusing on his personal life and interest in fine art. We grabbed a few words with Nguyen:
BCM: You guys worked on Lynch in 2007. Is that the reason why you guys did this documentary?
Jon: That opened up the doors to getting access to David. The first documentary was more fly on the wall, following David during his process of making Inland Empire, not behind the scenes but just following him around. But because of the observational nature of the film, it was personal but we weren’t talking to David. We knew that as he got older it was the right time to approach David again, and we felt we could make a more personal, intimate film as our relationship also got closer.
BCM: When did this project start?
Jon: About 4 years ago. Two and a half years were spent collecting the interviews, which was about 25 hours worth of material. So you’d have to literally spend a whole day listening to it all.
BCM: This project brings a very different touch and side to David, since a lot of people are interested in him as a filmmaker, not so much a visual artist.
Jon: Yeah, for me his fine art is connected to his films. You can learn about how he approaches film by watching him paint. David is first and foremost famous for being a filmmaker but actually spends most of his time in the painting studio. He’s trained and spent his whole life as a painter and not a filmmaker. He went to Philadelphia Academy of Art and Boston Fine Art Academy and of course AFI, so he’s a trained painter. Early on he had many studios in high school as well. He’s not recognized for his painting but it’s what he does. If he had been making a film during the two and a half years we worked on this then we’d have focused more on his filmmaking but he was in the studio.
BCM: Did you go into this project knowing it would turn out like this and specifically focusing on his ‘art life’?
Jon: Not really. We did go into the project knowing we wouldn’t talk about his films because there was a bigger landscape with more interesting things. After all, David himself doesn’t like talking about his films. The relationship we had with David was very personal, so it was a chance to learn more about his private life.
BCM: What was the biggest reveal you had while working on this documentary?
Jon: I didn’t know that when he came to Boston he locked himself in the room for two weeks and was afraid of going outside. I didn’t realize he had slight agoraphobia and the anxiety probably resonates in his films.
BCM: What’s your favourite David Lynch film?
Jon: Mulholland Drive. It’s hard to put into words, but I’ve watched it so many times and each new watch still blows me away. When I think about the first and last time I watched it, it’s two completely different takes on the film, and I expect the next time I watch it to have the same effect. For me, it was all very connected, flowing through moods without feeling jarred.
BCM: It’s been years since Lynch has made a new film, and now he’s working on the next Twin Peaks series. How do you feel about that?
Jon: Sabrina our producer is also producing Twin Peaks! I have no doubt that David has grown from strength to strength and only gotten better with age. Inland Empire was an experimental film that had its obstacles and its difficulties and Twin Peaks is scripted, so it operates with the big finances and a lot of support, so I imagine it’s going to be incredible.
BCM: Do you and Lynch still keep in touch on a regular basis?
Jon: Not really, although we do keep in touch about once a week to see how the film is doing in the festival circuits. Everything has to run through David and we need his approval for a lot of things. For Venice Film Festival, he saw our trailer, he saw press photos, he sees everything.
BCM: What was his reaction to the film?
Jon: He’s really happy with it, he’s watched it three times! I know some people are going to be shocked we don’t talk about his filmmaking but I think that’s a project someone else is going to have to take up. But they’ll most likely have to do it without his support, because it’s really hard to get close to him. For us, we just wanted to look at his life and not his films. I think this will end up unlocking a lot more as opposed to talking about his films, where you’d never get a direct answer at the end.
BCM: Is the next project going to be Lynch related as well?
Jon: Can’t say! We’re finishing another project right now, but it’s all under wraps, signed a lot of non-disclosure agreements. I’m also working on some short films, get some practice in!
BCM: Any advice for budding filmmakers?
Jon: Surround yourself with the right production team. Get the right editors, producers, cinematographers. I didn’t make this film by myself, I had a lot of support. I got lucky: my entire team is film school trained, maybe that helps, maybe it doesn’t? But I think if I got someone who wasn’t film school trained to do sound design it wouldn’t have sounded as good, and I choose to go with people with good resumes and people I’ve worked with before.
BCM: Who are your inspirations?
Jon: I like Nuri Bilge Ceylan, who directed Winter Sleep. That wasn’t my favourite, but his earlier films are all incredible. I don’t get to watch that many films anymore, I end up working on film more than seeing films!