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Lynch (One)

director: Morten Søborg

85 minutes (E) 2007
Scanbox DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by Jonathan McCalmont
Depending upon where you look and whom you ask, this 2007 documentary about David Lynch is either called simply Lynch or, more abstractly, Lynch (One). I'm going to go with that, partly for the sake of my own sanity, partly because Lynch (One) is the name on the DVD, and partly because there is also a Lynch Two film included as an extra along with the DVD release of Lynch's last film Inland Empire (2006). The suggestion that this film, by its title alone, is somehow contiguous with a DVD extra should also give you some idea as to what kind of film it is.

Shot over a two year period leading up to the filming of Inland Empire, Lynch (One) is a documentary that is far closer in style and method to Rodolphe Marconi's disappointingly sycophantic Lagerfeld Confidential (2007), than it is to Alex Gibney's apologetic Gonzo: The Life And Work Of Dr Hunter S. Thompson (2008). This is to say that Lynch (One) is not ultimately interested either in what makes David Lynch tick, or in the wider historical or critical context of his work. So do not seek out this film hoping that it will suddenly help you make sense of Lost Highway (1997). If you are looking for that kind of understanding then a much better place to start would be Sophie Fiennes' excellent The Pervert's Guide To Cinema (2006). What this film does do - and comparatively well at that - is to give you a glimpse of David Lynch's head-space while he is working.

Early in the film, Lynch expresses wonder at the fact that he is able to live the life of an artist, and it is this life that Lynch (One) shares with us. The film presents us with an image of Lynch as a kind of multimedia artist who is painting one day and sculpting the next before geeking out over pictures of an abandoned factory and ruling his film set with an iron fist as he struggles to translate the wild and abstract images in his head into something cinematically concrete. Lynch moves between all of these different mediums without skipping a beat or missing a trick and for all of his 'aw shucks' low-key charm, he comes across as a man who is intimidatingly intense and utterly dictatorial in the pursuit of his vision. In one scene he shouts and swears at an assistant because, in between takes, someone had dumped their stuff on a seemingly unused part of the set. In another scene, he is not so much directing as micro-managing actors; telling them how to stand, where to look and how to deliver their lines. This film does not so much present us with the director as auteur; rather it shows us the director as unflinching despot.

At one point, Lynch instructs two of his assistants to go away and meditate and, upon ending their period of meditation; they are to write down the names of actors, presumably to help Lynch in his casting decisions. Which brings us to one of the more interesting revelations about David Lynch; namely that he is a fully paid up member of the 'transcendental meditation' movement. When I say 'fully paid up' I mean that Lynch buys into the entire thing. At various points throughout the film he comes out with these diatribes on how TM allows you to access infinite creativity and peace and how (in accordance with the Maharishi effect) if the square root of one percent of humanity practiced TM then there would be universal peace. Think what you want about this kind of stuff but it is clearly a meaningful part of Lynch's life and to engage with his head-space is to engage with TM.

The film is shot in a quite self-consciously 'arty' manner by Morten S´┐Żborg, who also served as cinematographer on films such as Pusher II and WAZ. The film is full of quiet moments and, even when people talk; it is not a particularly verbally dense film. However, clearly some considerable effort has been spent in attempting to make the film look good. The film frequently shifts between recording mediums and film types resulting in a collage-like effect that takes us from fixed black and white footage of Lynch in his office to more experimental pieces including some Guy Maddin-like trees rushing past a train's window and a surreal recreation of Lynch's frequently inaccurate memories of watching Georges Franju's Blood Of The Beasts (1949).

Throw the cosmopolitan subject matter together with the film's sometimes intriguing visuals and what you have a film which, though undeniably pretty and interesting to watch, is clearly lacking in editorial ambition. The amount of insight we actually get into Lynch's work is comparable to your average promotional DVD extra and the documentary's visuals never seem to service any wider editorial ambition. This results in a film that is pleasant and engaging but ultimately quite lightweight and pretentious with it.
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