After staggering out of Inland Empire like a mole groping toward sunlight, you could be forgiven for thinking that there should be a start-up kit for how to make a David Lynch movie. Fritzing overhead lights—check. Sound of candles being blown out, amped through a Marshall stack—check. Industrial decay, inexplicable dance sequence, mix-and-match identities—check, check, check. The lesson of the new documentary Lynch—well, one lesson, along with the sound advice not to perforate a bloated cow with a pick-ax—is that producing a fugue-state apocalypse ripped bleeding from the subconscious isn’t as easy as it sounds.
Filmed over the two years spanning the inception and making of Inland Empire, Lynch carries a mysterious director’s credit (“blackANDwhite”) and apes its subject’s style so thoroughly that it could pass for the world’s longest director’s-signature American Express ad. (Whoever the filmmaker is, s/he will appear at a Q&A on October 26 at the IFC Center, perhaps in a luchador‘s mask.) Chronologically vague and associative rather than linear in its linkage of sound and image, the film intersperses fly-on- the-wall footage of Lynch brooding, joking, and tending his website with the minutiae of the director shaping his unclear vision— from personally distressing a set with hammers and wheat paste to coaching Laura Dern on how to best fake a knifing on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Much of this is tedious—no more or less exciting than surveillance-cam footage of a regional sales manager, even if this one’s desk offers a glimpse at one point of a legless baby doll. But the disconnect between Lynch’s mundane method and his id-unleashed madness is more surreal (and revealing) than any of the movie’s diligently scuzzed-out images, or its cutaways to, say, a roomful of anthropomorphized suburban rabbits. Famously clammed up tight about the symbolic or even, God forbid, political order of his conservative phantasmagorias, Lynch does no unpacking of his work here. Instead, and maybe more telling, there’s just the evidence of his Warhol-like work ethic as he shepherds his crew, busies himself with tools and table saws, and digs a mine shaft into his imagination.