During David Lynch’s recent Inland Empire shoot, a camera recorded every step of the production process; Lynch is the 82-minute condensation of two years and 700 hours of footage. But Lynch’s authoritative and demanding presence doesn’t make for a very pleasurable viewing or listening experience.
An anonymous director (named blackANDwhite in the credits) filmed and edited this odd tribute by letting Lynch speak while the camera rolled for long takes. Lynch is sometimes amusing, sometimes profound, but also often annoying. Whether it’s his flat, nasal tone or his irascible, exacting manner, Lynch just isn’t that much fun to be around. Yet Lynch is all Lynch all the time, so it becomes hard to appreciate the man even when he is wittily joking about Hollywood actress Joan Blondell, deftly summarizing the stomach-churning plot of the 1950 French film Blood of the Beasts, or unexpectedly confessing to his producer that he isn’t sure what he is doing on his latest shoot. (If nothing else, Lynch confirms the director’s postmodern bona fides!)
What really keeps Lynch interesting is its coverage of the production process; the access is so intimate, we feel as if we are witnessing firsthand the birth of something artistic and significant. Whether or not one saw Inland Empire almost doesn’t matter, since little of the film is seen or explained. One only wishes there were more scenes of the planning stages or location shooting (in Los Angeles and Lodz, Poland) and less of Lynch’s epigrammatic musings. Frankly, David Lynch would be more appealing as an enigmatic figure in the way his better films are inscrutable but playfully self-reflexive, yet Lynch portrays him as a character and kook. At least blackANDwhite shoots in black-and-white and muted color with dark lighting to maintain some of the aura around the cult auteur.
A documentary in which David Lynch had to answer questions about his work or had his films analyzed by critics and scholars would be much more traditional, but would add more to the understanding of this iconoclastic and polarizing artist. Lynch would make a good companion piece to such a film.