Filmed over a two-year period during production of David Lynch’s “Inland Empire,” “Lynch,” like the feature it loosely chronicles, has no immediately discernable throughline and a wide variety of video-image densities. Opening today at Gotham’s IFC Center, docu is preordained to disappoint somewhat, neither explaining Lynch’s cinematic illogic nor matching the weirdness of his films. Yet in slapdash glimpses of the notedly eccentric director calmly sawing holes in walls or fervently extolling the merits of transcendental meditation, a portrait of the artist as inspired crackpot does emerge. Lynchophiles will catch up with this in specialized venues and on DVD.
Directed by someone who calls himself “blackANDwhite,” the docu only occasionally ventures into making-of territory, deriving much dramatic mileage from scenes of Lynch mopping a sidewalk on Hollywood Boulevard so he can stretch out and show Laura Dern how to die. This is behind-the-scenes footage in the most literal sense — revealing, for example, the director’s intriguingly hands-on preparation of sets as he dips a jacket in bright green paint or carefully texturizes the floor.
Indeed, the docu merely skirts the actual filming of “Empire,” featuring instead walkabouts through Polish factories where Lynch marvels over the intricacies of decay, or long static sections of Lynch at his desk dictating his famed daily “weather reports.”
Lynch delights in telling folksy suburban stories in which the surreal suddenly bursts forth like a beautiful, malevolent growth, such as the parable of a cherry tree in bloom and covered in red ants, like-minded dichotomies from “Blue Velvet” thereby instantly evoked.
Pseudonymous helmer employs wildly disparate techniques to cover his subject, sometimes just leaving the camera on the floor at a safe distance from Lynch as he pontificates behind his desk or brainstorms on the phone, and sometimes following him with shaky handheld intimacy.
Scenes are rendered in black-and-white, washed-out sepia or painterly textured colors, the resolution ranging from sharp focus to impressionistic blurs.
This ersatz Lynch methodology sufficiently mixes up the largely indifferent visual content so one rarely gets bored. But since the various formats neither stylistically synch up nor effectively counterpoint Lynch’s voiceover musings, the plays with imagery tend to trivialize Lynch’s admittedly hit-and-miss experimentation in “Inland Empire.”
In some ways, docu plays like a poor man’s “Passion,” Godard’s brilliantly idiosyncratic feature about a harassed director lost in impotent indecision in the middle of a lavish production. Pic catches Lynch at a period of great confusion, capturing his transition from celluloid to video. He keeps repeating that he has never made a film “like this,” having no idea where it is going and letting it develop willy-nilly, while the totally dependent cast and crew await Lynch’s inspiration to go forward.
But unlike Jerzy Radziwilowicz’s tormented metteur-en-scene in “Passion,” Lynch is shot in a bubble of creative isolation, collaborators like acolytes kept well offscreen or banned to the fringes of the frame by docu’s helmer, himself often stationed at the artist’s feet.
Furthermore, it is obvious that Lynch sought out this confusion, and positively glories in it, having learned the incomparable value of happy coincidence from “Mulholland Drive.” In “Empire,” he is seen actively courting a technology of which he has little knowledge and less control, faithfully meditating as he rides the whirlwind of a fully unleashed unconscious.
Radically divergent tech credits are docu’s whole point, while Sune Martin’s eclectic score amplifies pic’s tonal changes.