"Lynch (one)" may be the documentary David Lynch wants, but I'm not sure it's the one he or we deserve.
Made by someone who calls himself blackANDwhite, a longtime member of the director's inner circle who prefers to remain pseudonymous (it's not Lynch), the film's definitely worth a look if you've followed the maverick filmmaker on his termite's path through the pop-culture consciousness. Even die-hard fans, though - by whom I mean those who saw and liked last year's brilliantly obscure "Inland Empire" - may want more than "Lynch (one)" is willing to give.
That's in line with the movies themselves, from the director's nightmarish 1977 breakthrough "Eraserhead" through the creative heights of "Blue Velvet" and "Mulholland Dr." and the singular TV sensation of "Twin Peaks." Fueled by dream logic and the subterranean connections of abstract art, Lynch films don't explain themselves. It may be too much to expect a documentary to explain David Lynch.
Instead, this one captures him at random moments leading up to and surrounding the filming of "Empire." Shot in a baker's dozen of film stocks, digital styles, focal planes, and color schemes, the movie is visually arresting even when not much is going on. The director is filmed giving his regular website chat (he's shot from the floor behind his desk, the point of view of a faithful dog) and unpacking long, discursive stories in his staccato Idaho twang.
Lynch is an American original, at times a surrealist twin of Gary Cooper: rangy and confident, a cigarette forever dangling from his lips. The anecdotes he relates always have a dark undertow, like a description of his idyllic hometown that ends with an infestation of red ants. "I discovered that if one looks a little closer at this beautiful world, there are always red ants underneath," he remarks, which explains the opening of "Blue Velvet."
His personal life isn't explored, nor does Lynch go on record about his earlier work - the documentary is strictly in-the-moment. Ironically, "Lynch (one)" was filmed at a pivotal point in its subject's career. The filmmaker had given up celluloid to shoot "Inland Empire" in digital and was wrestling with a way to capture his visions more directly. "I'm excited by not knowing but tormented by not knowing," he says about his artistic process. "[Normally] before you start shooting, you've done all that not-knowing. But this is different: scene-by-scene not-knowing." Which explains the people in the bunny suits.
Lynch's public persona is that of a folksy genius, but the documentary gives us just enough glimpses of the director in action to reveal a surprisingly harsh on-set taskmaster, with the impatience of an artist, the command of a born leader, and a pungent vocabulary at odds with his devotion to Transcendental Meditation. "Lynch (one)" exposes these contradictions without investigating them, perhaps not wanting to displease the boss.
In an early sequence, Lynch is seen dipping a brown sports jacket into a can of green housepaint; toward the end of the movie we see the jacket hanging out to drip-dry. It's an engaging, impressionistic metaphor for what the man's about in his art, turning the ordinary into the fresh and unnervingly sticky, but it functions as one more brief snapshot. "Lynch (one)" is the first in a planned trilogy about the director; maybe blackANDwhite is saving the big picture for later.