Like Alfred Hitchcock before him, David Lynch is known for devising a distinct cinematic architecture of sex and fear.
When his name is evoked, you might think of the red room of his legendary "Twin Peaks," which basically serialized his film "Blue Velvet" for television and returns May 21 on Showtime to great anticipation. Or perhaps you think of the many beautiful women, ghosts, and doppelgangers who haunt his gritty, quasi-Technicolor Americana.
To celebrate the return of "Twin Peaks," the Bijou is screening "David Lynch: the Art Life," a 2017 documentary about the director's working methods, mostly concerning his paintings, as well as 2001's "Mulholland Drive," an operatic masterpiece that he began as a failed TV show.
"The Art Life" faces the challenge of giving its audience something new. Anyone inclined to see it almost certainly will be familiar with the broad strokes of Lynch's life, career, and public personality, including his ironically cheery and prudish demeanor, his obsessions with sugar, coffee and smoking, and propensity for making pronouncements that toe fine lines between reveling in profundity, banality and knowing self-parody.
The documentary is at its best when regarding Lynch as he paints or wanders his studio in the Hollywood Hills, capturing him in menacing and gorgeous tableaux that cheekily recall the compositions of his own films. Lynch is charismatic enough to hold such a minimalist concept together, and "The Art Life" revels in the reassuring tactility of textures.
There are many close-ups of Lynch's hands as he spreads charcoal on canvases, dirt visible under his finger nails, and there are quite a few shots of him molding various bladders out of clay or organic material, with empty or half-full Coca-Cola bottles in the background, or of him using saws, hammers and staplers.
Lynch still cuts quite the formidable artistic figure: He's tall, with that characteristic punk-rock shock of white hair, a black shirt traditionally buttoned up to his Adam's apple, khaki slacks and black boots, and a newer heaviness of body that informs him with an existentially autumnal kind of bohemian masculinity.
He's often enveloped in plumes of cigarette smoke, which sometimes suggest a vaporous manifestation of his psyche. The studio resembles a shed, and as readers of Dennis Lim's "David Lynch: the Man from Another Place" know, Lynch loves sheds as "places to be."
This setting — replete with a small, woody, red-lamp-illuminated sound booth in which Lynch recounts shards of autobiography via voice-over — is so vivid that it's initially a disappointment that "The Art Life" is devoted to its subject's past. But these anecdotes establish the fear from which this studio serves as a place of respite.
Lynch hauntingly waxes on his mother's frustration with him as a teenager, which he describes in a series of pauses and poetic repetitions that suggest rehearsed performance art, though of an unexpectedly uncertain nature.
This vulnerability is affirmed by Lynch's amusing use of the F-word throughout the film, which consciously allows the audience to glimpse a crack in his often fastidiously PG-rated exterior. "The Art Life" embraces deliberate deconstruction of mythology as an ironic form of its reaffirmation.
Deconstruction is certainly a pervading concern of "Mulholland Drive," in which a self-consciously old-fashioned Hollywood murder mystery gradually segues into a breathtakingly beautiful and ambiguous rumination on identity, self-delusion and exploitation.
The twist is that there isn't a traditional twist. Lynch's characteristic "dark" and "light" women aren't as comfortably differentiated here as there are in "Blue Velvet." They're humans of gloriously damaged malleability caught in the net of the myth of transformation offered by American movies and, really, America at large.
Lynch tells the audience the full story of a lost gangster's moll, Rita (Laura Elena Harring) and aspiring actress Betty (Naomi Watts) from nearly beginning to end without appearing to. Initially, there seem to be quite a few indulgences, anecdotal sketches that appear to be relics from the project's serial television origins.
But the film's digressions are proven to matter, as a high degree of control is revealed to exist underneath a misleading aura of chaos. The central narrative thread, an amnesia murder mystery reminiscent of the 1950s B-movies, is proven to be a form of distraction, a fantasy born from a death rattle. S
"David Lynch: the Art Life" and "Mulholland Drive" are playing at the Bijou on 304 E. Broad St. from May 18-21. For tickets and show times, see bijoufilmcenter.org.