|By Joshua Zyber
June 20, 1999
For fans of David Lynch’s eccentric brand of filmmaking, the Pretty as a Picture documentary is a treat in several respects. We are shown clips from many of his obscure early short films which have yet to be officially distributed, we get to see him at work as both a painter and a furniture designer, and we are taken behind the scenes of Lost Highway to see the man actually doing his thing. We also get to see Lynch’s hair go through a number of wild transmutations (he seriously needs to invest in a comb). Just as importantly, the film gives fans what may be their first chance to attach faces to many of the names they associate with the “Lynch gang”. Among the interview subjects are Angelo Badalamenti, Mary Sweeney, Deepak Nayar, Peter Deming, and longtime friend Jack Fisk with his prominently missing tooth (shades of Dune?). Patricia Norris is jokingly referred to several times but apparently refused to appear on camera.
The movie is full to the brim with amusing anecdotes. We are given the origin of the “fish in the percolator” from Twin Peaks (it was actually a bar of Lava soap), are told conflicting versions of how Frank Silva stumbled his way into the role of evil Bob, and get to hear Dean Stockwell describe how he met Lynch for the second time without knowing it (“We’ve met before. It was at your house. Don’t you remember?”). Nayar also explains how Lynch’s ingenuity saved an expensive scene on Lost Highway from being ruined by rain when he decided to put a couple of teenagers on screen playing with water hoses. Unfortunately, this stroke of invention was not sufficient to save the scene from being cut from the final release anyway, but we do get to see footage from it and this is the only example of a deleted scene shown.
The best part of the documentary is the Eraserhead reunion. Lynch, Jack Nance (who was murdered not long after completion of this film), Catherine Coulson and Charlotte Stewart revisit the American Film Institute complex where they spent five years filming Lynch’s first feature one shot per day. The site is now in disarray, but there is much nostalgia to relive.
On the down side, the film was directed by one of Lynch’s old friends and there is the overwhelming impression that the whole thing is a puff-piece. No tough questions are asked, there is almost no mention of the fact that many of Lynch’s films are controversial, and there is very little real insight into his art or what makes the man tick. Because Lynch does not like to discuss the meaning behind his films, there is absolutely no analysis or scholarly criticism. We aren’t really even given any kind of social context into which to place his works. The documentary might as well have been about Steven Spielberg for the amount of self-glorification it revels in.
|The film runs 80 minutes and has been released
on VHS and DVD in the United States, but on laserdisc only in Japan. The
DVD contains a supplemental section with 15 minutes of deleted interviews,
including the origin of the Log Lady character. The laserdisc contains
no supplements and has Japanese subtitles in the picture. From a practical
standpoint, someone who owns a DVD player would have no reason to buy this
laserdisc. I’ve never been much of a practical person, however, and ordered
a copy the minute I heard it existed. It is well known that there is a
cultish obsession with Lynch in Japan, and most of his films have been
released there in laserdisc editions that are superior to their American
counterparts. From a collectible perspective, therefore, this LD is a fine
addition to someone’s collection of Japanese Lynch laserdiscs. I have long
since learned to tune out Japanese subtitles anyway.
The jacket is in sleek dark colors with an interesting pixelated photo of Lynch on the front. I will also admit to a fondness for the DVD's tasteful case art (seen at left), which contains one of Lynch's paintings on the cover. Both will serve a collector well.
|Picture and sound quality are both quite good. The movie
was shot mostly on videotape so the image has that overly vivid sharpness
inherent in direct video-to-video transfers. Naturally this isn’t the type
of program from which you will get a demo-quality show-off sequence, but
the picture is sharp and the audio is clear so what more can you ask?
There are a number of film clips shown and of course they run the gamut in terms of quality. Lynch’s early short films look much as you would expect such material to look, and unfortunately the only Blue Velvet clip shown is from a cropped TV print. The scenes from Eraserhead are letterboxed and look much better than the grungy pan & scan edition released on VHS and laser in the United States many years ago. However, they are a little darker than the excellent Japanese laserdisc release and are matted a little tighter on the top and bottom of the frame, with no added picture on the sides of the image. Most of the documentary is devoted to covering Lost Highway, and so most of the clips are from that film. They are letterboxed but mostly hazy and overly orange-saturated. They look quite poor compared to both the domestic and Japanese LD releases. I’m guessing that they come from an intermediary print of the film and so cannot be expected to look reference quality, though I doubt anyone watching the documentary would mind or even care.
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