PRETTY AS A PICTURE: THE ART OF DAVID LYNCH Interview with director Toby Keeler
[Originally published in Plastic magazine #3, Summer 1997]
Toby Keeler's documentary Pretty As A Picture is crammed with such Lynchian oddities. Keeler should know them well - they have been friends and collaborators since Eraserhead (Keeler is billed as 'Fighting Man') in the early '70s. His cameras take us behind Lynch's cryptic masterwork Lost Highway, and he interviews key figures in the Lynch pantheon (including Blue Velvet’s Dean Stockwell and Elephant Man producer Mel Brooks). Pretty As A Picture is billed as an 'authorised' biography. On the phone from Las Vegas, Keeler explains the tag: “I had to keep running it past David. I think I showed it to him three or four times - he kept saying 'Well, Toby, can we put in...'!”
Keeler has worked in the documentary field for thirty years, and his experienced eye is evident in the sharp focus on his subject. Lost Highway cast and crew take great pains to point out David is just a gee-whiz mom-and-apple-pie kind of guy totally at odds with his 'King of Weird' persona. But Keeler's picture of Lynch shows an affable guy with a loopy sense of wonder about him who happens to be completely absorbed in his art. His obsession with textures and impressions explain why he is an artist first and filmmaker second, and why his films' narratives tend to fly out the window.
Pretty As A Picture captures the PeeWee's Playhouse atmosphere of Lynch film sets. One poignant moment is the cast and crew's reunion at the site of Eraserhead's concrete mausoleum, showing the hair-raising Jack Nance (now bald) laughing and joking with the rest, just months before his tragic murder.
“I didn't set out to cover every movie, that's been done before,” says Keeler. “I didn't want to do a 'Behind the Scenes' documentary. What I wanted to achieve was a glimpse of Lynch as a serious artist at work.” Keeler succeeds. Pretty As A Picture is neither definitive Lynch or an insipid studio 'Making of...', but a series of fragments that make the picture whole: Lynch as a modern day Frankenstein totally immersed in the process of creation.