Earlier this month, director and painter David Lynch, famous for his cult favorite surreal thrillers such as Mulholland Drive and Eraserhead, released a new short film entitled Idem Paris. It’s an eight minute documentary on the Parisian lithography studio of the same name, and a place near and dear to the acclaimed cult director’s heart. Since its construction in the 1880s, the studio has been a hallowed workplace for such artists as Picasso and Matisse. The short film is a quiet (wordless, in fact) black and white love letter to both the studio and the process of lithography itself, where an image is engraved onto a stone block, with the resultant etchings filled in with paint from the lithography machine, which then stamps the image onto a print.
In his introduction to the piece, he describes the studio as having “a unique, very special mood ... so conducive to creating,” which is exactly what Lynch is trying to communicate through the footage; there are multiple shots of the sleek lithography machine, with its intricate millwheels and levers, that portray it more as some artisanal steampunk device rather than a real artistic process.
It’s a small departure from his usual depictions of technology, as with the industrial nightmarish landscapes of Eraserhead. The machine is a purring artistic partner here instead of a metal monster. It makes an incessant whirring and pumping motion that recalls the breathing of an animal, as the workmen coax the massive iron engine with the motions of whale trainers; one artist tends to the rollers, gently caulking paint into the grooves, while others throw water onto the stone slab to keep it wet for the paint to adhere. The viewer comes to rethink the creative process as something not exclusively organic or mechanical, but a combination of the two. Lynch comments on this idea in the introduction: "It's a combination of the stone, the place, the people, this mood, and out comes these certain ideas."
Lynch worked in the Idem Paris for a bit himself producing 170 lithograph engravings and prints, two of which you can see above. He also conducted an interview there for his 2011 album Crazy Clown Time, which you can view for more footage and commentary on the studio.