With Lynch/Oz, renowned film studies documentarian Alexandre O. Philippe turns his attention to the celebrated, surrealist oeuvre of David Lynch: in particular, the director’s recurring fascination (arguably, obsession) with 1939’s MGM classic The Wizard of Oz.
Lynch/Oz is delivered in the form of seven mini-essays by contributors including critic Amy Nicholson and filmmakers such as Rodney Ascher, John Waters, Karyn Kusama and David Lowery. They each draw on a specific theme, allowing Philippe to structure their contributions as a compelling dive into the beautiful and strange cinematic worlds conjured by Lynch. Only Waters’ effort feels lightweight and more anecdotal, the Pink Flamingos legend focused on discussing his friendship with Lynch and their similarities as children of the 1950s.
Of course, it’s easy to point out touchstones of Oz’s influence – from theatrical velvet curtains, floating orbs, incredibly vivid villains and pure-hearted types – but less so, ultimately, in what The Wizard of Oz means to Lynch on a personal level. Philippe, however, turns a roadblock into an opportunity to dream, to theorise, and to ponder. Nicholson, Kusama and Ascher in particular do a fantastic job elaborating on their chosen topics, taking us down a yellow brick road of conjecture, insight and imaginative interpretation.
What is also revealed, and where Lynch/Oz turns into a celebratory work on the power of art, is just how much Lynch’s cinema means to his critical admirers and fellow directors, and the impact it has had on them as not only critics and filmmakers but people. Kusama talks so movingly about seeing Mulholland Drive for the first time and convincingly describes the Hollywood gothic noir as Lynch’s most hopeful film. Aficionados of the man Mel Brooks once described as “Jimmy Stewart from Mars” will certainly lap up every minute of Lynch/Oz. Not all readings are as a strong as Kusama’s, for example, but then neither is it the law or a requirement that you have to agree with anybody.
What Philippe does yet again, as with his his previous documentaries, is a bang-up job of examining what makes great films great, and here it is twofold: showing that The Wizard of Oz is not just an all-timer in its own right, but showcasing how Lynch drew on its emotional and cosmic resonance, in overt and oblique ways, for his own iconic forays.
Martyn Conterio | @martynconterio