(USA, 108 min.)
Dir. Alexandre O. Philippe
Alexandre O. Philippe likes to like movies. This is no banal compliment. His films about films include the populist paean to fandom The People vs. George Lucas, a look at zombie films with Doc of the Dead, a study of the most famous shower scene in history with 78/52, a deep dive into Ridley Scott’s cinematic world with Memory: The Origins of Alien and, most recently, a fine conversation with a fantastic filmmaker with Leap of Faith: William Friedkin on The Exorcist.
Philippe’s latest film about movies, Lynch/Oz, ties the work of an iconoclastic filmmaker, David Lynch, to an iconic classic, Victor Fleming’s The Wizard of Oz (1939). Through disparate conversations and precise, beautifully executed montages, the director weaves a multi-faceted story of the influencer and the influenced. Lynch/Oz finds fundamental aspects of storytelling that quite literally echo through the decades.
At its heart, this is another deep, almost scholarly dive, a Talmudic reading of the various stratifications of references both overt and subtle. Lynch the man has often been vocal of his appreciation for The Wizard of Oz, and cites it often as a major touchstone for his understanding of cinema. Philippe and his collaborators make a compelling argument that Oz, like Alice in Wonderland or even more overt referents like Star Wars, serve as a Joseph Campbell-like foundational narrative where not only Lynch’s own oeuvre draws inspiration but also almost all contemporary films owe a debt to Dorothy’s journey.
The assembled fair use clips run the gamut from classic films of the ’30s through Lynch’s disparate output, situating every film from the surreal Eraserhead, the kinetic Wild at Heart, the neo-noir Mulholland Dr., the suburban horror of Blue Velvet, or the experimental abandon of Inland Empire. Each in its own way, according to the visual essayists, is shaped by a love of Oz and its storyline, dancing between dream, fantasy, and brutal reality, never quite sure where “home” will land.
The erudite participants include Rodney Ascher (himself no stranger to deep cinematic exegesis), Karyn Kusama, the filmmaker duo of Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, critic Amy Nicholson, and camp auteur John Waters. Combined, they provide different facets of not only their connection to Lynch’s work, but also how they see Oz’s land of joyous escape and eerie dread weave through these various films.
However, for all the focus that Philippe and his collaborators put on both Lynch and Oz, the huge benefit is that, fundamentally, these works are simply fodder for deeper conversation about art, specifically cinema. The fascinating journey of Oz to cultural touchstone is introduced, demonstrating the not-insignificant irony that the small screen fully established its importance in the canon. While Lynch’s own films either overtly refer to Dorothy, Judy, good witches, curtains, or the like, the more tangential allusions are the most playful and more entertaining when articulated by the participants.
Even for viewers who are not swayed by the rhetoric, or may find Lynch and his mode of storytelling to be not to their taste, there’s still plenty to admire about both the earnestness and the joyfulness by which these films are considered and presented. For any of his faults, it’s undeniable that Lynch revels in having his audiences ask questions, even if providing simple answers, let alone definitive ones, is obviously beyond the point. Instead, we have here not a key to Lynch’s works per se, but a key ingredient, a lens through which one can better understand not only the filmmaker’s output but also his very personality.
Lynch/Oz is therefore a love story, the tale of a man who was struck by a story of a young girl who left her Midwestern town only to discover another, hidden land, one full of colour and music and friendship, but also danger, deceit, and depravity. Lynch has spent a lifetime both turning the gears behind the curtain, and showing that no matter how many times you click your heels you’re never quite going to get somewhere to call home. Through Philippe’s exceptional visual storytelling, and the eloquence of his collaborators, this is a documentary that beautifully fosters critical discourse while also, with every shot, reminding about what a magical experience truly loving a cinematic work can be.
Reviewed at the 2022 Fantasia Film Festival.