Alexandre O. Philippe continues to deliver absorbing studies of his subjects, accompanied by a host of creatives.
Synopsis: Victor Fleming’s film The Wizard of Oz (1939) is one of David Lynch’s most enduring obsessions. This documentary goes over the rainbow to explore this Technicolor through-line in Lynch’s work.
If you are familiar with Alexandre O. Philippe documentaries, Lynch/Oz will be unlikely to surprise you. This does not buck the trend of engaging, aborbing, video-essay style explorations that are focused on how the smaller moments come to build a much bigger picture. This time the focus is on the collision of two seemingly distinct types of media: the classic film The Wizard of Oz and the films of David Lynch. Lynch, the film posits, has been inspired by Oz more than anything else and the threads are there to unpick in all of his work.
The documentary is divided into sections, each narrated by a creative with their own specific interest to highlight. Rodney Ascher, himself no stranger to the obsessive detail that documentary can bring following his own Room 237, takes on the ‘Oz narrative’, doubles and the ‘fish out of water’ character that has come to influence Lynch so heavily in Membranes. John Waters explores his and Lynch’s love-hate relationships with villains and the 1950s as well as their personal interactions in Kindred.
Elsewhere, Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson dig into Lynch’s playfulness as a ‘populist surrealist’ and the way he plays with American myth and collective fetish in Judy. Amy Nicholson too, draws attention to the moments where a film ‘looks at’ an audience, inviting them on the rest of the journey in Wind. The film finds perhaps its central thesis in Karyn Kusama’s section, Multitudes, in which Lynch is directly quoted as saying, ‘there is not a day that goes by that I don’t think about the Wizard of Oz‘. Drawn together neatly David Lowery’s final section, Dig, focused on journeys and transportation finds space to discuss the wider impact of artistic influences.
The variety of contributors, whether they know Lynch personally or are inspired by his work adds a great deal to the documentary. Lynch’s many years of work can, at first, seem sprawling and difficult to connect beyond a few of his well-discussed tropes. However, as the film progresses, like the colour arriving as Dorothy enters Oz, more and more light is shed upon those influences, the lens of Oz offering a magical view of Lynch as a prominent American film-maker with much to say, often working in a system that finds his work knotty and difficult to unpick.
The voiceover work is clear, with carefully selected clips keeping a steady rhythm, allowing each contributor the chance to highlight their view. Some will undoubtedly find this slow in places, but it would be more accurate to say unhurried and keen to dwell on those moments. This allows those influences to become ever-clearer, strengthening each section as they come to build on one another.
An often hypnotic journey through the origins of what is now commonly known as Lynchian, this celebrates both Oz as a film and a cultural institution, responsible for providing the building blocks for some of the most engaging American film-making of the last few decades. An absolute must for David Lynch fans.
4 out of 5 stars
Lynch/Oz screened as part of Fantastic Fest 2022. Find out more about the festival at their webpage.