Director: Alexandre O. Philippe
It was only a week or two ago that I revisited – after a long gap between viewings – Rodney Ascher’s ode to film obsession Room 237; a not dissimilar essay movie to Lynch/Oz. There Ascher let a number of enthusiasts rhapsodise over their increasingly bizarre theories on the coded messages they had found within The Shining. As a work of critical scrutiny, Room 237 lacks in credibility; as an ode to the passions evoked by Kubrick’s horror classic, it works gangbusters.
Alexandre O. Philippe’s Lynch/Oz delves into the somewhat self-evident connectivity between the entire oeuvre of David Lynch and the massively influential fantasy classic The Wizard of Oz as brought to film by Victor Fleming in 1939. Here, Philippe – who has previously unpacked the likes of Psycho and Alien in documentary form – defers to Ascher’s style of essay film, inviting several experts to share their narrated ‘takes’ on the subject (including Ascher himself!) while the film itself collages images from the movies in question. Only here Philippe has turned not to conspiratorial crackpots, but successful modern critics and filmmakers who themselves are clearly indebted to Lynch in varying ways.
Amy Nicholson is first up with her ruminations, “Wind”, noting the howling that echoes through Fleming’s work and Lynch’s own intently sculpted sound designs. Lynch has previously described his intent with films to capture “the wind in the trees”, and Nicholson herself notes how he uses the directorial note “more wind” from time to time, thus creating a sonic bridge between Oz and Lynch’s own peelable onion worlds.
Nicholson notes how Oz novelist L. Frank Braum sought to find a synergistic meeting point between the worlds of goodness and fantasy, and the contemporaneous worlds of rot and evil. As will be noted by several of the other guest speakers (including indie sci-fi stalwarts Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead and oft-beloved genre-hopper David Lowery) Lynch’s entire body of work is equally fascinated by the layers of America; the pretty ’50s veneer of wealth and plenitude, and the underbelly of violence and need.
The frictions between dreams and reality are inevitably recurrent. Ascher sees the Oz narrative keenly replayed in Jeffrey Beaumont’s discoveries of suburbia in Blue Velvet, while Jennifer’s Body director Karyn Kusama (the absolute highlight here) astutely posits Mulholland Drive as an inverse Wizard of Oz. Ascher’s piece is somewhat frustrating, however, in how freely he drifts off topic. As often as not he’s speaking about Back to the Future or Arthur Penn’s The Miracle Worker, or – both ironically and unsurprisingly – right back to The Shining all over again. It’s all fun, but it’s undeniably less focused than the readings presented by his contemporaries. John Waters, meanwhile, muses on how he and Lynch have become “Kindred” thanks to their shared appreciate of The Wizard of Oz, charting the film’s great influence on his own efforts as a reflection of the possibilities inherent in Lynch’s approach.
Elsewhere, Lynch/Oz frames Judy Garland’s tumultuous public life as kindred to the aforementioned tension between pristine Americana and its corrupted negative reflection. Are Lynch’s Women in Trouble reflections of Garland’s inexorable downfall? Twin Peaks, Mulholland Drive and especially INLAND EMPIRE are particularly prone to this reading. Everyone here seems to acknowledge how freely Lynch allows his subconscious to drift unfiltered into his film work. With this concession made, everyone present is free to extrapolate whatever they like from the myriad flowing images Lynch has captured over the past 50 years. As are any of us. Lynch/Oz doesn’t so much whittle this down to a particular set of finite influences and motivations as it does reveal – as Room 237 did – that the beauty of auteur cinema is our own ability to personalise and imprint on these porous works of art.
And while Lynch/Oz has plenty of rapturous praise to throw in Lynch’s direction, it also reframes Fleming’s family classic as something to be reconsidered, re-watched, reevaluated again. I have to admit I came to the 1939 musical late, and dismissed it as garish, trivial, poorly aged. But today, braving the cold, getting ready for Christmas, I fought crowds in HMV and picked up a copy of the film for myself on blu-ray. Philippe’s essay has invoked in me an eagerness to make my own reappraisal. Inspiring enough to fork over further money for. So, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to see the wizard once more…