Writer and Director: Alexandre O. Philippe
A deep dive into the influences that have shaped the work of film director David Lynch, documentary Lynch / Oz is also a love letter to the medium of cinema itself.
Directed by Alexandre O. Philippe, Lynch / Oz examines Lynch’s ties to that quintessential American classic, Victor Fleming’s The Wizard of Oz. The documentary is divided into six video essays. The contributors, including film critic Amy Nicholson, and film directors John Waters, Karyn Kusama and David Lowery, explore Lynch’s films in detail.
With a career that has embraced the other-worldly and the macabre, we see motifs of Oz endlessly reinterpreted in Lynch. John Waters, a contemporary of Lynch, describes watching Oz as it became a Christmas television ritual. It is not hard to see connections to the film-maker either: a story of a girl stepping from a sepia-toned reality into Technicolor Oz; doppelgangers from other dimensions, the enigmatic Wizard.
In his essay ‘Membranes’, director Rodney Ascher views Oz through simulation theory. Dorothy Gale, essentially, moves between parallel worlds. Which reality is the real one? We see this in Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, as aspiring actress Betty Elms (Naomi Watts) navigates her way through dream and nightmare versions of Hollywood. Lynch is very clear on how both these realities can co-exist. His obsession with Oz even extends into the meta-story of its star, Judy Garland. Inextricably bound to her alter ego, in A Star is Born; a brittle, exhausted Garland / Gale emerges from behind the velvet curtain.
The surrealist, nightmarish qualities of Oz also come into play when discussing film, like Blue Velvet. Lynch deconstructs film Americana to examine what lies underneath. The logical conclusion to James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause and Marlon Brando in The Wild One is a violent, masochistic Frank Booth (a late career-defining performance from Dennis Hopper). Caught between Booth and lounge singer, Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini) is the transgressing ‘innocent’, detective Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan). The claustrophobic, dream-like state replicates itself as MacLachlan takes on a similar role in Twin Peaks.
Lynch / Oz considers not only The Wizard of Oz’s basic narrative (consider how many characters in films are trying to “get back home”) but its exploration of multiple genres. This multi-verse view partly explains Lynch’s unsettling vibe. Semantically, we are in many places at once.
While the documentary paints in broad strokes, the question is whether this is enough for hardcore Lynch fans – it’s not really telling them anything they don’t already know. The lack of interview footage with Lynch is an intrinsic weakness. But when viewed through a wider lens, Lynch / Oz offers a panoramic view of the film-maker and his inspirations; an encyclopaedic range of references through which Lynch intersects. This documentary does not provide fresh insight, but it does offer a comprehensive, engaging overview. Lynch discourages absolutist readings of his films, and while a documentary that enthusiastically celebrates him may not feel obviously Lynchian, it is this approach that, in the end, is the road less travelled.
Lynch/Oz will be released across UK cinemas on 2nd December.