In my previous podcasting days, we would occasionally answer listener questions. And one of my favourites was the hypothetical, “If you knew someone who [never saw] a movie before, what would be the first movie you showed them.” There was no thought or hesitation, the answer was beyond obvious: The Wizard of Oz. It’s a musical, it’s a fantasy, it is a horror movie, it is in black and white and it is in colour. A much better critic and podcaster, Amy Madison, puts it rather succinctly, “It is the quintessential American fairy tale.”
Lynch/Oz, a documentary collection of video essays featuring Madison, along with filmmakers John Waters (Pink Flamingos), Karyn Kusama (Aeon Flux), Rodney Ascher (Room 237), David Lowery (The Green Knight), and the Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead team (Spring), is ostensibly about David Lynch’s obsession with, and consistently repurposing of, The Wizard of Oz imagery, and structure, and sounds, in all of his films. But it goes much further than that. It is a surrogate instruction manual in how to watch movies.
It is love letter from one set of filmmakers to another on how obsessions with an image, and idea, or a technique, can manifest itself in experimental (and familiar) ways in every film a filmmakers makes in one way or another. That a certain kind of auteur is a slave to their own burned in images. Often from childhood. And, most importantly, that this is a grand thing to be celebrated. Late in the film, perhaps in the final essay, there is a montage of scenes from a pantheon of global filmmakers, from Spike Lee to Wong Kar-Wai to Michelangelo Antonioni, and how they work to evolve particular a type of framing, or specific set of images again and again, and again. If you love movies. If you love film. And if you love cinema. You will be smiling.
But back to David Lynch. He is featured, with high hair and deadpan-dad-joke glory, in the doc, via many archival interviews and clips (often acting in his own films), in one of them saying, “There is not a day that goes by that I do not think of The Wizard of Oz.” With a dizzying array of match cuts, split screens and other tools, we are indeed walked through an endless number of references, some oblique, others direct and obvious. It is not even necessary to be a David Lynch enthusiast, or even overly like anything described as Lynchian, to appreciate the pattern recognition on multitudes of Lynch’s re-purposed images, from red shoes, to optical overlays, to lip-synched surrealism, so much is teased-out from the man’s work here, and mapped onto the scenes, craft, and “public real-estate” of Wizard of Oz. It must have been a titanic effort, and certainly it is a bountiful one.
Lynch/Oz is a film syllabus of film theory (and practice) in just over 100 minutes. It is also a celebration of just how strange, how powerful, and how popular Victor Fleming’s 1931 technicolor fantasy has been in its influence over the decades. And, if you are so inclined to peak behind the curtain, how dark and disturbing its actual production history was.
Alexandre O. Philippe has been quietly assembling a collection of documentaries examining many aspects of cinema, from Psycho’s complex and exquisite shower scene in 78/52 (2017), the zombie sub-genre in Doc of the Dead (2014), the conception of the Xenomorph form Alien, in Memory (2019), William Friedkin’s genesis of The Exorcist, in Leap of Faith (2019) and even toxic fandom in The People Vs. George Lucas (2010). What I love about his rapidly growing body of work is that he gets better at it, and goes deeper, with each and every one. No surprise here, Lynch/Oz is his best one yet.