Up there with Elvis Mitchell’s Is That Black Enough For You?!? as being one of the most insightful documentaries about cinema filmmaking, and film theory as of late, Lynch/Oz does a compelling deep dive into the creative inspirations of the great David Lynch—and we get rich perspectives in the film from filmmakers and film critics on just how much of a creative impact Victor Fleming’s 1939 masterpiece The Wizard of Oz had on Lynch’s subconscious and his art that has always bounced between realism, surrealism, and fantasy. While the documentary could be viewed as being tailor-made for David Lynch fans, it could also appease fans of The Wizard of Oz and movie buffs as well with its analysis and beautifully restored footage of so many films that are discussed throughout the film. The documentary, which is structured around cine-essays and directed by Alexandre O. Philippe (The People vs. George Lucas), sets itself out as being documentary, or rather a film, about cinema and filmmaker David Lynch, and he explores just how influential The Wizard of Oz has been for David Lynch’s impressive body of work that consists of ten feature films, two seasons of Twin Peaks, and numerous short films. The film offers some erudite analysis and thoughtful theories by filmmakers David Lowery, John Waters, Karyn Kusama, Rodney Ascher, and lone film critic Amy Nicholson.
On the surface, Phillippe’s latest analysis seems like an entry-level introduction to the basics of Lynch’s style, his filmography and on the cultural impact of The Wizard of Oz—he introduces his body of work and the theories by Nicholson and each of the filmmakers that reference The Wizard of Oz throughout the documentary and emphasizes just how Lynch’s motifs and themes are a key reflection of his inspirations from the iconic movie. As the film goes on, the more enjoyable it feels, as we get six different perspectives, each with a different thesis and approach. The most compelling chapter, or rather essay, is by John Waters, who actually comes off much more as a peer to Lynch as both men have crossed paths before. They even had brunches together at Bob’s Big Boy, where Waters rejoices his memories of Lynch. Water’s even highlights how they share a lot of the same sensibilities and sense of humor, even when their approaches and executions are vastly different. You can easily see similarities cross over for the contempt of the 1950s, which appeared innocent on the outside but was really a facade for darker forces that consist of oppression, conformity, and other forms of human cruelty. Water’s segment is certainly the most personal. Another memorable chapter is Kusama’s, who draws some bright parallels in how Dorothy’s journey home from Oz holds similarities with Diane Selwyn’s fantasies and dreams in Mulholland Drive. Kusama actually makes the bold claim that Mulholland Drive isn’t as cynical as it appears, as Lynch shows how some of the characters do reveal their more compassionate, better sides in the first half of the film.
Courtesy Janus Films
Some of the other analysts, such as Justin Benson and Aaron Moorehead, provide the most minor analysis of the film, as they make overly projected claims about how The Wizard of Oz influenced After Hours and Apocalypse Now, which end up feeling like unnecessary and even unconvincing comparisons. However, their segment picks up deeper analysis and momentum once they explore Lynch’s themes of mirror realities; it begins to feel a lot less like footnotes and rather more profound.
The documentary’s closing chapter from David Lowery gives the documentary a nice closure with some beautifully edited montages that become a grandiose tribute to cinema as a whole. Lowery’s chapter certainly sidetracks, especially when he discusses his own films or how he even uses examples of many other great auteurs planting the seeds to their magnum opus, ranging from Alfred Hitchcock’s use of birds in his earlier films that eventually built up to The Birds, to Terrence Malick’s use of nature and landscapes that built up to The Tree of Life, all the way to Wong Kar-Wai and Spike Lee’s astonishing use of the double dolly shot. Lowery’s chapter goes a step further than just showing how Oz is incorporated into Lynch’s film. His segment with these juxtapositions examines how Lynch’s body of work feels like a buildup to Twin Peaks: The Return. As a filmmaker and creator himself, Lowery understands how many influences stay in our subconscious, but great artists evolve and shape their inspirations into a more singular vision, which Lynch recuperates with his work.
The bottom line is that Lynch/Oz becomes a thoughtful mediation on the power of creativity and legacy: how archaic art can live in our subconsciousness and eventually seeds of creativity can blossom into great art. David Lynch is a very skilled filmmaker who has already built an everlasting legacy, in which his audience continues to grow by the year thanks to the impact his films hold. It makes you wonder who the next generation of great filmmakers will be influenced by. Artists are inspired by other artists and forms of art, and art holds various emotions from person to person, and eventually the greater artists all get influenced by the greatness before, and they do not rehash, but they reinvent and evolve. Lynch/Oz compellingly explores this with curiosity and passion.
LYNCH/OZ opens in limited theaters Friday, June 2nd. It opens in Detroit Friday, June 16th at the Detroit Film Theater