Alexandre O. Philippe’s latest documentary charts the surreal shaping of David Lynch
David Lynch has long evaded questions about the meanings of his work. A creative that allows his films to speak for themselves, however elaborate or surreal the message might seem to be. He himself once said in an interview, “As soon as you finish a film, people want you to talk about it. And it’s, um, the film is the talking”. Many people have tried to make sense of his output, and for a documentary to dive into Lynch’s psyche, who better than Alexandre O. Philippe, who has previously composed enthralling documentaries into the works of Alfred Hitchcock (78/52), Ridley Scott (Memory: The Origin of Alien) and William Friedkin (Leap of Faith). At the core of his interpretation into the meaning and origins of Lynch’s ideas, is the Technicolor musical fantasy, The Wizard of Oz. A film that pervades Lynch’s work like nothing else, from the overt appearance of a wicked witch (and other elements) in Wild at Heart, to common tales of innocent souls plunged into strange places, the recurring red shoe motif in Twin Peaks, Blue Velvet, Mulholland Drive, and more. Lynch himself affirmed, “There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think about the Wizard of Oz”.
Philippe’s approach is rather academic in nature. A collaborative study with chapters from critic Amy Nicholson, and filmmakers Rodney Asher (Room 237, A Glitch in the Matrix), John Waters (Pink Flamingos, Hairspray), Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead (Spring, The Endless), Karyn Kusama (The Invitation, Jennifer’s Body), and David Lowery (A Ghost Story). Each share some of their own personal encounters with Lynch and their interpretations of his work, with Oz as a backdrop. A revered classic, its impact on cinema (and pop culture in general) can be witnessed across genres and across decades. Permeating pop culture with its iconic images, memorable melodies, surreal characters, and surprisingly dark undertones.
John Waters is as engaging as you might expect, discusses the prevalence of nods to Oz in cinema, and draws parallels between his own oeuvre and Lynch’s. Benson and Moorhead talk about the glimpses of alternate, and often twisted realities seen in Lynch’s work. Kusama draws parallels between Dorothy’s quest to find a way home to a similar journey undertaken by Diane in Mulholland Drive. David Lowery (A Ghost Story) delivers perhaps the most well composed and considered piece, positioning Oz as an overarching indirect influence on all cinema that followed, cheekily undermining the central thesis of the film. Beyond these specifics, there are common threads that discuss ongoing themes in Lynch’s work, notably his interest that 1950s America, the post-war malaise and the general idea of peeking at the rot lucking under the tidy veneer of suburbia.
The contributions all conjure an evocative feel, and Philippe skillfully allows each to breath as a distinct piece, and yet click into a larger whole. He weaves the commentary over film footage, juxtaposed shots to allow comparisons, newsreels, interviews, and more. Visually and thematically, the documentary flows well, balancing analysis, insight, and personal reflection. Its only really when the film tilt away from Lynch that things start to feel a little dry. Overall, it’s an admirable effort to try to understand and recontextualizes Lynch’s work, these contributors striving to shine their own light on the method and meaning behind his madness. But, despite their insights, Lynch/Oz does not remove any of Lynch’s mystique. If anything, it manages to further burnish his enigmatic nature, reinforcing the depth and personal nature of his art. It leaves you with an urge to take yet another look at Lynch’s works, which is perhaps the best compliment Lynch/Oz could hope for.