Tribeca Film Festival 2022
Have you noticed that David Lynch seems to be kind of obsessed with The Wizard of Oz? Not only has he talked about it in interviews, but his films and TV shows are full of references large and small to the 1939 cinema classic, which preceded the start of his career by more than three decades.
Director Alexandre O. Philippe has noticed as well. The man who made 78/52: Hitchcock’s Shower Scene as well as Memory: The Origins of Alien is back with Lynch/Oz, another cinematic essay looking at this esoteric but nevertheless vivid topic. The film had its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival.
The film stretches in some parts and gets away from its premise in others. But it’s so hugely entertaining — especially if you know The Wizard of Oz and Lynch’s canon equally well — that I’m inclined to let it slide.
Sure, Lynch/Oz hits the expected points: Lynch has used Oz-like color palettes in many of his films. Wild at Heart not only borrowed The Wizard of Oz‘s plot and iconography, but the characters talked about it all the time. Isabella Rossellini’s character in Blue Velvet was named “Dorothy.” A lot of his work, especially Twin Peaks and Mulholland Drive, is about vivid dreams, with the dream world in some cases a better place for the dreamer than the real one.
But Phillippe’s film goes even deeper than that, pointing out Oz-style tropes throughout Lynch’s work and how they relate to the original film. It’s illustrated with hundreds of clips, some from Lynch, some from Oz, and some from tangential projects.
The Wizard of Oz had “the man behind the curtain”; Lynch’s films and shows constantly have curtains in them, usually with women singing in front of them (including Twin Peaks chanteuse Julee Cruise, who passed away days before the film’s Tribeca premiere.)
Also, Twin Peaks had characters named both “Judy” and “Garland,” with Judy representing a figure of great mystery.
The film is divided into six chapters, with a different critic, filmmaker, or other analyst discussing different aspects of the subject. The chapters are hosted by Karyn Kusama, John Waters, David Lowery, Rodney Ascher, Amy Nicholson, Justin Benson, and Aaron Moorhead. Kusama’s chapter, focusing on Mulholland Drive and its dream/nightmare dynamic, was my favorite.
While Waters is funny as usual, his part offers the least insight and is more focused on the similar inspirations he and Lynch took from The Wizard of Oz. Lynch himself isn’t interviewed, although the film uses a lot of footage of his old interviews.
Ascher previously made a similar movie, Room 237, which applied bizarre fan theories to The Shining. The theories were mostly absolute bunk, but the movie was still entertaining, and I’d love to watch a TV series that applied the same treatment to a different movie each episode. Here, he’s a bit closer to the mark.
There’s also an exploration of something that’s been said often about Lynch: The way his projects tend to present images of iconic Americana — Apple pie, small towns, diners, homecoming queens, the Hollywood dream factory — and expose the hidden dark side beneath it. It successfully ties that to Judy Garland’s tragic real life.
The film also shows something that I had forgotten about: A promo for Twin Peaks, during its second season, in which Agent Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) wakes up in the Great Northern Hotel, surrounded by the other characters, to share that he had a weird dream that the show had moved to Saturdays (it had) and that it was going back to Thursdays. This was simultaneously a homage to the finale scene of The Wizard of Oz, and a reference to the series’ many dream-related plots.
There’s no word on distribution for Lynch/Oz. But if nothing else, the documentary should inspire us to rewatch all of the Lynch movies.