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Lynch/Oz review – an act of film criticism that illuminates and invigorates

Alexandre O. Philippe’s approachable, insightful documentary delves into the director's canon through his love of The Wizard of Oz

The opening sequence of Lynch/Oz doesn’t promise much. A cheap-looking CGI background shows a grotty green curtain, before a cabaret-style MC intones an introduction to the film. All very Lynchian, of course, but not very exciting. Thankfully, what emerges from Alexandre O. Philippe’s film is a fascinating study into the works of both David Lynch and The Wizard of Oz, positioned here as a foundational text of American cinema.

Those looking for straight answers, however, are looking in the wrong place (then again, why are you even watching Lynch films if you’re looking for straight answers?). Philippe’s strategy is instead to invite a number of directors (and one film critic) to write and narrate a chapter on a particular theme that connects Lynch and Oz, simultaneously also collapsing against that person’s relationship with both. The visuals display a split-screen of relevant snippets depending on what films are being referred to, allowing us to see numerous direct visual quotations of The Wizard of Oz in Lynch’s features.

Each figure – critic Amy Nicholson, documentarian Rodney Ascher (Room 237), John Waters (Pink Flamingoes, Female Trouble), Karyn Kusama (Jennifer’s Body), Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead (The Endless, Synchronic), and David Lowery (A Ghost Story, The Green Knight) – brings something new to the table, taking what is ostensibly a simple idea and continually refreshing it and revitalising it, and in the process also often revealing something new about their own work, too.

With Lynch being famously reticent to discuss the meaning of his films in interviews, this sideways entrance into his work actually ends up being far more intellectually and philosophically nourishing than a standard run-down with talking heads and archival footage would be. Karyn Kusama recalls a New York Film Festival post-screening Q&A of Mulholland Dr., during which Lynch batted away multiple questions about The Meaning Of It All. Then one punter asked him to talk about his relationship to The Wizard of Oz, and the man lit up: “There is not a day goes by that I don’t think about The Wizard of Oz.” It is this moment in and of itself that perhaps holds that key to what’s going on behind the curtains.

This, then, is a film essay, in the truest, deepest, most cinephiliac sense, an act of film criticism that illuminates, invigorates, and motivates one’s love for the form. Film itself is underused as a medium of criticism (notwithstanding the cultural success of YouTube channels like Every Frame a Painting), but Lynch/Oz is a superb example of exactly how to do it: approachable and accessible, challenging without being exhausting. And in any case, John Waters’ segment is unsurprisingly funny, so there is also that.

If there is an issue with the film, it’s the constant exultation that everyone has seen Oz, something that I, a child not of Western extraction who only saw it for the first time a few years ago, find to be a very America-centric observation. Yet, I emerged wanting to devour all of Lynch’s filmography once more, and revisit The Wizard of Oz, a film I don’t especially care for: a sense of discovery and curiosity, key to both Lynch’s work and pinnacles of Hollywood entertainment, are keenly imbued in Lynch/Oz itself.

Lynch/Oz is released in UK cinemas and Curzon Home Cinema on 2 December.

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