Part of loving the work of David Lynch (and love it I do) is trying to resist the urge to try and decode it. Many have tried in a myriad of ways, but the least interesting person at the party is almost always the one who thinks they’ve got the director or any one of his films ‘figured out’. No, Carl, you don’t.
And then there’s the people who think that Lynch just throws things up on the screen at random, for giggles I guess. That’s not true either. There’s always been a consistent through-line and many motifs that pop up over and over in Lynch’s work, whether it’s paintings or scuplture, TV or film. If you look, or imagine hard enough, you can find significance in every frame, which is why nerds have been trying to unlock his secrets for as long as he’s been putting them out into the world, even though it’s a puzzle that doesn’t particularly want to be solved. Knowing about those symbols and influences don’t really lead you down a road to ‘figuring out’ Lynch, whatever that means. I do think, though, that they help you to appreciate and enjoy the work of the esoteric director, and submerge you further into his worlds.
Alexandre O. Phillipe’s documentaries are deep dives into pivotal moments in film (mostly horror) history. His Document of the Dead chronicles the meaning and significance behind George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead and the popular enrapturement with zombies. In 78/52: Hitchcock’s Shower Scene, Phillipe examines Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. Other projects have put Ridley Scott’s Alien and William Friedkin’s The Exorcist under the microscope.
In Lynch/OZ, Phillipe enlists six filmmakers and reviewers to expound on Lynch’s fixation on Victor Fleming’s 1939 classic, The Wizard of Oz.It feels, in many ways, like an academic text but with the mind-bending visuals of Lynch’s work to bolster it, and it cleverly avoids psychoanalysis of Lynch himself. I’m not entirely certain that The Wizard of Oz is the skeleton key to David Lynch’s mind (if one exists), but the five cases being presented in Lynch/OZ certainly make for a compelling argument, especially in a brief scene where Lynch admits that not a day goes by without him thinking about the Wizard of Oz, and a shot of Lynch’s workshop/studio that zooms in, crime documentary-style on a photo of Dorothy conspicuously watching over the proceedings.
The six voices that present the connections between Lynch and Oz are never seen, but their names alone lend strong credibility to the film. Topics like ‘Multitudes’ by filmmaker Karyn Kusama, ‘Kindred’ by the iconic John Waters (this one’s worth the price of admission alone), and ‘Judy’ by Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead trace a yellow brick road through The Wizard of Oz and wind it through Lynch’s films and art while never seeking to explain anything, exactly. You get the sense that each voice is out to illuminate some hidden part of either Oz or Lynch, giving scenes and characters and aesthetic choices brand new context. They amplify the echoes of The Wizard of Oz – red shoes or thick curtains, a woman named Dorothy in Blue Velvet or the very idea of wind as a means to transport oneself between different realities – in Lynch’s work and even in his musings in interviews.
In Lynch/OZ, Alexandre O. Phillipe and his assembled group of essayists delve into David Lynch’s work with purpose and a unified goal: not to explain or even understand but to theorize about the cross-pollination of the worlds of Oz, Dorothy’s Kansas, and the half-remembered dreams of Lynch’s art. It presents the intriguing possibility that there are back-tunnels in all our favourite stories. A sneaky way of accessing our dreams by peeking behind curtains, traveling between worlds, and peering below the surface-level contrivances of Technicolor living. That’s what Lynch’s work has always meant to me, and which could well have been conceived at the moment when that tornado whipped Dorothy to a beautiful, mysterious, but suspiciously insidious place.