Tuesday, May 30, 2023


The line "I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore” has become an easy shorthand quote to suggest a character’s old assumptions about how the world works have just been turned on their head. It is the sort of thing David Lynch’s protagonists might say. Maybe they did. I honestly don’t remember if that precise line was included in the super-cuts of Wizard of Oz allusions seen throughout Alexandre O. Philippe’s latest cinematically-themed documentary. However, it should be reasonably safe to conclude Lynch has seen the 1939 classic fantasy and it made some kind of impression on the auteur after watching Lynch/Oz, which opens this Friday in New York.

Evidently, film critic Amy Nicolson and genre filmmakers Rodney Ascher, John Waters, Karyn Kusama, Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead, and David Lowery having been thinking about
Oz as an important source of Lynch’s inspiration for some time, because they each get one section of the film to draw their connections.

Frankly, they all make a very compelling case—so much so that
Lynch/Oz will have most viewers completely convinced after the first part. However, there are five more sections, which largely repeat the same points. After a while, all the Oz-like motifs in Lynch’s oeuvre, such as the red shoes, mysterious curtains, doppelgangers, and the porous boundaries between dreams and reality, become repetitive. We get it. Lynch definitely alludes to Oz in many of his films. Case closed.

Lynch/Oz shares the prime fault of Philippe’s previous documentary, The Taking, in that all his participating commentators share the same opinions and make the same arguments. There are no crazy outliers (as there were in Ascher’s Room 237) or dissenting opinions (as in Mark Hartley’s Not Quite Hollywood). It is just the same talking points, repeated five times over. Waters gives it more of a personal spin and Ascher takes a more macro perspective on Oz’s overall influence on American cinema in general, but there are no conflicts in the six analyses Philippe presents.

The truth is listening to the same opinions without any point-counter-point challenge gets a little boring. That’s why nobody watches MSNBC. Just one Devil’s Advocate could have really livened-up the film. It is somewhat less of a problem for
Lynch/Oz than for The Taking, because Philippe’s John Ford doc was more political in nature, but it is still an issue. Presumably, such a naysayer might have looked to Dune, a brutal epic story of betrayal, oppression, and revolution, which is largely the forgotten Lynch film in Lynch/Oz. There is a naïve protagonist, but he cannot escape his dark fantasy world by simply waking up.

There are some interesting connections in
Lynch/Oz, but if you stripped out the repetition, it could have been a nice half-hour short. As it is, the opinions presented are too uniform for a feature-length documentary. Only recommended for the hardest hardcore David Lynch fans (who won’t mind re-watching the same deep dive six times over), Lynch/Oz opens this Friday (6/2) in New York, at the IFC Center.