Being a massive fan of both David Lynch and The Wizard of Oz, Tribeca’s video essay documentary Lynch/Oz is, in theory, perfectly suited to my tastes. Utilizing the expertise of multiple visionary creatives, writer/director Alexandre O. Philippe (78/52: Hitchcock’s Shower Scene, Doc of the Dead) brings a whole new meaning to obsessive analysis. After a Twin Peaks-esque opening with a man appearing onstage in a puff of green smoke, Lynch/Oz wastes no time getting straight to the point. Playing out over six distinct chapters, this unconventional documentary certainly tries hard to prove a hypothesis that first sounds too outlandish to be believed: director David Lynch has been so influenced by MGM’s timeless classic The Wizard of Oz that it has been woven into every iota of his work.
First up for Chapter 1, we dive into the similarities between The Wizard of Oz and It’s a Wonderful Life—two films that bombed upon release, yet found new life through annual TV-showings. Every generation of kids for eight decades was deeply effected by the power of Oz, so naturally a child David Lynch latched onto the tale’s raw, magical power. Pretty soon it dives into the curtain of the Wizard paralleling the curtains of the red room in Twin Peaks, and from there all bets are off. This segment immediately caught my interest, and pulled me right into the movie despite not really being in the mood to watch a documentary.
Chapter 2, titled “Membranes,” goes into the real world versus the nightmare world, recalling everything from The Matrix to Back to the Future to Dune. It is also the first of many, many times this doc will mention doppelgängers, a recurring Lynch motif. My absolute favorite part is the lengthy analysis of the baffling-but-perfect Twin Peaks: The Return. Several of the points made had not occurred to me at all, yet made perfect sense in context.
Chapter 3 is my favorite of all, narrated by John Waters and juxtaposing the humor of Waters and Lynch against one another. What this segment has to offer is the influences on Waters, also heavily Wizard of Oz-related. In A Dirty Shame, a character gets bonked on the head and experiences a hyper-sexual transformation inspired by Dorothy’s dream-inducing head injury in Oz. I have to admit it brought me great joy seeing clips from Serial Mom, my personal favorite Waters film, and hearing Waters pax poetic on some of his storied works.
The remaining chapters further double down on the themes of Oz permeating through Lynch’s work, and provide specific examples and interview footage of Lynch admitting he has a deep adoration for The Wizard of Oz. Mulholland Drive gets lengthy coverage, as does hidden imagery, the fantasy of growing up, and the concept of the American Dream. Some ideas definitely seem to be grasping at straws in a segment titled “Judy”—I am not so convinced that the Wizard is reflective in Apocalypse Now, but I want to watch Wild at Heart way more than before. I do have quite a few blind spots in Lynch’s filmography, and now is the perfect time to dive in. I wish it had gone slightly deeper on Judy Garland herself. Strangely, L. Frank Baum and his sprawling book series is barely mentioned.
Editing in Lynch/Oz is jaw-dropping, using 1939’s Wizard of Oz as gif-style reactionary tactic to near-identical side-by-side of Oz comparing it against boatloads of other films. The conclusion, which depicts the ripple effects of filmmaker inspirations including Spike Lee and Hitchcock, is its show-stopping centerpiece. I am not convinced those without at least a passable love for either The Wizard of Oz or Lynch will find this doc even slightly palatable; personally, I had a great time revisiting the land of Oz through a brand-new lens.
Lynch/Oz screened at 2022’s Tribeca Film Festival.