Seeking out the

5000 greatest films

in a century of cinema


Directed by Alexandre O. Philippe
Produced by Kerry Deignan Roy
Written by Alexandre O. Philippe
Cinematography: Robert Muratore
Editing: David Lawrence
Music: Aaron Lawrence
Runtime: 108 min
Release Date: 09 June 2022
Aspect Ratio: 1.85 : 1
Color: Color

In his latest film essay, Swiss documentarian Alexandre O. Philippe (The People vs. George Lucas, Memory: The Origins of Alien, Leap of Faith: William Friedkin on The Exorcist) explores the influence of the film The Wizard of Oz on the filmmaker David Lynch. The idea for Lynch/Oz originated from Lynch's response to an audience question at the New York Film Festival premiere of his late career masterpiece Mulholland Drive (2001). When asked about the impact of The Wizard of Oz on his work, the famously taciturn writer/director replied, "There is not a day that goes by that I don't think about The Wizard of Oz." To explore how the 1939 MGM classic has influenced the visionary contemporary filmmaker, Philippe interviewed seven other film directors and critics, asking them to provide their perspectives. He then edited their thoughts into a script around which he built this six-part feature-length visual essay consisting of narration from the interviewees illustrated by clips from The Wizard of Oz, Lynch's work, and other movies.

Lynch's work is certainly flush with allusions to Oz, most notably in Wild at Heart, with its constant visual, narrative, and dialogue references. And, without too much of a reach, one can find parallels and nods to Oz in most of his other pictures, especially those structured around a character falling into some kind of dream or surrealist journey—Dune, Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive, and others. But this essay would perhaps be more accurately titled Oz/Lynch, as it is not limited to the effects of The Wizard of Oz on David Lynch. It frequently shifts into how the iconic picture has influenced many other filmmakers, including those participating here. Sometimes these digressions are interesting, but they just as often muddle the theme and cause the essay to veer off course. After all, the multitude of ways The Wizard of Oz has impacted the entire American psyche could fill a six-hour documentary; and each time one of Philippe's speakers deviates into a larger contextual discussion, we start to question if the influences on Lynch specifically are unique enough to justify this movie. 

The best film essay feature I've ever seen is Room 237, made by one of the speakers in this movie, Rodney Ascher. Room 23 is about the many supposedly hidden meanings in Stanley Kubrick's horror classic The Shining. But, to me, Ascher's picture also offers a fascinating view into the minds of conspiracy theorists. Part of what makes that film so effective is that Ascher doesn't comment on this fascinating subtextual element of his movie about a movie; he just dispassionately presents the thoughts of his five speakers and allows you to make of them what you will.

Essay films are less academic and often far richer when their concepts are explored through multiple perspectives rather than from the single viewpoint of the essay's creator. This axiom certainly applies when the subject involves the auteur theory—a way of looking at cinema that I personally give as little credence as I do most conspiracy theories. Pretty much any discussion of a director as the sole "author" of their films involves looking for patterns in their work, stringing together examples of those patterns that suit the point one is making, and discarding anything that doesn't fit one's pre-ordained conclusion. But when you interweave multiple perspectives on a filmmaker, how the differing views align and contradict each other belies the idea that a single person had a single vision and transferred it to celluloid by themselves. We all read a film differently, and part of how we take a movie in is influenced by the assumptions we make about its creators’ intent. But there is no definitive way to prove the accuracy of our conjecture, especially when discussing someone like Lynch, an artist infamously unwilling to discuss the meanings of his films and how they were derived.

Lynch's desire for audiences to derive their own meanings from what he and his collaborators put on screen make him an ideal subject for study, books, grad school theses, and film essays, and why Philippe has made one of his best movies here, by assembling views from a variety of voices. The downside of Lynch/Oz's six-part structure is that some speakers are far more interesting than others. Almost every segment has frustrating moments. In the opening minutes, critic Amy Nicholson says that The Wizard of Oz and It's a Wonderful Life have the same story beats, a ridiculous statement unless she believes film narratives are limited to three plot points. Filmmakers John Waters and David Lowery talk more about their own work than the films of David Lynch, which is incredibly annoying in the case of Lowery. And director Karyn Kusama at one point states that The Wizard of Oz and Gone with the Wind were "made by the same person." The notion of the Mervyn LeRoy produced The Wizard of Oz (to which many directors contributed, including Richard Thorpe, George Cukor, King Vidor—who directed the black and white Kansas sequences—and, of course, credited director Victor Fleming) and the David O. Selznick produced Gone with the Wind (of which Fleming was undoubtedly the principle director after taking over for Cukor and later being replaced by Sam Wood) were "made by the same person" sums up the stupidity of the near-universal blanket acceptance of the auteur theory in a nutshell.

It's not like the speakers in this film are talking off-the-cuff in on-camera interviews. In each case, they have carefully gone over the scripted narration Philippe has written for them based on his earlier interviews and discussions with each. So some of the bold declarations made in Lynch/Oz may cause you to question or discredit everything else one or two of these speakers have to say. But each interviewee's well-thought-out assertions become more engrossing when taken cumulatively. It is perhaps ironic that this movie about directorial vision is made by a director conveying his points through editing the thoughts and ideas of seven distinctive collaborators.

Twitter Capsule:

Alexandre O. Philippe's latest film essay explores the relationship between the iconic filmmaker David Lynch and the classic film The Wizard of Oz in ways that both intrigue and frustrate.