Lynch/Oz review – curtains pull back to reveal the wizard that is David Lynch

How the auteur was influenced by 1939 classic The Wizard of Oz is examined in witty and insightful expert contributions curated by Alexandre O Philippe

Here is a portmanteau movie: a collection of cine-essays, curated by documentarist Alexandre O Philippe, on the question of how director David Lynch was influenced by The Wizard of Oz, starring Judy Garland. There are witty, insightful, dreamily cinephile contributions from a number of expert witnesses: film-makers David Lowery, Karyn Kusama, John Waters, Rodney Ascher, Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, and critic Amy Nicholson.

Evidently they are all in love with The Wizard of Oz, and in love with David Lynch, and in love with what their interaction tells us: the juxtaposition of waking reality and another reality, a hidden reality, or buried reality, or transcendent reality which is nonetheless as real, or more real, than anything else. All this is punctiliously laid out, with some contributors occasionally repeating themselves and each other: more than one observer comments on the 1957 sci-fi movie The Brain from Arous, which might indeed be a missing link between Lynch and Oz.

There is a fascinating discussion of Arthur Penn’s The Miracle Worker (1962), a very Lynchian film about Helen Keller, and much valuable material of the importance of curtains in Lynch, like the curtain behind which the wizard hides. The wizard is nothing but a showbiz huckster producing fraudulent effects in secret, it would appear, and yet there is real magic in Oz: there are actual witches. And many of the contributors digress enjoyably into areas which are only tangentially concerned with Lynch and Oz. There is some auteurist naivety here: the film shows Lynch discoursing on what a travesty it is not to be allowed final cut. But did Victor Fleming have final cut on Oz? Patently not: three other directors, including George Cukor, worked on the film.

My own questions would be about period: Lynch is not in fact explicitly concerned with the 1930s and 40s world of Oz but more with the buttoned-down conformity of the 50s, from which he nonetheless conjures something sublime and surreal. Maybe 50s films, and not Oz, are where the answer lies? Also, there is a Freudian eroticism in Oz, arguably, with Dorothy and her friends desiring, yearning, led onwards to some inaccessible goal. But actually, that doesn’t prepare you for the blisteringly erotic moments in Lynch’s Mulholland Drive. At all events, it’s a very enjoyable creative speculation.

• Lynch/Oz is released on 2 December in cinemas and on digital platforms.


Peter Bradshaw

The GuardianTramp

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