Moviegoers and Cinephiles today are privileged to receive insights into their favorite films through any number of Vanity Fair scene breakdowns, WTF Pod confessionals, and, despite studios’ best efforts, the Blu-ray special feature. Maybe this is why David Lynch, an ever-secretive auteur who refuses to explain his films has been the subject of several documentaries already: Pretty as a Picture: The Art of David Lynch (1997), Lynch (one) (2007), Lynch 2 (2007), and David Lynch: The Art Life (2016), the last three of which were produced by the same team, some of the only individuals to have gained his trust. None of these films bear his authorship.
Some of the films that do, have films made about them, such as Blue Velvet Revisited (2016) by Peter Braatz. He’s written books like Catching the Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness, and Creativity (2006), and there are dozens of Twin Peaks books, official and not. A Masterclass, a YouTube channel for his weather reports; a fine arts career, equally successful. A fan base so loyal to his myth and worldview that vlogs, mini-docs, promotional featurettes, his actual short films, and his early-internet-video films that’d we’d now call “shitposts” are all intermixed as films on Letterboxd and IMDB. Several of his features, like Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992) and Inland Empire (2006), even have auxiliary feature films edited together from deleted scenes because his audience is so insatiable. And it all belongs in his oeuvre, a combination of Naturalist and Surrealist Americana so distinct in its flavor that it has its own overapplied name — Lynchian. For someone who tries to say as little as possible, there sure is a lot of that “little” to go around, so did we really need another documentary about David Lynch’s films?
Apparently, we did, because Lynch/Oz is a cinematically innovative and wonderful film.
Lynch/Oz isn’t like other about-Lynch-films because he’s not really in it. An apt choice for the man’s disposition. While Lynch (one) (2007) and Lynch 2 (2007) offer unprecedented on-screen access to his process and David Lynch: The Art Life (2016) is composed of the best autobiographical monologues and Pretty as a Picture: The Art of David Lynch (2016) gives voice to his collaborators, Lynch/Oz does two key things.
First, it discusses the relationship that Lynch has with his clearest influence, The Wizard of Oz (1939), which is also one of the great influences on American culture.
Second, the film fuses the cinematic and intellectual understanding of some of our greatest artists with the form of cinema itself to elevate a format to new heights with an assured hand.
Structured in seven parts, a prologue and six chapters, it’s a theatrically-released collection of film essays by film critics, film documentarians, and feature filmmakers. Amy Nicholson (head film critic for the LA Weekly), Rodney Ascher (director of Room 237 (2012)), John Waters (director of Pink Flamingos (1972) and Hairspray (1988)), Karyn Kusama (director of Jennifer’s Body (2009) and The Invitation (2015)), Justin Benson and Aaron Moorehead (co-directors of The Endless (2017)), and David Lowery (director of A Ghost Story (2017) and The Green Knight (2021)) all contribute, with the whole collection introduced by emcee Jason Stoval as the infamous Sid Pink.
The modern age of film essays (video essays about films) is a fairly new expression of cinema that began with Tony Zhou and Taylor Ramos’s Every Frame a Painting on YouTube in 2014. The movement exploded, producing writers like Lindsay Ellis, film essayists like Mikey Newman (Movies with Mikey/Film Joy) and Jackson Maher (Skip Intro), and filmmakers like Patrick H. Willems (Night of the Coconut (2022)) and Kogonada (Columbus (2017), After Yang (2021)). The BFI now polls the best film essays annually, Mubi publishes film essays with some of its contributors, and Netflix, David Fincher, and Tony Zhou teamed up in 2021 to bring the format to television in Voir.
Where Voir attempted to evolve the format with large productions and individual episodes for each showcased voice, Lynch/Oz instead aims for something deeper. By curating the voices together, instead of a lecture series, it creates a chorus of cinematic hymns. One sound, a full choir.
The cinematic language of film essays is built on a simple building block. A scene from a film is shown, and the essayist discusses it, often by talking over it. As the format has evolved, scripted sketches, projected images, musical numbers, animated collage, and other forms of non-diegetic, artistic interaction with the subject matter have been introduced. Instead, Lynch/Oz takes a cue from David Lynch’s own use of classical film techniques like extended cross-fades, the Kuleshov effect, and extended montage.
Covering David Lynch’s own life, The Wizard of Oz (1939)’s production and legacy, Lynch’s own body of work, and each essay’s personal connections to that body, the film “spoils” many of Lynch’s films, serving less as a primer on the director’s films and more a reflection on the meaningful experiences had by the essayists when viewing them.
It is genuinely moving to see David Lowrey, director of Peter Pan & Wendy (2023), discuss The Wizard of Oz (1939)’s role in creating the American understanding of conscious and unconscious reality, and that understanding’s effect on the animated classic Peter Pan (1953). John Water’s personal insights on Lynch and Eraserhead (1977) are as funny as they are engrossing, just as Amy Nicholson’s essay is as much about America as it is about any film discussed in the picture.
David Lynch is an evangelist for transcendentalist meditation, an artist focused on the interplay present in the duality of being, the conscious and the unconscious, the presentable and the seedy, the myth and the truth. Lynch/Oz is a film that uses cinema’s vehicle of presentation to deconstruct what lies underneath, the perfect method of interrogating and celebrating this taciturn artist and what his work has meant to so many. See it on as big a screen as possible, and let the interplay of the presentation and the understood carry you away to Oz.
In select theaters beginning June 2nd, 2023.
Opening Limited Release:
- NYC at the IFC Center on June 2nd, 2023.
- LA at Vidiots on June 9th, 2023.
North Carolina Release:
- Charlotte, NC June 9th, 2023 at the Independent Picture House.
- Winston-Salem, NC on June 16th, 2023 at A/perture Cinema.
- Asheville, NC on June 16th, 2023 at Fine Arts Theatre.
For more information, head to the official Janus Films Lynch/Oz webpage.
Final Score: 4 out of 5.