The films of David Lynch all have connections to the 1939 classic of children’s cinema “The Wizard of Oz,” some overtly, others more obliquely.  Writer/director Alexandre O. Philippe ("78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene") enlists one film critic and six filmmakers to host six chapters addressing different aspects of the earlier movie’s influence on the enigmatic filmmaker in “Lynch/Oz.”

Laura's Review: B-

Dividing this documentary into six chapters with distinctly different analytical styles makes “Lynch/Oz” feel like an anthology film and, like most anthology films, it is uneven.  Those looking for a film that hews strictly to its titular subject matter may be puzzled as it frequently veers off the Yellow Brick Road, but many of those detours are quite worthwhile.

In the first chapter, ‘Wind,’ film critic Amy Nicholson recalls how both “Oz” and “It’s a Wonderful Life” flopped during their 1939 theatrical releases only to become iconic via special television events decades later.  She points out similarities between the two films, journeys featuring alternate versions of reality whose travelers are overjoyed to return ‘home.’  A split screen will compare a scene in “Oz” featuring the Wicked Witch’s guard with one from the Coen Brothers’ “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” and the KKK before jumping to Lynch’s “The Elephant Man,” a memory of his mother floating in a bubble as her free form reverie settles into more Lynchian specifics like his use of wind sound even in closed rooms and the anecdote that he directs his actors to give him ‘more wind’ when he wants mystery.           

Lynch would have been 10 when “Oz” first aired on TV and the terrain which surrounded him in Missoula, Montana wouldn’t have differed much from Dorothy Gale’s Kansas.  In Chapter 6, ‘Dig,’ David Lowery (director "A Ghost Story," "The Green Knight") posits that all filmmakers have touchstones which become ingrained in their work, his the Spielbergian ‘look of awe’ face, Lynch everything “Oz.”  In Chapter 4, ‘Multitudes,” Karyn Kusama (director "Girlfight," "The Invitation") reveals that in her early days as a waitress, she would serve Lynch pancakes and that when she attended a screening of “Mulholland Drive,” Lynch was asked about “Oz’s” influence during the Q&A.  ‘There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think of “The Wizard of Oz,’ was his answer.  Kusama plunges into “Drive” as an inverse of “Oz” where Betty’s reality is the dark side of Hollywood while she succeeds in her dreams.

It is interesting to see how mention of Lynch’s films is weighted throughout, his ‘Twin Peaks: The Return’ Showtime series, where a zoned out Dale Cooper seeks home, producing the most clips with “Wild at Heart” having the most obvious references to “Oz.”  But Lynch’s use of highway dividing lines, seen in everything from “The Straight Story” to “Lost Highway” points toward the yellow brick road and red shoes and floating bubbles abound.  The darkness underlying an all American surface is what ‘Blue Velvet’ is all about, its victim named Dorothy.  In Chapter 5, ‘Judy,’ "Spring" and "The Endless cordirectors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead cite frequent searches for characters named Judy, “Fire Walk With Me” even featuring a monkey saying the name.  They also ramble around film history the most, some of their connections pretty tenuous like stating “Oz” is connected to film noir because “I Wake Up Screaming” uses the song ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow.’

And then there’s John Waters, whose chapter titled ‘Kindred’ relates his connections to Lynch, the always entertaining filmmaker’s pride in having helped break out “Eraserhead” and his belief that he and Lynch share a similar sense of humor.  Waters also shares an affinity for “The Wizard of Oz” and was tickled when he got Margaret Hamilton’s autography emblazoned with a ‘WWW.’  He hopes she had her sheets monogrammed that way.

Robin's Review: C+

Janus Films opened "Lynch/Oz" in select theaters on 6/2/23.  Click here for play dates.