Showing posts with label Lynch/Oz. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Lynch/Oz. Show all posts

Thursday, October 26, 2023


After watching Alexandre O. Philippe's Lynch/Oz (2022), a multi-chaptered film essay that just started showing on The Criterion Channel exploring David Lynch's putative obsession with The Wizard of Oz (1939), I was reminded of Walter Benjamin's observation about the power of allegory: “Any person, any object, any relationship can mean absolutely anything else.” Allegory eradicates the detail: “it is . . . a world in which the detail is of no great importance.” Hence, for Benjamin, to allegorize is to perform an act of imposture: it replaces a particular detail by another with a similar structure. The appeal of The Wizard of Oz is due to its parabolic (allegorical) drift, meaning its conclusion contains a simple moral lesson: there’s no place like home. In Lynch/Oz, we are asked to believe that if you allegorize, say, a David Lynch film such as Blue Velvet (1986)—which, like The Wizard of Oz, has a character named Dorothy—it concludes with the same moral lesson as The Wizard of Oz: there’s no place like home. Such moments are presented as hard-earned insights, but hardly as enlightening as the filmmakers seem to believe. There are moments of keen insight, but they are few and far between, and there are discussions in which various sequences in Lynch's films are, oddly, compared to films other than The Wizard of Oz.

While it may be that The Wizard of Oz is one of David Lynch’s most “enduring obsessions,” so, too, is Sunset Boulevard (1950), a Hollywood movie (movie about Hollywood) that has been referenced many times in Lynch’s films. As any fan of the Twin Peaks series knows, Lynch’s character is named Gordon Cole, an allusion to the Paramount executive to whom Norma Desmond speaks on the telephone. And, in a strategic shot in Mulholland Drive, we see the street sign, “Sunset Boulevard.” Director Karyn Kusama, in perhaps the best essay in the film along with Amy Nicholson’s, recalls a screening of Mulholland Drive (2001) at New York’s IFC Center. In a Q&A afterward, Kusama reports Lynch said, “There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about The Wizard of Oz.” Certainly an over-exaggeration on Lynch’s part, but even if the film inhabits a permanent place in his psyche, his confession provides no passe-partout, or pass key, to understanding his work. Except, of course, by allegorization. In fact, I would argue that Sunset Boulevard is far more important to understanding Mulholland Drive than The Wizard of Oz.

Also, I am surprised that none of the commentators mentioned or discussed the sequence in The Straight Story (in which there is a character named Dorothy!) when Alvin invites the hitchhiking, runaway girl to shelter overnight at his camp. In The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy, who has run away from home in order to protect Toto, happens upon Professor Marvel (Frank Morgan, in yet another iteration of the titular wizard), a charlatan fortune-teller. Like Alvin, Professor Marvel tells the runaway girl to go home because her family wants her and is worried about her. The Straight Story is a road movie, like The Wizard of Oz (if you want to make that argumentnot a stretch), and does conclude with a scene extolling the virtues of family. Beyond such broad comparisons, though, the two films are much different. 

In addition to Amy Nicholson and Karyn Kusama, whose contributions are the most interesting and insightful in the movie, the film’s essayists are John Waters, filmmakers Rodney Ascher (Room 237) Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson (The Endless), and David Lowery (The Green Knight).

Showing now on The Criterion Channel.