Tag Archives: David Lowery

CAPSULE: LYNCH/OZ (2022)

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Lynch/Oz can be rented or purchased on-demand.

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DIRECTED BY: Alexandre O. Philippe

FEATURING: Amy Nichols, , , , , ,

PLOT: Six directors and one critic give their thoughts on the connections between The Wizard of Oz and the complete works of .

Still from Lynch/Oz (2022)

COMMENTS: Director Alexandre O. Philippe has made a career out of making films about other filmmakers’ films: George Lucas, , and are among his previous subjects. This modestly structured doc—nothing but experts reading their own personal essays over film clips—tackles his weightiest subject yet. The Wizard of Oz is a massive icon in pop culture, and, within his sphere of influence, David Lynch is equally influential. The result is not as narrow and academic as you might fear; although the movie expects the viewer to have a working knowledge of Lynch and Oz, the topic is broad enough to serve as a jumping-off point for reflections about movies, American culture, and the artistic process itself.

The essays are roughly arranged in order from most to least enlightening. Nicholson’s opening chapter (“The Wind”) is, in my view, the best; I think her position as the only critic on the panel gives her the widest lens through which to view the subject. Rodney Ascher focuses on Oz as a perfect story template (it’s basically the Hero’s Journey with doppelgangers). John Waters is a mid-show change-of-pace: he doesn’t analyze Lynch’s films intensively, but plays to his talents as a raconteur, telling stories about meeting Lynch (and nuggets like the time he dressed as the Wicked Witch for a children’s Halloween party). Karyn Kusama gives us the most direct evidence of the connection: Lynch’s unelaborated response at a Mulholland Drive Q&A, “there is not a day that goes by that I don’t think about The Wizard of Oz.” Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead dig into Lynch’s obsession with Judy Garland. David Lowery’s segment is probably the least on-topic—and the most concerned with his own personal output—but nevertheless contains fascinating theories about the purpose of childrens’ films (setting kids up to deal with the disillusionment of adulthood and the real world). Phillipe’s contribution is mainly in selecting the clips and images that illustrate and expand on the authors’ words, an exhaustive task that’s not as simple as just fast-forwarding to the appropriate spot in Oz or Wild at Heart; there are also archival Lynch appearances to sort through, and excursions into everything from Gone with the Wind to Star Wars to Videodrome.

“The fact that The Wizard of Oz and David Lynch can go hand-in-hand and communicate with one another,” Lowery explains, “the fact that we can have this conversation about ruby slippers and ,’ is one of the most beautiful things about this medium.” Indeed, Lynch/Oz is about the influence of one on the other, but it’s also about all sorts of creative cross-pollinations and new perspectives. Cinema, and the arts in general, are all about conversations between human beings over time. Lynch/Oz is obviously aimed at a select few cinephiles, but if your breadth of knowledge is wide enough, you’ll find plenty to get you thinking—and if not, you’ll discover plenty of new corridors to explore in the labyrinths of cinema.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“An enjoyable, if not entirely satisfying, look at a strange cinematic affinity…. Though frustratingly unfocused and sometimes overreaching (even compared to Philippe’s other docs, which are never what you’d call precision-crafted), the film is consistently enjoyable, with just enough flashes of insight to justify its existence.”–John Defore, The Hollywood Reporter (festival screening)

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: THE GREEN KNIGHT (2021)

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DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Alicia Vikander

PLOT: King Arthur’s nephew Gawain accepts a challenge from the mysterious Green Knight to deliver a blow that will be returned to him in exactly one year.

Still from The Green Knight

WHY IT MIGHT JOIN THE APOCRYPHA: The Green Knight reconnects us with the deep weirdness of ancient legends, where even Arthur’s shiny new Christian order cannot banish the strange chthonic magics growing from the world below.

COMMENTS: We find him hungover in a brothel on Christmas morning. Gawain, Arthur’s nephew, is dissolute, only seated at the Round Table thanks to nepotism. He tells his uncle that he has no stories to tell, but when the half-tree, half-man Green Knight strides into Camelot (summoned, it seems, by witchcraft), he himself will become the tale. Since none of Arthur’s other knights will accept the oaken interloper’s proposed “game” to trade blows—delivered a year apart—with his axe, Gawain, suddenly ambitious to make a name for himself, steps forward and unwisely cleaves the Knight’s head from his trunk. This fails to deter the tree-man, who merely picks up the severed appendage and reminds Gawain of his date one year hence.

Thus begins Gawain’s quest to become a man. The knight’s code of honor Gawain aspires to demands that he keep his word and, although his resolve trembles a bit, he never seriously doubts that he will face his fate. Lowery fills out the sketchy 14th-century poem with some new incidents (which feel authentically Arthurian, like a version of the story of St. Winifred), but his main twist on the ancient legend is to make Gawain human, relatable, a man with feet of clay who nonetheless perseveres in his duty—or one who is pulled forward inexorably by his fate. As with most of The Green Knight, it’s unclear whether Gawain’s willingness to sacrifice himself is noble, or merely predestined. Contradictions abound: the pagan and the Christian exist side by side, an ancient story is told through a modern lens, and green, as Alicia Vikander reminds us in a long poetic speech, is simultaneously the color of life and of death.

There are strange things in the world which defy all logic, and Gawain experiences many of them on his journey. Heads persist separately from their bodies, women pass out magical totems and sashes, corpses hang at crossroads, giants plod along in an inexplicable parade, and a fox joins his quest (and dispenses advice). In every hut and castle along the way, Gawain encounters strange residents who may actually be ghosts, fairies, or magicians. Dreaminess overtakes our hero as he advances towards the Green Chapel, but in the end, only the clear inevitability of the axe-blow awaits. The formalist minimalism of Lowery’s A Ghost Story yields to a fiery maximalism of fantasy, but the dire existential edge remains.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“A mystical and enthralling medieval coming-of-age story in which King Arthur’s overeager adult nephew learns that the world is weirder and more complicated than he ever thought possible, ‘The Green Knight’ is an intimate epic told with the self-conviction that its hero struggles to find at every turn. Stoned out of its mind and shot with a genre-tweaking mastery that should make John Boorman proud, it’s also the rare movie that knows exactly what it is, which is an even rarer movie that’s perfectly comfortable not knowing exactly what it is.”–David Ehrlich, Indiewire (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: A GHOST STORY (2017)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: ,

PLOT: A young musician dies and comes back as a ghost, moving back to his house and silently observing his wife’s grief.

Still from A Ghost Story (2017)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: A melancholy meditation on man’s ephermerality, A Ghost Story‘s weirdness goes beyond its guy-in-a-sheet gimmick, but not far enough beyond to reach the realms of one of the all-time weirdest.

COMMENTS: Though modest in countenance, A Ghost Story is filled with formal audacity underneath its blank exterior. It’s got an Academy-Award winning actor who’s silent and hidden under a sheet for 90% of his performance; a constricted 4:3 aspect ratio with rounded corners, to evoke the feeling of a picture frame; and shots that go on for so long that would be tapping his finger on his armrest impatiently. (Not really, but you get the idea). And yet, what easily might have become a purgatorial ordeal emerges as a moving and thought-provoking experiment.

The plot is so simple it’s almost a wisp. The unnamed main character dies, wakes up in the morgue in a sheet, returns to the house where he and his wife lived, and watches her as she silently grieves (and grief-eats a pie). This sounds dull, and if the movie stayed in this rut, it would be. But, although Affleck doesn’t speak and barely moves, doing little more than turning his head or shrugging his shoulders, A Ghost Story finds ways to create narrative dynamism. There is a flashback or two, and a seemingly minor incident from the pre-mortem opening is fleshed out over the length of the movie. Affleck’s ghost engages in a bit of minor poltergeistism when distressed. In one of the film’s most poignant bits, which would almost be considered a running gag if it weren’t so sad, Affleck’s ghost spies another bedsheeted figure in the house next door, and they communicate in the terse language of the dead (translated to us in subtitles). The ghost experiences time differently than we do, and we gradually become accustomed to the rhythm of his eternal observation as time moves on without him. A new tenant in his house (musician ) gives a speech about the vanity of human existence. And the ghost persists, chained to the plot of land where his house stands and inevitably once stood, waiting for a release from his sentence. The movie plays with the idea of eternity in a philosophical sense that may be new to audiences, but which makes it ripe for post-viewing discussion.

A Ghost Story is definitely not a horror movie (unless you consider it an extremely subtle existential horror). It definitely is a philosophical/poetic drama about the psychology of grief and the nature of time, and it carries an implicit message about appreciating the now. It is, dare I say, haunting—at least, if you’re the type of attuned spiritualist who can see the ghosts around us.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Interrupted by death, a couple’s love finds a weird way forward in this slice of supernatural risk-taking… Lowery is spending the capital he’s earned on big gigs like Pete’s Dragon to make something bizarre and experimental, and as his film starts flitting through the weeks in unannounced leaps, you’ll come to appreciate his gamble.”–Joshua Rothkopf, Time Out New York (contemporaneous)