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David Lynch, The Wizard of Oz, & The ROXIE Theater

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Could the Golden Age of Hollywood classic “The Wizard Of Oz” be the Rosetta Stone cinemagoers need to truly understand the films of David Lynch?  The Roxie Theater’s summer film series “You’re Not In Kansas Any More” gives interested viewers the opportunity to test this contention. 

Running from June 9, 2023 to August 19, 2023, the Roxie’s new film series brings together “The Wizard Of Oz,” the new documentary “Lynch/Oz,” and several hallucinogenic Lynch classics including “Eraserhead,” “Inland Empire,” and “Blue Velvet.”  While individual screenings can run $14-15 depending on whether the showing uses digital projection or 35 mm film, bargain-minded viewers should opt for the $30 3-film pass.  It allows the viewer to catch any 3 films in the series for the price of two screenings.

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The series launches with “Lynch/Oz (June 9),” a new documentary from Alexandre O. Philippe (“78/52”).  Queries about ties between Lynch’s enigmatic films and historic cinematic influences have usually been batted away by the director.  The Judy Garland classic “The Wizard Of Oz,” though, is the one cinematic influence he’s copped to.  In six film essays, Philippe brings together a group of critics and directors to discuss how and why Lynch was influenced by Victor Fleming’s movie.   Such things as the Garland references in “Twin Peaks” or characters who wear red shoes and click their heels together aren’t there in Lynch’s films by accident.  Hosts of these segments are critic Amy Nicholson, director/writer John Waters, director Karyn Kusama (“Dead Ringers”), director Rodney Ascher (“A Glitch In The Matrix”), directors Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson (the UFO meta-horror film “The Endless”), and director/writer David Lowery (“The Green Knight”).

Following the documentary is Lynch’s 1990 contentious Cannes Palme D’Or winning “Wild At Heart (June 9).” which definitely isn’t shy about its “Wizard Of Oz” referencing.  In this violent dark comedy, Lula Pace Fortune (Laura Dern) reunites with her boyfriend, the recently released ex-con Sailor Ripley (Nicolas Cage) in hopes of having a shared life together.  Their plan involves taking a road trip from North Carolina to California.  However, there are some complications.  Such a trip constitutes a parole violation for Sailor.  More importantly, Lula’s evil mother Marietta has hired gangster Marcello Santos to track down the fugitive couple and kill Sailor.  


Of course, any film series of this nature has to show the Hollywood classic “The Wizard Of Oz (June 10),” and that film is being shown here in a 35 mm print.  A freak tornado transports young Dorothy Gale (Judy Garland) and her dog Toto to the incredible land of Oz.  The only hope of returning home to Kansas rests with performing a task for the fearsome Wizard Of Oz: putting an end to the terror of the Wicked Witch Of The West.  Accompanying Dorothy and Toto on their quest are a Scarecrow in need of brains, a Tin Woodman in need of a heart, and a Cowardly Lion in need of courage.  However, the Wicked Witch has a personal stake in stopping Dorothy and her friends.  The Kansas girl (accidentally) killed her sister The Wicked Witch Of The East and “stole” the former Wicked Witch’s ruby red shoes.

One of the series’ must-sees or must-rewatch offerings is the Lynch classic “Mulholland Drive (June 10).”  What began as an aborted TV series pilot got transformed into a masterpiece about life in the movie industry.  Hollywood hopeful Betty Elms (Naomi Watts in her breakout performance) arrives in Los Angeles hoping to realize her dream of starring in the movies.  But when she encounters the beautiful brunette amnesiac Rita (Laura Elena Harring), the wannabe star joins the amnesiac in searching Los Angeles for clues to the latter’s identity.   Their search will lead them to Winkie’s Diner, a film called “The Sylvia North Story,” and the enigmatic Club Silencio.  And who are Camilla Rhodes and Diane Selwyn?

Another unquestioned Lynch classic is “Blue Velvet (July 1).  Clean-cut college student Jeffrey Beaumont has returned to his hometown of Lumberton, North Carolina because his father is hospitalized after a near-fatal accident.  When he accidentally discovers a severed human ear, the student plays amateur detective to find who the ear belonged to.  Jeffrey’s investigation will lead him into a sadomasochistic relationship with alluring lounge singer Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini), the crosshairs of psychopathic gangster and drug lord Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper), and the seamy side of Lumberton.  Watch out when Frank takes a huff (or three) from his portable gas tank, as each dose pushes his craziness level to 11.

The WTF entry in this series and Lynch’s last film to date is “Inland Empire (July 20).”  Laura Dern plays the woman in trouble referred to in the film’s tag line.  She’s an actress named Nikki Grace, who’s just landed the lead role in “On High In Blue Tomorrows,” director Kingsely Stewart’s (Jeremy Irons)’ new film about an illicit affair.  But the film production starts living down to its reputation of being cursed.  Nikki’s finding the wall between real life and her work on the film has become very porous.  There are time warps, Escher-like houses and plotting, a group of prostitutes in a closet, and a homicidal hypnotic spell…among other things.

Blue Velvet

Barry Gifford co-wrote the script for Lynch’s hallucinogenic neo-noir “Lost Highway (August 4).”  Fred Madison (Bill Pullman) is a Los Angeles saxophone player plagued by mysterious dreams of violence, sinister VHS recordings, and a mystery man who claims to have met him before.  How does Fred’s story relate to that of young auto mechanic Pete Dayton?  The young mechanic gets involved with a gangster named Mr. Eddy and his mistress Alice Wakefield.  But an illicit affair and a robbery scheme gone south soon raises questions about whose story the viewer is watching and the circuitous connections among everything.

The series wraps up with a 35 mm screening of Lynch’s cult feature film debut “Eraserhead (August 19).”  This weird film became a Roxie Midnite Movie staple.  In some grim industrialized post-apocalyptic age, nerdy label printer Henry Spencer (whose hair looks as if it’s been subjected to continual electrical shocks) gets invited by girlfriend Mary X to a dinner with her parents.  But this is no ordinary family dinner, as it features a catatonic grandmother, a litter of puppies nursing on the floor, and goo-spurting man-made chickens.  Soon Henry finds himself saddled with Mary’s “premature baby”…which doesn’t look like any human baby ever.  But it’s Henry’s hallucinations involving his prostitute neighbor Mary that leads him to perform a hideous act against his formerly sickly child.

Whether “You’re Not In Kansas Any More” helps its attendees decipher Lynch’s cinematic puzzle boxes, its viewers must decide for themselves..

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Peter Wong

Peter Wong

I've been reviewing films for quite a few years now, principally for the online publication Beyond Chron. My search for unique cinematic experiences and genre dips have taken me everywhere from old S.F. Chinatown movie theaters showing first-run Jackie Chan movies to the chilly slopes of Park City. Movies having cat pron instantly ping my radar.