Wednesday, December 11, 2013

CANON OF FILM: "THE WIZARD OF OZ"

THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939)

Director: Victor Fleming      Producer: Mervyn LeRoy
Screenplay: Noel Langley, Florence Ryerson, and Edgar Allan Woolf based on the novel “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” by L. Frank Baum



I’ve seen about every holiday imaginable used as an excuse to air “The Wizard of Oz.” It’s probably the movie, with the possible exception of “Casablanca,” I’ve seen more times than any other film, and I don’t even particularly like the movie.

Sure, there are parts of it that are now and will probably forever be memorable and magical, and it’s an important moment in most childhoods, and it should be. It’s often the first time they differentiate color from black & white and travel down a yellow brick road, as it was for me, (As a kid, I never even seem to remember paying attention to the film, until it bursts into color) but I’m amazed when I hear adults talk about how much the love the film, because after age 9, I don’t know, does the film doesn’t really hold up. I guess it does, but this movie is definitely for kids. Kids who haven’t traveled far beyond their homes, kids who dream of faraway places, and are yet simultaneously afraid of the possibilities of those places, as well as the thought that they wouldn’t know what to do when they’re alone without the help of their parents close by telling them what to do. We we’re young, we assume adults have all the answers to their problems, or at least our problems, but in this film, there aren’t any adults to help Dorothy, and her friends all need help of their own, and now she’s put in a position to help them. She’s the one wearing the grown-up shoes, but she doesn’t want them, and neither would any kid who woke up one day to find that they have to act like the guardian of a group. There’s so many myths about the production, the four directors, the impossibilities of shooting, the recasting, and time-stalls for injuries from burn marks for Margaret Hamilton after coming up through the puff of smoke, to even Toto, getting stepped on by a crew member, having to take 2 weeks off. Then, there are those like myself who love the original story and metaphors of it.

The book was actually a metaphor for the Populist movement back in the late 1800s. (It is also the most convoluted book I ever read, When I remarked that on a paper to Ms. Green my World Literature Professor, last semester, she wrote next to the remark, “I agree.”) It helps for instance, knowing that in the book the ruby red slippers are actually silver in the book, because the yellow road is gold and silver slippers and going to emerald city, green, is about the switch from coinage to greenbacks. Or that, the flying monkeys represent the Native Americans, and the Wizard is the numerous forgettable presidents between Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt, who seemed powerful but were in actuality quite weak. But on Roger Ebert’s Great Movie review of the film, he feels one should only analyze the films as what the metaphors mean on the children’s level, and frankly, that’s probably for the best. Dorothy’s friends are just characterized children’s fears, aren’t they? That we don’t have enough courage, that we aren’t smart enough to survive adulthood, fear that we’ll end up heartless like the old bat who’s trying to take your dog away. And all the adults in the film are somewhat untrustworthy from the psychic to the farmhands, to the witches, to even and especially, the Wizard himself isn’t nearly as powerful as thought. (Actor/Comedian and known conspiracy-theorists Richard Belzer claims that he never believed anything anybody ever said after watching Toto pulling of the curtain in “The Wizard of Oz.”) Hell, even Glinda the good witch, could’ve just told Dorothy to tap her shoes from the beginning, and not have to go on this journey, to see a wizard and kill a witch.


These could easily be criticisms, but they’re mostly observances made out in comical jest. The fact is, that we may not love the movie per se, but we certainly love the way we remember ourselves as we watched it. This is one of those movies I would gladly watch again if I had to say baby-sit some kid who for strange or bizarre reason hadn’t seen it. They may complain about making them watch such an old movie, or something like that, but we know better. You need to have the experience of watching it, and at just the right age.  
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