Wednesday, January 23, 2013
#99: The Wizard of Oz (1939)
Director: Victor Fleming
Notable Awards & Nominations:
Oscar- Best Original Song "Somewhere Over the Rainbow"
Oscar- Best Original Score
Oscar Nomination- Best Picture
Oscar Nomination- Best Art Direction
Oscar Nomination: Best Special Effects
Dorothy- Judy Garland
Prof. Marvel/The Wizard/Gate-keeper/Sentry/Carriage Driver- Frank Morgan
Scarecrow- Ray Bolger
Tin-Man- Jack Haley
Cowardly Lion- Bert Lahr
Wicked Witch of the West- Margaret Hamilton
Glinda, the Good Witch of the North- Billie Burke
Is it just me or was this a film that's among our first experiences with movies? Or maybe I'm just thinking of the episode of Full House where the power was out so Stephanie missed out on seeing it for the first time?
Strangely enough, one of the first times I saw the iconic "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" sequence was on a VHS tape that had dozens of 80's videos from MTV. Out of place, much?
I didn't care. It was kinda cool that Debbie Gibson's "Out of the Blue" was the video that followed it. We didn't just go technicolor, but the pictures in a photo album were moving too.
That has to be one of the best known songs of any musical, maybe ever. Maybe it's because it gets me a little nostalgic, but whenever I hear it (as I'm sure a lot of people would agree), I can't help but feel moved by it.
I'd seen it covered by Katherine McPhee ("American Idol" season 5) and Carly Rose Soneclar ("The X-Factor" season 2). In both cases, it was a guaranteed crowd pleaser.
This is one of the oldest films on my list and it's hard to imagine not bringing it up. Everyone who has studied film regards it as highly as all the other classics (Gone with the Wind, Casablanca and Citizen Kane to name a few).
While it wasn't the first color film, it was the debut of Technicolor. Even when you know what to expect, the arrival in Oz is always a jaw-dropping moment. I saw the movie a few months ago, the first time in what feels like YEARS, and I didn't quite realize the stark contrast between Oz and Kansas. It wasn't just the black and white (or rather, brown & white), the overall look of the film had a completely different quality to it.
I'd go further into the technicalities of it if I had an inkling of what I was talking about.
Almost everybody knows the story:
Dorothy is a farm girl who feels under appreciated and dreams of going to a better place. She and her dog Toto run away and meet magician Professor Marvel. Although clearly not a real magician, he "shows" her a broken hearted Auntie Em in his crystal ball and she decides to make the trip back... which happens to be during a tornado. She gets back, gets hit in the head by a dislodged window and knocked unconscious.
She and Toto wake up in Oz where they meet the Munchkins, find an enemy in the Wicked Witch of the West, meet a couple of friends and make the trip down the yellow brick road to see the Wizard.
Heck, you can tell the whole story using a series of quotes that worm their way into all kinds of movies and parodies.
For its time, it was a huge film in scale and also with audiences. The only film bigger at the time was Gone with the Wind, which proceeded to sweep the awards "Oz" was nominated for (including best picture).
Because it's been around so long, a lot of people in show business have referenced it in their work.
The most recent parody I came across was an episode of "Phineas & Ferb" where the ruby slippers were a pair of boots. Candace wanted to stick to the Yellow Sidewalk to see the Wizard to bust her brothers. But the gist of the trip was to take all of the side roads organized by Phineas & Ferb because it's about the journey more than the destination.
"Family Guy" has taken multiple stabs in their many side references. One funny one is where the Scarecrow talks about a drug deal gone bad and his stuffing is all over the plus.
Then there's another featuring the Tin Man during his musical number, hinting that his sexuality may be in question... make what you will of why the Tin Man kept leaning towards Toto or the Scarecrow.
You gotta love the bumper stickers:
"I haven't been the same since that house fell on my sister"
And it was the first use of the cliché with the punchline: "and it was all a dream"... you think about it and after going WTF, you shrug and say "well, of course, it had to be a dream... everyone knows monkeys can't fly"... or some other goofy comment ends that sentence.
Then, of course, the stories behind the making have been told so many times that everyone knows the juicy details without being told:
It went through several directors, either 4 or 5, all of which eventually got credit for their work.
The multiple recasts of the Tin Man because the actors were allergic to the make-up.
The slippers were originally silver and changed to ruby because they would stand out better in Technicolor.
When I was taking an American History course in college, I learned that was not only based on a book, but a book based on the Industrial Revolution in America.
Dorothy was the everyday farm girl.
The Witches were the railroad and oil barons.
The yellow brick road was gold... obviously... and Emerald City symbolized money.
The Wizard was the president of the United States (at the time was William McKinley).
The scarecrow was the farmers, the Tin Man, steel workers, and oddly enough, William Jennings Bryan (who lost to McKinley in the presidential election) was represented by the cowardly lion.
Looking at the movie again, it has all its good points and its bad points... the bad points are simply things that have always annoyed me in the slightest.
It annoys me a bit that they forced the third version of "We're off to see the Wizard" when nothing rhymes with courage. They changed to it to having "the nerve," but they deliberately made up words to make the rhyme work... sorry, I'm just not buying.
My least favorite song has always been "King of the Forest"... for whatever reason, it always makes me cringe... probably because it's a little over the top and half of the words are hard to decipher.
And yes, that annoyed me more than all the Munchkin songs put together.
Of the three additional Oz characters, the Tin Man is my least favorite. Again, it's hard to put my finger on why, so I really can't explain.
The Scarecrow is the first one we meet so we get to know him a bit more than the others. He's also the handsome one (although it's hard to see the features of the other two).
The Cowardly Lion, however a coward he may be, he's lovable :-P
It's all good fun, but there are moments where you're free to poke fun at how cliché some of it is. The three guys discovering their gifts so quickly after the Wizard gives them their gifts.
All the political cynics out there can make what they will of the Wizard, more or less, being a fraud ("Don't pay attention to that man behind the curtain"). Plus, when he's going away in the balloon, you can't help but think he just wants to get the hell out of there.
Talk of sequels:
Supposedly, a sequel of this was released several years later, but it's not the Oz we knew in this moment.
This year, they're coming out with a prequel called "Oz, the Great & Powerful" starring James Franco as the wizard with Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz and Michelle Williams as witches. The trailers look amazing and it's a great cast (although, I can take or leave James Franco), so I might consider it.
My folks went to see "Wicked" on Broadway a few months ago and they LOVED it. A lot of my classmates in high school had seen it and raved about it. At some point, I'd love the chance to see it (that as well as "Jersey Boys" and maybe "Spamalot").
One question remains:
This was something else I thought about when seeing the movie again and I have to ask it.
Dorothy ran away with Toto because Auntie Em gave Toto to their crabby neighbor, Ms. Glutch, who threatened to foreclosure their farm... all because Toto went after her cat or bit her.
You hear the mere notion of animal cruelty when you're a kid and it's extremely jarring.
Toto gets away and returns to Dorothy, so to keep him from being taken away, they run away together.
At the end of the movie, she wakes up back in Kansas, says "there's no place like home" and the credits roll.
Think about it:
Aren't we back where we started? Isn't Ms. Glutch going to come back for Toto and ruin everything?
Or did the dream have truth to it and a house fell on Ms. Glutch so she won't be a problem anymore?
eh, maybe I'm just one of the few people who think about movies and the fate of their characters after they end... but I'm still very much concerned about finding the answer to that question.