Off to see the wizard
Re-watching The Wizard of Oz
Almost every Friday night, Meg makes pizza and we sit down with the boys and watch a movie. (Here’s what we loved last year + her recipe.) We’ve had a particularly good streak of classics in the past 3 Fridays: Mary Poppins, Tron, and The Wizard of Oz. Two movies I’d never seen before and one movie I hadn’t seen in at least a decade.
The Wizard of Oz brought up completely unexpected waves of emotion in me. I was crying by the time Judy Garland hit the first few notes of “Over The Rainbow.” I don’t know where, exactly, this reaction came from. I remember watching the movie as a kid, but I didn’t realize how the movie had dug into me, somehow. (The most vivid memory of the movie I have comes from adolescence: syncing it up Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon.) Where did these feelings come from?
I spent most of my Saturday reading Aljean Harmetz’s 1977 book, The Making of the Wizard of Oz. The movie was a studio “prestige” picture, intended to make a splash, but never really expected to make money. It did okay at the box office when it came out just a few weeks before WWII in 1939, but it was dominated at the Academy Awards by Gone With The Wind. It was one of the first musicals with the songs integrated into the plot, but it didn’t make that much of a cultural impact or turn any profit or become the classic it is now until the mid-1950s when it started being aired on television every year.
The movie was adapted from L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, a book that was almost four decades old and had sold over a million copies. (It came out in 1901, around the same time as Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams.) The movie cost a small fortune to make, and over the course of its production, it went through ten writers and four directors, poisoned one Tin Man out of commission, put The Wicked Witch of the West and her stunt woman in the hospital, and caused the terrier playing Toto to have a nervous breakdown. (Not to mention the fate of Judy Garland.)
In the book, Dorothy gets transported to Oz within the first few pages. The brilliant invention of the movie is to show us Dorothy’s Kansas first, and populate it with characters that will be echoed later — Miss Gulch on her kickass bike, the three farmhands, and the fortune teller, who, in Oz, become The Wicked Witch, The Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion, and The Wizard, respectively.
In the book, Kansas is grey, but on-screen it’s not black and white, it’s sepia: they actually dyed the film to look muddy and brown, which makes an even bigger impact when she opens the door into the Technicolor Oz.
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