Sunday, April 12, 2020
Oz Watch: The Wizard of Oz (1939)
Format: TCM on DVR
Viewing: Ha ha ha ha
Director: Victor Fleming
It's hard to think of a film more universal in the American imagination than The Wizard of Oz (1939). Watching the film is as much a right of passage as Kindergarten, organized sports or name-your-item for a good chunk of America, and has been for 80 years.
We refer to it in popular culture and literature, make allusion to the film (for surely the books would now be mostly forgotten without the movie) as often as Biblical reference, Superman, and, maybe Star Wars. It's weirdly universal for a fantasy movie about a girl who has no idea what's going on, her three goofy friends and a witch who just wants a new pair of shoes. The songs are all familiar as Christmas carols. People on the street will automatically know Dorothy, rainbows, little dogs, tin men, flying monkeys...
And the weird thing is how the movie really doesn't get old. And it holds up.
It's a technical marvel, and even in 2020 and an era with CG and everything in color, that door opening on Oz still works. It doesn't matter how many times you've seen it. Flying monkeys remain flying monkeys, and Margaret Hamilton as the Wicked Witch of the West remains a revelation. As is Frank Morgan in about 20 different roles.
But the kaleidoscope vision of the movie, the dialog that has become part of the American venacular (ex: "pay no attention to that man behind the curtain", "we're not in Kansas anymore", "and your little dog, too!"), is just now part and parcel of how we've taken the movie in and refract it back out onto the world. Similar stories may get lots of nods - Alice in Wonderland, for example - but it's hard to say the movie is more popular than the book, and perhaps it's Englishness and sheer nonsense has kept it from having exactly the same impact. As familiar a film as Gone with the Wind has aged(... poorly) it's simply not considered something everyone should have to see at least once. Star Wars stands a chance of retaining the same level of cultural integration if Disney doesn't accidentally kill the golden goose and gives it another 40 years.
I have seen the movie run up against Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon, and it is pretty crazy. But I really do think it's a coincidence. And, of course, we can endlessly debate whether or not Baum meant the story as an allegory for the Gold Standard v Silver Standard v Greenbacks that the liberty the studios took with the story kind of annihilates. Still: Flying monkeys!
Anyway, it's The Wizard of Oz, and it's a sort of singular thing that is, really, everyone's favorite movie about hallucinations induced by head trauma. But I will fight anyone who says anything negative about this movie.