Saturday, 28 July 2012

The Wizard of Oz (1939)

Troldmanden fra Oz
This is one of the movies I have been looking forward to see. Finally, finally it is time.

I never actually saw it before, well only in very small parts. I was almost completely ignorant of pre-1970 cinema before I started this project and that by and far is why I am doing it. So I have not seen it before, yet I knew it very well. The songs are beyond familiar, the characters are iconic, the story is classic. To see it was like meeting an old friend that you have never seen dressed up like this before.

The cultural impact of “The Wizard of Oz” is monumental. What do you say when you get to a really weird place? “I think we are not in Kansas anymore” of course. Right after watching it I was listening to an audiobook in the “Ender’s Game” series where they were quoting entire passages from “The Wizard of Oz”. Not to speak of the songs. In that light it is difficult to be entirely objective when watching it.

Let me say right away that I loved it. For ones all my expectations held.

It is an interesting if classical story that can be understood in several planes. Did the girl go to a magical land by means of the twister or was she knocked unconscious by the window frame and dreamt the whole thing? The later seems the more likely explanation. All the characters and the setting reflect the mind of a child. The characters are proxies for her relations in the real world with traits that are stylized and exaggerated. She is searching for something within herself and goes to find the answer from the oracle of the Wizard of Oz. The Wicked Witch of the West is of course the terrible Almira Gulch. Her green face and evil laughter is not a bit worse than the “real” witch, just transplanted to the fairy world of Oz.

Dorothy’s (Judy Garland) companions are also looking for something, though I did not catch if it reflects a search in their real selves. Obviously they find that what they are looking for they had all the time, they just needed to get reminded. A diploma for the scarecrow so he knows he has a brain even though he got all the bright ideas all along. A symbolic heart for the tin man, even though he was the most empathic of them and could not stop crying. For Dorothy herself she needed to get reminded that all she ever wanted was right there at home on the homestead. Frankly I find that solution a little cheap, but it is a children’s story and we are not dealing in too big existential problems here.

The difference between the real world and the dream world of Oz is skillfully made. The real world is drab and colorless. People are very earthbound and struggling with day to day chores. In Oz however the colors are incredibly saturated and the world is filled with strange and wonderful creatures like the Munchkins who have a Lollipop Guild! This seems like the reflection of Dorothy herself who is filled with thoughts, ideas and concerns that certainly are not earthbound at all. In fact she seems to have lived in a world of her own even before she goes to Oz.

My favorite character is the Wicked Witch of the West. She is just perfect. This could easily have been too sweet a story without her. She is definitely the spice of the story. Nasty nasty. She is going to cook the dog, I know she is.

My least favorite is actually Dorothy herself. Judy Garland is a darling, but there is something utterly disturbing about seeing an adult playing a child. To me it seems almost perverted and instead of being a child’s mind and fantasy we see, it is an adult who never grew up but is stuck in childhood and it strikes me as rather sad. It does not help that they flattened her breasts and gave her a childish hairstyle. In fact it just makes it worse. This may be a product of the age. They just could not let a child play the part or it was acceptable to let an adult play the kid, I do not know.

But that is just a small minus. I thoroughly enjoyed the film and since seeing it have been alternating between humming “Somewhere over the Rainbow” and “We’re off to see the Wizard”. I just cannot get those songs out of my head.


  1. I think that the Wicked Witch of the West is important in the film to give it a real sense of danger. Otherwise, it's all too sweet. Yeah, she's a good character.

    1. Probably every age group has their own favorite character. As a child I would probably have been afraid of the witch. Now I think she is awesome.

  2. When I was growing up (before movies could be rented for the home) The Wizard of Oz was shown every year on TV here in the U.S. I don't know how many times I saw it while I was a kid. I mention this because the concept that you were seeing this film for the first time was really something to me.

  3. Yes, I have realized by now that I am somewhere between being a vampire and a communist for not having seen it before.

    The explanation is two-fold:
    a. The Wizard of Oz is not a Cristmas fixture in Denmark. We would see The Sound of Music and Ivanhoe and a bunch of other classics, but for some reason not WoO.
    b. Before starting this project musicals where the sort of movies that would give me red spot and a sudden urge to run far far away. Maybe it is an age thing, but I have been very possitive about the musicals so far on the list. Only one of them has really annoyed me. So I have a lot of catching up to do.

    So, maybe you can consider me an alien instead who has come to Earth to discover the musicals.

  4. I never thought anything about Garland playing Dorothy. She was 17 when she played the part, so to me that's still a bit of a child.

    Like you, I adore this film. However, something really sinister happened to my appreciation when I went to college. I had a professor who loved to tell the true story behind The Wizard of Oz books. Baum was a fan of William Jennings Bryan who wanted to change how American currency was based from the gold standard to the silver standard. The yellow brick road represents gold and the slippers were actually silver, not ruby. Scarecrow represents farmers, the tin man the steel industry, the lion the army. Oh, and I believe the Emerald City was Washington D.C. So now whenever I watch the film I think about it actually starting off as a political allegorical story.

    1. Wow, this is the first political interpretation I have heard of this movie. I half suspected that this is a coming of age film, but never saw this political side. It tells me that sometimes one maybe should hold a little back on the interpretations.