Tuesday, August 25, 2009

There's No Place Like Oz.


Seventy years ago "The Wizard of Oz" was released theatrically in the United States. It's quite probable that people back then had no idea how iconic this film would become.
On the surface it was yet another glossy studio product featuring rising movie stars, bold special effects and that marvelous, rarely used, thing called Technicolor.
Contrary to what one might guess, the movie wasn't a box-office success upon release (it grossed over $16 million-$3 million of which were domestic- which are nothing compared to "Gone With the Wind"'s $400 million worldwide gross-unadjusted for inflation), in fact it took MGM a decade to make profit out of the film.
But can the influence of Oz be measured strictly in economic terms? I think not.
The film has become so beloved that people give for granted that it was always a "classic".
This excerpt from TIME Magazine shows us otherwise:

"Metro put $3,000,000 into The Wizard of Oz, left out only the kitchen stove. Its tornado rivals Sam Goldwyn's The Hurricane. Its final sequence is as sentimental as Little Women. Its Singer Midgets, most publicized of all the picture's cast, go through their paces with the bored, sophisticated air of slightly evil children." TIME Magazine August 21, 1939

If that's not a bad review-at least not ecstatic-then I don't know what is.
A lot has been said about this movie, books, essays and reviews-oh my!- have been written that cover every little aspect of production up until the urban legends and curses surrounding this mythical movie.
The point in my tribute therefore won't be to cover things that have been said before or to reisntate the obvious, but actually to share the effect "Oz" has had on me as a film viewer.
The film has the sort of magic that makes people gasp and blink, even in the times of CGI, and its special quality for re-examination and re-interpretation are what has kept it alive for seventy years.
Only a decade after their scathing review TIME were already taking it back:
"The Wizard of Oz (M-G-M), dusted off and reissued, proves that true wizardry, whether in books or on the screen, is ageless." TIME Magazine May 9, 1949

Not many films become classics so fast right? Because even if the Wizard had no real magical powers to aid Dorothy and her friends, the movie has held a mysterious enchantment over all of us who have seen it and love it.
I can't recall the first time I saw it, but I remember I was dumbstruck by the colors; the vibrant, almost surreal tones that explode upon the land of Oz.
Even back then, I must've been eight or less, I knew that this wasn't the kind of movies I could pay to go see in the theater.
The colors, while real-as opposed to Black & White-weren't natural, there was something fascinating about them.
Years later my father asked me to watch the movie with him. I remember feeling bored and restless at the black and white sequences-I had no idea what sepia was so B&W got the job done-I asked and asked why was the movie like that.
He told me to wait and see.
The one thing I had clear about it is that I'd seen it in color, could it have been that I dreamed that? So as my head turned and turned about my memories of "Oz" then all of a sudden Dorothy opened the door upon landing on Oz...it was the first time I saw movie magic.
After that I was hooked.
I watch "Oz" at least once a year now, more if I feel like I need it. I say need it because like in the title song, the movie has become a safe haven of sorts for me, I know that watching Judy Garland sing, Ray Bolger, Bert Lahr and Jack Haley accompany her and Billie Burke casting her protection over them there is nothing on the planet that can go wrong or hurt me-not even the Wicked Witch of the West!.
A few years ago TBS was airing the movie over Thanksgiving weekend, I made it a habit to watch it the four consecutive times it was broadcast and never seemed to get enough of it.
It's interesting to note that this might have been the first movie that defined the television era since it was through TV that many not only came to know it, but also to love it.
Thanks to television the film was granted a second chance, in a way creating cult for movies. It's kinda weird to imagine this as a cult film huh?
Through the years though the influences of "Oz" have become essential in pop culture and also in my life.
I'm sure not a single day goes by when I don't mention this movie. To not know "The Wizard of Oz" is to ignore one of the sources of constant cinematic pleasure and merriment.
References to it pop in places as unsurprising as "Gilmore Girls"-which made a habit of squeezing the last drop of pop culture in everything-to Tarkovsky's "Stalker"(which to this day I believe is a remake of sorts of the 1939 masterpiece).
Stoners owe great trips to this film and so does Pink Floyd, Baz Luhrmann's misunderstood epic "Australia" was also greatly inspired by this film and several "Sex and the City" episodes brim with Carrie Bradshaw-esque updates on the "Oz" quotes.
I could go on and on talking about why "The Wizard of Oz" is so important in my life (and believe me it doesn't even involve all the GLBT points) but for now I'd rather go watch it for the umpteenth time...
May "Oz" live for a million more years and light up people's imaginations the way it did with mine.

1 comment:

Matt said...

nice treatment of this deserved classic. I'll take it over "Gone with the Wind" any day... I'd like to watch it again, specially after having seen "Wicked".