The Wizard of Oz (Victor Fleming, 1939)

The Wizard of Oz
Here we go, always first with the newest films.

I’d only ever seen bits and pieces of this and it is on so many “best film ever” lists that I had to give it a try, despite my general aversion to musicals (Cabaret and a few other exceptions notwithstanding). It’s not among my favourite films but I enjoyed it much more than I anticipated, particularly after an unreasonably long song’n’dance sequence with the Munchkins was out of the way. The main problem with musicals, for me, is that all too often the songs interrupt the narrative flow and, unless you really enjoy the songs, they do so to no good purpose. This is very true of The Wizard of Oz but the songs are much more prevalent in the first half of the film than the second.

Two things struck me about this film; the first was the breadth of its influence on modern culture. Most of us know phrases like “I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas any more”, used whenever some bizarre event or place is encountered (and recently satirically against the Kansas education board for trying to sneak creation onto their science syllabus) and “click your heels three times” for wishing simple solutions. Ideas like “the man behind the curtain” succinctly sum up false impressions of competence projected by those in power. The Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion have become tropes, too, although Scarecrow is a much stronger character than either, but there are surprises – for me, at least. I didn’t know that Mr Burns’ winged monkeys were a direct steal from this movie, for instance. Nor did I know that the entire Oz episode was a Freudian dream episode (there is, I have discovered, even a book entitled “The Wizard of Oz in the Land of the Id“) with each of her Kansas acquaintances making appearances in the guise of Oz characters based upon some aspect of their exaggerated characters.

The second thing that struck me was how powerful the rationalist message overall was. Ok, there are witches, magic and a variety of supernatural agents involved but this is all within the context of dream, and both Dorothy and the audience are encouraged to think for themselves and not to trust claimed authorities. This is a really good message to give to children and it is done so within the context of a colourful and simple narrative that they ought to be able to enjoy just for its own sake – the younger children, at least, who might also find it pleasingly scary.

One problem I have with the film is Dorothy’s own age. In the early section, Dorothy is selfish and bratty. This is important since, in her experiences in Oz, she will learn lessons that change her outlook and she will be a better, more rounded person at the end. The problem is that Judy Garland was just too old to pull this off convincingly. She was sixteen playing much younger – I can’t find any reference to how old Dorothy was supposed to be (it appears to be unstated) but, from the way her dialogue is written, I can’t imagine her more than thirteen, at very most. This becomes less of a problem later on, since the ‘improved’ Dorothy’s dialogue is less idiosyncratic for an older teen to say.

So, not really for me but a film I respect and admire.


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