Friday, July 8, 2011

The Wizard of Oz (Fleming. 1939)

"There's no place like home.."


At some point a film simply transcends anything that a film critic can say about it. There are some films that are so well-loved and respected that bashing it would be unbelievable. One of those films is the classic epic fantasy, The Wizard of Oz. Virtually on every greatest ever list, this is such a significant film to history that it was actually named the most seen film in the world by the Library of Congress. Obviously, I love this movie. I am not going to review it on this blog because that would almost be arrogant. Instead I am just going to tell you about how great it really is, and maybe you will learn something.

At this point we all know what story is told in The Wizard of Oz. Based on the children’s fantasy novel by L. Frank Baum, this American fairytale gives us some of the most recognizable characters in all of history. These characters have been ingrained into our brains since adolescence, and we can still shout out their names in a role call fashion. Dorothy, the Wicked Witch, the Tin Man, the Scarecrow and the cowardly Lion all have played their part in the cinematic development of our young minds. They each have their respective memorable line or song that keeps them significant in the eyes of modern popular culture consumers.

The incomparable Judy Garland plays Dorothy. She is transported from her impoverished Kansas home into a vibrant fantasyland called Oz. It is here that we see the extraordinary switch from sepia-tone to a brightened three-strip Technicolor. This may be what The Wizard of Oz is best known for from a technical standpoint. MGM famously struggled with the use of color for the film, even having it take more than a week to select the right shade of yellow for the brick road. Ingeniously, the use of sepia-tone over black and white was an artistic choice by Fleming for the purpose of living up to the image that Baum tried to create. He described Kansas as being “in shades of grey.”

And this grey is the backdrop for the Academy Award winning, and crazy famous, song that launched the film into the household vernacular (along with television), “Somewhere over the Rainbow.” One of the most loved and known songs in musical film, Garland nails the ethos behind the song with pleasing vocals and a na├»ve Kansas charm. There have been countless covers of this song, but nobody has captured the hearts of the American cinophile quite like Ms. Garland.

My favorite moment of the film is when the Scarecrow, played by Ray Bolger, sings the second most memorable song in the production – “If I Only had a Brain”. I think this is particularly fun because of how many outlets it has been used in. This is a song that we still hear on commercials and television soundtracks, and every single time it is instantly recognized. My mother, in the least insulting way imaginable, used to sing it to me when I was a child. It is one of my first memories as a young movie enthusiast.

It would be excruciatingly ambitious for me to try and write something original or groundbreaking about the most seen film in the world. My snobbery will never rise to the level of dismissing The Wizard of Oz. This is a great movie. Some sequences are frightening, but I cannot wait until my nephew is old enough to enjoy this timeless (72 year old) classic with me.

The Wizard of Oz: A

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