Sunday, September 22, 2013

Family Movie Night: The Wizard of Oz

Title: The Wizard of Oz
Director: Victor Fleming
Original Release: 1939
Choice: Mine
My Overall Rating: 5 stars out of 5
via Wikipedia

I envy the world of 1939.  That's not easily said.  With war looming (or already well underway in the Pacific Theater), 1939 was a very dark time for much of the world.  But 1939 was Hollywood's Golden Year, considered by many to be the single greatest year in the history of American film.  1939 was the year of Gone with the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Ninotchka, Wuthering Heights, Of Mice and Men, Stagecoach and many other classic movies.

Even with all of those great movies to choose from, my envy is specific.  I want to know what it was to see one particular scene from The Wizard of Oz for the very first time.   Nope, it's not the one you're thinking.  Yes, the moment when Dorothy opens the door to Oz and the world goes from drab to vibrant color is one of the greatest scenes in all of film.  But there is one I love even more. 

With one single word, with one octave leap, a teenage girl from Minnesota vaulted to international super-stardom.  Now, as with so many great things, Judy Garland's performance of "Over the Rainbow" seems almost cliche.  That's why I want to know what it was like to hear that voice sing that song for the very first time.  Garland was all of 16 during filming.  As has been well-documented, her personal life afterward was disastrous.  But for two minutes in 1939, she was perfect.



I have watched The Wizard of Oz so many times over the years.  I'm in good company, of course.  It is the most viewed film in the history of television syndication.  I remember the last scene I was allowed to see before I was sent to bed the first time I watched as a kid: the Cowardly Lion jumping out the window.  We've watched it several times as a family, too, and there aren't many surprises anymore.  However, in this most recent viewing, I was struck by the elegance of the pre-cyclone scenes.  Obviously, most of the fun happens after Dorothy steps out the door into Munchkinland but Kansas is just as vivid.  We meet Aunt Em and Uncle Henry as they are hurrying to rescue chicks from a broken incubator.  Dorothy's whining about her dog as they're struggling to preserve their livelihood.  They don't know or care about her impending adventures.  They're farmers.  They're real.  The fantasy that follows doesn't work without them.

"Over the Rainbow" has taken on a life of its own over the decades since, firmly entrenched in the mythical great American songbook.  In recent years, Israel Kamakawiwo'ole picked up a ukelele and breathed new life into the classic tune.  I leave you with IZ:


22 comments:

  1. I don't think Wizard remains at #1, anymore. Some time ago, Star Wars passed Wizard as the most viewed movie in combined theater showings and aired TV viewings. I'm not sure how that breaks down between the two, but that was at least a decade ago that Star Wars surpassed it, so I would imagine, at this point, that it's both platforms. Which is not to diminish Wizard; just sayin'.

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    1. I have no doubt Star Wars wins with the combo. Wizard of Oz was a bit of a flop in the theater. The film has built its legend through television - similar history for It's a Wonderful Life, actually.

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  2. What a year for great movies. Several favourites in there, especially Gone With the Wind. Awesome.
    Thank you for sending Tony to WEP. I recommend your book club also. I'm thoroughly enjoying getting some logic into my book reviews.)

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    1. My pleasure. This was a good month for WEP, I think.

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  3. Daughter loves this movie but for many years I didn't like it. I think when I first saw it (don't know how old I was) I was struck with Dorthy being lost and trying to get home. It stuck with me for many years.
    Much later I was been able to watch it for the wonderful movie it was. But it is still not a movie I would pick to watch but I will watch it if someone else chooses it. Isn't that so strange ?
    I love love love Israel Kamakawiwo'ole rendition of the song. Lovely.

    cheers, parsnip

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    1. I'm a sucker for Oz. References in other works always hook me.

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  4. I am not a huge fan of the Wizard of oz movie. I watched it as a kid but even then it struggled to hold my interest. Not sure why. I love IZ rendition of somewhere over the rainbow. Eva Cassidy also does a great version of it. You should check it out sometime. :)

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    1. I'll definitely check out the Cassidy version some time. It was tempting to simply post clips of various people performing the song: Clapton, Hendrix, Ray Charles, etc. Perhaps another time.

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  5. My relationship with the movie has changed over the years. After falling in love with the whimsical prose of L. Frank Baum, some of my enthusiasm waned. I started to view it as something more easily appreciated by the young. The truth is, for what it is it remains exactly what it always was, which is a fun movie experience.

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    1. I already knew the movie very well by the time I got around to the book. I love both. I love the book for all of the elements that didn't make the cut for the film (Witch of the South, for instance). I love the movie for bringing new elements to the story best appreciated in film, the most obvious being the switch from b&w to color. The music really adds a lot to the story, too.

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  6. I read all of Baum's books as a child, and it always bugged me when I watched the movie and things didn't match the books. I still love the movie, though, loooooove it. I can watch it over and over. Doubt I can read Baum's books again - I have a feeling those were strictly for kids.

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    1. I recently read book #2 and didn't care for it. All of the political allusions that are hinted at in the first are far more blatant in the second. The man sure didn't think much of the suffragists! I'm waiting for my daughter to discover the books.

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  7. Squid, this was a really well-written post. I like the way you take it from the global to the universally resonant to one small detail from your memories (I imagine you in pajamas with feet, don't know how old you were) to one of the most evocative covers of our time.

    *Kisses fingertips and lifts hand to the sky.*

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    1. Thanks, Suze. This is another of those posts that's been rattling around in my head for quite a long time. Glad to finally have the chance to share it.

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  8. It's funny that you mentioned the octave in "Some...where..." I'm no musician, but that is what I've learned to use as a rough yardstick for trying to figure out what an unknown interval may be.

    "Dorothy's whining." :-) Seeing it as a grown-up -- and parent -- puts those scenes in a slightly new light. My memories from seeing it as a kid were so much more black and white. Miss Gulch = ultimate evil. But, ya know, Dorothy really could have taken the longer route home.

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    1. Wait. Was that an oblique Supertramp reference?!?

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    2. Ha! No... The long way home in this case was the road that avoids going by Miss Gulch's house. Didn't someone (Auntie Em?) suggest that Dorothy simply do that, rather than give poor Toto the temptation? Dorothy responded with something like "Oh, you just don't listen, that's all..." but it seemed like sound advice to me. :-)

      But I guess Dorothy DID end up taking the longer way home, after all...

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    3. Hunk gets the line of which you speak, Scarecrow's Kansas double.

      That song is the best mnemonic for an ascending octave that I know. We're sure to come upon more of those in the coming months. I did West Side Story last year which is good for tritones ("Maria") and major sevenths ("Somewhere").

      Here's a question for you thoughtful people: how do Dorothy and the Scarecrow decide which fork in the road to take? They choose, but without any explanation as to why. Do you suppose both forks eventually converge further along?

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    4. Good question! Our DVD of the movie has the full, uncut Scarecrow dance sequence, which was a shame they cut so much for time. Some of those fences lining the yellow brick road had rubber instead of wood, so he bounced off of them like in a wrestling ring!

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    5. Scarecrow - that's the part I wanted to play as a high school actor.

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    6. You'd make a good scarecrow, Squid. As for forks in the road, I always do as Yogi Berra suggests.

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    7. "When you come to a fork in the road, take it."

      Yogi was 14 in 1939. That would be a funny project: reimagine a classic movie as if it had been directed by Yogi Berra. "It ain't over 'til it's over."

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