Rated G. I know that The Wizard of Oz is one of those movies that, while not scary, scares certain kids. I mean, it technically involves a witch who is very cool with murder and setting people on fire. There's also this really odd casualness with death that the entire land of Oz embraces. But this is a pretty solid G rating, so I'm not going to fight it. It's one of those live action G movies that we no longer see.
DIRECTORS: Victor Fleming, George Cukor, and Mervyn LeRoy
Why haven't I been writing as often? Stress coupled with laziness. On Tuesday, I decided to give myself a break. I said that I had no will to write a blog, so I said that I deserved one day off. Besides, I thought I could only get four movies into a five day work week anyway, so I didn't feel that bad. Then my family went into Covid quarantine, despite the fact that we probably don't have it, and now I'm really far behind. Sorry, Dune and Candyman. I'll have to find some time for you whenever.
I know that The Wizard of Oz has a cult following. I know it, I know it, I know it, I know it. I had a friend from youth group who I lost track of, but know that her adult life involves her obsession with The Wizard of Oz. The love for this movie runs deep. It is so ingrained in our cultural zeitgeist that it is one of the few narratives that I can relate to almost every audience. But it also is a movie that is so commonplace that it is even hard to appreciate from an entertainment level. The thing is, for a film made in 1939, it's really impressive. I mean, I was watching this thing and comparing it to the musicals of the era. It's really next level. Musicals, especially movie musicals during this era, have a strong tie to spectacle. Sure, we have movies that can transcend and really hit the emotional drama and conflict of reality. But most silver screen musicals of this era were meant to be about glitz and glamour. So when I say that The Wizard of Oz is impressive as heck, I don't say it lightly. It's a bananas storyline with ambitions beyond the technology of the era. I have nothing to say about the quality of the movie making behind this movie. Honest to Pete, for visuals and music alone, this film slaps.
But in terms of deeper messaging, I kind of wonder what the heck is going on. When I was a kid, I always had the assumption that everything that happened in Oz was real. I think that's what L. Frank Baum wanted us to believe, especially considering that there's a whole series of Oz stories. But as an adult, the movie really leans heavily on the notion that Dorothy is basically concussed and the Land of Oz was a way for her to deal with all of the garbage in her life. Maybe it's that whole "Trix-are-for-kids" element of the movie, that kids simply believe that Oz is real. But the world of Oz has exaggerated versions of all of the characters in the real world, with the exception of Auntie Em. Because the Oz folks are avatars for real people, we have to assume that those characters are commentaries for how she views their real world counterparts. And for the most part, those stories work. The Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Lion are kind-hearted-yet-exaggerated versions of the people she knows. The Wicked Witch as Mrs. Gulch works even better. Dorothy, a child about to lose her dog to a economically thriving busy-body, sees this woman as a witch. Makes sense.
But it's Professor Marvel that doesn't make sense to me. We meet Professor Marvel at the beginning of the story. We know that he's a bit of a con man because of the dramatic irony woven through the story. We get that he sees Aunt Em because of the photo he gets. But this man is overall very moral. He is poor, yet never charges Dorothy for his reading. That's the way that he makes his money. And it looks like business is rough. Everything about the sepia tone screams The Grapes of Wrath, yet Professor Marvel still does the right thing. But think about how Professor Marvel is represented by Oz. The con man element is there, but Dorothy didn't know that in reality. She rushes home to see her Aunt Em when Marvel says that her heart is broken. From her perspective, Marvel is a saint who has real world abilities. But Oz is a jerk. He prides himself on being a jerk. He sends these four + Toto to go fight a homicidal witch for almost no reason. He knows that the Witch is a monster who is terrorizing the land, yet Dorothy is expected to kill her? I know that there's no real clarity to the Wizard's directions outside of negligence.
Sure, the Wizard ends up being an okay guy. But he almost has more of a character change than Dorothy. The thing is, Dorothy is the protagonist of the piece, but has very little character or motivation. She runs away from home, which is the moral of story. "There's no place like home" is the theme of the film. Cool. But Dorothy makes that decision in the sepia part of the film. Honestly, her major character change happens in the first twenty minutes of the film. She learns her lesson, that other people love her, really early on. When she goes to Oz, she spends the entire film trying to get back. She's trying from moment one to return back to Oz. She misses her Aunt, so what's the real moral dilemma for Dorothy? If anything, the entire film is begging for her not to return home. She is given this great journey to return home, but she's single-minded in returning. I want to say that she finds strength in her journey, but she honestly starts the film pretty strong and ends the film pretty strong. All of these other characters have these overt, over-the-top flaws. What does Dorothy have? A complete lack of understanding about the laws of this universe. That's it. She even ends basically playing it by ear.
Case in point: the win for the film involves throwing water on the witch by accident. There's zero foreshadowing about the witch having an allergy to water. I mean, Signs pulled the same thing, but at least that was foreshadowed throughout the piece. And people still gave Signs nonsense because the planet was mostly covered with water. There's actually a lot of moments like this throughout the film. Stuff happens...because. For example, the Witch after capturing Dorothy and realizing that she can't get the shoes from her gives Dorothy a timer. She sets this giant hourglass where, credit being due, it builds suspense until Dorothy's death. But...why? Why go through that whole rigmarole? There's no reason for it. It's not like she even has a plan for dawn or something. If there was this great sacrifice or something that would allow Dorothy's ruby slippers to come off at the rising of the moon or whatever, that would make sense. Instead, it's just giant hourglass time. Also, Dorothy should have kept flipping that thing over to give herself more time. It's not like the Witch was wearing a watch.
In terms of storytelling, The Wizard of Oz is a darned goofy movie. Dorothy starts the film as a powerhouse and ends the film as a powerhouse. Nothing makes a lick of sense. But do you know what? I think that none of us really care about that. Instead, The Wizard of Oz is just an impressive musical full of glorious glorious spectacle. Maybe the L. Frank Baum version has a lot more of those moments fleshed out. But why rally against it? Emotionally, it does the job it is supposed to do and I don't hate that at all.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.