Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain: The Wizard Of Oz (1939)

I have on occasion tackled some of the grander works in cinema, hoping to shed some semblance of light upon their established state as classics.  Usually, I flail to come up with anything profound or new to offer to the equation or spend much of my time convincing those who read this blog that revisiting this work is well worth their time, particularly since things like King Kong and Singin' In The Rain are often overlook primarily because both moderate film fans and cinephiles alike think they know the film and do not bother to engage with it in any way.  Other works like Citizen Kane or 2001: A Space Odyssey are constantly reproached because while you do know how great the film if, it always manages to be considerably better upon the second, third or tenth encounter.  These are the films that grow as one grows in their ability to understand and consume film.  I would not suggest that this is impossible for the other films already mentioned but it works on a different layer.  I would absolutely place The Wizard of Oz with the likes of Citizen Kane or 2001: A Space Odyssey, particularly since I knew going in that it was already a phenomenal work one that captivated me as a young child and at that point in time the film was only 60 years old or so.  Now reaching its 75th anniversary, the stunning bluray upgrade I was able to watch affords it a new layer of interpretation, engagement and genuinely equal cinematic escapism as the work, undoubtedly, did when first in theaters.  Like Citizen Kane the narrative here is so precise and honed that even in its surprising brevity it manages to sweep viewers into the real and the fantastical simultaneously and much like 2001, the cinematic achievements both in scope and execution lead even an expert in cinematic trickery to wonder exactly how such shots were attained.  It is a concoction of perfection that exists in a space of maybe ten or twenty films to date, thus helping to explain its wide influence and adoration from noted cult directors to art house cinephiles with pretentious palettes.  Simply put to not love The Wizard of Oz is by its very extension to not love cinema itself.

The Wizard of Oz centers on the young wide-eyed Dorothy (Judy Garland) who wants nothing more than to assure the safety of her dog Toto from the animosity and outrage of a local woman who blames it for the entire downfall of society.  Despite having the love of her Auntie Em (Clara Blandick) and Uncle Henry (Charlie Grapewin) and the adoration of the local farmers, Dorothy is distraught at the possibility that one person could lead to her losing her beloved dog and flees to the outskirts of town to avoid such occurrence, there meeting Professor Marvel (Frank Morgan) a trickster who helps Dorothy to believe in the future that she will avoid such troubles.  Yet on the way home, Dorothy is caught in a tornado, one that knocks her unconscious and leads her on a trip via her house to a magical land full of color, munchkins and a variety of witches both good and evil, most notably The Good Witch Glinda (Billie Burke) and her counterpart The Wicked Witch of the West (Margaret Hamilton) who takes a striking resemblance to the same woman who attempted to rid Dorothy of Toto.  Informed that Dorothy might be able to return home if she follows a yellow brick road to Emerald City wherein she will find The Wizard of Oz who will be capable of helping her to return to Kansas where she belongs.  Along the way, Dorothy makes a few friends in The Scarecrow (Ray Bolger) who hopes to find himself some brains, The Tin Man (Jack Haley) looking for a heart and The Cowardly Lion (Bert Lahr) who only hopes to attain courage.  Together the group hopes to collectively find help from The Wizard.  Upon arrival they are given the spa treatment, before meeting The Wizard, a floating head projection that explains he will gladly help if the group is capable of taking down The Wicked Witch of the West and returning with her broom.  Meeting up with flying monkeys, and a variety of other trickeries at the hands of the Wicked Witch, the group is eventually successful if only by accident.  Upon returning they are initially denied aid by The Wizard, but when they discover his projection to be a false extension and merely an operation via mechanics they demand his end of the bargain.  Giving the group items that signify their desires, while offering Dorothy a ride home in his hot air balloon all seems ideal.  Although Dorothy misses the ride, only to be told by Glinda of an alternative means home via her earlier attained ruby slippers.  Upon performing the suggested task, Dorothy is able to return to Kansas where she recollects her wild experiences to a some what skeptical group, save for the seemingly knowing Professor Marvel.

There are tons of ways to talk about this film, some from purely historical approaches, while others could solely stand this up against its literary inspiration.  However, I am going to go in the same direction I always go when talking about Judy Garland films while also extending it outward to consider the whole film, and that is the notion of performed bodies.  Take for example, Dorothy herself whose femininity comes at odds with the other witches upon arrival in Oz.  Here her prettiness is a thing to be admired by the munchkins while also being vilified by the Wicked Witch who sees it in contrast to her wickedness, verified in the classic scene of her melting.  Of course, the other bodies in question include the Scarecrow who is a literal manifestation of the straw man argument of philosophy, one that is built up but really contains no tangible  or logical grounding.  The body of the scarecrow is lacking in brains, or more accurately a means with which to verify such knowledge, whereas the Tin Man wants a heart, his performance of "maleness" in that he is allegedly a man made of tin is one of hard exterior that is so lacking in the emotive as to become frozen in immobility, only made to move again by oil, which must be applied by others.  However, the most interesting character becomes The Cowardly Lion whose organic composition suggests him to be similar to human, although his cowardliness is somehow more tied to a performance of his lionesque identity.  He is expected to be brutish and mean, although he is far more demure and passive.  The certain accentuation Lahr adds to the character goes along way in suggesting the Cowardly Lion to not be cowardly per se, but non-normative in his performance of masculinity, or to go a step further one of gayness.  It is fascinating that the means with which the three bodies become reinscribed with their desires is through signifiers, one receiving a diploma and another a badge.  These are additions to their performed selves that are externalized, but not internal.  As is the case for the tin man receive a heart pendant that is also a clock, the implications this carries for what represents emotion as being temporal are astounding and fascinating, a statement that speaks to the confounding but engaging nature of the film overall.

Key Scene:  It is all good, but the actual moving onto the yellow brick road musical number has such an audacious scope and grandeur that when it succeeds, I actually felt myself gasping in amazement.  Mind you I have seen this film before, but never truly appreciated the impossibility at play.

Bluray. Get it.  NOW.

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