Building My Movie Posters Puzzle: The Wizard of Oz
In late June I took advantage of some free days to visit my Mother in Virginia for her birthday. It was a fun long weekend that included meals out, a screening of Finding Dory, and an unexpected shared activity when I ran across a puzzle in the book store that was just too good to pass up. It consists of thirty-nine posters from a wide variety of classic films stretching from the silent era of the 1920s into the 1970s. It was an engrossing project to undertake alongside my Mother and we naturally discussed several of the featured movies as we built it. What stunned me a little was that I had actually only seen twenty-six of the thirty-nine films honored. I have vowed to fill these gaps in my knowledge of film and take you along for the ride as I reconstruct the puzzle in question. I’ll re-watch the movies I’ve already seen along with experiencing the ones that are new to me and share my thoughts on each one.
We’re picking up here with a movie that was released eleven years after The Man Who Laughs, the fascinating piece of expressionist melodrama which was my first installment. Most obviously, The Wizard of Oz is a much more famous movie; one of the most famous and iconic pieces of film ever made, in fact. What is just as stunning is the extreme technological advances in the art form. Between 1928 and 1939, both full sound and color had become available to filmmakers. That’s an amazing leap forward that has helped to make The Wizard of Oz an enduring classic even for modern audiences who are used to things like widescreen presentation, 3D, and computer generated special effects. I can’t imagine those same audiences would sit still for a version of Dorothy and friends which was black and white all the way through and was absent the film’s famous songs. The technology of film sure hasn’t moved that much since 2005.
There’s really no doubt that The Wizard of Oz is an integral bit of Americana that pretty much everyone knows very well. For years it was a traditional springtime television broadcast. One CBS executive proclaimed that the movie was “better than a gushing oil well.” Numerous lines of dialogue, musical cues, and images are iconic enough to have been referenced or parodied repeatedly over the years.
One example of this is the famous instrumental theme that accompanies many appearances of both the Wicked Witch of the West and her Kansas counterpart Miss Gulch. Give it a listen.
Just a couple of bars of this theme is now musical shorthand for a witch or witch-like character.
Quotes from the film have become shorthand as well. For example, “we’re not in Kansas anymore” is consistently used to express that you’ve ventured into an unfamiliar area or idea. “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain” is quoted when someone is attempting to pull one over on you even after having been revealed as a fraud. The Scarecrow has even become a meme superstar in recent years based on one of his more timeless lines.
A certain portion of the population, in fact, has been referred to at times as the “Friends of Dorothy.” This last little tidbit is rich enough in its details that I’m going to linger over it a minute. There is some disagreement over the exact origin of the moniker, but its connection of the gay community with The Wizard of Oz is inarguable. Most people assume that the name is a reference to the affection many members of the male gay population have for Judy Garland, who played Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. That’s perfectly reasonable, but there are plenty of other connections which can be made with the original source material. In L. Frank Baum’s follow up to the first book, a character exclaims that Dorothy has “some queer friends,” to which she replies “The queerness doesn’t matter, so long as they’re friends.” Now that may be appropriating the term “queer” a little bit ahead of the game, but consider also that In later books of the Oz series, Princess Ozma spends ten years as a boy and is depicted as having a very close friendship with Dorothy. In the early ’80s a Naval investigatory unit was researching the homosexual community in the Chicago area (for some reason) and was confused by the repeated use of the phrase “friend of Dorothy,” believing there was some central real-life figure in the area who was named Dorothy.
Perhaps of additional interest to some readers here is my own history with The Wizard of Oz. In the spring of 1983, my elementary school (which went from Kindergarten to 7th grade) presented a version of the stage show based on the film, and good ol’ Daffy Stardust played the Cowardly Lion.
The production was well-regarded enough that it convinced the local chapter of the International Thespian Society to begin giving awards to elementary school shows and their participants. A few members of the cast, including yours truly, received such recognition. I have no idea what happened to the certificate I was given, but my “Courage” medal is still hanging around ay my mom’s house.
In conjunction with writing this article I gave The Wizard of Oz another look and took some random notes which I’ll include here.
– The famous use of color to distinguish Oz from Kansas has perhaps overshadowed the fact that the scenes in Kansas are not actually presented in traditional black and white photography, but in a brownish sepia tone. In fact, the exterior of Dorothy’s farm house continues to be shown as a dull tan and brown after it has crash landed in Munchkinland.
This suggests that Dorothy’s Kansas not only seems black and white in comparison to the colorful and crazy land of Oz, but is in fact completely brown. This is most likely due to its barren and dirt-battered landscape. After all, Dorothy appears to recognize different colors and doesn’t spend her whole time in Oz gaping and shielding her eyes. The original novel actually describes Kansas as being totally gray in color.
– When discussing 1937’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in previous articles, some of us have expressed annoyance with Adriana Caselotti’s soprano vibrato singing voice. Well, here it is again, used by Glinda the good witch just two years later.
It was apparently a popular singing style at the time. Interestingly, Caselotti herself makes an appearance as the disembodied voice of Juliet singing “Wherefore art thou Romeo?” in the Tin Man’s version of “If I Only had a…”
– The movie’s score lifts a portion of “Night on Bald Mountain” during the rescue of Dorothy from the witch’s castle. It’s a little jarring in a film with a lot of original music.
– As a lover of travel and someone whose family was on the move constantly over the first seven years of his life, the movie’s stated message that you shouldn’t look for anything beyond your own back yard rings both hollow and false. It seems to me that with both of the wicked witches dead at Dorothy’s hands and the wizard exposed as a fraud, Oz would be a far better place to live than dreary old Kansas. Dorothy has an adventure in which she meets people who are very different from herself and goes to a beautiful and industrious city which also boasts plenty of leisure time, but then vows never to leave home again. What the hell. Kids, don’t let this movie fool you. There are lots of great places in this world, and the place you were born probably doesn’t outrank them all. Travel broadens the mind.
– Gee whiz, we’ve gotten through this whole article without discussing the beautiful and iconic “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Well, give it a listen again sometime. That’s some top-notch songwriting.