THE WIZARD OF OZ directed by Victor Fleming (USA, 1939)
I first saw The Wizard Of Oz in a fleapit cinema in my home town in the English Midlands when I was around 10 years old. The contrast between the rundown movie house and the glimmering images on-screen were striking.
Seeing it now for the umpteenth time in a lovingly restored 3D version brought back all the magic.
As a pre-teen in the 1960s, Disney was the dominant force for young adult films. The Love Bug, Jungle Book and Blackbeard’s Ghost were among my favorites at that time. I expected Oz to be a cartoon so it was a big shock to be confronted by a live action musical. And how was I supposed to categorize this movie?
On one hand it’s in the classic fairy tale tradition but the good versus evil themes were presented in a manner I hadn’t seen before and have rarely encountered since.The maxim ‘There’s no place like home’ is a conservative one but this is not a movie that asks viewers to accept life’s limitations. Instead, it celebrates the elusive yet transcendent power of the imagination.
The real world is represented as monochrome, drab and claustrophobic whereas Oz is bright, sparkling and magical. This candy-colored kingdom offers a world full of possibilities that are entirely absent from the little girl’s family home in Kansas. The utopian dreams lie over the rainbow in stark contrast to her black and white reality.
An added poignancy now comes from the knowledge that in Judy Garland’s short life, she had no ruby slippers to protect her from dark forces. She was plagued by a series of failed marriages, financial problems and struggles with alcoholism and drug addiction
In the movie, Auntie Em and Uncle Henry are decent, god-fearing folk but when the nasty neighbor, Miss Gulch, presents a sheriff’s order to take away Dorothy’s beloved dog, Toto, they bow meekly to the power of the law.
In his perceptive essay on the movie, Salman Rushdie wrote that this is “a story whose driving force is the inadequacy of adults, in which the weakness of grown-ups forces children to take control of their own destinies”.
In its three-dimensional splendor the movie looks both dated yet timeless. The surreal magic is truly spectacular; the inventive and dramatic storm sequence is thrilling and you marvel at the glimmering towers and corridors of Emerald City.
You’ll see it “Like you’ve never seen it before” promise the posters and they are not wrong. Still, this is a film that lives in the hearts and minds even if you’ve only watched it in a tatty cinema of on a mobile phone.
Not for nothing was it added to UNESCO’s Memory of the World register in 2007 on the grounds that it is “an integral part of global culture” .
This is a unique movie that presents a yearning to escape from daily toil and fears (“Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!”). Above all, it represents the hope that another world is possible where “troubles melt like lemon drops” if you only have a heart, a brain and the courage.