Saturday, September 18, 2010

Day Seventy-Eight: The Wizard of Oz

Ranking on IMDb Top 250: #121
Year: 1939
Director: Victor Fleming
Starring: Judy Garland and Ray Bolger

When I was very young in the early 1990s, there were two films that I insisted on watching constantly – often multiple times in a day. One was the perhaps inevitable 1991 Disney version of Beauty and the Beast, and the other was The Wizard of Oz. That's not only a testament to the incredible durability of the film, but also to its unbelievably modern feel. If you've ever tried to get a three-year-old kid to watch a movie and stay contented, you know how picky and whiny they can be. I will guarantee that the only movie from 1939 – and hell, probably the only movie from before 1980 – that Brad the Toddler would willfully watch is The Wizard of Oz, and not only did he want to watch it, he watched it multiple times per day. If it held up for the fifty years it took for me to see it, then it's fairly safe to assume that it held up in the twenty years since. And indeed it has.

Technicolor was still young at the time when The Wizard of Oz was filmed, but its cinematography remains one of the most effective uses of color in the history of film. For anyone who hasn't seen this movie, it shifts from black-and-white while Dorothy is in Kansas at the beginning to color when a tornado knocks her to the dreamlike Land of Oz, then back to black-and-white when Dorothy awakens from her reverie. The contrast between the black-and-white scenes and the color scenes, as well as the brilliant coloring of the landscapes in Oz, makes this one of the most beautiful films I have ever seen from a visual standpoint.

I'm not traditionally a fan of musicals, but in that area, too, The Wizard of Oz succeeds. It strikes a perfect balance of spoken and sung narrative, and the songs – especially "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" – have all become timeless classics. Unlike a lot of classic musicals, Wizard's legacy is less tied to its soundtrack and more to its atmosphere. Everyone can remember how they felt the first time they saw the Wicked Witch of the West, or the Lollipop Guild, or the Scarecrow, or the Emerald City, or the flying monkeys. There are more iconic images in this movie than in just about any other film ever made. It's almost senseless to talk about it because a three-year-old can enjoy it just as much as a ninety-three-year-old. Its appeal is universal. Its message is simple. Its status as a classic is undisputed. If you haven't seen it in a few years, do yourself a favor and watch it again. I think you'll find that it's just as great as it ever was.

The Good: For me, personally, The Wizard of Oz has a very safe, comforting vibe about it. I would watch this movie in a diaper sitting on the floor at my grandma's house while my parents were at work. That's not a connection that's easily forgotten.

The Bad: If anything, the fact that it has so many songs has soured me on it slightly over the years, but it hasn't changed my mind about how great it is.

The Skinny: #121 sounds fine to me.

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