Blog Directory CineVerse: Pay (some) attention to that film analysis behind the curtain…

Pay (some) attention to that film analysis behind the curtain…

Thursday, September 3, 2015

What can possibly be said about the Wizard of Oz that hasn't already been expressed? Actually, plenty, if you give credence to the myriad interpretations, themes, and elements at work that have been suggested by film scholars, critics and fans alike. This 1939 classic is actually chock-full of sub- textual and thematic content worthy of ample discussion. CineVerse attempted exactly that last evening and came away with the following conclusions:

Children and adults alike can appreciate the themes imbued in this movie and the memories it evokes. Consider that The Wizard of Oz is probably the most watched film in history (thanks to its repeated airings over the decades on broadcast television), which means that countless children have seen it and recall it with fondness. They, in turn, pass on the viewing opportunity to their children, and the cycle continues.
The casting is fantastic – Judy Garland exudes a vulnerability and innocence that melts even a steely heart; Ray Bolger is a noodle -like marionette of an actor perfectly embodies the scarecrow; Margaret Hamilton, although little known outside of this film, is the perfect physical personification of a female villain/which; Frank Morgan is wonderful as an addled charlatan with a kind heart.
The songs are also timeless, infinitely hummable and quotable.
There’s something wonderfully transitory about the juxtaposition between the sepia toned black and white book-ended sequences in the Technicolor scenes in between that pop with oversaturated vibrancy. This film would’ve been a revelation to audiences in 1939 who were predominantly fed black and white films by studios and began to discover the magic of Technicolor.
The special-effects are charmingly old-school in an age when it’s easy to get earned out in jaded by overdone CGI and digital effects. The painted cycloramas, wires, simple pyrotechnics, and artificiality of the sets and costumes make for a stagebound but undeniably fun misc-en-scene.
All the characters are sincere; there’s a purity in their drives and motivations that makes the viewer completely believe in whatever factor is compelling them. Dorothy truly wants to get home – pure and simple. No one has any ulterior motives or secondary agendas, which makes it very easy for children to understand and root for these characters.
It’s also terrifyingly memorable to children. Think about all of the visual stimuli at work here that stamp onto the young conscious and unconscious mind, from a terrible tornado to a sadistic ugly which to creepy flying monkeys and angry talking trees to a haunted forest. This, along with Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (which also features a gruesome which willing to kill) is among a child’s first exposure to pure evil and terror in a movie. This is a film that isn’t afraid to depict a cruel villain whose modus operandi is to torture and destroy the good guys.

Growing up and facing challenges along the way: Dorothy quests for ruby slippers, which are elusive “adult shoes.” She’s forced to confront serious fears, such as surviving a tornado, homesickness and separation from her family, a villain who wants to destroy her and her best friend (Toto), etc.
the yearning for remaining in the comfortable and familiar (home) versus the yearning to explore the big bright world beyond: while the film’s message is “there’s no place like home,” and Dorothy learns to appreciate conservative values like the love, warmth and comfort of family and the familiar, she also has a heck of a lot of fun and adventure on her road to and while in Oz, making several lifelong friends along the way. Perhaps the film is not asking viewers to make a choice between one or the other – possibly it’s saying be content with what you have, but it’s also okay to escape to or fantasize about other places.
Roger Ebert summarizes things well: “For kids of a certain age, home is everything, the center of the world. But over the rainbow, dimly guessed at is the wide earth, fascinating and terrifying. There is a deep fundamental fear that events might conspire to transport the child from the safety of home and strand him far away in a strange land. They’re touching on the key lesson of childhood, which is that someday the child will not be a child, that home will no longer exist, that adults will be no help because now the child is an adult and must face the challenges of life alone. But that you can ask friends to help you. And that even the Wizard of Oz is only human, and has problems of his own.
Ebert continues: "Her friends on the yellow brick road were projections of every child’s secret fears. Are we real? Are we ugly and silly? Are we brave enough? In helping them, Dorothy was helping herself, just as an older child will overcome fears by acting brie before younger one.”
Author Salman Rushdie posited: “The weakness of grown-ups (in the Wizard of Oz) forces children to take control of their own destinies.”
Reviewer Richard Scheib had this theory: “the film/book is about the great American myth of self-actualisation. It is about the allegorical search for courage, intelligence and heart. The ending of the film comes to the sentimentally banal realisation that these are things that lie within one and that all that we need to do is to recognise them. The farm in Kansas is the absolute ideal of home, hearth, purity and a loving family. Part of what makes The Wizard of Oz such a classic is that Dorothy’s desire to return home where life is loving and far more simple is the essence of what traditional Americana venerates – there have been few more pure-hearted and unabashedly sentimental evocations of this on the screen.”
Scheib and others further contend that the movie suggests a cynicism about people in authority: consider how many adults are inadequate, including uncle Henry and auntie Em who are powerless to prevent Miss Gulch from absconding with Toto; the wizard himself, who turns out to be a fake; and the denizens of Emerald City, a gullible lot who believe what they are told. This points to a political statement perhaps that you shouldn’t necessarily trust those in power.
Gender and power dynamics are also at play here. Writer Ilan Shrira offered this reading into the film: “The Wizard of Oz veers from the traditional Hollywood storyline in that there's no male hero. In fact, quite the opposite: the only two figures with any real power are women—Glinda the Good Witch and Miss Gulch/Wicked Witch. The male leads—the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion—play the classic "common man" roles, with little power to control their own destiny. The only other powerful character to emerge is Dorothy. In fact, after the struggle over Toto, the tornado can be understood as the clashing forces between Miss Gulch and the headstrong Dorothy. (It's no coincidence that Dorothy's last name is Gale). When we get to Oz, Glinda, Dorothy, and the Witch are the three powerful figures, while all the men are weak (including the Wizard). Thus, similar to the theme about the inadequacy of adults, we're also getting the message that men's power is illusory, whereas women's power is real.”
Goodness, virtue and resilience are internal qualities, while evil and destruction, the film suggests, comes from external forces (the witch/the tornado).
According to reviewer Glenn Erickson, the film is a decidedly American picture espousing American values: “Dorothy finds friends in Oz, but they all share a crucial American flaw, a theme that runs through our literature: Americans lack a defined sense of identity. Most of us do not trace our bloodlines to revered traditions; we have to create their own self-identity as best we can. We don't want to be pigeonholed but we often feel rootless and question who we are. The Scarecrow, Tin Woodsman and the Lion are very American characters -- all three of them feel like failures for the lack of essential qualities -- that they ironically already possess. They just need validation. Dorothy's love and the Wizard's BS pep talk close the gap -- note the importance of illusion to each individual's self-esteem.”
It’s also been theorized that this movie is a mirror of its time in that it depicts the lingering effects of the Great Depression (the challenging conditions on the Kansas farm) as well as fears of World War II – with the wicked witch of the West standing in for Hitler and the wicked witches of the east and west possibly representing a division between East and West on the European warfront.

Alice in Wonderland
Snow White and the Seven Dwarves
Other Disney films like Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, and Sleeping Beauty
Star Wars

Gone With the Wind
Captains Courageous
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Joan of Arc
Treasure Island

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