1939 is often cited as “the greatest year in Hollywood”. This single year saw the release of such classics as Gone With The Wind, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Wuthering Heights, Stagecoach, and Ninotchka, amongst numerous other excellent films. Though these films differed widely in style, subject matter, and genre, all of these films shared the ability to resonate with Depression-era audiences. Seventy-five years later, several of these films are still considered classics as they continue to enthrall modern audiences. While all of these films earned their place in cinematic history, few have cast a spell quite as enchanting or far-reaching as a children’s fable that still has us dreaming of a land beyond the rainbow. Here are three reasons that the streets of Oz remain paved with cinematic gold.
|Lions and songs and dance, oh my!|
A PRODUCTION FOR THE AGES: Although it was released over seven decades ago, The Wizard of Oz remains strikingly modern. From flying monkeys, to melting witches, to a tornado that is truly out of this world, the film’s endless list of iconic images alone would have been enough to earn it a place in cinematic history. Even in an era dominated by CGI, there is no single image that conjures the instant recognition or continues to inspire awe like that of Judy Garland stepping out of sepia toned Kansas into the vibrant array of sight and sound that is Oz. The stark contrast between the drab reality of Dorothy’s Kansas and the splendor of Oz creates more than just a memorable contrast; it brings viewers into Dorothy’s mind as the world around her is colored first in oppressive grey and then in the vibrant colors which represent her vastly different views of each world. In many ways, this same color scheme also stood in for the drabness of life in poverty stricken Depression-era America contrasted with the bright lights and glamorous images of Hollywood through which viewers sought a refuge from their harsh reality. Through ingenious use of camera-work and the efforts of an extensive creative team, the film successfully brings Oz to vibrant life in such a way that dispels audience disbelief until the closing credits. From the yellow brick road of munchkin land to the depths of the witch's forest and the cosmopolitan Emerald City, each region of Oz contains its own culture and characteristics which in turn lends a sense of realism to the otherwise fantastic plot. Although the successful blend of realism and fantasy would be an accomplishment in of itself, the fact that the elaborate costumes, dazzling sets, and breathtaking special effects were created without the benefit of modern technology is nothing short of daunting, and makes the film stand out as a true ‘horse of a different color’.
|It ain't easy being green|
THE VERY ESSENCE OF AMERICANA: Despite the fact that it was originally marketed to children, The Wizard of Oz has become firmly ingrained in the fabric of American culture. The use of such classic lines as “I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto”, “I’ll get you my pretty and your little dog too!”, “Lions, and tigers, and bears. Oh my!” and of course “There’s no place like home”, just to name a few are so commonplace that these bits of dialogue have entered the realm of popular vernacular. Similarly, each of the film’s central characters remains iconic as they continue to appear as Halloween costumes and adorn home décor, accessories, and a plethora of personal items. Similarly just a few notes of one of the film’s signature songs will get grown adults ready to break out into a rousing performance of their favorite childhood tunes. “Over the Rainbow” in particular continues to enjoy fanfare from a wide range of music fans with pop, jazz, and even punk rock artists covering the beloved ballad. With each passing decade a new generation has been introduced to the wonders of Oz and each of those generations in turn has enriched the film's legacy with their own unique appreciation and prospective on the enduring tale.
MESSAGE/STORY: Originally written as a populist allegory, The Wizard of Oz has meant an array of divergent things to each generation and individual exposed to its brilliant combination of fantasy, drama, innocence, wit, and raw emotion. While the visuals, sound, and casting came together to create a truly dazzling production, perhaps the film’s true secret to its enduring impact is the power of its story. On the surface, the film tells a straight-forward, if imaginative, tale of an average girl thrust into an adventure in a strange land. At its heart, however, the script actually relays a far more relatable tale of one girl’s journey to find herself only to realize that already possessed all that her heart desired all along. Through its dual storylines the film is able to entertain children with its dramatic twists and turns while simultaneously reminding adults of the value of the simpler aspects of life. Although it is tempting to, like Dorothy, dream of the allure of far-off lands and excitement of adventure, the film reminds us that it is a far happier and healthier practice to take a harder look at the small thrills and everyday blessings in our own lives. Through its depiction of the hidden dangers behind the surface beauty of Oz and the powerful love and support that surround Dorothy in Kansas, the film provides an apt message that can be summed up in five words, “there’s no place like home”.
|A girl's best friend|