Martin Rayburn knows he's not in Kansas...
I spoke yesterday about the two non-Christmas fantasy movies which always evoke many real Christmas memories for me - largely due to their broadcast over the festive period each and every year of my childhood. One was Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, the other is the magical The Wizard Of Oz. And really, what is not to love about The Wizard Of Oz?
I think The Wizard Of Oz may well have been seen by more people
than any other movie. I know I've yet to meet anyone who hasn't seen it. You think of other staples of cinema which everyone is supposed to have watched - say The Godfather or Star Wars, Citizen Cane even - and you can imagine many people choosing not to view them because they just aren't interested. But The Wizard Of Oz? It's unique! It comes to us first as children, and it's impossible to resist. I say this despite knowing that as a young child I thought of it as a 'soft girls film', one I wouldn't probably have admitted to liking amongst my friends for fear of teasing, yet one I watched religiously every single time it was on. The phrase "timeless classic" really could've been invented for this film, because it doesn't matter how many times you view it the enjoyment factor stays at the max.
The Wizard Of Oz mirrors the longings and imaginations of our own childhoods. The dreams that Dorothy sings about and the
adventure that follows are intimately familiar. She
imagines a bigger place where her problems don't linger and she is free
to explore them. She imagines a place where there isn't any trouble and
people actually listen to what she has to say. She sees the rainbow as
her golden gate to that better place, because in her drab Kansas world the
rainbow is the only source of colour that she knows. She dreams of a
bigger place and imagines a world where troubles melt like lemondrops.
We can relate. It's our childhood dreams of bigger, better, more interesting and exciting places. It's the games we all played as children, in our rooms, in our gardens, in a cardboard box. Our imagination creates these bigger brighter colourful worlds. Our toys come to life and we dream up more fascinating characters to interact with, they might have characteristics we know of from our parents and family, but maybe just with all the best parts... Or maybe just the things we see in them.
This is why The Wizard Of Oz is impossible to resist for children. It captures what goes on in our imaginations greater than any other movie before or since. Just one viewing at the right impressionable age and you're hooked. It's the cinematic equivalent of kids cocaine!
So, we live in the real world of 'Kansas', and Oz itself is meant to represent that colourful palette of our imagination. But
for Dorothy Oz is also a place where she does some growing up, and this is part of the reason The Wizard Of Oz keeps that unique feel on repeated viewing. As we grow up ourselves, we can relate to different elements of the movie and gain a new level of appreciation. The
three friends Dorothy meets along the way, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man
and the Lion are there to teach us the lessons of bravery, love and
devotion, whilst also showing us the ability to think for ourselves. Then there's the Wicked Witch of
the West who represents the very real dangers both we and Dorothy will meet along the way. The parental figure of Glinda the Good Witch lends a guiding hand, but ultimately shows that Dorothy must discover for herself how to solve her problems. And you thought it was just a movie about munchkins and yellow brick roads, huh?
Judy Garland was just 17 when she made The Wizard Of Oz. She's absolutely perfect
in the role of Dorothy. Not only full of childlike wide eyed wonder, but stunningly beautiful and capable of delivering a very mature performance. When her only true companion, Toto the dog, is nearly taken away from her it is one of the most frightening scenes in the whole movie, and totally down to Garland's conveyance of the moment.
There are too, too many things to list which I consider to be favourite moments, but the switch from black and white to colour is magnificent. Living in a colour filled world of today, it's still close to jaw-droppingly executed. I can only imagine how it affected audiences in 1939! I also really love the contained soundstage look to the movie, it's as if we're watching a play in a theatre. Yes, it's clear to see where the stage ends and the matte paintings begin, but I think that just adds to the 'imagination' quality of the film I spoke about.
The Wizard Of Oz was groundbreaking, it's ingenious, and clearly produced with massive amounts of loving care. 75 years on, generation after generation discover this movie and are drawn in by it's magical wonder. I still think there is no better time to watch The Wizard Of Oz than at Christmas, it's a time when the whole family are together and it really is something each and every one of them can really enjoy. And I firmly believe that my children, grandchildren, and their grandchildren will still be watching this for many many Christmases to come.
By day, an ordinary bloke in a dull 9 to 5. By night, a tired ordinary
bloke. Martin still hasn't worked out what he wants to do when he grows
up. He is currently 46.