Thursday, August 17, 2006

The Wizard of Oz

The first thing that I remember when I think about The Wizard of Oz is the yellow-brick road. It begins at a point and spirals out until it's pointed in the direction of the wizard. I'm not sure what this signifies or what it means that they just HAPPENED to have a road begin right where Dorothy just HAPPENED to drop a house on a witch. Maybe it was prophecy. Maybe the munchkins are actually religiously devoted to Dorothy. Anyway...

Whoever played the witch did an amazing job of sounding like someone who would come from a small farming community and still be a really scary witch. The way she talked was not in evil overtones, but the way you would expect to hear a farmwife talk to her neighbour over the fence. This last viewing, I noticed that and was unconvinced of her evil until I remembered how scary the witch was when I was a kid, and I placed it in the concept of being a girl's dream. I guess everyone would talk like they were from a farm if you'd only ever been around farm folk. That said, the witch was brilliant.

How can this movie ever have been intended for children? A house falls on a witch and then her legs shrivel up and disappear. Then, the other witch dies when Dorothy foils a murder attempt on the scarecrow. She shrieks her death cries and what are the children left thinking? Probably something along the lines of, 'I hope daddy has psychiatry covered on his benefits.'

I never got the theme of The Wizard of Oz before this latest viewing. I like to hope that it says something about the time that it was written, rather than seeing it as a truism. A young farmgirl, pining for adventure and a change of scenery, is ripped from her comfortable surroundings, hailed as a hero and hand-delivered an adventure. Along the way, she completes her quest but is left abandoned by the so-called saviour. In the end, she is not permitted to leave until she realizes that everything she’s wanted was in the drab, black-and-white world of Kansas. So, the goal of her quest, rather than the search for some wizard, is a coming-of-age in which she ceases her childish dreaming and learns to appreciate what she has. It’s a charming little twist that comes full-circle to her “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” dreams. The technicolor lure of Oz teaches her that she doesn’t need it.

When I think of movies that are influenced by The Wizard of Oz, The Wiz immediately comes to mind. The only thing I remember about The Wiz is that Michael Jackson played the Scarecrow and was accompanied by “Bacon”, a little puppet sidekick. I’m pretty sure that The Wiz missed the mark but it must have made some money, anyway.

Another medium affected by The Wizard of Oz is books. The Dark Tower, by Stephen King, is the most obvious example of a story touched by Oz. There is the immediate comparison – They go to Kansas and confront the wizard there. I believe one or more characters remark on the similarity. However, the overall story seems to hold the same type of quest that Dorothy undertook. Roland is looking for the tower and collects three friends. They follow a path, the beam, to a confrontation with a menacing villain, the Crimson King, who turns out to have no teeth. The wizard of Oz ends as a dream and, while I wont give you the end of The Dark Tower, many people view it as similarly unsatisfying.

All kinds of Modern Fantasy contains elements that were seen in The Wizard of Oz. The displaced hero, who just wants to go home, the magic item that allows the hero to contend with a foreign world and an enemy which destiny deems he will face. There’s even the idea of an obvious goal which turns out to be a red herring. Fear not, however, because the true meaning of the quest is just around the corner.

When I put all of this together, thinking of how The Wizard of Oz has affected modern fiction, movie-making and children’s nightmares, I couldn’t help but think, ‘Pretty good for a kid’s movie with a singing lion.’


Mkzrj said...

What you said about it being unsuitable for children is totally true. When I first watched it as a young child I was almost surprised I was being allowed to watch this.
You're right that lots of films have been influenced by it, and it certainly was good for a singing lion :)

Earl J. Woods said...

Nice analysis - I picked up the new DVD release a few months ago, and this makes me want to sit down and actually watch it. I've read that the very late sequel, Return to Oz, is even darker and creepier than the original. It might be worth seeking out.

I agree that The Dark Tower series has many Oz parallels, though I'm not sure that the ending matches up quite as nicely as other aspects of the two stories...and it's hard to say why I disagree without giving away the ending! But I'm sure Liam knows what I mean. ;-)