In my first post in this series, “The Breakfast Club”, I told you this series would focus on the “no brainer, mortal lock, absolute shoo-in, first ballot hall of fame type movies that there’s absolutely no excuse for not having seen.”
So, I had to think. Well, what are those?
Immediately - the first thing that came to mind – was “The Wizard of Oz”.
Can you think of another movie that epitomizes the phrase “EVERYONE should see” better than this one does?
The year was 1939. Batman was born, but he still only appeared in “Detective Comics”. Lou Gehrig considers himself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath” is published. And Germany, led by Adolf Hitler, invades Poland. World War II begins.
In America that year, we were enjoying what many would later call “The Greatest Year in Film History”. It saw the release of two epic motion pictures, “Gone With the Wind” and “The Wizard of Oz”, along with “Mr Smith Goes to Washington” all of which would eventually become to be listed amongst the greatest films of all time (Numbers 6, 10 and 26 respectively on AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Movies (10th Anniversary)).
“The Wizard of Oz” is a fantasy story revolving around a young girl from Kansas named Dorothy, and her dog, Toto, who get caught in a tor…. Awwww, listen, look. If you haven’t seen “The Wizard of Oz” here’s the deal. Put it in your netflix queue right now, or get in your car and go buy the dvd, or hop on your bike and borrow it from your library or whatever you’ve got to do, but just stop reading this until you make yourself right with the world and then come back and read the rest of this essay, ok? Post a comment up as if you’ve been watching this movie for years and there’s no way any of us here will know the difference. You can thank me silently to yourself afterwards if you want, cause honestly, even if I’m hooking you up right now, you shouldn’t admit to anyone you’ve never seen THIS movie.
How did we get here? How did this movie become SO ingrained into the fabric of our society that almost 75 years after its release I would still readily chide someone for not having seen it? I mean, this is an old movie, people should have a built-in excuse, right?
No, I don’t think so, no. Nope.
“The Wizard of Oz” is inarguably one of the greatest motion pictures ever made. (Inarguable. You cannot argue it.) It takes song and dance and fantasy elements and uses them all to tell a charming story which imparts a valuable lesson in the power of believing in yourself. It appeals to young and old alike. When AFI announced their vaunted list series in 1998, I was certain that this movie would be number one. It is widely and deeply beloved, and rightfully so. It’s 75 years old, yet still looks as beautiful as the day it was first released into theatres, and its timeless message and wonderful songs still hold the power to enchant no matter how old the viewer is.
The effects in the movie are entirely practical: Makeup, fancy sets, matte paintings. As such, they age well. They’re tangible. The cap above is a good example of what I mean. it’s still easy to get lost in Oz because for the most part, they built it! You may catch a wire on a monkey or something, but by then your disbelief will be more suspended then they are.
Running through the movie like its lifeblood is the singing and dancing. Now… I’m not exactly a musical buff. But in the “Wizard of Oz”, its all just so magical and joyful that I go with it. There’s all these fanciful creatures and characters and once the all get going they’re all like hopping an skipping and dancing down the road… you’ve got to love it! The songs themselves are classics. Who doesn’t occasionally whistle “If I Only had a Brain”, or sing the first verse of “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead” as social commentary now and then? I’ll even catch myself doing the flying monkey tune sometimes when it’s called for. You know, some kind of impending trouble coming? dun nuh ne nuh ne nen na, dun nuh ne nuh ne nen na…
But of course, the song of all songs in the movie, and a forerunner for song of all time from a movie is “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”.
I can’t think of a superlative sufficient for this song. Timeless, Classic, Beautiful? I don’t know. It’s a song that’s so simple and sweet and pure that it becomes elegant. The world has come to hold it in a place of reverence. I’m still amazed that it was written for a movie. It was sung beautifully by Judy Garland, and wound up winning the Academy Award that year for Best Song. It should have won about ten of them.
Providing all of this singing and dancing aside from Dorothy is a colorful cadre of characters that are unparalleled in cinema. The Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion accompany and assist Dorothy, but more importantly, they become trusted friends. I bet everyone reading can recall easily what each of them was missing (and the reason they personally had for seeing the Wizard) with no help at all from Google or Wikipedia or what have you. Eventually they meet the infamous Wizard, who winds up being a bumbling puffed up charlatan, who’s looking to get home, just like Dorothy is! The message? No one is better than anyone else, you just have to believe in yourself!
And as if this all weren’t enough… As if this embarrassment of riches wouldn’t already qualify “The Wizard of Oz” for legendary greatness… Atop of everything I’ve already mentioned… the movie has one of the greatest villains of all time, the Wicked Witch of the West.
Coming in at number four on AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Heroes & Villains, the Wicked Witch of the West is an unforgettable, menacing, nightmare of a woman. Flying on her broomstick, cackling crazily, brandishing fire, painted green, curling and uncurling her fingers like claws as if she were some evil gypsy grandmother… This movie character set the high bar for villains forever. People still recall her “Catchphrase” if you will, “I’ll get you my pretty, and your little dog, too!” which narrowly made the list of greatest quotes. Who can forget her unleashing her flying monkey army “Fly, Fly!” or her wailing, flailing, smoking demise “I’m melllltttiiiinngg!!! I’m melllltttiiiinngg!!! ” Good god. There is no questioning it whatsoever. This character gave nightmares to children for generations, and deserves her place in the annals of screen villainy for all time.
“The Wizard of Oz” is one of the crown jewels of history’s treasure chest of films. It’s a shining example of the human imagination, creativity and spirit. It has a sweetness and an innocence to it which would almost be impossible to create today. It has lasted 75 years, and I have no doubt it will continue to last for as long as films are shown.
There’s no place like Oz, and that’s why it’s a “Movie That Everyone Should See”.