It wasn't the first film based on L. Frank Baum's classic series of books, and it clearly won't be the last by a long shot, but MGM's 1939 version of The Wizard of Oz will likely forever be the favorite adaptation of Dorothy Gale's Oz-dyssey (its dialogue will still be quoted in the year 2154, if Avatar is any fortune teller). If you're a human being you've likely watched Judy Garland and friends skipping down the Yellow Brick Road to the Emerald City at least once or at most a billion times in the last seven decades. So join us in wishing the film a very happy birthday. To celebrate the 71st anniversary of its original release (did you notice the Google tribute?), we've collected some thoughts on and memories of the film from the Cinematical team. Here, first, is my reflection:
As much as I've gone through phases preferring other takes on Baum (The Wiz, Return to Oz, the old silent films), there is no denying the MGM version's hold on my conscious. Whether because it's an historical icon as popularly celebrated as any image of the 20th century, or an essential part of cinema appreciation or just that brilliantly memorable on its own, this is one classic that will always be fondly and necessarily revisited (most recently I saw it with a 3-year-old and was reminded of its captivating powers). Like only a handful of movie since, it is seemingly what motion pictures were invented for.
I can't recall my introduction to The Wizard of Oz, but I've grown up overly analytically fascinated by its cinematic and narrative devices, specifically the transition from black and white to color -- I do remember that I once thought this was the first film to feature color -- and its implication that Dorothy's trip to Oz was all just a dream. It's one of the few movies we all tolerate despite this revelation. Of course, I love the film on more basic levels too, especially for the music and the art direction.
See what our other writers have to say about The Wizard of Oz after the jump and then share a memory of your own in the comments.
"My parents were pretty thorough when it came to bedtime for me and my big sister. Looking back, it was probably because I was an outrageously spazzy child, and my poor mom couldn't wait to file my mouth away for the night. (I don't blame you, mom.) But my parents were also very considerate: several times a year we could stay up super-late (10pm?) to watch some sort of special movie. Needless to say, The Wizard of Oz was the grand-daddy of all "stay up late" movies.
"It's a magical film in every sense of the word magic. Sweet, smart, funny, scary, sad, powerful, and "fantastic" as the dictionary defines it. It'd be impossible to count how many 'film geeks' The Wizard of Oz has created, and speaking as only one of those geeks, I am supremely grateful that the film exists ... and I'm very grateful I had two movie buffs for parents. Without them I'd probably be stacking boxes at Target."
"I can't remember life without The Wizard of Oz. I don't have any recollections at all of the first time I ever saw it; it just seems to have always been around. If I caught it on television, it got my undivided attention, no matter how many times I'd seen it.
"I count Oz as my "desert island" movie. It's not my favorite film of all time, but it's got fantasy, action, suspense, drama, horror, comedy, and music! If I was trapped on a desert island, I don't think I'd need another film."
"I'm sure I'm in the minority here, but not only did I see The Wizard of Oz for the first time as an adult, but that first time was just a matter of months ago. I really wish it hadn't taken me that long, and I'm not entirely sure why it did, but I think one of the best testaments to how beautiful of a film it is how one can instantly fall in love with it no matter what stage in life they see it at. There are a ton of films that are tainted by nostalgia; over-loved because of fond childhood memories. That's not the case here. The Wizard of Oz is timeless."
"I shyly admit that one of the first movie crushes I ever had was on The Tin Woodman, played beautifully by Jack Haley. It wasn't so much his strange, metal body as it was his sparkling eyes filled with longing, his dreamy voice, and breathy song-story about yearning for a heart just so he could feel ... something. Aside from bawling at the sight of Bambi, this was the first time I can remember feeling compassion and connecting to a character who wasn't exactly human, and wanted nothing more than to transcend his own limitations, "and really feel the part." The Tin Man is a romantic fellow, and like many characters in movie history becomes a symbol of optimism, faith, and true love -- something most children dream about finding one day. I suppose I wanted my prince charming to have rivets and the ability to expel steam. There's a vulnerability to the characters in Wizard, who embody a lifelong philosophical debate: what's more important -- brains, guts, or emotions? Can good overcome evil? I don't think we'll ever agree on the answers, but that's ok. If Wizard taught us anything, it was how to dream. And I want the squeaky man with the hollow chest, pining for someone special to know that he found her, years ago -- and she thanks him for reminding her to love, no matter what."
My mother was more indulgent than my father when it came time to stay up late for the annual viewing of Wizard. Sometimes she would stay and watch with us kids; while my siblings grew less enchanted over the
years, I remained fixated on the wonder and magic. As a tot, the flying monkeys terrified me! Even now, though, 'I'm melting, I'm melting, what a world,' still sends chills down my spine. Wizard opened up my eyes and my mind to the possibilities of the medium. And all this, communicated through a low-resolution black and white TV!"
Eric D. Snider:
"Back in the old days, before VCRs, the way you'd see The Wizard of Oz was by tuning in once a year when CBS showed it. And tune in you did! This was an event. If it was time for the annual Wizard of Oz broadcast, you made sure to be part of it, commercial interruptions and all. I remember when I was about 7 and I noticed that it changes from black-and-white in Kansas to color in Munchkinland. (My first few viewings, as a little tyke, had been on a black-and-white TV.) I thought it was the coolest thing ever purely from a technical standpoint. How did they DO that?! I understand now that it's actually pretty simple. But to a 7-year-old who'd never seen a movie that had some black-and-white parts and some color, switching from one to the other in a single shot seemed like the pinnacle of movie magic. Even now, sometimes it's the simplest tricks that are the most effective."
Jeffrey M. Anderson:
"The great thing about growing up in the 1970s and 1980s is that The Wizard of Oz was broadcast every year on television. You couldn't rent it, or download it, or stream it. You had to wait for it to be on TV, once a year. And everyone you knew watched it all at the same time. The next day, all your friends would gather, and someone would inevitably ask, "did you watch The Wizard of Oz last night?" I never knew about this glorious event in advance. It would be a normal Sunday, or whatever, and my mom would come in my room sometime toward evening and gently announce, "The Wizard of Oz is on TV tonight." There might have been a bargain in there -- we could watch if we cleaned our room or finished our broccoli -- but I remember my heart soaring as I heard the news. This was no ordinary night of TV. This was an extraordinary experience. It's difficult to remember just how dangerous and eerie Dorothy's journey is, and how intense it can be for a kid. But it was always great to see that she arrived, safely, back home, and when the TV switched off, so, too, were we in our safe homes."