21 February 2012

The Wizard of OZ

Next on my list of must see classic movie musicals was the Wizard of OZ, an altogether bizarrely mesmerising film, and without doubt one of the most well known of the MGM movies. The 1939 film, based on the novel written nearly 40 years before, was the most expensive film produced by MGM at its release, as you can see in it's pioneering use of special effects and technicolor (although by today's standards they seem brilliantly cheesy and retro). However, the majority of the films success and subsequent cult following came a little later in the film's history after a rather lukewarm reception on its release.

Watching the film again it was exactly as I thought, and half remembered it would be, complete with the wondfully artificial set, Munchkin chorus and infectious bouts of skipping along the yellow brick road. Although, I do have to admit to never having watched the sepia beginning of the film as a child, finding it rather bland and unexciting, I tended to fastforward to the bit that had colour and singing and dancing.
It only occurs to me now, watching the film through adult eyes, that this was the exact effect the director was aiming for - to show how Dorothy must have felt, a fact that must have gone over my 8 year old self (and indeed very nearly my 20 year old self!). Perhaps their intention to contrast the two parts of the film was a little too successful...

Now, the wizard of OZ is steeped in myths and speculation over double meanings and hidden intentions, which I'm not even going to attempt to go into, given the vast bank of view points and 'evidence', some of which I am sure may have good foundations, others perhaps not. If it's one thing I've learnt from my course at uni so far, it's that the more you look for something, the more likely you are to find it, whether it actually exists or not.

So on the surface, as a family friendly film, all I have to say is that it has indeed stood the test of time and remains a family and worldwide favourite, proving again and again just why it deserves its place in film history. That said, despite being greatly enjoyable and a magnificent piece of film escapism, I still had a few little niggles, although easy to dismiss once you fully submerge yourself in the film.

For a start, exactly how old was Dorothy (Judy Garland) supposed to be? Her behaviour, clothing and general demeanour suggest a young girl, whilst Judy who was only only 16 has the air of a much older actress playing a child. Rumour also has it that she was also made to wear a corset to make her look younger still. The final confusion comes in her rendition of Somewhere Over the Rainbow, sung with a maturity and voice difficult to attribute to the apparent child you see on screen.

The other thing that had me wondering was the Munchkins. Where they all actually dwarfs, children or a mix of both? Well, with a little research from our mate Wikipedia it appears that all the Munchkins were indeed real dwarfs known as The Singer Midgets, employed by the rather shady character Leo Singer. There's something about him and the way he made his money out of hiring out his 'Midgets' that just doesn't sit right with me, but I suppose it was a very different time back when the film was made.

So, overall an enjoyable and emblematic film, just as long as you don't think too much about it! I think perhaps I'd prefer Andrew Lloyd Webber's new stage version more, I hope I get to find out one day!
Maybe it's time for a new film adaptation...?

So, here we are. I leave you with Judy Garland singing the song that will forever leave her voice and the song imprinted on musical history.

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