Like many people my age, I looked forward to watching The Wizard of Oz each year on CBS. The movie would dominate discussion on the playground the next day and you felt like you were missing something if you hadn’t watched it and couldn’t participate in the conversation.
But before I watched the movie for the inauguration of the American Film Institute’s Movie Club, I’d say it’s been at least two decades since I watched the movie. It’s not for lack of access — no longer must I wait for it to show up on CBS or one of the Turner movie channels since we long ago added it to our DVD collection. But it’s a film that has become such a part of the tapestry of our popular culture that it’s easy to feel lately, even if “lately” is twenty or so years ago.
I won’t say that watching it this time felt like it was new. But, it felt like I was discovering an old friend again.*
* A friend that will probably get a lot of viewing once Shortcake discovers the film. She wasn’t engaged with the film yet and I distracted her during some of the “scarier” moment with the Wicked Witch of the West pulling her shenanigans.
It’s easy to recall the vivid, memorable set pieces from Oz itself — and good luck getting the songs out of your head for days. But one thing that struck me looking at the film this time was the scope of the scenes set in Kansas. As a young viewer, I recall wishing they’d hurry up and get through to Oz already. Now I was struck by how the scenes in Kansas set up each character for Oz, hinting at some of the traits “real-world” characters will exhibit once we got “over the rainbow.” I’m also intrigued by the hint of romance between Dorothy and Hunk/Scarecrow — apparently, there are deleted scenes that deepen and expand on this.
And, yes, it is easy to get swept up into the Technicolor glory that is Oz. But for some reason, it was the Kansas scenes and Dorothy’s desire to get back home that resonated more with me this time around. Part of that may be a feeling I’ve had in the last few weeks during the quarantine. I keep finding myself thinking that if I’d only known this would be the last time I’d get do certain things that seemed just a part of everyday life for the last time that I might have appreciated it a bit more or taken an extra second to savor that moment instead of feeling like I had to rush onto the next thing on my agenda or part of my day. I hope that when things return to “normal” that I’ll keep that in mind for more than just the first few days we’re out of quarantine.
After watching the film, I became intrigued by the history and legend behind its production. Most of us are probably aware of the (debunked) story about a possible suicide on-set (turns out it’s a bird in the background, which watching the film in HD made a lot clearer). What I wasn’t aware of was this film like the perennial classic It’s A Wonderful Life wasn’t a huge box-office success upon its initial release and that it was its airing on television that helped cement its place in our collective consciousness.
It seems odd to think that the film wasn’t always a shorthand in our pop-culture world. I even recall a bumper sticker from the ’80s that misquoted Dorothy’s line about not being in Kansas. (Of course, a lot of bumper stickers seem to have done this over the years, recalling what we think the line is or was instead of what it actually is or was).
And like a lot of Oz fans, I’m fascinated to see the scenes that were left on the cutting room floor (though you can see the extended Scarecrow dance on YouTube). I guess they weren’t like George Lucas who kept all the footage around so they could tinker with the film over and over again, all while keeping the original cut from the fans.
Before you ask, no, I’ve never watched the film synced to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. But maybe next time, I will give it a try.
Links that intrigued me: