The Film That is Like My Home Away From Home


I think all film lovers can agree: naming your favorites can be hard. If someone asked me to do a top ten list, I think I would break out in hives. However, if you were to ask me my absolute favorite movie, the one I could never live without, I would say, with no hesitation, The Wizard of Oz. I’ve loved this 1939 classic practically my whole life. Some of my earliest memories are of watching Dorothy and her friends travel to find the Wizard. To this day, there isn’t one line, one musical cue, or even one stitch of clothing that I haven’t memorized.

There is something about The Wizard of Oz that transcends genre. I honestly never thought of it as a musical or a fantasy film until I became fascinated by film history and noticed that other people labelled it as such. The Wizard of Oz was always just The Wizard of Oz to me. I took all of its genre conventions for granted. Oh, they’re singing? Well, of course! Dorothy is transported to a magical land? Obviously, that’s what this movie’s all about! I was so grateful that this unique, perfect thing existed that I never questioned anything about it.


Once I became smitten with old Hollywood and learned more about film in general, I was overwhelmed with a new, deeper appreciation for Oz. MGM didn’t hesitate when it came to anything — Adrian’s costumes, Cedric Gibbons’s sets, Jack Dawn’s makeup, and Arnold Gillespie’s special effects were awe-inspiring in 1939 and they’re still incredible in 2019. While it is easy to describe all old movies as charmingly old-fashioned because of their age, it is unbelievably shortsighted, as Oz proves. The film still feels exciting because no other film looks or sounds like it. The premise is so fantastical, the situations are so bizarre, and the mise-en-scene is so outrageous that it is hard to believe that a studio as mainstream as MGM was willing to develop such a project. It wasn’t like 1939’s other astonishing masterpiece, Gone with the Wind. From the minute producer David O. Selznick got his mitts on Margaret Mitchell’s epic novel, everyone knew the film was going to be a smash. But The Wizard of Oz? That was a risk.

Like Gone with the Wind, Oz had a long, complicated production filled with multiple writers, infamous casting choices, fateful decisions, and a revolving door of directors, including George Cukor (who influenced both films immensely) and Victor Fleming (who was credited as the sole director of the two films). There are many shots in Oz that leave me breathless: the movie’s change from sepia to gorgeous Technicolor; all of the close-ups of the ruby slippers; the moment when Dorothy is knocked out by the tornado; the shot of the Wicked Witch’s castle as our protagonists run from her guards… These are the moments that make Oz unforgettably one-of-a-kind.





What also makes it idiosyncratic is its score. Every piece of music is beautifully tied into the plot and the characters, so much so that the only song that makes sense out of the film’s context is “Over the Rainbow.” Harold Arlen’s melodies and E.Y. “Yip” Harburg’s lyrics are astounding pieces of work, at times witty, silly, and heartbreaking. Herbert Stothart’s underscoring is also a great achievement, winning him a well-deserved Oscar.

While all of these aspects have been integral to Oz's cultural and historical impact, the film’s cast may be the most important piece of all. No one feels like a supporting character to me. They’re all essential to the story — Auntie Em, Uncle Henry, Professor Marvel, every Munchkin and every talking tree all add their own special part to the film. While Judy Garland is the most famous out of everyone, Oz has cemented the names of Bert Lahr, Ray Bolger, Jack Haley, Frank Morgan, Margaret Hamilton, and Billie Burke. These people were extremely talented, but outside of film buffs, who today would know them? That’s no knock on the actors, it’s just how these things go. Lahr, Bolger, and Haley were mainly theatre stars. Hamilton, Morgan, and Burke pop up in many films, but as character actors. And Oz launched them all into iconic status.


At the end of the day, the heart of Oz is Dorothy and the sixteen-year-old who portrayed her, Judy Garland. Although surrounded by a talking lion, a dancing scarecrow, a man made of tin, and a green witch, the actress still made Dorothy shine. No matter what role she had or what stage she was on, Garland’s intense vulnerability and unshakable strength collided and made her one of the most powerful, influential performers to ever live. Just listen to her sing “Over the Rainbow.” Her voice is yearning and melancholic, yet hopeful, too. Every syllable is felt by Garland and interpreted into something meaningful. Without her emotional and engaging performance, Oz's story, and subsequently our heroes’ journey, would not be as effective as it is.



Because of my adoration, I've kind of unintentionally gathered a small collection of Oz memorabilia, such as snowglobes, figurines, a Tin Man pillow, and tin signs. When I was little, I practically lost my mind over any Dorothy doll I received. I even went to an Oz festival in a homemade Dorothy costume with a basket and my treasured pair of red-sequined Mary Janes. The only thing I really remember about that day was my outrage at not winning the costume contest. I mean, couldn't these people tell I was Dorothy's biggest fan and I was practically her doppelganger?

The Wizard of Oz is a film that will forever live on in pop culture, while its production history will continue to grow to mythical proportions. But none of that is why I love it. The Wizard of Oz is, to me, comfort and warmth and a sincere reminder that no matter what life throws at you, you can always come home. After all, there’s no place like it.



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This is my contribution to the Wizard of Oz Blogathon, hosted by Taking Up Room. You can check out the other entries here!

Comments

  1. Did you know that LIZA MINNELLI, the daughter of JUDY GARLAND(DOROTHY), was once married to JACK HALEY, JR.? His dad JACK HALEY played the TIN MAN. Also if you were going to be in a play and you were to play a male role which would you pick-the SCARECROW, the LION or the TIN MAN ? Classic TV Fan

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    1. I did know that! It's very interesting.

      Good question! I really do love all three characters, but if I had to play one, it'd probably be the Lion. I feel like I could hide my nerves better that way, haha.

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  2. I enjoyed this article very much. It is such a joyful discovery of The Wizard of Oz through your life until now, and we know forever.

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    1. Thanks, Paddy. It's amazing to think how this one film has been so influential for me. It opened my eyes to so much, I honestly can't imagine life without it.

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  3. A wonderful article, Michaela! I have a theory that no other film has touched as many lives as The Wizard of Oz, not Gone with the Wind, not Casablanca, not Citizen Kane. In fact, I have even known people who have owed their whole careers to it.

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    1. Thank you! I think your theory is spot-on. Along with Holiday Inn, The Wizard of Oz introduced me to the classics, and I can't express how much that changed my life. And the beautiful thing is it's a film that will continue to do that for others for many, many years to come!

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  4. What a sweet love letter to this film - complete with photos! Your passion for this film shows, and you certainly deserved to win that contest.
    Kisses!

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    1. Thank you so much! I'll probably be 80 and still feel bitter about that contest, haha.

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  5. Beautiful! I totally get that Dorothy doppelganger thing--she's such a great role model. Thanks again for joining the blogathon. :-)

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    1. Thanks for having me! I don't think we talk enough about what a wonderful character Dorothy is. Maybe that's a post for another day... :)

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  6. I love how you describe ‘The Wizard of Oz.’ as the film that is like your home away from home. This movie is so popular. For a long time, I did not watch it but knew so many things about it that I thought I did.

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    1. Thank you! It's an EXTREMELY popular movie, but to this day I often get surprised looks from people when I say it's my favorite. (I'm not sure why that is...) It's funny how our brains can get tricked into the idea that we've seen a popular film because we already know so much about it!

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