A brief preface for new readers: "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" is a series in which we invite all movie lovers to share their choice of 'best shot' from a single pre-selected film on their own web space (twitpic, blogger, tumblr, whatever) each Wednesday night. The joy of the series is seeing the same film through multiple eyes. "Best", not just Beauty, being in the eye of the beholder.
So, what is the takeaway image of The Wizard of Oz (1939) for you? How do you define best and does that definition change with each movie? My choice and several others are somewhere over the rainbow after the jump
I always think of movies as a rectangular art. When I started to regularly attend the local revival house as a young teenager I was surprised and, I admit, disappointed to discover how square old movies were. I'd previoiusly assumed that they'd all been squished or chopped in order to fit into our living room television. The Wizard of Oz is, especially, so pervasive in the imagination and the very fabric of pop culture that it seems impossible that it could fit into somethings as small and simple as a square. This time through -- and I've seen this movie so many times -- I tried to think about its visual storytelling rather than or rather apart from its iconic objects (the ruby slippers, the yellow brick road, the broomstick, that gingham dress), its eye-popping color (emerald, pinks, yellows and those ruby slippers again) and Judy Garland's perfect open-book face and soulful voice, so vulnerable, sympathetic and welcoming to the camera.
This time through I was suddenly and emphatically aware that a square is not its true shape at all...
The Wizard of Oz is a circle.
Glinda, who arrives in a perfectly round pink bubble advises Dorothy that "it's always best to start at the beginning" and shows her the beginning of the Yellow Brick Road. It happens to be a spiral but the Munchkins reshape it into a circle by framing it as a community. But this is neither the beginning of the movie, nor the beginning of its circular visuals. Before the wind begins to switch, the house to pitch, and (suddenly) the hinges unhitch, Dorothy's world is spinning. Or she's willing it to singing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" while pawing at a old wagon wheel. Miss Gulch's wheels briefly steal Toto away, and when Dorothy runs away, Professor Marvel tricks her into returning home with his unmagical crystal ball. The circles continue on and on: they're there en masse in the form of bright red apples; they're subtly framing Emerald City like a low hanging halo; a circular window is the center of comedy business when Dorothy tries to enter the city; the floating head of Oz is unnaturally round rather than properly oval; even the witches death is framed with a circle (just look!) with a half circle arch above her and the bottom half of the circle visually suggested by her guards's halberds.
And then, of course, the witch's massive crystal ball, the centerpiece of my choice for Best Shot...
When I was a little kid I often lost interest just at this point (it's easy to forget that The Wizard of Oz is not a typical musical: its songs are frontloaded and few, if regularly reprised, and the final act has virtually no singing). But as an adult viewer Dorothy's captivity is emotionally and psychologically riveting. Its centerpiece is essentially one long shot of Dorothy's communion with the huge crystal ball, which flickers with homely sepia visions ("Auntie 'Em! Auntie 'Em!") before blacking out suddenly (twister concussion, anyone?) and then pulsing back to life with brilliant color, both fantastical and horrifying; the whole movie in a single shot.
It's easy to miss the thematic brilliance of this shot from the emotional overload. Judy Garland is crying her eyes out so authentically, vibrating with loneliness and fear, and the Wicked Witch is mocking her mercilessly in what must be regarded as one of the cruelest moments in all of cinema.
Is the Crystal Ball imagery Dorothy's projection of her own story or entirely the Witches doing or both at once? Is the Crystal Ball the cinema itself, the fantasy projections we all share. Dorothy is outside her own story here, watching it through a window, her fantasies and fears projected. We're outside Dorothy's story, too, but her story has become ours and deeply so. After seventy-plus years of bewitching audiences, isn't The Wizard of Oz now the center of cinema's ever expanding concentric circles?
22 Citizens of Oz (or see them in visual format)
I Want to Believe had never seen the movie!!! (a rare creature, indeed)
The Film's The Thing the power of the song
Amiresque Munchkinland from Dorothy's perspective (and ours)
Seen Said like 'tracing a tiny finger along the dotted line of a treasure map'
Against the Hype "Hamilton’s exaggerated retreat, Garland’s earnest bewilderment, and Burke’s mellifluous gesturing."
Cinema Door a super-sized threat
Movies Kick Ass are you always thinking about shoes?
Serious Film and the twister, Auntie Em!
Pussy Goes Grrrr beautiful wickedness
My New Plaid Pants monkey see monkey do
Rope of Silicon "Paused" favorite images
Antagony & Ectasy the spectacular vs the intimate
Dancin' Dan on Film speaks the truth "if those opening scenes weren’t so great, we wouldn’t care about Dorothy’s journey."
Academy A on this movie that never ages
We Recycle Movies' favorite mantra: "Technicolor!"
Cinema Enthusiasts soaks in the details
Film Actually enters the dark forest
Sorta That Guy is off to see the Wizard
Muniel Muniel and Movies makes some inter-film connections
Mount Hollywood thinks Tin Man gives good face (as do I) but saves the "best" for Kansas
Encore Entertainment was the last entry, but curiously, his was also the latest shot in the film. WELL DONE!
Coco Hits NYC is sick (get well soon!) but still found time to screencap because Hit Me With Your Best Shot is worth doing, damnit!
Barbarella, available on Netflix Instant Watch, is next Wednesday the 13th. Join us. Experience the virtual communal watching. Stop resisting.