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Wednesday
Mar062013

Hit Me With Your Best Shot: "The Wizard of Oz"

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.

I love the sepia opening scenes more than I can say...

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... 

my runner up shots... or my choices for "best" on a different day of the week

 

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...

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. 

 

 

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Reader Comments (17)

It's funny you mention losing interest cause I have the strange recollection that I never finished watching this movie as a child. It wasn't until I was in my early teens that I remember watching the thing from beginning to end. This also happened to me with "The Sound of Music", always stopped watching after Maria left the house, never made it to their wedding, contest, escape...

Anyhoo, don't you love that this scene also originally featured a reprise of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow?

March 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJose

Jose -- WHAT? i did not know this.

March 7, 2013 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

I think Jose is referring to the sweet orchestral version of the song that plays behind Aunt Em talking in the crystal ball. It's subtle but it's there.

True story that almost made me cry: I was teaching Drama in a middle school classroom as a substitute, and was showing "The Wizard of Oz" on video to a bunch of 7th graders, and about 6-8 kids--mostly Latino--had never seen it. During "Over the Rainbow," a sweet Latina girl called me over to her and whispered "Is that really her singing?" Misunderstanding, I whispered, "Well, she's lip-synching." "No," the girl responded, "is that REALLY her doing the song?" "Yes." The girl's eyes widened, and she murmured, as if to herself, "She had a REALLY pretty voice." I had to turn my head away; how does one even begin to explain....?

March 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDback

http://munielmuniel.blogspot.co.at/2013/03/hit-me-with-your-best-shot-wizard-of-oz.html
:D

March 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMuniel Muniel

Dback -- right? ohmygod but judy garland. the best voice ever.

March 7, 2013 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

In fact, Jose is referring to an actual full-on reprise of "Over the Rainbow", one of three songs from the last third of the movie that got cut after having been, if I'm not mistaken, fully shot but not edited. So there's your front-loaded musical. I think it preceded this exact shot, but I won't swear to that, it's been a lot of years since I last saw the (50th anniversary?) documentary where I learned about it. Nor do I remember if it was cut to sustain the tone or for running time, but I strongly suspect it was the former, which is definitely why the "Jitterbug" musical number in the haunted forest was cut. </filmhistorynerd>

Love that we picked two different frames within the same shot, and came up with two entirely different reasons why we went there.

March 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTim

Here's the cut Over The Rainbow reprise.

http://youtu.be/urLDbg3m3Sk

Took place in the Witch's throne room, right before Auntie Em appears in the crystal ball.

March 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRyan

That shot of Dorothy with the witch's crystal ball is my second favorite shot in the film. It was on my shortlist along with the house falling out of the twister, "FLY! FLY!", Toto discovering the man behind the curtain, and Dorothy leading the parade out of Munchkinland. This one had too much personal resonance for me to shake.

I know Gone With the Wind is a superb film and all, but in an alternate universe not so far from our own, Oz wins Best Picture, Actress, and Supporting Actress (Margaret Hamilton) that year. Maybe it's because she was only 17, but Judy's performance is just so PURE and effortless in a way that we see so rarely onscreen. Everything she does feels completely authentic, even when she's about five feet from dancing straight through a matte-painted wall. It's all deeply, deeply felt and at points bracingly honest. When she starts knocking on the crystal ball to try to talk back to Aunt Em, it doesn't feel stupid, it feels like exactly what Dorothy would do in that moment. Any girl doing a movie wherein she has to run from serial killers and do incredibly stupid things while doing so could do a lot worse than to study this performance, even though on the surface it's about as far away as you can get.

March 7, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterdenny

Nat: You've done Wizard of Oz. Could you suggest it's rebuttal, A Matter of Life and Death?

March 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

It still astonishes me that the "second half" of the story--that is the pursuit of WWW--is barely 15 minutes long. It is so impactful, it feels like half the movie.
Yes, Dorothy's crystal ball scene is absolutely terrifying! The chase sequence that follows is heartpounding perfection thanks to the music as well as editing.

March 7, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterverbocityeric

Great article!

March 7, 2013 | Unregistered Commentercatbaskets

This shot was, for me as a child, the most terrifying moment in the movie, precisely because it was so cruel, and there was something so nightmarish about Auntie Em's worried, loving face giving way to the Wicked Witch's cruelly laughing, green one.

Second most terrifying: during the twister, the mean neighbor morphing into the Wicked Witch. Forget the flying monkeys - SHE was the scariest thing ever.

March 7, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterprincesskaraoke

Okay, not only is Judy the most brilliant singer ever, but think about the acting. It's all so raw, and so present. And I'd really like to know the mechanics of this particular scene. I assume Judy was doing it all on her own and there wasn't really anything on that ball. Was it all pantomimed, or were the films projected on to the ball at the time?

Either way, it's a miracle performance for a 17 year old girl. Take that back, for anyone really. I mean she's doing all that under hot lights in uncomfortable clothes and with probably 50 people "in charge" breathing down her neck all around her.

March 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDave in Alamitos Beach

catbaskets -- thanks! i was proud of it.

dave -- right? So glad she was given a juvenile Oscar at least. since the real one, the one she so obviously deserved in 1954 was snatched from her by hollywood's princess of the moment.

March 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNathaniel R

verbocityeric -- your comment got lost for abit in spam but is back! you are not spam. And it is really fascinating how different that last act is. no songs, the pursuit, the relative quick dispatch of this fearsome villain. it's one of those few movies where it feels like the filmmakers understood that the journey was more important than the climax, even though it's really intense.

but of course the ending is so perfect that it makes up for any odd structure of the plot

March 7, 2013 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

I didn't find space to actually discuss it, but for some reason for a loooong time I'd never seen the opening of this film for at least the five first times I saw this it always began in Oz so I remember the first time I did see the sepia toned intro how horrifying that transformation of Mrs Gulch from woman to witch in the twister was.

This scene is perfect, though, my favourite part of Judy's performance.

I think the front-loaded way of the songs is another example of how the film morphs into so many things being interesting for so many persons - it's a musical, it's fantasy, it's fable, it's an adventure story and so on.

March 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew K.

This is one of my favourite moments as well!

@ Dave--- "And I'd really like to know the mechanics of this particular scene. .... Was it all pantomimed, or were the films projected on to the ball at the time?" Far as I know (someone correct me if I'm wrong), this was a practical on-set effect. The images on the crystal were shot and then projected onto a screen inside the ball. So, Judy would have had the dialogue on the soundtrack to react to, but probably wouldn't have had a clear view of the images because her line of sight was perpendicular to the projection.

March 9, 2013 | Unregistered Commenteroctobercountry

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