Friday, 8 March 2013

Hit Me With Your Best Shot: The Wizard of Oz

I'm late, I'm late.

As awful as March tends to be, it marks the return of Nathaniel’s delightful Hit Me series which sees him putting us under duress (but willingly) to choose our favourites “shots” from various films. Typically, I’d eke out an especially garrulous piece with more than a single image to boot but extraneous factors found me too late to reach the Wednesday deadline. Still, lateness and all I’m resolute on making an entry for the first entry of 2012 is none other than the delightfully spry musical spectacle The Wizard of Oz.

I mention the words of the White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland because child me and adult me have both always loved the two films for essentially the same reasons. Fearless minds can manipulate near anything into being. Carrol's novel has not been lucky enough to have had a cinematic version as lovely as Baum, but I do consider the nineties TV movie version as something excellent. Why do I continue to mention Alice when our subject is Dorothy? Because, the similarities of both these films using a young girl as symbols of the audience's ambitions - both male and female, both adult and child - is something so startlingly effective (and unfortunately, woefully done today) that I cannot help but cheer them on those merits alone.  

For, with all the machinations at work and generally fine ensemble The Wizard of Oz always emerges to me as the Dorothy Gale show, or more specifically the Judy Garland show which is all fine with me. Potentially rough edges and all it’s still her finest performance in my estimation. Dorothy, equally timid and fearless is such a fascinating character because her key character traits are familiar for both children and adults. Both main incidents in the sepia toned and the Technicolor version of the films begin with Dorothy heading out on a journey alone and I was immediately drawn to the sepia toned one for my best shot choice.

Which intrepid child hasn’t defiantly decided to make off from home? Not so much for anything at home, but more because of that insolent way children have of thinking they can fend on their own before they can. The shot, for all its bareness, charms me on both an aesthetic level – it is plain but it’s still warm and attractive in the way simple home life tends to be. There’s seems no inherent bite in Dorothy’s “running away”. Little real danger seems imminent for now.

Consider that beginning of a journey shot with the one to Oz where the terrain is brighter and colourful but is so obviously flat. The colourfulness cannot hide, either, the peaks and valleys suggesting that in its prettiness this Technicolor world has much more places to get lost in. The debate between the simple easiness and the dangerous colourful world are endless, deciding on what it all means – even more so. But, foremost, the film is always for me about childlike but not childish confidence. Dorothy heads off from the farm at the beginning with a pep in her step, foolish though it may be and for all her surprise at the Technicolor world she’s quite game to head off to the find the Wizard, too. An adult mind would doubtlessly been more discerning, and in that way less daring.

It’s why, I’ve always loved the easiness with which the journey home happens. Something as simple as closing ones eye and wishing seems so innately unbelievable and ridiculous that only someone young at heart would approach the idea with the readiness and hint of a smile that Dorothy does.

It’s why my favourite shot is this one below.

A three in one shot really where Dorothy’s closed eyes bleed into the shot of her shoes upon which the image of the catapulted house rests. The obvious message – it’s all in Dorothy’s head, yes. But, not just in her head but able to burst forth from any one willing to allow their head to be filled with magic like she is. The Wizard of Oz retains its charm and pull decades after because of how it holds on to that adage which even the most mature of us want to imagine when in our most childlike delusions of fancies – anything is possible. It is the same adage which Dorothy's sister in ambition Alice finds, and both take ultimate solace in returning to a less eventful home-life not because the magical world is wrong but because alone is not enough. If home life alone was ideal, Dorothy would not need an escape and if Oz-life was so perfect Dorothy would not long for home. The middle ground, then, is that even during dreary home life the possibilities of imagination are so readily available. "You've always had the power," Glinda tells her. It's a more than loaded sentence. What immense power is the imagination.

So with closed eyes, and magic shoes, and moving houses the varying images can all coalesce and form magic. And unbelievable magic emanating from the imagination is the house this film (and any film, really) was built upon.

(And, not to over-emphasise my point, but how great on International Women's Day to realise that the vessel through which we can learn the power of imagination is none other than a young girl?)

I was late for many were not, go read all the fine entries over at Chez Nathaniel.

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