Against The Hype

movies, criticism and their pleasures

Best Shot: The Wizard of Oz

March 05, 2013 By: Colin Low Category: Capsuled Thoughts

I did not grow up with The Wizard of Oz. Sit on that for a second: like Star Wars, The Wizard of Oz feels like one of those movies that stands in for an entire mythology entrenched within the American childhood imaginary, rather than a movie that produced that mythology in the first place. How could one escape it? Yet not growing up in middle-class America meant that I wasn’t exposed to that rite of passage where Oz screenings roll around at the same time each year, permeating the holiday atmosphere. It meant that I had to make the deliberate choice to seek the movie out.

When I came around to watching The Wizard of Oz, what surprised me most was how deliriously stagebound it looks. This wasn’t a painstakingly populated Lord of the Rings or even one of those studio-set concoctions of the 80s that have become the fixture of Universal’s theme parks. Oz prides itself on painted backdrops, plastic flowers, candy-colored costumes and sets barely thirty feet wide. There aren’t even that many locations, if you consider that much of the screentime gets spent on wayside encounters with the three “friends of Dorothy” that our protagonist bumps into. But the movie barrels forth with such gusto and fairytale conviction that it’s hard to turn down.

The two shots I considered as my entry for The Film Experience’s Hit Me with Your Best Shot series are the ones, given Oz‘s overt theatricality, to most embrace “the magic of the theater”: the Wicked Witch of the West’s introductory and final disappearances. The first happens in a plume of vermillion smoke and a fire cloud; the second, with a memorably classic “I’m melting”. In both cases, the sheer aplomb of using a trapdoor/elevator in the floor astonishes more than any CGI you can throw at the screen, as a movie today (including, I suspect, Oz the Great and Powerful) might.

Ultimately, though, I had to go with the following shot:

All of Oz‘s confectionary trappings wouldn’t have been worth a damn without its acting MVPs, all represented here: Margaret Hamilton as the Wicked Witch of the West, Judy Garland as Dorothy, and Billie Burke as Glinda. Even amidst a busy backdrop, all three players pull focus in this generous three-shot—what with Hamilton’s exaggerated retreat, Garland’s earnest bewilderment, and Burke’s mellifluous gesturing. The ranges demanded by the witches’ roles is admittedly limited, whereas elsewhere in the movie, Garland gets her share of acting challenges: crooning the unimprovably desirous “Over the Rainbow”, delivering a hilariously indignant slap, dissolving into despair as an hourglass trickles away, etc. Even still, there’s a kind of utter commitment that Oz demands from its actors that these three amply fulfill here, in a way that captures the secret of the movie’s enduring pleasures.

1 Comments to “Best Shot: The Wizard of Oz”

  1. very astute observations really… I love the Best Shot you chose and I thought for awhile about choosing something from this very scene. I love the way that all three are crammed into the frame together. There’s so much going on but it’s somehow not distracting in its multi-tasking.

    absolutely agree that the heightened acting is largely responsible for the way the movie works still. it feels like a dream. it’s dreamy still.


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