The Wizard of Oz is such a classic film that I don’t remember the first time I saw it. It seemed to be on TV every Christmas during my childhood and became a part of my cultural education, a formative film language. A new study claims the film, which went through a staggering run of directors, writers, songwriters and script edits during its production, is the most influential film ever. I don’t know about that, but I frequently rewatch it to study how great film-making can make any story fly like a wicked witch’s monkey.
Judy Garland’s performance as Dorothy is a wonder of innocence, sensitivity and determination. At the start of the film, she wonders what lies over the rainbow and then, in a concussed dream, enters the rainbow. The combination of imaginative anything-is-possible scale and picaresque narrative style is totally cohesive, so that what could have been a discordant riot of songs, set pieces, production design, acting styles and plot somehow barrel along together, from the special effects of the tornado scenes to the twinkling transformation into Technicolor, to the sinister and deliberately fake-looking malachite-green art-deco sets of Emerald City. Then there’s the surging music, in which every group song increases in volume and hysteria until there’s a kind of bullying mania to it.
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