Essential #05: The Wizard Of Oz

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5Every American knows THE WIZARD OF OZ because every American was a kid once. A staple of all of our lives, The Wizard Of Oz is an achievement of cinema from a studio that specialized in cinematic achievements. Much like MGM’s other ear;y color masterpiece, Gone With The Wind, The Wizard Of Oz is a film from adapted material first directed by on person and taken over by another. In this case, the project started by Richard Thorpe was taken over by Victor Fleming. Fleming would also take over Gone With The Wind (which also winds up on several of our lists). Shot using the three strip technicolor process, this beautiful masterpiece has made it to number five in our first installment of Essential Top Ten Films.

The question one might have is why on Earth would I add a major studio release to a top ten essential list geared towards indie filmmakers? Well, the answer is quite simple: because it’s a masterpiece. It might be a big budget studio picture and it might be decades upon decades old, but there’s still an enormous amount one can take from it from script writing, adaptation techniques to its aesthetics.

TRIVIA (some more disturbing than others)

The color of the yellow brick road first showed up as green in early Technicolor tests. It was adjusted so that it would read properly as yellow in the early 3-strip color process, which in 1938-39, was still in its experimental stage.

In the famous “Poppy Field” scene (in which Dorothy fell asleep) the “snow” used in those camera shots was made from 100% industrial grade chrysotile asbestos – despite the fact that the health hazards of asbestos had been known for several years.

According to lead Munchkin Jerry Maren, the “little people” on the set were paid $50 per week for a 6-day work week, while Toto received $125 per week.

The film almost didn’t have “Over The Rainbow”: Nearly cut from the film; MGM felt that it made the Kansas sequence too long, as well as being too far over the heads of the children for whom it was intended. The studio also thought that it was degrading for Judy Garland to sing in a barnyard. A reprise of the song was cut: Dorothy sang it to remember Kansas while imprisoned in the Witch’s castle. Judy Garland began to cry, along with the crew, because the song was so sad.

Nikko, the name of the head winged monkey, is the name of the Japanese town which houses the shrine featuring the famous Hear No Evil/See No Evil/Speak No Evil monkeys.

Throughout the rest of his career, Jack Haley denounced the idea that the making of this film was enjoyable. He frequently quipped “Like Hell, it was; it was work!”

Read more here.

The next time you have the chance to watch The Wizard Of Oz, don’t change the channel! Take this as an opportunity for more film appreciation and if you walk away with something from your next viewing, talk about it in the comments section here.

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