Fantastic cinema was born at the end of the 19th century with George Meliesbut its consolidation as a film genre had to wait nearly 40 years, when Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (1937) demonstrated the public’s interest in imaginary worlds where anything was possible. The definitive step came a short time later, when MGM wanted to replicate this successful formula with The Wizard of Oz (1939).
It was not the first time that the universe created by L. Frank Baum had been brought to the big screen, but it was the first time that he managed to capture the essence of print. It wouldn’t be the last, either, though none of the subsequent efforts have come close to snatching its definitive release tag. A virtually impossible mission before one of the greatest classics of world cinematography.
There are those who think that its good reception was favored by the popularity of the original text published in 1900, its ambitious production that led it to become one of the most expensive films of the time, and its great cast led by a brilliant judy garlandwho secured a place of honor in film history with his performance as Dorothy Gale and his brilliant interpretation of the theme “Over-the-Rainbow”, classified by the American Film Institute as the best film song of all time. The legend of The Wizard of Oz also increased due to its eventful shooting that included four changes of director, the recall The Tin Man’s forced due to makeup poisoning, burns for Margaret Hamilton and her stunt double due to pyrotechnic failures, and even Terry the dog’s fracture when accidentally stepped on by a member of the crew.
However, its rise as a masterpiece was only made possible by its fantastical nature. A genre capable of “talking to the unconscious in the language of the unconscious: the symbol, the metaphor and the archetype […]. The motifs function as a kind of secret code, with messages about life, love, death and rebirth” [vía].
The reality behind the fantasy
It is thought that the rapid positioning of The Wizarding World of Oz among the greatest classics of North American literature, it happened because of the belief that its magic and childlike charm hide all kinds of social, political, and economic messages. Some of the most popular interpretations say that Dorothy’s journey alludes to the politics of the late nineteenth century, the ineffectiveness of adults in an increasingly complex world, and even the rise of feminism in a plot dominated by women. These symbolic readings increased with the premiere of the film, many of which respond to the need to escape the sociopolitical tensions of the time, remembering that the film was framed between the Great Depression and the start of the World War II.
It is said that the film alludes to the innate goodness of the human being, reflected in an innocent world, good and eager to help Dorothy as much as possible, which is palpable with the munchkins, the third party that accompanies the young and very especially with the titular wizard who proclaims himself “a very good man, I’m just a very bad wizard.” The exception is the Wicked Witch of the West, whose ability to pervert the people of Oz is seen as proof that purity disappears under the influence of corrupt leaders.
The protagonist is also seen as a symbol of an American youth in danger from the winds of change coming from afar. Unlike traditional fairy tales, her house poses no threat to her, but she still wants to leave it, seeing it as faded compared to considerably more interesting places. Her perspective changes from her when she is torn away from her, for that is when she finally begins to appreciate the values that she took for granted before, which makes her begin a return journey that will be crowned with the mythical phrase “there is no place like home”.
Finally, sexuality, because although The Wizard of Oz maintained the feminist perspective of the printed work, it also rose as a symbol for homosexuals of the time, who were identified with the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and especially the Cowardly Lion, who takes advantage of his introductory song to explain that he was born sissy and express your wishes of respect. At the time, this sector of the population resorted to the code name “Friends of Dorothy” to allude to their preferences without risk of rejection and adopted Judy Garland as one of their greatest emblems. It is even said that almost 40 years later, the song “Over the Rainbow” inspired the rainbow flag that represents the collective.
Back to Emerald City
Some films lose power over time, but others just get brighter. Such is the case of The Wizard of Ozwhose adoration has grown as it represents a return to the golden years of Hollywood, but more importantly, to the state of purity that is gone forever, which can be seen in later films such as The magician (1978) and Oz…a fantastic world (1985). The first is an African-American adaptation starring Diana Ross and Michael Jackson, which leaves behind any trace of innocence with an urban Oz and crowned by an Emerald City inspired by the old World Trade Center Plaza in New York to address all kinds of racial problems. The second is a sequel produced by Walt Disney that shows adult efforts to destroy childhood magic by subjecting Dorothy to electro-shock therapy to make her forget what must have been an imaginary adventure. One reached the cult for its racial messages, the other generated controversy for its brutality.
The most recent Oz the powerful (2013) made more of an effort to salvage the original charm, with a failed sorcerer serving as the basis for exploring the past of many key characters in this mythology, and more importantly, for conveying the message that belief in either one himself or in others, is stronger than power, thus demonstrating that anyone who proposes it has the ability to change the world.
Special mention for the next adaptation of wicked (2021), a musical inspired by the homonymous novel by Gregory Maguire that combines classic themes such as good, evil, family and power with deeper ones such as historical guilt, conscience and free will. However, the main praises have arisen from her exploration of the female gender from the witches Elphaba and Glinda, and it is even said that the former served as inspiration for the conception of Elsa in Frozenone of the greatest referents of animated feminism.
The Wizard of Oz it is pure fantasy, which ironically has made it the ideal film to address some of the deepest dilemmas of the complex reality in which we live. In an increasingly chaotic world, it is not surprising that the public continues to turn to the past in search of the rainbow that will take them back to that dream kingdom that has caused so much joy for generations.
The post The Wizard of Oz, why is it a classic? was first published in Cine PREMIERE.