Friday, 11 March 2011

"THE WIZARD OF OZ" (1939)

Where best to start off than with the film that started it all? The film that first sparked the fire inside me and got me interested in the world of cinema. The film that I am proud to call my favorite movie of all time.

I remember the first time I ever watched The Wizard of Oz. I must have been around 5 or 6 years old and I still remember the exact events of that afternoon. I was spending the day with my grandmother during my school holidays and we were sitting around in the lounge room. From what I can recall, these were the Pre-Foxtel days, so Nan didn't have cable at the time and naturally, there was nothing on TV. At that time there was a children's TV series on in the mornings called Magic Adventures of Mumfie, or something like that. The show revolved around the main character Mumfie, who was an anamorphic elephant, and his friends - a little flying pig and a scarecrow.
It was my favorite show at the time and for some reason I assumed Nan would have it on video. Of course, when I asked her if she did she looked at me strangely and said "What's Mumfie?" I explained, and she said to me "well, I don't have that show on video... but I have another video with a scarecrow in it.." And so was my introduction to the wonderful world of Oz.

So, Nan put on the video, one that she had recorded off TV god knows how long before. At first I was put off by the film's black and white opening. "Is this movie in black and white?" I remember saying, almost dismissing the film. "No. Only this first part." Thank god I stuck with it because, little did I know it then, but this was going to be a pivotal point in my life and a seminal moment in my love for cinema and filmmaking.

As soon as Dorothy opened her bedroom door and stepped into that wonderful technicolor land of Oz I was instantly captivated. As the camera begins to track through Munchin Land - past the shiny leaves and shrubs, over the sparkling blue river and across to the center of the Yellow Brick Road, I was mesmerized. I remember my exact response - "You know what Nan, I think I'm going to have to borrow this video." At that moment I had suddenly been introduced to 'cinema,' and a switch was flicked inside me that opened up a whole new world that was soon to change my life.

Whenever I've described my love of The Wizard of Oz to anybody I've always used the same phrase - There was never anything like it before, and there has never been anything like it since. And whether you believe that statement or not, it's absolutely true. Being 5 or 6 when I first watched it, of course I had never seen anything like it before. And now 15 years on, I've never found a film, old or new, that has captured the same energy, the same heart, the same soul and the same loving filmmaking than Oz.

The one thing that strikes me about Oz is the fact that it refuses to die. The story has been around for 111 years now, and the film was released 72 years ago. And the fact is that it remains timeless, it remains a classic, a favorite amongst young and old. There is no other film so old - with exception of Walt Disney's animated classics - that you could put on the television and expect a young child to enjoy and want to watch over and over again. I think this is why the film has meant so much to me over the years, the fact that I could enjoy it from such a young age, and that I can still enjoy it - albeit so much more - now.
There's something about the movie that seems so special, so unique, so unmatched that I find it my main source of inspiration. How can a film of 72 years old be so widely accepted by such a broad range of viewers in this day and age? You couldn't imagine a 5 year old sitting down and enjoying, say, Casablanca or Gone With The Wind.
The fact is - it remains so timeless, so familiar and so accepted by younger generations because its themes, its characters and its style are still so much a part of today's culture. There's a reflection of values here that is still so very much emblazoned in the minds of today's people. This is why Oz is so timeless, and why when a child could sit down and not know that the movie was made well before their parents, and even grandparents were born.

Another thing about Oz is the way its characters are so familiar and so recognizable to you that you could swear they were reflections of yourself. And I'd be lying if I said that the most connectible character to me wasn't Dorothy. A young child finding her way through the world, learning morals, learning the world - all the while we are with her. I won't go into how I connected with all of the characters, because the magic of this film is that everybody connects differently, but still on the same level.

I've learned so much  from Oz over the years that with each viewing my love for the film grows. With every book I read, every documentary I watch, my love for the film grows larger and bolder. The Wizard of Oz was constructed back when films were made out of love, made from blood, sweat and tears, back before Hollywood became so overruled by movie moguls and people out to make a quick dollar. Sure, Louis B. Mayer - head of the MGM studios, and Jack Warner - head of Warner Bros. were all for making money and making big pictures that could gain revenue, but these two hard-heads never, EVER, signed off on a film that they didn't believe had credibility. They never signed off on a film they thought they could just simply make money off, but films that they believed would be popular, films people would love to see, films people would enjoy and films that they would like to make. Oz  is the product of the fairytale early days of Hollywood, back when Hollywood was known as "The Dream Factory," before money, special effects and blockbusters took over. And for this reason, the film means so much more to me and to the history of cinema.

Oz was made as MGM’s live action answer to Walt Disney’s Snow White. Mayer wanted his audience to experience the same love and the same joy as they had when they visited Disney’s cartoon dream world. Regardless of the fact that it was nominated for a flurry of Oscars (losing out mainly to MGM’s other epic Gone With The Wind, directed and released by the same director, Victor Fleming, in the same year) Oz did quite dreadfully on its original cinema run. It wasn't seen as a 'flop' but it barely made any revenue, it was seen simply as "just a movie." But over the years, Oz was re-released over and over again and played annually on televison - introducing new generations with each showing. It was then that people realised "hey, we have a classic on our hands" and further cemented it into the history of film classicsIt’s because of this that Oz has been deemed the most watched film of all time.

The Wizard of Oz, more than any other film has shaped the way I want to make films. I want to make films out of love, out of blood, sweat and tears. I want to make movies that I can connect with and that I can throw myself into, and that others can too. Films that remain timeless and films that people will enjoy. Films made simply because of great stories and great characters, delivered via a great passion. And not films that will only make a quick buck. Oz has taught me that a film doesn't need to make money to be successful, just as long as you love it, and nurture it and the viewing public do so likewise.

It's an odd film for a guy to hold as their favorite movie of all time, but given what the film means to cinema and means to myself I think it's fairly justified. I say with no regret, no embaressment and no trepidation that Oz has always been and will always be my favorite film of all time. And I will revisit this film to the day I die, not only to help me in my endeavors to make films, but also in my endeavors to find myself, and like Dorothy, find my place in the world.

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