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Ozmapolitan
August 28, 2009 5:59 AM   Subscribe

Somewhere, over the rainbow, way up high,
There's a land that I heard of once in a lullaby.

The MGM musical version of L. Frank Baum's 1900 children's book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz turned 70 this week. It wasn't the first time it was a movie, nor the last time it was a movie or a movie musical.

You just keep on keepin' on the road that you choose
Don't you give up walking cause you gave up shoes
Ease on down, Ease on down the road (come on)


Many people read politics into the story, some read queer sexualties into it.

Adapted as a radio play in 1908, Oz has been sequalised, reinterpreted, reimagined twice as science fiction and Muppet-ised.

So if you care to find me
Look to the western sky
As someone told me lately -
Everyone deserves the chance to fly


Gregory Maguire's literary reinterpretation is a parallel novel (and the musical a further interpretation on top of that), while Ruth Plumly Thompson followed Baum's 14 Oz books with 19 novels - the bulk of the "Famous Forty" canon novels.

Talk of another film. The Wiki of Oz.
posted by crossoverman (53 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
Return to Oz had to be on the scariest movies of my childhood. Definitely not for children.
posted by parmanparman at 6:09 AM on August 28, 2009 [3 favorites]


As William Goldman points out in Adventures In The Screentrade, (or was it Which Lie Did I Tell?), 1939 was a banner year for Hollywood. I recall he makes the point that if you ask most people which film won the Oscar for Best Film in 1939, they'll all say Wizard of Oz. And they'll all be wrong.
posted by Jofus at 6:37 AM on August 28, 2009


Also, 1939 is a *fuck* of a long time ago. By my reckoning its at least 95 years - World War 2 alone adds 20 years to the actual elapsed time.
posted by Jofus at 6:39 AM on August 28, 2009


I pressed play when I started reading the [more inside], and there's this really weird synchronicity going on between the music and the comments ...
posted by nonspecialist at 6:41 AM on August 28, 2009 [6 favorites]


some read queer sexualties into it.

None of those links read queer sexualities into either the movie or the book. At most they point out that Judy Garland is a "gay icon" and refer to "fully expressed feelings," as though only gay people could have suppressed feelings. The last link in particular points out that the "Dorothy" who gay men are "friends of" is more likely Dorothy Parker.
posted by DU at 6:56 AM on August 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


The Wizard of Oz is my favorite movie. They accomplished ideas and techniques in that film that had never been done before, at least not on that scale.
posted by girlmightlive at 7:15 AM on August 28, 2009


The 1925 movie version was on TCM this summer. It was easily one of the most convoluted things I had seen in a long time. Apparently it bankrupted the studio that made it.
posted by Kimothy at 7:18 AM on August 28, 2009



None of those links read queer sexualities into either the movie or the book. At most they point out that Judy Garland is a "gay icon" and refer to "fully expressed feelings," as though only gay people could have suppressed feelings. The last link in particular points out that the "Dorothy" who gay men are "friends of" is more likely Dorothy Parker.


Dude, the Cowardly Lion in the Garland movie calls himself a "Dandy Lion", does some camping about, and gets ribbons all up in his hair.

It really hits you in the face when you watch the movie as an adult.
posted by The Whelk at 7:21 AM on August 28, 2009


I'm not saying there aren't any such references in the movie (or book). I'm saying these links don't point any out.
posted by DU at 7:29 AM on August 28, 2009


Return to Oz had to be on the scariest movies of my childhood. Definitely not for children.

I saw it in my late teens, and I remember it well, and agree with you. Dorothy was committed to an insane asylum because of her account of her first trip to Oz and was to be given shock treatments? All those heads in the glass case, all screaming, "DOROTHY GALE!!!!!" Those things didn't happen in the second Oz book. Good heavens, that movie was twisted.

It always amazes me what people read into the Oz books. It's been interpreted as an allegory on countless themes.
posted by orange swan at 7:44 AM on August 28, 2009


Dude, the Cowardly Lion in the Garland movie calls himself a "Dandy Lion", does some camping about, and gets ribbons all up in his hair.

It really hits you in the face when you watch the movie as an adult.


To be fair, a lot of that over-the-top camp came directly out of Bert Lahr, who channelled the kind of effeminate zany character that he played in vaudeville and burlesque (like Joe "Oh, you naaaasty man!" Penner.) I'm not saying the imagery isn't there, but it didn't come solely from the screenwriters.
posted by Spatch at 7:46 AM on August 28, 2009


Somewhere Over The Rainbow as performed by Blixa Bargeld.
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 7:50 AM on August 28, 2009


Also: those L. Frank Baum Oz books are some of the trippiest books I've ever read.
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 7:50 AM on August 28, 2009


Baum's imagination was a wonderful thing. And then there were those trippy Art Nouveau illustrations.
posted by orange swan at 7:53 AM on August 28, 2009


"Over the Rainbow" over Judy Garland's career.

I still love that song. Especially when you put it together with Baum's original description of Kansas:
When Dorothy stood in the doorway and looked around, she could see nothing but the great gray prairie on every side. Not a tree nor a house broke the broad sweep of flat country that reached to the edge of the sky in all directions. The sun had baked the plowed land into a gray mass, with little cracks running through it. Even the grass was not green, for the sun had burned the tops of the long blades until they were the same gray color to be seen everywhere. Once the house had been painted, but the sun blistered the paint and the rains washed it away, and now the house was as dull and gray as everything else.

When Aunt Em came there to live she was a young, pretty wife. The sun and wind had changed her, too. They had taken the sparkle from her eyes and left them a sober gray; they had taken the red from her cheeks and lips, and they were gray also. She was thin and gaunt, and never smiled now. When Dorothy, who was an orphan, first came to her, Aunt Em had been so startled by the child's laughter that she would scream and press her hand upon her heart whenever Dorothy's merry voice reached her ears; and she still looked at the little girl with wonder that she could find anything to laugh at.

Uncle Henry never laughed. He worked hard from morning till night and did not know what joy was. He was gray also, from his long beard to his rough boots, and he looked stern and solemn, and rarely spoke.

It was Toto that made Dorothy laugh, and saved her from growing as gray as her other surroundings. Toto was not gray; he was a little black dog, with long silky hair and small black eyes that twinkled merrily on either side of his funny, wee nose. Toto played all day long, and Dorothy played with him, and loved him dearly.
When Garland sings the song, you realize just how badly Dorothy wants to get out of there... and then at the end, when she's reverted to shades of gray and going on about how "there's no place like home", I want to scream GET OUT WHILE YOU STILL CAN DOROTHY GET THE FUCK OUT OF KANSAS
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:57 AM on August 28, 2009 [11 favorites]


I dunno, for sheer queerness, I think Jack Haley's Tin Man wins every time. He's less flamboyant than the lion, but a thousand times as prissy. Seriously, watch the movie thinking "the Tin Man is gay" and you will not be disappointed.
posted by Help, I can't stop talking! at 7:59 AM on August 28, 2009


There's yet another really interesting book with a different take on Oz: "WAS" by Geoff Ryman. It combines a story of a "real life" Dorothy Gale as an abused child; accounts of Judy Garland's life filming the movie; and a modern day Oz fan dying of AIDS.
posted by dnash at 8:04 AM on August 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


I think there is a real trap applying today's sensibilities/queer eye/gaydar/whatever-you-want-to-call-it to to movie made 60 years ago. I know, for instance, that "Dandy Lion" has been used in a non-gay or sexual manner plenty of times in and out of children's literature for quite awhile.

Let me be clear, I don't really have a problem if is there is some legitimate queer interpretation to the film, but you will have to do a lot better than these facile observations, and you will have to place such criticisms in the appropriate social-historical context.

All too often it seems people come along and apply their own political/sexual/gender/racial literary theory to a work years and decades after the fact, and while individual interpretation is intrinsic to any public art, there is a point I have to dismiss such critiques as just bloody stupid. The whole "Huck Finn is a gay love story" springs to mind for example.
posted by edgeways at 8:52 AM on August 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


It was an argument over the royalties from the first Oz musical (1902) that finally severed relations between Baum and the original illustrator of Oz, William Denslow. Incidentally, Denslow bought an island near Bermuda when he installed himself as king under his hippocampus flag.
posted by peacay at 9:01 AM on August 28, 2009


Jofus: As William Goldman points out in Adventures In The Screentrade, (or was it Which Lie Did I Tell?), 1939 was a banner year for Hollywood.

Hell, 1939 was a banner year for Victor Fleming, who managed to be the director of record for both The Wizard of Oz and Gone with the Wind-- in the same. fucking. year.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:01 AM on August 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


I saw Wizard of Oz a few years back at the Uptown Theater in DC, a wonderful old 30s-era place with curtains and a balcony and non-stadium seating and a 70-foot-wide curved screen. It's the only time I've ever seen the 850 seats all filled. Fabulous.
posted by MrMoonPie at 9:02 AM on August 28, 2009


re: "Over the Rainbow"
Harold Arlen ripped off Mascagni's "Sogno di Ratcliff"
posted by Opera Chic at 9:05 AM on August 28, 2009


Although I know there have been many reimaginings over the years, it still surprises me that we have yet to see a fairly straight remake. Hollywood is normally so eager to bastardize everything that I often wonder why they haven't remade so many of the classic films from around that time. Could they actually have some reverence in regard to the early touchstones of cinema?
posted by yellowbinder at 9:41 AM on August 28, 2009


Return to Oz had to be on the scariest movies of my childhood. Definitely not for children.

I actually kind of feel sorry for kids these days that only watch Disney-style kids movies that don't take risks or have bizarre or disturbing aspects. When I was a kid I watched Return To Oz, Gremlins, and various other movies that scared the crap out of me. Even Charlie and the Chocolate Factory had that weird psychedelic boat ride scene. Yeah, they were scary, but so is riding on roller coasters, which was a lot more fun when I was a kid than it is now.
posted by burnmp3s at 9:42 AM on August 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


they certainly dont make em like they used to
posted by Glibpaxman at 9:48 AM on August 28, 2009


Israel Kamakawiwo'Ole sings "over the rainbow"
posted by pyramid termite at 10:00 AM on August 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


Yeah, although I could watch TWoO now and see all kings of potentially gay cues in it if I wanted to, the movie doesn't necessarily strike me as particularly "gay", as much as it evokes in me the all-too-common frustrations and wistfulness of being a youngster trapped in a crappy adult's world.

But then, maybe my gaydar just isn't tuned right, or something. I mean, the whole "Judy Garland as gay icon" thing has never clicked with me either, honestly. I'm not sure why that is, really. I've never been inordinately inspired as a gay man by the "Over the Rainbow" song, nor have I ever been tempted in any way to fawn over Garland, Minelli, Streisand, Midler or Cher.

I appreciate that many gay folks feel otherwise, but the whole thing seems like some strange, quasi-fictional gay subculture that I never really "got" as a gay man. Like I missed the orientation seminar when they handed out the "How to be a Real Gay" pamphlets and rainbow flag lapel pins.

Anyway, Happy 70th Anniversary, Wizard!
posted by darkstar at 10:07 AM on August 28, 2009


A lot of the "Dorothy / Judy Garland = gay icon" thing came less from any intent by the screenwriters or actors, and more from the story of gay men in a hateful world reading their own stories into the plight of the character. Poor misunderstood Dorothy, trapped in a backwater community with people who hate her for no real reason, finally makes it out of there into a full-on technicolor "big city" where she can be the wonderful person she was meant to be all along. (We will leave out the inconvenient ending of the movie for this interpretation.) The siren call of large metropolitan areas still drains even the medium-sized cities of their queers, something which I think is a real shame. (Although Iowa's marriage equality status may change that.)

And it was Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory which had the freakout psychedelic nightmare-inducing boat ride. I don't recall the Burton film having anything nearly as traumatic in it.

darkstar: FWIW, I can appreciate any quality performer, but aside from Bette and her obvious connection with the gay bathhouse scene in NYC in the 70s, I have never understood the icon status of a lot of the female performers you mention. But then, I tend to watch baseball and listen to NIN and Pearl Jam, so what do I know?
posted by hippybear at 10:23 AM on August 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


And it was Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory which had the freakout psychedelic nightmare-inducing boat ride.

Yeah, good point. By Charlie and the Chocolate Factory I guess I meant "The film from the 1970s based on the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory book, that had Gene Wilder in it."

I don't recall the Burton film having anything nearly as traumatic in it.

Ha! I generally pretend that the remake doesn't exist, but for me the entire film was traumatic in that it took fictional characters and events that I enjoyed in my childhood, a director and lead actor whose films I've and enjoyed, and put them all in a really terrible trainwreck of a movie. I think some kids enjoyed it though (although, my niece, who is was obsessed with the Gene Wilder version when the Burton one came out to the point that she was singing the golden ticket song all the time, was rather nonplussed by it).
posted by burnmp3s at 10:44 AM on August 28, 2009


I think Gene Wilder should have won an Oscar for his work in that movie, frankly. One of the most amazing creations of a character, ever. (But I think that movie is highly underrated and should have a full restoration and theatrical re-release in order to plant it firmly in the public's mind as truly brilliant.)
posted by hippybear at 10:49 AM on August 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


Top grossing films in 1939: Gone with the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, Ninotchka, Jesse James, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Old Maid, The Rains Came, The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle, Goodbye, Mr. Chips, and Another Thin Man.

Other notable films: Jean Renoir's The Rules of the Game, John Ford's Stagecoach (which launched Ford's and John Wayne's cowboy-movie careers), William Wyler's Wuthering Heights (starring Laurence Olivier), Destry Rides Again, Love Affair, Basil Rathbone in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, and The Roaring Twenties.
posted by kirkaracha at 11:05 AM on August 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


I just gotta say 1940 was a pretty damn good year too.
posted by marxchivist at 11:15 AM on August 28, 2009


1939 is widely regarded as "the top of the mountain" as far as Hollywood's golden age is concerned.

But I would like to suggest, as a more modern alternative, 1984. Also quite a year for films, I think.
posted by hippybear at 11:24 AM on August 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


I showed The Wizard of Oz to my daughter when she was three or so and she thought it was so scary she made me put it on a shelf in the back of the closet. I don't know if it was the witch, her flying monkeys, or those talking trees, but it is one scary movie. (Admittedly not as scary as Return to Oz!)
posted by kozad at 11:55 AM on August 28, 2009


And it was Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory which had the freakout psychedelic nightmare-inducing boat ride. I don't recall the Burton film having anything nearly as traumatic in it.

The Burton film has that scene near the beginning where the weird "It's a Small World" type of music box that heralds Wonka's arrival breaks down and catches fire, and we watch as the happy plastic doll figures burn and melt into a disfigured mess.

A kid with any kind of object empathy will fear that scene. It would've messed me up good if I'd seen it when I was 10 or so.

(Object empathy is crazy. You know that scene in Robocop where Robocop is taking target practice on jars of baby food, and we watch the jars with happy smiling baby faces explode? Yeah, that scene totally disturbed me in 1987. I was fine with the acid-covered guy getting smashed into bits by a truck, I was cool with all the shooting and blood, but exploding baby food jars with happy baby faces fucked my shit up.)
posted by Spatch at 12:03 PM on August 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


I was fine with the acid-covered guy getting smashed into bits by a truck

I have maintained ever since I saw Robocop in the theater that, if people were to burst like water balloons similar to how that guy did, I'd be much more tempted to run them down. As it is, they just dent up the vehicle and bounce in ugly ways.
posted by hippybear at 1:05 PM on August 28, 2009


Obviously you are forgetting to dip them in toxic waste first.
posted by Astro Zombie at 1:33 PM on August 28, 2009 [4 favorites]


But I would like to suggest, as a more modern alternative, 1984. Also quite a year for films, I think.

1984 was pretty terrific, but I'll go even more modern than that. My favorite movie year is 1999, which -- although it's probably best remembered as the year of The Phantom Menace and The Matrix -- gave the Best Picture nod to American Beauty, the kind of thing post-'70s Hollywood seemed to have stopped making altogether*, and pretty much produced a minor or major classic something like once a week. Just to pick a few personal favorites:

Being John Malkovich
The Blair Witch Project
Election
Existenz
Fight Club
Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai
The Iron Giant
Magnolia
Office Space
Payback
Run Lola Run
Sleepy Hollow
South Park
The Straight Story
Titus
Toy Story 2


...I mean...godDAMN, you guys. And that's me leaving off stuff like Stir of Echoes and The Thomas Crown Affair -- movies I like and all, but aren't necessarily the best films ever. There are a lot of those in the '99 list, too. It was an insanely good year for movies, and it might be a while before we see the likes of it again.

*Of course, now it makes plenty of those movies, they're just all cable TV shows.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 3:41 PM on August 28, 2009 [3 favorites]


Every once in awhile, the toxic waste isn't necessary. Keep trying, hippybear!
posted by Sys Rq at 3:44 PM on August 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


> Return to Oz had to be on the scariest movies of my childhood. Definitely not for children.

My parents and grandmother read the Oz books aloud to me before I could read for myself (I am shamelessly bragging about a privileged childhood here) so the Dorothy of the books is the one I imprinted on. The first time I saw poor Judy Garland in the 1939 movie, I came out thinking "That wasn't Dorothy."

It's only secondarily that the Dorothy of the books was a kid (and blond) while Judy Garland was a brown-haired teenager. The major, major difference is that the Dorothy of the books has balls. Whatever it is--tornados, shipwrecks, invisible bears, death-sand deserts, evil gnome kings (who have her magic slippers, the nerve)--she is ready to deal with it with courage and imagination. With the charm and manners of a well brought up young lady and (when it's called for) some pretty damned steely determination, miss Gale remains lo these many years later one of my main touchstones of, what the fellow said, grace under pressure.

Now then, Return to Oz. The stuff that happens in the brief framing "real world" segments, especially at the beginning, was pretty dreadful. But what takes place in OZ (well, EV actually, since Return is mainly an adaptation of Ozma of Oz which takes place in EV. Got that?) is as faithful a movie rendition of Baum's magical but often hair-raising world, and the (very) young woman who negotiates it so boldly, as we're likely to see. Discover Gnome King (grey claymation stone face in threatening cliffside), addressing Dorothy and her companions TikTok (wind-up robot), Jack Pumpkinhead (stick figure with head liable to spoilage), Billina (chicken) and the Gump (flying machine made of lashed-together Victorian furniture and taxidermal moose):

Gnome King: Not THE Dorothy Gale from Kansas?
Dorothy: Yes, Your Majesty. (D. curtsies) We've come to ask you to release the Scarecrow, and restore the Emerald City. (curtsies again.)
GK: You believe that I have stolen something, Dorothy, and you want me to give it back.
D: Yes, Your Majesty. (curtsies again)
GK: And what if I don't want to give it back?
D: Then (does not curtsey) I am here, with my army. (waves arm at companions) To conquer you and force you to give it back.

I left the theater after Return to Oz thinking "Yep, pretty darned close. That was the place, and that was her."


Bonus: includes the following exchange between Dorothy and Jack Pumpkinhead about TikTok, who has been getting somewhat incoherent.

JP: But how can he still talk if his brain's run down?
D: Oh, it happens to people all the time.

If there is a better motto (or epitaph) for the entire internet, I haven't encountered it yet.
posted by jfuller at 4:01 PM on August 28, 2009 [6 favorites]


I adore Oz, although I don't engage with the books that often. There's a certain cloying quality to Baum's world itself, offset by the spice and fierceness of the characters. Gregory Maguire has fleshed out the world amazingly, and I urge anyone who's disliked songs from Wicked not to judge the book by that. It deserved a Sondheim musical or a Danny Elfman score, not a retread of Pippin!

I love "Over the Rainbow," and sing it when I have the chance -- it's deceptively hard to sing. The wonderful feeling of succeeding at the high notes in a melting 1930s way is worth the trouble. But it's so sad. My father's specifically told everyone he wants that song played at his funeral -- however many years from now that may be -- and now I'm borrowing sadness every time I hear it.
posted by Countess Elena at 6:32 PM on August 28, 2009


Dude, the Cowardly Lion in the Garland movie calls himself a "Dandy Lion", does some camping about, and gets ribbons all up in his hair.

It really hits you in the face when you watch the movie as an adult.


Firstly, the obligatory: NTTAWWT.

Thru adult eyes I could tell a lot of the male actors in that version were gay. No doubts. Tin Man was a flamer, surely?
posted by uncanny hengeman at 10:12 PM on August 28, 2009


Well, for what it's worth, and certainly the times may have had a lot to do with these marriages, but...

Ray Bolger (Scarecrow) was married to the same woman for 57 years until his death.

Jack Haley (Tin Man) was married to the same woman for 58 years until his death.

Bert Lahr (Cowardly Lion) had two marriages, the last of which ended with his death.

All three of them had children. Bert Lahr's son is John Lahr, the New Yorker film critic.

So, perhaps they were gay, but they all lived apparently heterosexual lives complete with sexual congress and progeny. Draw your own conclusions.
posted by hippybear at 11:12 PM on August 28, 2009


hippybear, the first two examples clearly indicate they were lavender marriages. -> :)
posted by uncanny hengeman at 12:03 AM on August 29, 2009


Seriously, watch the movie thinking "the Tin Man is gay" and you will not be disappointed.

Maybe, but the Scarecrow is the guy in the field with a pole up his backside.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 7:36 AM on August 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


Tin Man: Holding his tool through the whole movie.
posted by Sys Rq at 7:38 AM on August 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


Tin Man: First line is a demand for more lubricant.
posted by Sys Rq at 7:39 AM on August 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


Scarecrow: "Of course, some people do go both ways."
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 7:42 AM on August 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


Tin Man: Receives rub-down from hunky hairdressers.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:09 AM on August 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


Wicket Witch of the West: Spends entire movie chasing after teenage girl whom she calls "My Pretty!"
posted by darkstar at 8:42 AM on August 31, 2009


*Wicked

(ugh)
posted by darkstar at 8:42 AM on August 31, 2009


Tin Man: Rock hard until a girl comes along.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:20 AM on August 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


the wizard of oz: outed by a dirty dog
posted by pyramid termite at 9:59 PM on August 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


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