Skip to main content

Yes, exactly so. I’m a humbug.

The Wizard of Oz

(SPOILERS) There are undoubtedly some bullet-proof movies, such is their lauded reputation. The Wizard of Oz will remain a classic no matter how many people – and I’m sure they are legion – aren’t really all that fussed by it. I’m one of their number. I hadn’t given it my time in forty or more years – barring the odd clip – but with all the things I’ve heard suggested since, from MKUltra allusions to Pink Floyd timing The Dark Side of the Moon to it, to the Mandela Effect, I decided it was ripe for a reappraisal. Unfortunately, the experience proved less than revelatory in any way, shape or form. Although, it does suggest Sam Raimi might have been advised to add a few songs, a spot of camp and a scare or two, had he seriously wished to stand a chance of treading in venerated L Frank Baum cinematic territory with Oz the Great and Powerful.

In some interpretations, the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman and Cowardly Lion represent farmers, industry and politicians, while the Wizard is technology. There also allusions to the Gold Standard and Silver Standard being returned to at the end. Which is interesting… Ish. In another, which I like for twistedness, the Good Witch is really the mastermind out to rule Oz (this one is especially apposite for power behind the curtain/Elite takes on manipulation, or the Antichrist, come to that).

Then there’s the theosophical interpretation – Baum was a member of the Theosophical Society, but it’s unclear the degree to which he approved of their views – which has the face of the Wizard as Yahweh (albeit, it looks more like Crowley’s Lam or the Balok puppet from Star Trek’s The Corbomite Manoeuvre), only to reveal ineffectual Christianity behind it. However, that would be to rather avoid admitting it’s the Wizard who highlights the truth being found within the trio of characters.

The most interesting part of this scene is the way in which the Wizard mocks societal perceptions of prized qualities. All you need to be labelled intelligent is a diploma. All you need to be called a hero is a medal, and to have a heart one, just requests a testimonial (those cunning philanthropists). It seems to me, the Wizard lends himself to multiple interpretations, the man behind the curtain who is nothing “but a humbug” yet proceeds to spout wisdom. One who oversees an illusory, false realm populated by nominal good and bad forces in rotation against each other. A demiurge?

As for the MKUltra element, The Wizard of Oz is commonly cited as a programming tool. Certainly, if it’s Oprah’s favourite movie, you can sure there’s something corrupt at its core. Robert Anton Wilson noted the lore of Peyote Woman, who appears as “the Bubble Witch”, her appearances beginning “with a bright silvery globe descending from the sky, after which She appears where the globe lands. This is the way child Contactees generally report Her, according to Vallee, and the silvery globe was also around in some of Her miracles, under the guise of the B.V.M., at Lourdes and Fatima”. What with the poppy fields full of “snow”, it’s no wonder The Wizard of Oz is considered an incredibly triptastic movie in some quarters.

And what of the purported Mandela Effect sighting of the Scarecrow holding a modern handgun? Whether or not the Mandela Effect is a psyop, or a sign of our imprisonment in a simulation, I don’t have enough invested in my memory of the movie (unlike, say, C-3PO’s leg or Jaws’ girlfriend’s braces) to have a strong view either way. The case that it’s the effluent of a deleted scene – Tin Man is holding a wrench and a fire axe, the Lion a butterfly net and witch repellent spray – does, on the one hand, seem reasonable, seeing that it makes sense they’re armed in case of witch attack (they’re in the Haunted Forest, en route to her castle). And the idea that it’s a modern gun... Well, it’s clearly a prop gun. You can find people saying they never noticed the weapons before, but I didn’t either, so that hardly means it wasn’t there before (this is the most common and popular rebuke of a Mandela Effect addition, omission or alteration, that the memory cheats). On the other hand, there are also those who claim they were aware of the trio’s weapons since childhood, and they are definitely different now. That argument is a more interesting one. One thing’s for sure, those all-seeing owls at the end of the scene are not what they seem.

But while there are many and varied intrigues to find within The Wizard of Oz’s tapestry and influence, at a root level, I find I just don’t respond to the picture. I don’t particularly like any of the characters, and I’m not especially engaged by their rather static journey (I hadn’t realised how little time they actually spend on the Yellow Brick Road, perhaps due to it being the most famous song/sequence). For me, the likes of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory or The Singing Ringing Tree were more memorable formatively freaky fantasy influences. Large parts of the proceedings are inert, and as amusing as some of the lines and exchanges are, there’s a pervasive feeling that The Wizard of Oz is really rather draggy.

There are notable positives, even to one of my jadedness, however. Margaret Hamilton is still absolutely terrifying as the Wicked Witch of the West, and convincingly despicable as Amira Gulch too. The whirlwind is a quite extraordinary piece of effects work that had me scratching my head at how they did it. Several of the songs are obviously highly memorable (okay, only Over the Rainbow and We’re Off to See the Wizard). Some of the design work is superb, even if Victor Flemying’s entirely four-square direction rather makes you think you’re simply watching a filmed stage musical at times. Toto/Terry is also utterly adorable.

Notably, The Wizard of Oz was an early (three-strip) colour production, and the studio specified a bookending “It was all a dream” because they didn’t think audiences would accept fantasy movies. Which isn’t so bizarre, as studios were still thinking such things as recently as The Lord of the Rings trilogy. While the movie wasn’t a flop, neither was it a significant hit until later, not so good since it was the most expensive MGM production up to that the time. The Wizard of Oz was also nominated for five Oscars, winning, perhaps unsurprisingly, song and score (Garland also received an Academy Juvenile Honorary Oscar). Gone with the Wind won Best Picture, of course, for which Flemying was also credited. So, having put The Wizard of Oz in its place, the real question becomes “Which is better: Wizard or Return?”

Popular posts from this blog

You were this amazing occidental samurai.

Ricochet (1991) (SPOILERS) You have to wonder at Denzel Washington’s agent at this point in the actor’s career. He’d recently won his first Oscar for Glory , yet followed it with less-than-glorious heart-transplant ghost comedy Heart Condition (Bob Hoskins’ racist cop receives Washington’s dead lawyer’s ticker; a recipe for hijinks!) Not long after, he dipped his tentative toe in the action arena with this Joel Silver production; Denzel has made his share of action fare since, of course, most of it serviceable if unremarkable, but none of it comes near to delivering the schlocky excesses of Ricochet , a movie at once ingenious and risible in its plot permutations, performances and production profligacy.

Well, something’s broke on your daddy’s spaceship.

Apollo 13 (1995) (SPOILERS) The NASA propaganda movie to end all NASA propaganda movies. Their original conception of the perilous Apollo 13 mission deserves due credit in itself; what better way to bolster waning interest in slightly naff perambulations around a TV studio than to manufacture a crisis event, one emphasising the absurd fragility of the alleged non-terrestrial excursions and the indomitable force that is “science” in achieving them? Apollo 13 the lunar mission was tailor made for Apollo 13 the movie version – make believe the make-believe – and who could have been better to lead this fantasy ride than Guantanamo Hanks at his all-American popularity peak?

No one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.

The Matrix  (1999) (SPOILERS) Twenty years on, and the articles are on the defining nature of The Matrix are piling up, most of them touching on how its world has become a reality, or maybe always was one. At the time, its premise was engaging enough, but it was the sum total of the package that cast a spell – the bullet time, the fashions, the soundtrack, the comic book-as-live-action framing and styling – not to mention it being probably the first movie to embrace and reflect the burgeoning Internet ( Hackers doesn’t really count), and subsequently to really ride the crest of the DVD boom wave. And now? Now it’s still really, really good.

He’ll regret it to his dying day, if ever he lives that long.

The Quiet Man (1952) (SPOILERS) The John Wayne & John Ford film for those who don’t like John Wayne & John Ford films? The Quiet Man takes its cues from Ford’s earlier How Green Was My Valley in terms of, well less Anglophile and Hibernophile and Cambrophile nostalgia respectively for past times, climes and heritage, as Wayne’s pugilist returns to his family seat and stirs up a hot bed of emotions, not least with Maureen O’Hara’s red-headed hothead. The result is a very likeable movie, for all its inculcated Oirishness and studied eccentricity.

The Krishna died of a broken finger? I mean, is that a homicide?

Miami Blues (1990) (SPOILERS) If the ‘90s crime movie formally set out its stall in 1992 with Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs , another movie very quietly got in there first at the beginning of the decade. Miami Blues picked up admiring reviews but went otherwise unnoticed on release, and even now remains under-recognised. The tale of “blithe psychopath” Federick J. Frenger, Jr., the girl whose heart he breaks and the detetive sergeant on his trail, director George Armitage’s adaptation of Charles Willeford’s novel wears a pitch black sense of humour and manages the difficult juggling act of being genuinely touching with it. It’s a little gem of a movie, perfectly formed and concisely told, one that more than deserves to rub shoulders with the better-known entries in its genre. One of the defining characteristics of Willeford’s work, it has been suggested , is that it doesn’t really fit into the crime genre; he comes from an angle of character rather than plot or h

Haven’t you ever heard of the healing power of laughter?

Batman (1989) (SPOILERS) There’s Jaws , there’s Star Wars , and then there’s Batman in terms of defining the modern blockbuster. Jaws ’ success was so profound, it changed the way movies were made and marketed. Batman’s marketing was so profound, it changed the way tentpoles would be perceived: as cash cows. Disney tried to reproduce the effect the following year with Dick Tracy , to markedly less enthusiastic response. None of this places Batman in the company of Jaws as a classic movie sold well, far from it. It just so happened to hit the spot. As Tim Burton put it, it was “ more of a cultural phenomenon than a great movie ”. It’s difficult to disagree with his verdict that the finished product (for that is what it is) is “ mainly boring ”. Now, of course, the Burton bat has been usurped by the Nolan incarnation (and soon the Snyder). They have some things in common. Both take the character seriously and favour a sombre tone, which was much more of shock to the

You think a monkey knows he’s sitting on top of a rocket that might explode?

The Right Stuff (1983) (SPOILERS) While it certainly more than fulfils the function of a NASA-propaganda picture – as in, it affirms the legitimacy of their activities – The Right Stuff escapes the designation of rote testament reserved for Ron Howard’s later Apollo 13 . Partly because it has such a distinctive personality and attitude. Partly too because of the way it has found its through line, which isn’t so much the “wow” of the Space Race and those picked to be a part of it as it is the personification of that titular quality in someone who wasn’t even in the Mercury programme: Chuck Yaeger (Sam Shephard). I was captivated by The Right Stuff when I first saw it, and even now, with the benefit of knowing-NASA-better – not that the movie is exactly extolling its virtues from the rooftops anyway – I consider it something of a masterpiece, an interrogation of legends that both builds them and tears them down. The latter aspect doubtless not NASA approved.

You tampered with the universe, my friend.

The Music of Chance (1993) (SPOILERS) You won’t find many adaptations of Paul Auster’s novels. Original screenplays, yes, a couple of which he has directed himself. Terry Gilliam has occasionally mentioned Mr. Vertigo as in development. It was in development in 1995 too, when Philip Haas and Auster intended to bring it to the screen. Which means Auster presumably approved of Haas’ work on The Music of Chance (he also cameos). That would be understandable, as it makes for a fine, ambiguous movie, pregnant with meaning yet offering no unequivocal answers, and one that makes several key departures from the book yet crucially maintains a mesmerising, slow-burn lure.

Drank the red. Good for you.

Morbius (2022) (SPOILERS) Generic isn’t necessarily a slur. Not if, by implication, it’s suggestive of the kind of movie made twenty years ago, when the alternative is the kind of super-woke content Disney currently prioritises. Unfortunately, after a reasonable first hour, Morbius descends so resignedly into such unmoderated formula that you’re left with a too-clear image of Sony’s Spider-Verse when it lacks a larger-than-life performer (Tom Hardy, for example) at the centre of any given vehicle.

People still talk about Pandapocalypse 2002.

Turning Red (2022) (SPOILERS) Those wags at Pixar, eh? Yes, the most – actually, the only – impressive thing about Turning Red is the four-tiered wordplay of its title. Thirteen-year-old Mei (Rosalie Chiang) finds herself turning into a large red panda at emotive moments. She is also, simultaneously, riding the crimson wave for the first time. Further, as a teenager, she characteristically suffers from acute embarrassment (mostly due to the actions of her domineering mother Ming Lee, voiced by Sandra Oh). And finally, of course, Turning Red can be seen diligently spreading communist doctrine left, right and centre. To any political sensibility tuning in to Disney+, basically (so ones with either considerable or zero resistance to woke). Take a guess which of these isn’t getting press in reference to the movie? And by a process of elimination is probably what it it’s really about (you know in the same way most Pixars, as far back as Toy Story and Monsters, Inc . can be given an insi