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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?”

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