Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Victor Fleming's 'The Wizard of Oz', 1939

The Wizard of Oz is visually stunning and despite it's age, still looks vibrant.  This is due to the use of Technicolour, a fairly new discovery within cinema.  It was used most commonly in musicals such as Singing in the Rain and Gone with the Wind to create a much more theatrical setting.  In The Wizard of Oz it's used to create a huge contrast for the audience between the dullness of her black and white home-life in Kansas and the bountiful luminescence of Oz.  Paul Loukides and Linda K. Fuller view Technicolour as able to capture "the emotional power inherent in colour and its potential for exploration of the surreal".  This is incredibly appropriate as the whole plot rotates around a dream that Dorothy, the lead female character, seems to be living out.

The 'real' part of Dorothy's life is the black and white/sepia toned farm in Kansas with her impoverished family.  This film, being released in 1939, is contextually referencing the real life poverty of the Great Depression America was suffering from at the time. In reality, the country was suffering financially and the employment level was worryingly low.  It was because of this situation that films with such fantastical narratives were so popular.  It was described by William H. Young and Nancy K. Young as providing "audiences a welcome bit of escapism far removed from the everyday stresses of modern life."  This applies to the characters within the narrative also.  Dorothy is disillusioned with the stress she's had to suffer from her life on the farm and seeks a way out, somewhere with no trouble and no worries from real life.  The characters even inside Oz are trying to escape the stresses of their lives that are embodied by the Wicked Witch of the West.

One of the obvious indications of complete escape away from the Depression-era is the luscious and vibrant world of Oz, and more importantly the iconic Emerald City.  The Emerald City is a place of wealth and prosperity.  The connotations of the emerald colour are that of wealth and power, this combined with it's grand height and perhaps phallic shaping show the dominance it has visually over Oz. The artists working on the Emerald City gave it an Art Deco design because, at that time, it seemed the most modern as it was used on such iconic structures as the Chrysler building.  M. Keith Booker sees Oz as representing a step "forward in capitalist efficiency. Oz (especially the Emerald City) is a land of wealth".  This is supported by the audience relating the city's shape and design to the lustrous skyscrapers in New York, associating it even further with wealth and reassuring them that capitalism is reliable.  Due to the visual 'eyeful' the audience is receiving, they could come away with further sadness towards their own real-life circumstances and financial situation.  However, to combat this the end of the film has Dorothy chanting that 'there's no place like home' and it's this that's meant to reassure the Depression-era audience that "no escape is really necessary" and that the grass is never greener on the other side.

The Wizard of Oz is, to this day, one of the most popular films ever.  It's audience spans across the world and it's highly rated by film critics as a "masterpiece of the silver screen".  The use of matte painted sets combined with man-made trees creates a stunning and deep forest that, combined with the fantastical creatures and characters within them, could enchant even the most unimaginative of minds.

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