Monday, January 08, 2007

We're Off to See the Wizard...

Last month, one of Bob’s and my dearest friends, who also happens to be brilliant and beautiful (sorry, Fem, I can’t remember the third adjective LC used to describe you. Let’s pretend for alliteration’s sake it was “bold,” which fits), was on her way back from a three-month stint in Vancouver and stopped by for an all-too-brief visit with us before heading on to her home country of Northern Ireland. Fem was in seminary with Bob during his first year there, and the conversation when the three of us get together always centers around the theological and the psychological, two subjects that have been near and dear to my heart since I was a teenager. This is great fun for all three of us, but sometimes we need a break from all the intensity.

A break is exactly what we were taking the second night she was here when Bob had prepared some of his infamous margaritas (neither Fem nor I hold our liquor very well, so one of these was really enough, but we all decided to have more than one). While we two women were amusingly trying to figure out if we could still touch our noses with our arms stretched straight out to our sides (I’ll let you guess as to whether or not we could), Bob decided to browse the T.V. listings in The New York Times to see if there were any movies we might like to watch that wouldn’t be too taxing for our pickled brains. This was when Bob and I were astonished and thrilled to discover that Fem, who grew up in rather unusual circumstances (at least, by our narrow American standards), had never seen The Wizard of Oz, which happened to be featured that evening.

Can you imagine getting to see that movie with an adult who’s seeing it for the first time? We immediately announced, “Oh, you have to see it!” Of course, the thought bubbles above our heads were announcing what we really meant, “Oh, we have to have the experience of seeing this with you!”

We hadn’t seen the movie probably in over ten years, but it doesn’t matter, does it? It’s as familiar as your bedroom exactly the way it was when you were eleven years old would be if you could walk back into it today. Bob and I were at our most obnoxious, proving how well we knew the whole thing and not wanting her to miss a thing with all our “Now, pay close attention to this part"-s when, for instance, Dorothy is talking to all the farmhands who will eventually become the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion. Fem was, as always (and in a way only those I’ve known from the U.K. can be), graciously patient with us, especially when we kept asking such stupid questions as “Do you know this song [Somewhere Over the Rainbow]?” and “What about this one [Follow the Yellow Brick Road]?” I didn’t realize it would happen, but I found myself feeling envious of someone who’d never seen the movie. Imagine not knowing you’re inevitably going to reach the “I’m melting” and “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain” lines.

Probably 95% of the movies I last saw over ten years ago would be like first-time viewing experiences for me if I were to watch them now, but not this one. Watching The Wizard of Oz every year when I was growing up was a family ritual as steadfast as celebrating each family member’s birthday. I can pretty much mark my changing bedtimes by marking the points at which I had to go to bed (even on such special occasions as W.O.Z. Night, I only got to stay up half an hour past my strictly-enforced bedtime). I can still remember the thrill of the first time I got to stay up past the meeting of the Scarecrow. Needless to say, the first parts of the movie are more vivid to me these days than the latter parts.

So, Fem was doing her best to keep from telling us to shut up when Bob suddenly started telling us all kinds of things about the movie I never knew (and am still not sure are really true. They sound suspiciously like theories imposed on the movie in hindsight, sometime during the sixties), like how following the yellow brick road had been a metaphor for capitalism's directive to follow the money (yellow gold) or that the Wizard represents a de-bunking of religion and God. And why had I never paid attention to the fact that the witch’s guards resembled Russian soldiers (could be because I hadn’t seen that part of the movie as much as the first part)? And, then Dorothy tells us “there’s no place like home,” home, of course, being good old America, where capitalism reigns.

This was our break from intense conversation? Capitalism, religion, politics and war, childhood memories…It doesn’t sound like much of a break to me. I guess that’s why we had to take a real break the next evening and go see Little Miss Sunshine, that light little comedy that didn’t inspire any thoughts of anything of a psychological or political nature whatsoever, especially for two feminine feminists and their masculine feminist companion.


Anne Camille said...

There was a woman in my dorm in college who had grown up a child of diplomats, mostly living in the Middle East. She had never seen The Wizard of Oz until she went to boarding school in her late teens. By college, it was like a religious ritual for her to watch it whenever it was on tv (this was before dvd, VHS or even Betamax), but, she claimed, only after smoking hash. She said that came closest to reliving the first experience of seeing a movie that was such an American cultural icon but completely foreign to her. I think the excuse may have been a part of her mystique and meant to add shock value for many in the dorm tv room when they discovered that she had not grown up with the movie. Still, it's interesting to think about the impact of such cultural artifacts and how they become so much larger than the initial work itself. I'm not sure that I can think of another movie with quite the same cache as The Wizard of Oz, although I doubt that it has as much import for my son's generation as it did for mine.

Anonymous said...

Fab post, but you're preaching to the munchkin choir since "The Wizard of Oz" is largely responsible for shaping my identity as a kid.

We used to have big fights in my family about the hidden meanings of the story including your husband's assertion that it was really a metaphor about capitalism and the dangers of socialism. And of course I grew up thinking it was a very Jewish story, a perspective I'm guessing was absent from your childhood home.

I hope I can watch this classic with you and Bob one day, but rest assured—if there were any "Wizard of Oz" virgins in attendance, I'd be far more obnoxious than you two in my constant commentary.

Anonymous said...

I've never seen the movie myself (only snippets while channel surfing), but I agree with your comment that sometimes meanings are put on movies or books after the fact that were never really intended by the authors/creators. Some nights all you want is to enjoy the eye candy without reading too much into the story. :)


Ian said...

Hi Emily,
I really like the analogies about Oz
from Bob. Those are things that would come to me back in the days of "experimenting" which I would promptly forget by the next morning. Now I just spend the entire film trying to remember who Judy Garland's daughter was. I know, Cary Fischer right?
ps I have a new post.

Emily Barton said...

Cam, I'm pretty sure The Wizard of Oz is it, except possibly The Sound of Music, for some.

Danny, that's high praise coming from a movie and blogging aficinado such as you. We'll have to catch a wide-screen viewing together sometime either in NY or LA, and in the meantime, it seems you've got the best collection of tapes/DVDs, and you can fill us in on the Jewish interpretations we missed growing up. You don't happen to have a Wizard of Oz board game, do you?

Anonymous, yes, and the eye candy provided by this one is so magnificent. I'd highly recommend seeing the whole thing.

Dante, good thing those days of "experimentation" are long gone for all of us. Of course, now it's just old age that gets our memories.

litlove said...

Oh dear, I wasn't overly fond of the movie. Just not my childhood, you know? We're more steeped in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and The Sound of Music over here. But when my son was about 7 we read the book together, and I really loved that. It was quite thrilling and adventurous, and worth using to explore the possible parables within the story.

Anonymous said...

Oh, I just love this movie. I actually directed the play a few years back, in my theater days. I actually never looked for the American/capitalist themes, but we did look for all the ghosts throughout the movie when we were in high school - so, do you know about the ghosts that haunted the sets of that movie, and where to look for their shadows throughout the film? If not, I am a tremendous resource for you!