Whatever X, Day X

We’re off to see the Wizard with this flashback from ten years ago.

NOVEMBER 16, 1998: Bad Craziness in The Wizard of Oz

As promised, we went off to see the The Wizard of Oz this weekend, and had a riotous time doing so. Our friends who went to see Oz earlier in the week had described it as “creepy,” which did not jibe with my own memories, but now having seen it again, I know exactly what they were talking about. There’s only one way to describe this movie, and it comes down to three words: Very Bad Drugs.

The Munchkins were in particular tremendously disturbing, not for their size, which they couldn’t help, but for their clothing, which was obviously designed as punishment of some sort. One can’t help but think that the reason that they were relieved that Dorothy dropped the house on the Wicked Witch of the East was that now they could dress in something that didn’t look like a drag queen’s peyote-induced memories of kindergarten.

Dorothy, of course, the serial murderer of an oppressed religious minority, the Wiccans. Dorothy whacked two witches in the course of the film (and sisters at that), and her only excuse was “I didn’t mean to.” Well, you can buy that excuse maybe once, and get away with a lesser charge (a falling house may qualify as vehicular manslaughter). But, look: Dorothy wiped out that entire family. Add to that two counts of theft (for the ruby red slippers and the broomstick), and you come to realization that Dorothy should be glad she’s not in Kansas anymore. Kansas, if I recall correctly, has the death penalty.

Murders, thefts, ceaseless drug references (falling asleep in a field of poppies? Only to be awakened by white flaky crystals falling from the sky? Come on), alternative lifestyles (if the Tin Man were any more flaming, the Scarecrow would have been a pile of ash), and, let’s not forget, bad clothes. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, this is a family classic. Of course, kids don’t really latch on to things like subtext, partially because much of the “subtext” is created by smartass adults amusing themselves at the movie’s expense, like, well, me. They just enjoy the scenery and the story, both of which connect on a pretty simple level.

It occurred to me watching “Oz” that (to air a cliche) that really don’t make ’em like this anymore. It would be impossible to see a studio head greenlighting something like this today if it weren’t animated, and even then, changes would have to be made (Dorothy couldn’t actually kill the Wicked Witch of the West; she would instead be disposed of through the favored Animated Villain Death, the Fall From A Great Height Into The Fog Below). It’s all the more reason I’m glad I got to see it in a theater, and why, should it come out again in another decade or so, I’ll take my daughter to see it as well.

31 Comments on “Whatever X, Day X”

  1. Incidentally, this is the place to note my favorite TV listing for The Wizard of Oz, from the Marin Independent-Journal in 2002:

    “Transported to a surreal landscape, a young girl kills the first woman she meets, then teams up with three complete strangers to kill again.”

  2. It was the fault of the witch of the east for standing in a location that a house was going to land. Additionally, the witch of the west was responsible for her own demise because she should have been arranging a funeral for her sister rather than bothering Dorothy.

  3. Great post.

    I keep thinking if this were made today there would be some awesome action figures, and play sets, and bed sheets, and cereals, and fruit roll ups, and soda cans, and jerky snacks. Maybe even Oz themed bacon bits.
    Mmm… Oz bacon…

    Actually, this movie scared the crap out of me when I was a kid.

  4. I saw this movie so much as a child (anyone else remember CBS running it every year on, I believe, Easter?) that I have it memorized. I can sit here and quote the whole movie. It’s either amazing skill or a deeply disturbing psychosis.

  5. The Tin Man sets off your gaydar and the Cowardly Lion didn’t?

    Even before I knew what gay was, I knew there was something different about the way that lion sung vibrato in the forest.

  6. Re: Oz and the drug connection: have you tried the “play the WofO on your DVD player, turn the volume on the TV down, and press play on Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” as the lion is roaring at the opening credits?” experiment. It makes for a wild wild ride.

    Re: great movie listings: Years ago (the 70s) our local paper had this listing for the movie “The Bushwhackers”:

    “The Bushwhackers: And the bush just sits there and takes it.”

  7. Sure, Oz may seem crazy as is, but have you ever heard of “The Dark Side of Oz” (or at least I think that’s the name of it)? Someone took the complete Oz movie and removed all of the original sound and music only to replace it with Pink Floyd songs that are oddly appropriate for the scene. It goes way past drug references and is fully in the tripping-out zone. I have a friend who puts it on every time he lights up his hookah.

  8. You said a mouthful. They really don’t make them like this anymore. To get approval today, in addition to the changes you mentioned we would need others

    1. No little people. The Munchkins must be regular sized people, with a carefully obvious mix of racial minorities. And the Lollypop Guild could not be shown as “tough guys” lest we offend the Italian-Americans with veiled references to the Mafia.

    2. The Emerald City needs to be changed. All that green would make people think of political support for Ireland, which would hurt sales in England.

    3. You want to alienate every Pagan and Neopagan on the planet? What’s with these evil witches? Are you crazy? We have to change it to a brother and sister who are evil scientists that want to destroy the world. Or better, evil corporate types who want to strip-mine Munchkinland. The Wizard can be changed to a crusading young lawyer who can stop them (I’m thinking a Brad Pitt type).

    4. Drop the rainbow references. With the Christian Right on the warpath these days, we don’t want any boycott because of a perceived support of gay rights.

    5. A yellow brick road? What kind of environmental consciousness is that, to run a brick road through all that forest? Make it a magic path with yellow flowers lining the sides. Kids like magic.

    6. Maybe instead of an evil schoolteacher, the villain in Kansas should be from a huge agri-corporation that wants to take over the Gale family farm to get the federal subsidies.

    7. We need to have some kind of bad guy stalking the little group as they journey to see the wizard. Add a little suspense.

    8. Work in some reference about the tornado being caused to global warming. That’s hot these days.

    With these few changes, and I am sure a few other improvements suggested by the director, we have a sure winner!

  9. Man, if you feel this way about the movie, you should go read the *books*. The mind boggles, really, it does. They gave that stuff to kids? Yeah, that and “Alice in Wonderland.” Kids books just aren’t what they used to be.

  10. BC: Who are we kidding – you know all three of them were gay.

    On seeing the movie again as an adult a couple of years ago (I’d watched it about a billion times as a kid but hadn’t seen it in at least fifteen years), the thing that struck me as absolutely laugh-out-loud hilarious was Glinda’s massively overinflated ego. (“Only bad witches are ugly”, ha!)

    Also, the Wicked Witch (Margaret Hamilton, may she rest in peace), still has the best evil laugh on film.

  11. Also, The Wizard of Oz has the distinction of being a movie that’s better than the book. MUCH BETTER.

    The only other times I can think of that happening is The Godfather and The Color Purple. TCP was good, don’t get me wrong, just hard to follow, which the movie did a great job of fixing.

  12. There’s nothing Wiccan about any of the witches in TWOO, even Glinda, who is such a stuck-up bitch that I totally want to pop her bubble.

    And “You had to find it for yourself,” my ass! “Hey, Dot, click your heels three times and say ‘there’s no place like home’ and Bob’s yer uncle,” how hard is that to say?

    No, Glinda is using Dorothy as a proxy for her political machinations. As long as Dorothy kills the WWE* and WWW, Glinda can come in as a savior, whereas if she did it herself she’d be viewed very differently by the people of Munchkinland. In fact, she probably would have had to do it by warfare, and the WWE would have conscripted Munchkin soldiers, and Glinda would be remembered by thousands as the leader who killed their sons and brothers.

    Note that she also manipulates regime change in the Emerald City. Note that Dorothy has learned all the lessons by then, but Glinda doesn’t appear until after the Wizard is safely gone. Then she gets rid of Dorothy, and by helping her earns the gratitude of the Emerald Citizens.

    So having eliminated unpopular leaders in the East and West country, and left a serious power vacuum in the capital city, all while keeping her own hands clean, who do you think is going to move in and take over, hmm? All shall love her, and despair!

    *If only someone would!

  13. The Wizard of Oz is my favorite movie. But … well, of course it’s creepy. Did you think those frickin’ flying monkeys were supposed to be cute? Hmmph.

    Unusual weather we’re havin’, ain’t it?

  14. I’ve checked my Austrailian Almanac and there is no Emerald City listed in Oz. Since this is obviously a deeply laid conspiracy, there can be nooow doubt that the Illuminaty, Illumminoty, Illumenated, Pyrimid Power People are behind it . . . . .(foam, froth,destatic)

  15. Xopher@17: That’s basically the plot to Wicked and its sequel Son of a Witch, which also have the Wizard as a quasi-despotic ruler and Oz infiltrated with his secret police. Gregory Maguire FTW!

    Though, re-watching Oz after reading Wicked, the portrayal of the characters in the movie doesn’t match the subtlety they display in Wicked.

  16. My major problem with THE WIZARD OF OZ has always been the same…it’s fucked-up ending.

    It was all a dream.

    That ending castrates the entire movie.

  17. Okay, time for embarrassing revelation, here – I own almost all of the Baum Oz books, and I’m actively looking for the rest. Not great literature, but at least not fill-in-the-villain-and-town like Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew…

    I’m not sure I could sit through the movie, now, without, well, oh my. However, still want to see Dark Side of Oz.

    Xopher: *if only someone would – with the other, too, neh? (yeah, I don’t like his politics, and I know it’s a story, but English seems to need either this or Battletech’s quiaff/quineg. Oh, and a equivalent to the french “si” as “yes to a negative question”).

    Also, there is an answer to the power void – a boy (well, sort of) and a pumpkinhead to fill it.

    Now I have to go back home and read about the Flatheads and the Skeezers again. One can of brains per person, people!

  18. Robin 23: It’s not, in the book. That’s Hollywood trying to say “Don’t follow your dreams to California, you dust bowl people you. Stay in Kansas where you belong!”

    Mycroft 24: I can’t make out what you mean by

    Xopher: *if only someone would – with the other, too, neh? (yeah, I don’t like his politics, and I know it’s a story, but English seems to need either this or Battletech’s quiaff/quineg.

    Whose politics? I was actually referring to the reprehensible organization known as World Wrestling Entertainment, which I don’t think you were. Whatever you’re talking about sounds very interesting, though, so I wish you’d elucidate.

    And I know all about Tip and Jack Pumpkinhead (whose dark incarnation is Jack the Pumpkin King from The Nightmare Before Christmas); also Billina the hen, the Sawhorse, the Glass Cat, Button-Bright, the Kingdom of Ev, the Wheelers, Tik-Tok, the Gump (the forest Gump, not the Forrest Gump), and Mr. H. M. Wogglebug, T.E.

    I read all the Baum Oz books as a child, you see. The worst of them is better IMO than the movie, which is one of the great movies of all time.

  19. You think the original’s creepy? Did you see Return To Oz?

    As for the Tin Man/Lion/All three of them debate, you guys know what “a friend of Dorothy” means?

  20. So, have you had a chance to show Athena this movie yet? Or has there not been another theatrical release? You could always Netflix it, and watch it the way I did, on TV.

  21. I remember when “Return To Oz” came out from Disney and Roger Ebert (who I usually enjoy) publicly mugged it because “it may frighten children.” I kept thinking “You may have seen the original, but did you ever pay *attention*? Because when I was a kid it scared the piss out of a lot of kids when they ran it on TV each year and ‘Return To Oz’ is NO WAY as scary.”

  22. Hey, Dorothy was just trying to win hearts & minds in Munchkinland. A little collateral damage had to be expected.

    LEAVE DOROTHY ALONE (as that TRULY creepy you tube guy would say).

  23. You may be wrong about that children/subtext thing, John – I watched that on TV with my mum and five year old brother not too long ago, and Little Timmy came out with this gem upon the intro of the Tin Man: “Is he a girl?”

    I wasn’t quite up to the task of explaining camp to a five year old, alas. At least he’s displaying an early capacity for creative pronouns?

  24. “…‘Return To Oz’ is NO WAY as scary.”

    Please, have you SEEN Fairuza Balk’s teeth as a child? *shudder* Plus those Cirque du Soleil rejects that call themselves Wheelers scared the CRAP out of me as a kid. Add that into the electroshock therapy that Auntie Em signs Dorothy up for because she won’t stop talking about all of her experiences from the first one, and Return to Oz is the worst nightmare fodder I had until I stayed up late at a slumber party to watch Nightmare On Elm Street.

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