The Wizard of Oz (1939)

Good afternoon all! I hope y’all are doing well and staying healthy.

Recently I finally watched probably the most famous movie from the 30s ever: The Wizard of Oz (1939). Throughout my life, I had seen bits and pieces of the movie, but I never watched it all the way through. If you have been keeping up with my blog lately, you would know that I previously watched Charlie Chaplin’s The Kid (1921). About halfway through watching The Wizard of Oz, I realized that I had made too much of a jump in my movie list. While I was taking notes, I saw that there were way too many technological advances for my liking in the 18 years in which these two films are separated by. I’ll get into more specifics about that below, but just for everyone’s information, I am currently in the process of renting a film from the earlier 1930s that will hopefully make the gap of technological advances somewhat smaller! So, there will definitely be a post about that movie soon!

Anyways, back to this groundbreaking 1939 film. There’s a whole lot going on in this movie that ranges from amazing technological advances to even conspiracy theories. All of the above are definitely interesting to look into, but as you know, I will just be focusing on the composition aspects that I noticed (and there were for sure a lot of them).

In the first few seconds of the movie, I noticed that the camera was actually following the main character, Dorothy (Judy Garland)! In my other posts, I talk about how in early films the camera was primarily a stationary view that acted as the eyes of an onlooking audience member. This camera movement at the beginning of The Wizard of Oz showcases how the use of the camera has developed over the past few decades. On another note, this was my first tip off that I had jumped too far ahead in time because the panning of the camera really caught me off guard!

There’s actually so much going on in this film with the camera. I am assuming that many of you have seen this movie before (if not, go check it out), so you know how grand and detailed all of the sets are. In the scene where Dorothy wakes up in Oz, I noticed that the camera (moreover, us, the audience) got to explore more of the area before Dorothy did. There’s a lot to unpack in this moment right here and I certainly won’t cover all of it so you should go check it out for yourself! I thought that moment was rather interesting because: 1) camera movement still seemed quite new to this time and 2) this moment shows how the use of the camera as a method of storytelling has grown over time. The ability to move the camera around and show the audience things that the main character might not know has now unlocked a whole new world of possibilities simply by expanding the plane of movement. So cool!

A shot of the camera panning Oz!

Like I said before, there is so much to unpack about the use of the camera in this film, but this will be my last point, I promise! So, during the tornado, when Dorothy gets hit in the head by a window, she begins to feel very discombobulated and eventually falls unconscious. Now, being hit in the head is not a very good feeling and it obviously hurts a lot, so how do we convey that same feeling to the audience? This feeling was simply reciprocated to the audience by bobbing the camera up and down and making the audience a little dizzy. This may seem like a tiny little decision, but as Sidney Lumet taught me in his book: every little decision counts when making a movie. I can truly say, this seemingly small decision had a big effect on the audience and on the movie as a whole!

Another aspect of this film that caught me off guard was the sound! This was the first film with sound that I encountered on my Legendary Film list! Let me just say, I can now appreciate dialogue in movies more than ever before. Silent films will always have a place in my heart, but films with dialogue tend to be more engaging to me. Along with the point I will address after this, this aspect certainly made me want to watch an earlier 30s movie to smooth the technological gap.

Another amazing decision that caught my eye in this film was the use of color vs. black and white. All of the movies I have watched so far have been in black and white. The Wizard of Oz decided to use black and white for when Dorothy was in Kansas and color when she was in Oz! This definitely added to the dream-like feel of Oz!

The Wizard of Oz is truly a movie that I will never forget watching with my family. Whether it be the amazing lessons in film it taught me or the terrifying flying monkeys (the special effects were amazing, the monkeys are still scary to me), this movie showcased so many important growths that the movie industry was going through at this time.

Thanks for reading everyone!