Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Celebrating the Outsiders

By Lars Trodson

"The Wizard of Oz" was released 68 years ago today, in the middle of one of the most storied years in movie history. By all accounts, the movie did well on each coast, but as it moved into the heartland it faded fast and was not a financial success its first time out.

The movie was directed by Victor Fleming, who certainly must be one of the most anonymous directors of all time despite having helmed this picture, as well as "Gone With the Wind" the same year. I'd be hardpressed, without looking it up, to name another movie the guy directed.

No matter. If neither film is directed with anything you could call the "Fleming style", it does seem to me that both films are imbued with a deep humanity; there is room enough in each -- while acknowledging the limitations that stereotyping required back then -- for the misfits and the lowlifes and the miscreants and the people on the fringe. Each film, "Oz" and "Wind", is a panorama of outsiders trying to work their way back in, and for that reason alone I always thought that Fleming had a generous artistic heart.

It's funny about "The Wizard of Oz." While I certainly was enchanted by the movie as a child, it more deeply affects me when I see it as an adult. I'm particularly fond of the moment when Dorothy says to the Cowardly Lion that she's going to miss him most of all. You're not supposed to pick favorites, but she did all right to tell him that, in front of the others, because he deserved it. And I think the small, unvarnished scene when she wakes up at the farm, surrounded by all those characters, is the perfect coda to the film.

There are few actors left from either film. I believe there are still some of the actors who played some of the Munchkins still alive, and Olivia de Havilland, from "Gone with the Wind" is still with us. "Wind" of course was pretty much hailed as an instant classic ­ a term I don't like -- but "Oz" took a little longer to make its way into our consciousness. Now its more firmly affixed there than its more gargantuan Fleming partner, mostly because the misfits and goofballs in the movie have decent hearts, just as we hope we do ourselves.