The Wizard of Oz
directed by Victor Fleming
(MGM, 1939)

The idea of writing a review of The Wizard of Oz is strange; after 60 years, what more is there to say? Certainly, I'm not the only person for whom watching the movie was an annual tradition.

Nothing could stand in the way of Wizard of Oz night as my sisters and I hunkered down in front of the television. Now, at the time that this was occurring, the idea of a VCR was something that was not just unheard of -- it was undreamed of. Grown-ups had strict instructions Not To Interrupt unless it was during the commercial break, and they obliged. Every year, one sister sang along with "Over the Rainbow," every year, the Wicked Witch of the East's feet curling up and sliding under the house creeped me out, and every year, I jumped out of my skin on two occasions: when the window blew out and whacked Dorothy on the head and the first time the Wicked Witch of the West appears, interrupting the Munchkins' frolicking.

As I got older, the commercial breaks got longer and more frequent, sacrificing more of the movie until there were times when I wondered whether I'd made up segments that were now missing. I don't remember how old I was when it was no longer important whether I saw the movie, and my viewing was reduced to an occasional college screening, when 100 of us would hunker down in a lecture center to watch the movie projected onto a wall. Ten years ago, I started to watch it on video -- and I fell asleep. Until a few days ago, that was the last time I watched it.

Now I have children of my own, a son who is nearly 7 at this writing and a daughter, 5 1/2. I've held off on showing the movie to them because my son is especially nervy around scary things, and I wasn't sure how he would take to the Wicked Witch of the West. We've been reading the Oz books to them over the past year or so, and finally, they expressed some interest in seeing the movie. When it appeared on a shelf in the library, I grabbed it and took it home.

I explained the black-and-white and color change right away. We watched Miracle on 34th Street the week before, and my son complained bitterly about how he hates black and white. (We probably should have watched Scrooge.) It seemed worth it to me to forestall any complaints at the beginning of the movie.

And so the cycle began again. The lion's roar, the music, the cast list, and then Dorothy Gale ran up the dirt road with her little dog Toto. The children were transfixed. When Miss Gulch made her first appearance, complete with musical motif, my daughter shrieked "Yikes!" and caught me in a stranglehold. ("Yikes!" turned out to be her musical motif.) She also kept whispering to me, "Is Dorothy going to Oz?" but she didn't like it one bit when Dorothy got locked out of the storm cellar.

I watched my children watch the movie: they were charmed by the Munchkins, enchanted by Glinda and her big pink bubble, simultaneously frightened at and angered by the Wicked Witch. They loved Dorothy's companions on the screen as much as they did in the books, marveling at how they moved and danced and laughing with delight at their antics. At the Emerald City, we encountered the Gatekeeper, the Cabby, the Horse of a Different Color You've Heard Tell Of, the Soldier with the copious tear ducts, and for me, it was a fresh experience. I felt all their emotions and reactions, and while I did not follow my son, when, during the scenes in the witch's castle, he crawled under his father's sweater moaning "Oh, I can't watch this!" I did find myself drawing my daughter tighter onto my lap. (She would later tell me that her favorite part was when Dorothy doused the Witch with water.) Once again, I was drawn into the story about the quest for those intangibles which are basic to every human being: the capacity to know, the capacity to love, the capacity to act not without fear but in spite of fear, and the capacity to make oneself a home in the world.

By the end, I had come full circle. The movie, seen through the filter of my children's experience, was just as I remembered it, a magical journey shared with good friends in love and laughter. And although the realist in me knows that I won't always feel this way, for the moment, there was "no place like home."

[ by Donna Scanlon ]

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