The Wizard of Oz Focused Insight

I remember watching the Victor Fleming directed film Wizard of Oz (1939) every year on television. It became a tradition much like watching Christmas Vacation and A Christmas Story have become tradition to watch around Christmas. Nevertheless, the Wizard of Oz is listed as one of America’s 10 Greatest Films (and number one in the Fantasy genre) by the American Film Institute. It not only is a memorable film for me, but also one that includes many cinematic techniques.

A major technique used in the film is the transitions from sepia to full color. The Kansas scenes are rendered in sepia tone while the color film processes of technicolor take over in the Land of Oz. Sometimes color and sepia are used in the film within seconds of each other. At one point, Dorothy sees her Aunt Em on the Wicked Witch of the West’s crystal ball; she is then replaced by a vision of the Witch. Aunt Em appears only in sepia tone, while the Witch appears in the crystal ball in full Technicolor.

As far as camera techniques, I thought the scene in the Emerald City with Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz preparing to leave in a hot air balloon demonstrated several styles. Fleming shows an established shot of Emerald City with the Wizard talking to a crowd and music being played by a band. The camera zooms in on the Wizard as he continues talking to the people. Shortly after, the viewer experiences the perspective of the Wizard as he honors the Tin Man, Scarecrow, Lion, and Dorothy. Immediately following this, there are low-level shots taken in a sequence between Toto and a woman’s cat (you see the expressions of both animals from the level of the animals). The camera pans to the right as it follows Toto running away. The camera then focuses on Dorothy’s expression of fear as she gets out of the balloon to chase after Toto and continues panning to the right to follow Toto. The camera then shifts back to the left to follow the Wizard as the balloon takes off without Dorothy. Shortly after, there is an over-the-shoulder (Dorothy’s) shot as the Good Witch appears followed by close up shots of facial expressions to show the expressions of awe. There is a medium shot of Dorothy as she tells her inner thoughts. After some goodbyes, the final part of this scene concludes with an extreme close up of Dorothy’s shoes clicking three times as the infamous line “there’s no place like home” is recited.

Scene of interest: Remember the scene where Dorothy and the Scarecrow are in the forest fighting the apple trees? If not, you’ll have to watch the scene and pay close attention to how the scene is framed as the camera focuses primarily on the waist up of Dorothy. That is until the trees start throwing apples at the Scarecrow. In the subsequent shot, Dorothy’s feet are shown and you should notice that she is no longer wearing her ruby red slippers, but black shoes instead. What happened? I’m guessing this was an overlooked detail of continuity when the cameras went from the close-up view to the cover shot.

Watch for my next post where I describe the effect of syncing Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” with the Wizard of Oz… 🙂