And we continue with this series of 47 moments in film that I love. (Why 47?) I am almost not 47 anymore, so I should really get these done. This is number #41.
The Wizard of Oz (1939)
Directed by: Victor Fleming (and, uncredited, George Cukor, Mervyn LeRoy, Norman Taurog and King Vidor)
Young farmgirl Dorothy Gale dreams of being transported to the magical and dangerous land of Oz, where she must embark on a fearful quest to defeat a witch and find a way home.
Dorothy has run away with her dog Toto because of difficulty with a mean neighbor. As a result, when a tornado hits, she has no time to get to the storm cellar, and instead is in her house, which appears to be lifted by the storm and flung a great distance away…
The house landed and the danger apparently passed, Dorothy tentatively makes her way outside. To her astonishment, the storm has taken her away from the mundane world of Kansas, her home, and deposited her in the marvelous land of Oz.
So much of filmmaking is about illusion–crafting a variation of reality in a way that audience will be brought in and believe it (or be willing to suspend their disbelief). Nowadays, when this includes fantastical elements like we get in The Wizard of Oz, audiences don’t really blink. We accept all sorts of things as part of the story, without really pausing to think about how the filmmakers achieved the effects. We might enjoy how cool something looks, or how artistic, but there’s no mystery about how it was created, because we know that almost any idea can be visualized thanks to computers and computer generated imagery.
But this wasn’t the case back in 1939, and when the filmmakers were making The Wizard of Oz, they had, at this particular point, the task of bringing young Dorothy (played by Judy Garland) from the sepia-toned world of Kansas (not, as it is often described, black and white) to the technicolor delight that is Oz. How could they pull this off?
They could have just used a straight cut and some clever editing. That would have done the bare minimum from a storytelling point of view, but it would lack the emotional impact of something more immersive.
Apparently, the original idea, was to do the shot where Dorothy opens the door to reveal Oz for the first time by painting every frame of the shot, so that all the interior stuff was sepia while the increasing view of the world outside the house was in color. But that would have taken a really long time and been a lot of work. So they did something cleverer.
And that was to paint the entire interior set a sepia tone, including the dress that the actress wore. When she opened the door, it gave the impression that the film was going from drab browns to bright hues of every kind, all in one seamless shot. The camera even pushed ahead of Dorothy for a bit, so that the stand-in wearing the brown dress could be replaced by Judy Garland wearing her bright blue costume, without the audience ever being the wiser.
It’s a bit of low-tech but innovative movie magic which tells the story both cognitively and emotionally in a powerful and effective way.
Dorothy wanders through the bizarre landscape she has arrived in, while the camera pulls back to reveal the bright colors of Munchkinland, and Dorothy begins her adventure.