The Wizard of Oz turns 75 this year, and Brisbane’s Regal Twin at Graceville celebrated recently with a Sunday matinee screening of the 1939 film that starred a 16-year-old Judy Garland as Dorothy. I hadn’t seen The Wizard of Oz as a child or read the novel by L Frank Baum on which it was based. My mother had an aversion to the film, having been left at the cinema as a six-year-old by her own mother who asked an usher to watch over her little girl while she went to get her hair done. When the wicked witch came, my mother said, she was terrified. She ran out of the theatre, only to be ushered back in. Even as an adult, my mother couldn’t abide the film.
I was disappointed to learn, when we arrived at the Regal, that the film we’d see wasn’t strictly authentic. It was a 3D conversion, I was told. I got over it. Although the film was a little dark in the 3D glasses, I was soon enjoying the ride too much to care for authenticity. My son’s buddy, who came with us, had seen the film many times, but he enjoyed it on the big screen, he said, eyes wide. My son, who’d never seen it, thought it was really good too, except when they were going to kill Dorothy’s dog Toto, which was stupid, in his opinion. Even my husband was taken on the journey.
The Wizard of Oz was one of the first Technicolor films to hit US cinemas and while it doesn’t amaze us nowadays, that initial view of Oz must have wowed audiences. For me, the shining achievement is that such an old film, without many of the other tricks and tropes cinema has developed since, could transport us so completely to Oz. A lot’s been written about why Baum’s novel, and the film, have endured. Baum and his wife Maud really did have a niece named Dorothy Gale, to whom Maud was very attached, who died in infancy. The couple had no children of their own and for me it’s the journey to find what you think is missing in your life that’s most powerful, and the idea that it’s right there in front of you all the while is a perfect resolution. Judy Garland is masterful as Dorothy, spirited and strong. I was so immersed in her story that far from observing an historical artefact, I had tears in my eyes as I listened to Somewhere over the Rainbow. In fact, when my 21st century sensibility poked through suddenly, it made for an uncomfortable few moments.
It was the scene where Dorothy has run away with Toto from the farm and meets a middle-aged man, a fortune teller, who invites her into his caravan. Immediately, I became frightened about what would happen. In 1939, cinema-goers probably didn’t think twice about it, or about Dorothy’s meeting other strangers on the road and trusting them, but we parents, and children too nowadays, are awash with stories about what strangers do, and right now, we are very afraid of them.
As I watched Dorothy trusting the strangers she came across, even the deceitful wizard, I wanted that world for my son and not the world I seem to have to translate for him these days, a world in which he hears a lot about bad strangers and what they might do. Don’t get me wrong. I know we need light in our darkest places. I’m not suggesting sexual molestation of children should ever have been secret, and I admire the victims who’ve had the courage to speak about their experiences more than I admire anyone – they are heroes. I also know that mostly, those who sexually molest children are not strangers; they’re family members and carers, teachers and clergy. Children do need explicit information, about every kind of safety. But at the cinema a few weeks back, I was taken away by a story, struck by a young girl’s trust that things would be all right and then shocked by my own mistrust. We’re not in Kansas anymore, and we’re certainly not in Oz, and it made me sad.
Based on the column published in The Courier-Mail Qweekend on 6 April 2014. I write mainly about writing, education, birth, health and the thrill of parenting. You can Get in touch, tick the box to receive emails, Like Writer Mary-Rose MacColl on Facebook or follow MaryRoseMacColl on Twitter. Have a great day!