Wednesday, August 26, 2009

There's No Place Like Home

I read during lunch that I missed yesterday's 70th anniversary of The Wizard of Oz. Entertainment Weekly's Popwatch blog celebrated it and asked commenters to list their favorite quotable lines from that beloved movie.

What's amazing to me as I read the comments is that in 74 (and counting) comments, barely a quote is repeated. And few are obscure quotes that you'd have to have seen the movie 500 times to pick up. That movie is a building block of our cultural DNA.

Wizard never seems to make it onto my list of most beloved movies when I list those on a social networking profile or in some viral "get to know your friends" email. It's easy to overlook for the paradoxical reason that it's everywhere. And yet when I come across it while channel surfing, or when Ainsley reaches into the depths of our DVD collection to get out that iconic green and black box, I can't not watch it. Not only can I not look away (there are all kinds of bad movies that pull me in when I go into couch coma), but I can't not feel something.

We all remember the childhood ritual of that one time a year when The Wizard of Oz would come on network TV. It was like a holiday. Dad would pop popcorn (on the stove, of course; we didn't have a microwave until 1991) and not grumble too badly about not being able to watch sports. Mom would usually watch with us instead of talking on the phone all evening. When my sister still lived at home, she would jump in and imitate the wicked witch at key points, something she grew to be eerily good at with her Roman nose, black hair, and olive skin. For days after I would play Dorothy, putting on red socks to be ruby slippers, and doing my best to remember all the words to "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." One of my sister's friends had the record soundtrack to the movie and would sometimes bring it over the week after the movie would air, much to my delight and extreme jealousy.

Because I am more than a little emotional, I caused my mom to threaten a ban on future viewings the first time the end made me cry inconsolably. Unlike a similar meltdown I had while watching Snoopy Come Home, my mom couldn't understand why I was so upset.

"What's the matter with you? It's not a sad movie! If it's going to do that to you, you need to stop watching it."

I couldn't put into words at the age of 6 why I was crying. I think it was because all that technicolor had gone back to sepia tones, and even though Dorothy was back home like she wanted, she'd never go back to that beautiful, exciting land again. As I sadly understood at that point in my life, "There's no place like home" doesn't necessarily mean that "home" is good. There's just no place like it. That was the first time, too, that I recognized the Scarecrow as one of the farmhands and found the fact that it was all (probably) a dream so tragic--she told the Scarecrow she's miss him most of all, but he was really Hunk the farmhand, and he'd never know the special bond he and Dorothy had had over the rainbow. It broke my heart.

Nowadays when I watch with Ainsley, who loves the movie almost as much as I did and watches it at least once a year on DVD, it's "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" that makes me blubber into my Coke and popcorn. Even before we decided to have Eva Cassidy's version sung at Jason's mom's funeral, that song made my adult heart ache. As a kid I thought it was a happy song; now that I've grown up and really listened to the Pass the hankies. And to think that Judy Garland was a teenager when she sang it in the movie, and yet she GOT it. When you watch her wistfully leaning against sepia fence posts, and hear the longing in that rich voice...she knew that happiness is as elusive as those little bluebirds. And that's sad, too.

At 70, I have to wonder if The Wizard of Oz will eventually fade and be forgotten. I know there are parents like me who love it and have it on DVD and share it with their children, but without the yearly viewing ritual we had, will it stick? Will the next generation ever find themselves jokingly clicking their heels together three times in moments of crises far away from home, or cackling out, "I'll get you, my pretty, and your little dog, too!" when feeling delightfully evil, or humming, "Ding, dong, the witch is dead..." the day they find out their unlikable boss has quit?

I for one hope they see and remember the adventures of Dorothy, the Tin Man, the Scarecrow, and the Cowardly Lion. And Toto, too.

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