dorothy and the chinese
The three of us went into Hollywood this morning to see THE WIZARD OF OZ at Mann's Chinese Theatre. It was a promo screening for the re-release of the restored and remastered film, and a large percentage of the fifteen hundred or so people in the audience came in costume, lots of little Dorothies and Scarecrows and Cowardly Lions. And, since it was Halloween, Wicked Witches of the West were everywhere.
What is most remarkable about this movie is that just about everyone who has ever seen any movie has seen this one. Its place in our culture is so fixed, its flavor evokes such innocence, and its ability to spark memories of time and place in our lives is so powerful that its equal may never be seen again, in this medium or any other.
Part of its power is that it plays on so many levels, from plucking our heartstrings unapologetically with threats to a little girl's doggie, through being lost in the world and needing to find friends, all the way to social satire and philosophical metaphor and symbology. Pick an age, any age, and you'll get the movie. Or, perhaps more precisely, the movie gets you.
What struck me as I watched it this time, in that same room where it first played almost sixty years ago, was despite how much we've all looked at it and grown up around it and gotten ourselves to the point where we can keep from crying at the goodbye scene, every one of us in that theater today was a kid. I don't mean yes we were all children once, I mean we were all children right then, all fifteen hundred of us. It was that part of ourselves we could, at last, expose again without threat. We knew what we were in for. We knew there weren't going to be any ugly surprises, so we could say yes to being vulnerable, yes to remembering and letting go.
That's why, when Dorothy sang "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" we couldn't help but erupt with applause. The audience clapped to say thanks, to Judy, and Harold, and Yip and Victor. When Dorothy opened that door to Technicolor our ovation was one giant Bravo! for the whole damn thing. What a magnificent piece of work, this combination of idea and craft and spirit. All of us were sunk now, into our seats and into 101 minutes of common destiny in which we anticipated with an almost embarrassing glee the arrival of the Lollipop Guild, or Glinda, or the line "Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain."
Amy had been a little afraid about the whole idea. She finds movie theaters to be too loud usually, and they are. Before we left the house she'd protested continuously, but we knew this was going to be a unique event -- the Wizard of Oz on Halloween at the Chinese in Hollywood, I mean, it's a boffo combo, in trade parlance -- so there was no way we were going to compromise on this one.
We got there early, found our seats, and for the next twenty minutes Amy campaigned to go home. Then The Cowardly Lion walked in along with the Wicked Witch of the West, followed by Dorothy and the Scarecrow and the Tin Man. As they came down the aisle and were recognized, the crowd started to cheer. This was the first little lift, the first distraction for Amy. She suddenly found herself surrounded by an audience, and in the next instant, she was a member of that audience, smiling as each character did a riff at the front of the room to introduce the movie. The lights went down, the music came up, and in a matter of seconds everybody was in Kansas and in that collective memory we all share of our sepia-toned youth.
Hundreds of parents had brought their children to see a movie. That's simple enough, really, but it was this movie, and it's very difficult to be unsentimental about it. We were in Hollywood, in its premier movie palace, a place where it's usually the actors that are the draw, if it's not the buzz or the hype or the schmooze. But this was different.
We'd made it past the glitter of the boulevard, past the footprints in cement and the neon skies and the flashbulbs and into the dark, waiting for that one single bulb behind the celluloid to light up and show us our past. Here, it was easy to be simply pure in our recollection of what we know to be true about ourselves -- that there is honor to be found in the simple seeking of a heart, a brain, a home, da noive. These are the moments that we yearn, conciously or unconciously, to bequeath to our children so that they too can find the solace so necessary when the skies are full of flying monkeys.
From the moment we first saw Elvira Gulch bicycling to her theme music, that little witch vamp that surely must be in our genes by now, Amy was past her fear and hooked, and the spell would not be broken until Dorothy finally uttered the ironic confirmation that "There's no place like home."
* * * * * * *
We were still a few hours away from sunset when we did get home. I had time to mow the backyard which Dorothy had specifically named as the site of my heart's desire, but she failed to mention that it would be a lot less lyrical.
Meanwhile, Viv and Amy carved the pumpkin to look like the Batman signal, donned their costumes -- Amy was Batman, Viv was Robin -- and prepared to head out in search of candy. I was the designated candy-hander-outer here at the house, a job I'm pleased to take. When it got dark, I filled the big candy bowl, kissed my crimefighters goodbye and wished them good hunting, and took my post in the living room.
Everything went fine. All was normal. It was an average number of trick-or-treaters and we had an average amount of leftover candy which will result in an average weight gain of three or four pounds.
When Amy got home she was happy to report that she'd led her group of friends on their raid for goodies. In the past she's been in the slow group, but now in her seventh year, she's apparently ready to take the point on any mission, especially one in which costumes and chocolate figure prominently. For almost two hours she'd raced from house to house with the big kids, and Batman was pretty tuckered out when she came through the door around 9:00pm.
So it was a big day. The kid's happy, the wife's happy, the grass is mowed, I couldn't ask for much more, really. I did see something today, however, something I've seen before, and something I know I could do without. But nevertheless it's something I think that would be wonderful to have. One of these days, if I can ever afford it, for those rough spots in life, I gotta get me a bunch of flyin' monkeys.
"Optimistic Voices" -- THE STORY AND SONGS OF THE WIZARD OF OZ
Wisdom of the Day:
"You'd better close your eyes, my child, for a moment, in order to be better in tune with the infinite. We can't do these things without reaching out into the infinite."
- Professor Marvel