Movie Review: The Wizard of Oz

One of the things about movie syncs is that if you view a film with a particular soundtrack more than the unaltered version, it becomes difficult to break that connection. Case in point, The Wizard of Oz. Last night, I came home and fixed myself some leftovers. I was tempted to go back to my car and get “Dark Side of the Moon” from the CD player but let it be, substituting that for a T-shirt and lounge pants with the iconic prism.

Dorothy gets hit in the head by a window and has a vivid technicolor dream, learning that there is no place like home.

I tapped my fingers in tune to the heartbeat, sang along in my head, vocalized the cash register and more. Needless to say, nobody around me knew what I was doing or referencing, giving me strange looks. That’s how strong the connection is.

I didn’t see this until I was seven or eight. For the most part, it was following the dots that I found in pop cultures references and urban legends. As a kid, I thought it was an OK movie, nothing too spectacular. Now I see how large of an impact this film has, even appearing in my work when I look for it (like using color as a framing device in Touch).

The fact that every few years, a new restoration is released should say something about how important it is (or how many times people want a copy of it). I only have the 1999 DVD print and it suits me fine, especially on a large screen. I never noticed that Scarecrow has a gun with him when they are approaching the Wicked Witch’s castle. It’s not that it’s well-hidden but it blends in to the point where you don’t know what he’s holding. I didn’t think Oz would have guns.

The film, while praised many a time, does have its flaws. All I remember from the movie is up until the Lion crashes through the window and it fades to black (I’m not sure what to make of that transition as it’s the only occurrence within the actual story). From there until the death of the witch, it feels rushed in order for the “good vs evil” conflict to be resolved and to get to the “what have we learned?” portion of the film.

While I do like a musical now and then, I like the songs to propel the story forward. “If I Were King of the Forest” doesn’t do that at all. True, we get a different “I Want” song from the Lion but the momentum and excitement stops just so that the song can be sung. I’d rather have him speak his lines rather than sing them.

The flying monkeys never scared me. I suppose if I watched this at an earlier age, then I’d be scared. Then again, I first watched it on a ten inch screen ten feet away from me, so the distance probably affected my impression.

I do not doubt that this is a good film. Even if you can see the strings and the man behind the curtain, I’ll still watch this but more than likely it will be with Pink Floyd.

7/10

1001 MYMSBYD selection

AFI Top 100 (1997): #6

AFI Top 100 (2007): #10

400 Noms for AFI Top 100 list for both years

Winner of Best Song and Best Original Score

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Movie Review: Earth

Context would be nice, seeing as how this is the only film from its trilogy (the Ukraine Trilogy) that made the list. Sure, there are selections on the list that come from a larger body of work and would include the first entry and a sequel like The Godfather or Alien series, or even the whole trilogy like Lord of the Rings and Toy Story. But to begin with the end and omit the others makes me wonder what it was that led to this film, the last in the trilogy, to be included.

A man dies, so it goes. This causes distress in the family. A tractor arrives but it won’t go. Farmers urinate in the radiator and it works. Happy people work in the fields and make bread. A man dances alone in the road and dies, so it goes. A confession is made at the cemetery but no one listens. It rains.

Maybe the description was a bit blunt but those are the main events in the movie. The narrative as a whole didn’t strike a chord with me until I did some research. The events in the film and what was happening with agriculture in Ukraine were hot topics at the time. It was a battle to keep the farm land. Well, that cleared things up a little bit but not much.

There are a few montages, notably the family’s distress at the beginning and the bread montage. With the family montage, it’s more about showing the different reactions of each member after hearing about the death. There’s a mini-montage where it seems like the 180 degree rule is broken but in a few shots we see that it’s not the case. It is quite confusing. The bread montage, on the other hand, is like a silent film version of an episode of “How It’s Made”, except with not-so-shiny happy people. Not to knock the influence of the montage but in this film they go on a bit longer than necessary; one or two minutes could’ve been cut from each montage and it would still achieve the same effect.

The particular print that I saw had some interesting translations. When the men urinate in the radiator, all that’s said is “LET ‘ER FLY!” After the man walking home is killed, someone says “HEY, YOU GUYS NAMED JOHN.” I read it as that there were more than one John within the speaker’s range but it turns out that the title card only contained part of the dialogue as the man called for more men who knew about the killer. Other instances used more or less modern terms for people and some dropped consonants. It was a bit jarring to say the least.

It’s no Eisenstein or Vertov but a story is told one way or another.

5/10

1001 MYMSBYD selection

Movie Review: Las Hurdes

Bread? What’s this thing you speak of that you call “bread”? Yes, apparently in this documentary bread is a rare thing; so rare that the children have to eat at school so that their parents won’t confiscate it.

But what of this documentary/travelogue/what have you? This land, so it seems, has interesting customs and a harsh lifestyle. This land without bread is unknown, even in homeland Spain. From the comfort of our own home, we can see their pitiful existence.

The treatment of the animals is questionable at best. On one hand, it seems like the poor creature really did get stuck and attacked by bees. On the other, it reaches toward An Andalusian Dog in terms of what’s done to the animals by humans.

I understand that I sound detached and uncaring. The print’s subtitles weren’t exactly the best and can be improved upon. That said, it’s another one of those films that you’re fine with one viewing if you so choose. Only 27 minutes or so, it’s more realistic than An Andalusian Dog but only so much.

4/10

1001 MYMSBYD selection

Movie Review: Zero for Conduct

 

“HEY! TEACHER! LEAVE THEM KIDS ALONE!” Well, the Floydian in me kept thinking that the whole time I watched this.

In this short film, four kids stage a revolt at school on Commemoration Day. Really, that’s it.

I looked up some other reviews by others on the 1001 quest; results were not positive. I can concur that I found it difficult to be engaged with the narrative. The planning of the revolt, much less the reasons why, were not really touched on. There were a few interesting elements like the brief animated drawing and the slightly-off mirror reflection. Things just happen without a reason. Had I been given just a smidgen of backstory behind the four boys, I could have cared.

From what I hear, I should watch If… for a better understanding of this film. I do hope it is more entertaining and has some more to work off of.

4.5/10

1001 MYMSBYD selection

Movie Review: Freaks

 

I honestly have no way to judge this film without immediately contradicting myself on what artistic merit this may contain, if any. True, it’s a different way of exploring what goes on behind the scenes of a performance. The story does go a step further by using actual people with physical and/or mental deformities and disabilities rather than an actor in make-up, like in The Elephant Man. At the same time though, it seems like the actors are being exploited for their appearance, regardless of how they feel in what they’re doing.

The story at it’s core is about an affair between a rich dwarf, a strong man, and a trapeze artist. For most of the picture, we see an assortment of sideshow characters and their interactions when the circus isn’t on. This includes a bearded lady, Siamese twins, an armless girl, a male torso, a limbless man, and some others. The ending of the film, without spoiling it, does surprise me as malice and hate fill the hearts of these characters.

As I mentioned in my Rain Man review, I have an autistic brother. To my knowledge, any time a mental disability is portrayed on film, it’s by an actor who mimics the traits found in said disability. It would be difficult to get someone with the real deal and have them be themselves for the purpose of the film. There’s no real way to predict their behavior and trying to work around it is almost impossible at times.

Early on in the film, there’s a scene where some of the performers are playing in a park. Two “normal” people watch with horror as we see some of the performers are shown with mental disabilities. Now, the way their reactions are filmed was considered the norm back in the day. Today, I would like to think that people are a bit more civilized when they interact with others different from them but I know that’s not the case.

“But Thomas,” you may ask, “how do you know that they’re not having the time of their life by being given a chance to be in a movie or something?” Truth is I do not know for sure. I know from past experience is that they do express happiness. I was on a three day shoot last summer for a professional service that helps those with mental disabilities. We used some people who benefit from the services as actors of sorts, going about their business as our spokesperson said his lines. When blocking the shots, I talked with the talent and they were more than happy to help. They were not “freaks”, they were people like us. Their part of the shoot was not for exploitation purposes but for positive demonstration purposes.

I suppose if the movie had any moral attached to it, it’s mostly “love one another.” That said, it’s not exactly true as it’s abandoned toward the horrific end. It wasn’t my cup of tea, even if it was only an hour long.

4/10

1001 MYMSBYD selection

400 Nominations list for AFI Top 100 for both years