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The Wizard’s Gift: Re-Discovering THE WIZARD OF OZ October 6th, 2009

wizard-of-oz-original1There’s a scene late in THE WIZARD OF OZ that any of the film’s many fans will readily recall where the Wizard is handing out the much longed for rewards to each of Dorothy’s merry band of heroic misfits. What has always struck me about it is not just the visible excitement and anticipation plastered all over the faces of each character in line awaiting their turn for the Wizard to bestow his magic upon them. It’s also the tiniest hint of fear hidden in their faces, as if they are dreading the possibility that they might be the one exception where the Wizard’s magic won’t work, that for them his promises might just too good to be true.

I suppose the reason that’s always stood out to me is because it’s a feeling I can acutely relate to as someone upon whom – unlike in the end for the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion – THE WIZARD OF OZ’s magic never worked. Even as a child, while those around me found themselves pulled into and charmed by the wonderful world of Oz, I was always left untouched and sheepishly wondering “Why isn’t it working on me?” I’ve always distinctly felt as if I were Dorothy just after she arrived in Oz and is looking out into its colorful word from within her still sepia drenched house. However, unlike Dorothy who ultimately stepped out and immersed herself in it, I never did, and simply found myself thinking “Yeah, that’s nice” but always unable to feel how nice it actually is since I never entered that world. In all the times I’ve seen the movie sine I was kid, that’s never changed. I’ve remained repeatedly unaffected, resigning myself to the fact that OZ’s magic – as much as I wanted it to – would never cast its spell on me.

Still, that hasn’t kept me from continually trying. Which is why when I recently received a special invitation to take advantage of a unique opportunity to catch a very special projected screening of the brand new 70th Anniversary restoration of THE WIZARD OF OZ (to coincide with a DVD and Blu-Ray release), it seemed as good a time as any to revisit OZ and give THE WIZARD’s magic another shot after about almost a decade of not seeing the film.

Hosted and organized by the always charming and esteemed Toronto film critic, Richard Crouse (former host of “Reel to Real” and author of “The 100 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen”) in conjunction with Warner Brothers at chique Hazleton Hotel in downtown Toronto, the movie was shown in the sort of private and fully equipped screening room that would fulfill more than one movie and home theatre buff’s fantasy.

As I waited for the lights to dim and nestled myself into the luscious leather couch, Crouse’s emphasis in his introduction that this is how the film should be seen echoed hopefully in my head. I knew if there was any way to see and finally appreciate THE WIZARD OF OZ, it would be this way.

Sure enough (and finally) this time the magic worked.

A large part of what I think helped me finally cross that threshold from indifference to wonder this time was initially – and perhaps superficially -the restoration. It is so gorgeously clean and vibrant, that it can’t help but add a certain magical sheen to the film and make it hard to resist such a beautifully rendered world full of dazzling and rich colors restored to their most pristine original condition.

What’s more, any movie buff will tell you the often astronomical differences between seeing a movie on the small screen (yes, even if your “small screen” is a 80 inch LCD) and seeing it projected above you. Despite the advancements in home theatre technology, a theatre screen will always provide a more immersive experience than a television screen. When you’re sitting in a chair, looking up at images that consume your entire field of vision, you feel so much more part of the world you’re watching. That has all the more impact when you’re watching a world of wonder, music, color and magic, which is why THE WIZARD OF OZ had all the more impact on me this time around.

With those elements acting as facilitators, this time I finally clued into the film’s enveloping charm and its magical innocence. In fact, I was surprised by just how swept away I was by it all. The movie’s simple and sweet story and events had me perpetually smiling, its music had my fingers tapping, and its vaudeville style humor had me laughing. It’s like somehow seeing it projected onto a big screen, sitting there watching it in the dark, THE WIZARD OF OZ suddenly turned me into a kid again. The kid who should have loved this film and grown up to cherish it for all these years.

In that sense maybe in the end the Wizard did work his magic on me after all in more ways than one. The Cowardly Lion got his courage, the Tin Man got his heart, the Scarecrow got his brain, Dorothy got to go home, and me? Well, I think for the period of the movie he gave me back the child in me that somehow missed out on the joy of THE WIZARD OF OZ.

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