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A Study Of The Wizard Of Oz Phenomena

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The 1939 film, 'The Wizard of Oz', was a colour and sound explosion that is as cherished today as it was when it was first released. But what a lot of the public doesn't realise, is that the movie is based on the first of 14 books written by L. Frank Baum.

Publish in 1900, "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" marked the beginning of a new type of fairytale. Baum steered away from the Classic European style fairytales like those of Hans Christian Anderson and the Grimm brothers, into a more light-hearted, witty, simplistic story for children that instilled American rural values into them. The simplicity of the story caused controversy within the literary circles at the time, and was the main reason it was banned in many public libraries and not considered proper children's fiction. But despite the acidemia's disapproval of the story, it became widely popular, and was the best selling children's book for two years running.

Baum was a man of the theatre, and in 1902 he turned "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" into a stage musical aimed at a more adult audience. Politics was a very current issue at the time so he altered the script so that actors made references to figures such as John D. Rockefeller and President Theodore Roosevelt. The story was also change so that instead of having Toto the dog as her Kansas sidekick, Dorothy had Imogene the cow. This was the first version of the story to use the shortened title of "the wizard of oz", and since then, all subsequent versions have used the same title instead of the longer, original title.

Baum and his family moved around a lot and at one stage were living in South Dakota, which is said to be the basis of his description of Kansas at the start of the story. Another place of great influence was Holland, Michigan, where Baum's great grandfather lived; the winding cobblestone streets of the town inspiring the yellow brick road.

He married Maud Gage in 1882, who was the daughter of a famous women's suffrage activist, Matilda Joslyn Gage which was claimed by a pamphlet of the Matilda Joslyn Gage Foundation to have influenced the character of Dorothy. Dorothy was a new type of heroine, in that she wasn't a damsel in distress, or a character dependent

on the actions of others, but rather an accidental hero who, through her down to earth character, compassion, logical thinking and bravery, freed Oz from the Bad Witches and got the reward of home.

The 1939 musical film "The wizard of oz" was a highly anticipated film that, despite the many problems in production, was an instant success and is still as valued today as it was back then. Part of the reason it still has resonance for the modern audience is because it is a film with excellent characterisation, amazing choreography and body control and beautiful sets and costume which made the most of the new technicolour technology of the time. It also gave hope to a generation who were moving out of the depression, and into WW2, with the award winning song, "Somewhere over the rainbow".

The 1939 film wasn't the first version of the wizard of Oz to use the idea of Kansa being in black and white, and Oz in colour. Ted Eshbaughs 1933 cartoon was the first to use the idea, which the film then adapted in a colour explosion, celebrating the new found technology. It was also an age of musicals, due to sound in film being a recent discovery. The first musicals were simply Broadway shows filmed and quickly failed, so writers started putting more emphasis on the characters and their relationships, and exploited the fact that everyone could talk and express themselves much more clearly and quickly. This also allowed for the expansion of genres. Gangster films, screwball comedies and westerns were all developed in the 1930's/1940's, Hollywood's golden era.

While making the Wizard of oz, the crew and cast came across many problems, such as the costumes. Margaret Hamilton who played the wicked witch of the west received severe burns after the copper in her green makeup base caught on fire and melted onto her face. The film also went through 2 or 3 directors during production due to problems with the studio, and the production of 'Gone with the wind', another highly anticipated film being produced at the same time that required the attention of director Victor Fleming.

But despite these mishaps, and with the help of special effects man Arnold A. Gillespie, the film was a success, and is still viewed as one of the greatest films of all time.

The basic storyline of "The Wizard of oz" is fairly simple. Dorothy is a small town Kansas girl who, through a freak cyclone, gets whisked away into a magical land called Oz. Celebrating her arrival in Oz by killing the wicked witch of the east, she is greeted by the people of Munchkin land and the good witch of the North. It is here that she is told that in order to return home, she must go to oz and ask the great wizard himself how to return to Kansas. So she starts off down the yellow brick road, and along the way meets three sidekicks. Scarecrow is in need of a brain, Tinman wants a heart and Lion wants courage. They reach the Emerald City and told by the wizard that if they want their rewards, they first have to kill the wicked with of the west. On the way to killing the witch, Dorothy and her friends are captured by the witch's cronies and become prisoners. Then in a fight, Dorothy throws water on the witch, ending the witch's reign of terror forever. Dorothy, scarecrow, tinman and lion then return to oz to claim their rewards. Everyone gets what they want, and Dorothy returns home to Kansas. Some major differences in the book and film aren't vital to the story, but they have mislead numerous generations. Dorothy's shoes were not originally ruby red. Its thanks to screenwriter Noel Langley that people everywhere believe this lie. Her shoes are spose to be silver, but this was just one of the many things changed in the adaptation of the book to the film.

Songs were added to the film to appeal to the aching nation at the time, and dances were choreographed to accompany them. Dorothy was made to be slightly older and parts of the already simple story were cut to shorten the length of the film.

But something that always comes through in the story is the good old American rural values. The importance of logical thinking, compassion for all animals great and small, a sense of moral justice and the appreciation for what you have are all ethical principals which are idealised by the story.

But the wizard of oz is a lot more than just a pretty story. It had been the basis for a lot of modern day dramatic and literary culture, and has been the cause of many theories and spiritual revelations. But to understand



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