Hit Me With Your Best Shot: The Wizard of Oz (1939)


Bear with me. This the first time I’m doing one of these and I found it more difficult than I anticipated. How do you choose a favorite shot from The Wizard of Oz?! I’ll likely end up reading everyone’s and wishing I had chosen different shots. But I’ve been admiring this ongoing feature from The Film Experience for a while and really want to participate when I can!

It’s weird that The Wizard of Oz exists. For so many of us it feels embedded; I can’t remember a time without it. When you sit and watch it after seeing the film so many times you begin to gaze with fresh eyes. It’s still one of the most eye-popping uses of Technicolor I can think of and Oz is riddled with details and effects that bring the world to life, from the costumes to the matte paintings to the makeup to the horse of a different color. I was tempted to choose that first color shot, the slow sweeping pan over Oz, but I know it’ll be chosen and written about by many. What I love about that shot is that it still stands out today. I can’t imagine what the effect must have been in 1939. You get to soak in the world, breathe in it. And the camera gives us an advantage point over Dorothy. We get a better view than her! You can almost feel what it must have been like to have stepped onto that set.

I was tempted to pick a shot of the ruby slippers sparkling as Dorothy models them for the camera or of Judy Garland’s fresh cherubic face, particularly that close-up when she first hears the Scarecrow talk. Or something that showed off the watery reflectiveness or the monochromatic overdose of Emerald City. The shot of the quartet dwarfed in the frame as they walk down that intimidating arched hallway to the Great and Powerful Oz. The two I settled on admittedly don’t capitalize  on the eye-popping color the film has to offer, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles. I have a few of those shots below.

Screencaps courtesy of http://ladymanson.com/ShadowofReflection/home.php

For my sepia-toned shot I chose:

Wizard of Oz 1

As Dorothy sings “Over the Rainbow”, she lightly sinks into the hay behind her. What has always stuck out about this shot is that it mirrors the way one lies in the grass and looks up at the sky, us daydreaming youngsters. She leans back vertically but rotate the frame and she could be lying down in grass. Walt Disney’s Alice in Wonderland would be heavily influenced by this scene 12 years later. In the opening minutes, Alice lies down (again, in grass) and dreamily sings “A World of My Own”. Both songs are about escaping. I love the soft focus of the background, allowing only Dorothy and the hay to be in clear view, her outside reality lost amidst the song.

And for my color shot:

Wizard of Oz 5

Everything near the Wicked Witch’s castle takes on a oppositional gloomy atmosphere from everything we’ve seen before. The stormy blue sky is a big part of that. It’s a dark but beautiful color. On the one hand, there’s the close proximity of the black shadow of veiny woods monopolizing the frame. On the other hand, there’s the very distant sky, far far off with Dorothy dangling above and moving swiftly towards the edge of the frame out of reach. The camera is trapped in overrun foliage. For the first time we are truly separated from Dorothy, if only for a brief moment.

Other shots in the running:

Wizard of Oz 3 Wizard of Oz 4 Wizard of Oz 6 Wizard of Oz 7

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4 thoughts on “Hit Me With Your Best Shot: The Wizard of Oz (1939)

  1. beautiful choices. I particularly LOVE the one of Dorothy turned away from the camera and the ball. How did i miss that? It’s so gorgeously evocative or her loneliness.

    1. Thanks Nathaniel! That shot with Dorothy and the crystal ball is really easy to miss because the moment lasts for like half a second when she turns away from the camera and the crystal ball is purple. It’s so brief. But I caught it, never really noticing it before, and it stuck out to me. Maybe because Judy Garland wears her emotions on her sleeve for so much of the film, openly crying and sobbing, breaking our hearts. So I love this rare moment when we can’t see it and she actually turns away. It’s a beautiful image.

  2. Anne Marie says:

    The more I look at the color shot you chose, the more fascinated I am by the subtle color variations in the sky. Considering three-color technology was only a few years old, that kind of subtlety is mind-blowing to me. I wouldn’t have even stopped to notice it, either. Great choice!

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