A Century of Movies at the Alamo: The Wizard of Oz (1939) May 15th at 2pm and 6pm

Submitted by Joe

It’s hard to resist starting this post with something cliché like, “Tap your heels together three times and think to yourself, ‘There’s no place like the Alamo’,” or “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Bucksport anymore,” but I’ll try my darnedest. This weekend, continuing its Century of Movies series, the Alamo Theatre will be going OVER THE RAINBOW with two screenings of the classic 1939 MGM musical-fantasy film, The Wizard of Oz. After almost eighty years since its first showing in theatres, nearly sixty years of almost constant annual television airings, and decades of releases on every home video format known to humankind, the film remains a hugely popular and beloved piece of American pop culture.

VHS never looked so good!

(Image from VHSIsland.com)

It was a movie I first saw as a pre-schooler around the time of its 50th anniversary in 1989. My parents had kindly taped it off of TV for me to view, but (in my foggy 4-year-old's memory) I seem to recall that part of the film was missing, due to pausing the VCR during commercials and forgetting to unpause it quickly enough when the film returned. An incomplete recording just wouldn’t do, so my parents eventually bought me the official MGM VHS videotape (that glorious red box above). Since the movie contained the exact, scientifically perfect amount of Technicolor, Judy Garland and super creepy winged monkeys, I watched it over and over again, and my fascination with Oz had begun. It was solidified as an obsession when in Kindergarten I discovered the even better 1985 Disney sequel film, Return to Oz, which was based on the second and third Oz books by L. Frank Baum. Of course, I then became obsessed with the books, eventually obtaining all 40 “original” Oz books published from 1900 to 1963, plus dozens more (these book and video hoarding traits undoubtedly contributed to the film archivist I am today).

L. Frank Baum in 1911

(Photo by George Steckel for the Los Angeles Times, from Wikimedia Commons)

The original book series was hugely popular in its own right in the early 20th century, as child-me would find out, and there had also been a hit 1902 Broadway musical, as well as many film incarnations of Oz predating the 1939 MGM version. L. Frank Baum (1856-1919), the "Royal Historian of Oz" who wrote The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900) and the next 13 Oz books, was a founder of the Oz Film Manufacturing Company, an early Hollywood studio in 1914. He produced Oz films himself, some of which you may see clips from onscreen before we show the 1939 film. Although they were not hits, they provide a rare recorded view of an author’s vision of their own fantasy world (at least as was limited by 1910s silent film technology). Since the MGM musical film’s release in 1939, there have of course been endless Oz-related films, TV shows, musicals, books, comics, and merchandise (lions and tigers and bears, oh my, the merchandise!).

From a 1915 Moving Picture World review of His Majesty, The Scarecrow of Oz, an Oz Film Manufacturing Company film from 1914

I don’t know if children still watch The Wizard of Oz or if it’s becoming lost to younger generations, what with all the cable channels, YouTube and iPods, but I hope it won’t fade away (or melt, I guess). Being a person with a sentimental heart and an escapist-film-loving brain, it’s always wonderful to watch the film and go home again (to childhood, get it?)… also, courage.

Also, even more importantly, we will be showing the film on May 15th, L. Frank Baum’s 160th birthday. So, join us to celebrate his birth, the Oz phenomenon, and hear Oz collector and historian Willard Carroll discuss and answer your questions* about the Wonderful Wizard of Oz (*6pm show only)!