|One of the firs lessons we were taught in film criticism was to ask the question, "Why is this film being made now? Could this film have been made five years ago? Could this film have been made ten years ago?" Given that the original film with Judy Garland was made in 1939, these questions are particularly pertinent because such a wide span of time was possible before now for the film to have been made (especially since there have been so many remakes of the original and editions to the original stories). Yet the questions of why now? also applies to the 1939 film: Dorothy traveling to a far away land to do battle against an evil threatening others was clearly a political metaphor for the upcoming entrance of America into World War II and the fight against socialism (please see my full analysis of the film A Call To Arms: The Wizard Of Oz and World War II for more), and therein might lie the answer to why Oz has been made today, we are facing the same threats now that Americans were facing then. Far from ignoring the original film, Oz consistently works in elements it knows we are aware of, consciously establishing a bridge between the two films.|
The opening establishes that the setting is "Kansas, 1905" (I thought it would take place much later than that, closer to the Great Depression, like 1929), and we know serious global events were taking place during this time. Oscar mentions, when presenting his new young assistant with a music box, that his grandmother, a Tsarina, died in a battle, and the music box belonged to her. This scene is a perfect example of "noise" as an artistic device: because Oscar babbles words we don't understand (such as person and battle names), we can't process the information, so we tend to "marginalize" what we don't understand and we forget about it (think of a child learning to read who comes upon a word they don't understand, they skip over the word and go on, and that's what we do, too). The truth is, this is imperative information, just like Bane's speech in The Dark Knight Rises, so we have to understand what is taking place in this scene.
Battle of Mukden in which 10,000 Russian troops died in 3 days at the hands of the Japanese is probably the battle being referenced in the film (when Oscar's grandmother the Tsarina died), because--as a result of this and other failures--the Tsar, Nicholas II, "died" in granting a duma (a kind of democratic parliament for the people). This might seem controversial, however, it doesn't mean Oz advocates a monarchy, rather, it's an accurate examination of history and how socialism typically exploits set-backs and sufferings to advance its own platform. If you think this is stretching things a bit far, we have actually all ready seen this done in The Artist, another film employing black and white (like the opening sequences of Oz). Please recall in The Artist, that the Best Picture winner's first movie being watched as it opens is called A Russian Affair, during which George yells, "Free Georgia!" and he means the Russian Georgia that was under attack by the Bolsheviks to make it communist instead of letting it remain free (his next film was A German Affair about the Nazis; please see BANG! The Artist & the New Agenda In Film for more).
When Evanora takes Oz into the treasury (recently we were in another treasury, that of the giants' in Jack the Giant Slayer, and it's in the Treasury that Mike--Gerard Butler--works in Olympus Has Fallen), he slides and plays in the heaps of gold and picks up a golden chalice, asking what it is, which Evanora tells him it's a chalice, and he says, I always wanted one. Well, no, he hasn't always wanted a chalice, but he wants it now because now it's "his." But what exactly is the chalice? We know by juxtaposition, because just after Oscar discovers the chalice, he discovers the catch for getting all the gold of Oz.
|There is quite a bit about this scene to discuss. First, it follows Oz's and Finley's discussion about Oz "coming clean" and doing penance for lying to everyone about being the wizard; the well-placed image of the "horses of a different color" grazing in the background illustrate Oscar's own "chameleon" quality in adapting to situations, but also how these moments are making him the man he needs to become. Just because Oscar isn't the wizard at that moment, doesn't mean he isn't a wizard because everything we do in life prepares us for our destiny, and his decision to go to China Town reflects this. Its not just the Dutch-styled windmill in the background which alerts us to the Netherlands (remember, we saw this windmill in Jack the Giant Slayer being thrown), but the porcelain industry (the "China") which "builds up" the town, not only in terms of infrastructure, but the people and economy as well (the reference to China, the communist country, is a clever way of juxtaposing the two opposing economic models). The Netherlands are considered by historians to be the first capitalist economy in the world, with the world's oldest stock market, so the witch has "crashed" China Town for celebrating the arrival of the wizard and it's one of the towns inhabitants accompanying Oz in his journey. Again, Oz helping the China Girl to "stand again" is very much the "standing up" of American capitalism and the regaining of strength (please remember that women symbolize the passive element of the "motherland" and children symbolize the future, so China Girl--because she's from China Town symbolizing capitalism--symbolizes both by the film makers' stroke of genius). It's the glue that binds her leg, just as the act of binding her leg "binds" Oscar to her and why she grabs onto his leg when she wants to go "witch hunting" reminding him that "capitalists stick together" (which is what we saw in Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted; please see Trapeze Americano: Madagascar 3 & the Capitalist Circus for more).|
Which leads us to Theodora,...
It's probably obvious to us that Oscar wants money (Evanora has a symbol of Oscar's greed) but the love Oscar wants isn't as obvious. After all, doesn't the beautiful Annie come and want to be with him instead of John Gale? But Theodora's quick romance with Oscar (she only knows him a bit and assumes they will marry) reflects Oscar's own shallow interactions with women, with all people, because instead of loving Frank his assistant in the magic show, he gets angry with him, which is why Theodora--as the symbol of Oscar's bad relationships--wears red: red is both the color of love (because when we love someone we are willing to shed our [red] blood for them) and the color of anger (when we are angry with someone, we are willing to spill their blood to appease ourselves). Theodora goes from being beautiful in red to hideous in green; why?
Oz makes like he is making off with gold and escaping; what does that remind you of? Maybe the Wall Street bail out, the auto bail out, and even Bruce Wayne "not going broke" the way the rest of us do. The hot air balloon acts like a protective bubble, serving to feed our stereotypes that the rich are protected and don't feel economic pains like we do, and honestly, I probably agree with that, however, it's certain that rich people are a target, just as the balloon is, and their balloon is just as frail as ours, which explains Glinda's "bubbles": whereas Glinda in the 1939 original had more of an aura, we know today's Glinda has bubbles, because "bubble" is also an economic term, like the internet bubbles of the 1990s and the housing bubbles. Those bubbles aren't real sources of wealth, like some of us tend to view them ("If only I had cashed in on Yahoo! stocks," you might have said once) but only for show; the real base of Glinda's power comes from her wand, like the sceptre Oz tests for himself: the wand and the scepter are entrusted to them and can be taken away, so they have to prove themselves worthy of being good custodians.
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