The rules are simple as all heck: Nathaniel picks a movie, and anybody who damn well wants to plucks a screenshot from the same movie that is their pick for “best”, according to any possible justification for that word. It is easy to do, and it needs lots of contributors, especially given how many weeks last year had just a scant handful of folks taking part. I feel like I spent more time shilling for the series last year than anybody besides Nathaniel himself, because I enjoyed the ever-loving heck out of committing myself to watching each and every single movie that he assigned.
Or at least, selecting a still from every movie. There were movies that I had never seen, and so needed to watch, and movies that I hadn’t thought about enough to pick out a still without rewatching the whole thing, and then there were the movies where, the instant that I read the title, I knew exactly what shot I’d be using, and just dove right for it, not even bothering to go through the rest. And this season premiere film was one of those last. I hadn’t even finished reading the phrase The Wizard of Oz before my mind had already skipped ahead to “Yep, the crystal ball with Auntie Em. Slam dunk”.
As we all know, because the movie is one of the foundational texts of American cinema and I’m unable to deal with the thought that any of you haven’t seen it at least once, The Wizard of Oz is at heart about how nothing can be so wonderful and magical and impressive that it’s better than the quiet joy of home and family. Which is, arguably, a hypocritical stance for a movie whose primary claim to fame in 1939 as well as in 2013 is the excellence and scale of its fantasy splendor and its glowing Technicolor palette. But I’m not the one to make that argument, because Lordy, but the splendor and glow are both outstanding things, and you can’t argue with an ending that iconic, no matter what.
Anyway, this tension between the splashy and spectacular and the intimate is never better expressed than this really excellent little moment right before the film’s climax, in which the bright blue and white Dorothy Gale (Judy Garland, like you needed the clarification), surrounded by the grey and black of the Wicked Witch’s castle – there is throughout the whole film a pattern of visual conflict between Dorothy’s color’s and the witch’s colors – receives a brief visit from another world. Auntie Em (Clara Bundick) appears in the Witch’s crystal ball, and the implication is that she’s probably just an illusion sent to taunt Dorothy, but in the moment she’s there, neither we nor our protagonist are thinking in those terms. Instead, at the movie’s scariest and literally darkest scene, we get a little jolt of comfort: of literal warmth, as the sepia-toned Em is the warmest element of a very cold frame. In the midst of all the film’s wildly designed majesty, the thing that reminds Dorothy of what she’s searching for in all of the craziness is as plain and un-majestic as it comes, and this brief intrusion of hominess wonderfully sets up the film’s last stage, establishing the reasons why the simple and monochromatic final Kansas scene is a joyful comfort, despite being so plain.
I will also call your attention to the way that Dorothy and Auntie Em are facing in opposite directions as the crystal ball fades in (Dorthy very shortly turns to the crystal and starts pounding on it). I’m not certain exactly what to make of it, but I do enjoy the way that it looks something like a comic strip thought bubble creeping up on Dorothy: further stressing how Em and good ol’ brown Kansas are the mental anchor that gets Dorothy through her journey.
P.S. More visual analysis in my review of this film from my 2009 retrospective of 1939’s cinema, which, in all false modesty, I do think is one of the better things I’ve put my name to over the years.