Monday, 4 August 2008

Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas any more....

Mr Gnome's recent South Bank stroll made him aware of the glitzy summer-holiday production of The Wizard of Oz, playing at the Royal Festival Hall.

I've always been in two minds about the famous film on which the current show is based.

I saw it in May 1960 when it was already an old movie. The occasion was a school half-holiday to celebrate the wedding of HRH the Princess Margaret, a pint-sized celebrity whose life had more than a few features in common with that of the film's star.

The scenes that I find most compelling are those shot in black and white, set on the Kansas prairies, the 'home' from which Dorothy escapes (via a clonk on the head) to the migraine-inducing Technicolor dazzlement of Oz.

In a strange way I find these scenes infinitely more dreamlike than anything else in the movie: the careful 'planting' of the characters who will re-appear in new guises; the genuine terror induced by the fearsome Miss Gulch; the sense of inexorable progression to disaster as the clouds gather and the storm brews.

And, of course, the extraordinary moment when Dorothy starts to sing 'Over the Rainbow' - the beauty of the voice, the unaffected simplicity of the performance, all underpinned by the training of an artist who, at fifteen, was already a veteran.

And then off to Oz with its shrieking, bilious colour schemes - and the (ding dong!) dead witch (memorable striped stockings), and the arrival via bubble of the beyond-loopy, candy-floss pink 'Good Witch', with the finger-nails-on-glass voice.

And the Munchkins. I still find them unutterably weird and unappealing. Can't help it.

I loved the knockabout Lion and Scarecrow. But my favourite was the elegant, wistful Tin Woodsman - what troubles could underlie such sorrow and yearning?

The Witch? I always found her too speedy and frenetic to be truly scary. But she had style by the broomload, infinitely preferable to the pink crazy woman.

It's a bizarre, unique film. I've not seen another that comes anywhere near it in sheer bravura oddity. Perhaps that goes a little of the way to explaining why it attained and has kept its iconic status.

Having tasted this heady brew, it's nigh on impossible not to become, in one way or another, a friend of Dorothy.

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