Thursday, 6 November 2014

Dial M For Movies: Always Look At Toto

Hello all,
So, here we are; the movie that started it all. On my birthday, I was given a copy of the 75th anniversary book on the making of The Wizard Of Oz. I was shocked to hear that my boyfriend couldn’t recall ever having seen the film. Shocked, I made it my mission to introduce my boyfriend to the weird and wonderful world of classic and important modern films. Never did I imagine that it would be I who would be the one most changed by this epic film marathon.
   As we began with Psycho, I was shocked to find that he didn’t like the film. His like for The Birds and Carrie softened this to a certain extent, but it was when I showed my boyfriend Halloween that I was truly tested. While I have been somewhat vocal about the effect this film has had on me (I regarded it as one of the scariest films when I reviewed it for the Halloween 13 last year), I was shocked to find that what had scared me made my boyfriend laugh. It shook me to the core and led to an important discussion with Finn about the nature of liking different things.
   As a gamer, he isn’t exactly a film geek like I am and I realised that my aim in showing films to my boyfriend (no matter how unconscious this thought process might have been) was to change his opinion of movies. I know realise this was a stupid and dangerous task for which I was setting myself up for failure and sadness. And I was very upset about the lukewarm reaction he had to Halloween.
   Usually after watching the film, we head to my bedroom and discuss his reaction and what he thinks about some of the key ideas and discussions related to critics’ examinations of the film. So, we went to my bedroom and sat down on my bed and he said, “It wasn’t too bad. To me, it wasn’t the best. I was kinda tired though.”
   But did it scare him?
   “It didn’t scare me at all. To me, Carrie was more suspenseful. It just didn’t hit it with me. Some of the acting in it was a bit off, seemed really cheesy sometimes.” And then, rather proudly, he said, “I didn’t even jump at half the jump scares.”
   And I just sat there, sort of in shock, and wrote what I was feeling (using my usual pseudonyms, of course), while Finn began to fall asleep on my pillow:

   David considered all the things he wanted to say. The words ran through his head. He played them out over and over and over again, yet his mouth remained closed. He realised that Sabrina would call him stupid; that Finn’s opinion was his own, that David was a different person, that that was what made them special. He should pit the pen down and move into Finn’s arms, but he couldn’t bring himself to do it. He knew it was stupid, but it felt like a strangely personal insult.
   “You still writing?” asks Finn.
   “Sort of,” David responds, trying to keep his voice in check.
   “You’ve been doing that for a while.”
   “Yeah,” says David. Finn doesn’t press the point.

   After about five minutes of just sitting there, not moving or doing anything, I realised that what I was doing was stupid and moved over to him and we talked. Very emotionally. Let’s just say, Finn has now seen me cry (actually, wait, he’s already seen me crying. But that was in a gutter. That’s a long story, though, for another day).
   “What if we’re too different?” I ask Finn, my voice breaking.
   He says we’re not, before holding me tight and then he said something that’s really stuck with me. “You don’t love me because I love games, do you?” I shook my head. “And I don’t love you because you love films.” It’s an exceedingly good point which calmed my brain down immensely. There’s also something else that I learned here.
   My parents are almost always frustrated with me because I don’t know Finn’s favourite colour or his favourite animal or what his favourite country is, and I feel incredibly guilty about this. But then, as someone very clever pointed out, that stuff’s not important. That’s first date stuff. What’s really important and says more about him as a person is that he will quite happily sit through a film he doesn’t enjoy simply because I like it and it means something to me. So, up yours, annoying judgy parents!
  Because of this load of feels and enlightened understanding of myself and my boyfriend’s relationship, I felt much better about showing him The Wizard Of Oz. It’s a film that I love, a film that helped me get through numerous depressing incidents in my life, a film that I could act out and yet still feel the need to watch it at least once every six months. It’s a film that I would put as one of my top five favourite movies, and would probably be closer to the top (in fact, I love this movie so much that I’ve had to enforce a sort of self-ban in that the next list I do, The Wizard Of Oz cannot be my number one film, simply because nothing could ever beat it). If I hadn’t accepted that just because he doesn’t like this movie doesn’t mean that he doesn’t love me, then this could’ve been somewhat apocalyptic. Thankfully, it was far from it.
   As usual, before I press play, I ask Finn what he knows of the film. “I know most things most people know about it, like the general plot of the movie, the story.”
   I nod and the film begins.
   “Dat sepia tone,” he remarks, before spotting some familiar faces. “He’s the one that plays the strawman. He’s the Lion. And the other guy’s the tin man.”
  “Very good,” I say, trying not to sound condescending.
   As the most famous song in the film, ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’, starts, I am shocked to find Finn singing along. Not because he’s a bad singer, but because he knows the words, obviously.
   “Toto is very distracting,” I say, as the little dog puts his paw out.
   “Yeah,” replies Finn. “I’m not looking at her. I’m looking at Toto.”
   Before long, however, Toto has gotten himself into quite a bit of trouble with a woman who Finn instantly recognises.
   “That’s the Wicked Witch! And that guy’s Oz!”
   He knows and I’m so proud, but my pride only increases when I remark upon the tornado effect in the background.
   Finn nods. “Even in the foreground, it’s really good. Like the wind effects.” Did I hear my boyfriend right? Did he just praise a classic film’s effects? So awesome.
   Later, Dorothy meets Glinda the Good Witch who has been summoned by the Munchkins as they’re not sure what kind of witch she is. All good witches are beautiful, while all the wicked witches are ugly.

   “So, they’re not sure if she’s beautiful or not?” asks Finn pointedly.
   As the film continues, I point out the various in-jokes, such as the hanging Munchkin (in the background of the tin man dance, there seems to be a blob which resembles a Munchkin hanging himself. Well, it would if the film hadn’t gone extensive restoration, revealing that the dead Munchkin is in fact a rather annoyed bird. “Crane,” Finn states) and Toto’s little paw of support (watch the bit after Dorothy slaps the Cowardly Lion. Toto’s paw is clearly seen resting on the Lion’s arm as if saying, ‘it’s okay, she didn’t mean it, although you were being a bit of an arse.’ Seriously, if you focus on Toto throughout the entire film, the experience completely changes, it’s amazing).
   It is probably excitement over Toto that leads me to misquote the Wicked Witch’s next scene; “Poppies,” which I misspoke as “Puppies. Puppies will put them to sleep.”
   “Puppies are more likely to keep them awake,” remarks Finn.
   However, it is in the scene where Toto runs away, that my boyfriend makes a truly illuminating discovery; “Toto is the embodiment of everything they’re missing. He’s got brains, heart and courage.” Genius boyfriend. I’d never thought of that before, that Toto was the example, as opposed to just Dorothy’s dog who occasionally has to run out of the way in order to avoid being trodden on.
   The Wicked Witch’s “beautiful wickedness” is eventually defeated by exceptionally poor planning, as Finn notes. Surely, the Witch whose greatest weakness is water would not just have it lying around for anyone to use. That’d be like Superman just having a lump of Kryptonite, just in case. So weird. Nope, I really don’t have an explanation for that.
   As the film concludes, I cautiously ask Finn his opinion.
   “It was good. It was a classic that I liked. I’m pretty sure that I’ve see but before.”
   “I was a bit concerned in showing you this film as, like Psycho, it has been imitated and referenced hundreds of times in pop culture. But this doesn’t seem to have happened here. Why do you think that is?”
   “It’s more story-based, more about what happens as opposed to creating suspense and shock.”
   “We usually talk about the soundtrack, what did you think of this film’s score?”
   “It was classic music. I know all the songs, not all the words like you do, but all the songs are fairly famous, so you can’t really expect anything new.”
   “And what did you think of the characters?”
   “The characters were all pretty good, nothing really annoying. You don’t really know much about them.”
   I suggest that this is possibly because they’re not really characters at all, more like archetypes.
   He nods, “You don’t really know much about them.”
  Getting to the meatier questions now, I ask him why he thinks this film has such a huge gay following, to such an extent that before gay and homosexual were common words, us gays used to call each other Friends of Dorothy.
   “I guess it’s very bright, very colourful. There’s connections with oppression [in regards to the Wicked Witch].”
   I remark that I also think it has something to do with the fact that the Lion is quite clearly gay (he self-identifies as a sissy), which leads me to a revelation. He is never forced to become stereotypical manly. By the conclusion of the film, he’s just as gay as before, just less judgemental about his own weakness.
   “Yeah, Oz seems a very freeing, accepting world, like a fantasy.”
   “But I always considered that the film’s central message, there’s no place like home, would have been something of a turn off for a gay individual, given the often difficult nature of home and family.”
   “Home is where the people you care about are and the people who care about you. Even Dorothy’s family is non-traditional, she’s worried about her aunt.”
   This idea of Dorothy’s non-traditional family is even more intriguing. It challenges notions of the importance of a mother and father and never explains where they are. Very intriguing and progressive.
   “Some people have complained that Dorothy’s decision to return to Kansas at the conclusion of the film is annoying, because who would leave the wonders of Oz behind? What do you think about this?”
   “She’s not able to stay in Oz because it’s her home.”
   Having explained a little as to why this film has such a gay following, I ask him why he thinks this film has such a global following. I struggle to think of another film that most people have seen. He suggests Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory (which is true) but apart from that there isn’t any other big ones. It’s particularly odd that Oz is so successful seeing it is a very American film.
   “It is very American,” agrees Finn. “There’s not really anything anyone could hate or dislike about it.”
   “Did you have a favourite scene?” I ask Finn, suddenly aware that I don’t have one. It’s all awesome. From a more critical perspective, this could be because there’s not actually that many scenes within the film, particularly after Dorothy lands in Oz. There’s Munchkinland, then the Scarecrow’s number, the Tin Man’s number, the Cowardly Lion’s number and the poppy fields. It’s actually very much like a play in that it has long scenes featuring only one set.
   “I don’t know if I can really pick a favourite, nothing really seems to stand out from the rest.”
   “How would you sum up your opinion of The Wizard Of Oz?”
  “I have seen it before, so nothing in it surprises me, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad because it’s not a film that relies on shock. I’d give it 4 stars, but Toto was the best.”
   This is literally awesome. Through my discussion of this classic film with my boyfriend, I gained yet more of an understanding of the film’s power and potentially intriguing easter eggs.
  So, while I may not (thankfully) be able to change my boyfriend, I can do much better, I can gain a new, fresh perspective on some of my favourite films of all time. And just because he doesn’t like it, doesn’t mean that it makes me think of it any less. I still love Halloween and I will always, always love The Wizard Of Oz. I just know which one to show my boyfriend again in the future.
   Next week's film will be another classic fantasy, but I'm tossing up between two, so watch this space!


Finn: 4/5
David: 5/5

David Gumball-Watson

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