Hit Me With Your Best Shot: The Wizard Of Oz

I was almost giddy when The Film Experience chose The Wizard of Oz for the first “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” Challenge. “The answer is obvious!” I thought. “Everyone knows what the most Historic And Aesthetically Significant shot of this film is. This post will write itself!” Turns out that Historic And Aesthetically Significant shots are really hard to write about, precisely because they are Historic And Aesthetically Significant. So, instead I’m going to cheat by adding lots of pretty clips while I discuss my single favorite word in the English language: Technicolor.

The history of film color and the rise of Technicolor is a melodramatic tale worthy of its own Singin’ in the Rain-style musical. (Singin’ in the Rain, incidentally, was shot in Technicolor.) Highlights include a mad scientist, a lab in a boxcar, a nasty divorce, one woman’s rise to power, and the creation of a monopoly. However, this complex history can be pretty well summed up with a few clips.

This is film color before Technicolor:

And this is film color after Technicolor:

Two-Color Kodachrome is hauntingly beautiful in its own way, but it’s missing an entire third of the color wheel. Besides, most color movies were monstrosities of teal and orange. So again.

This is film color before Technicolor:

And this is film color after Technicolor:

(If this combination looks familiar, it’s because Martin Scorsese has made two movies based on the teal/orange color palettes of two-color film: Hugo and The Aviator. This, along with his commitment to preservation, is why I worship the man.)

The thing is, in order to grasp the significance of Technicolor, you don’t even need these four videos. In fact, you can sum it up in one shot. One Historic And Aesthetically Significant shot. And so I present the most obvious choice for Best Shot from The Wizard of Oz, which wordlessly explains what just took me four videos and about 100 words (starts at 37 seconds):

When Dorothy opens the door of her sepia-toned house to the Technicolor wonderland of Oz, the audience’s eyes, accustomed to brackish brown since the start of the movie, are overwhelmed. Though the full sequence will lead from this first shot, to Dorothy’s reaction, to a long tracking shot through the Munchkin village, at first we’re just teased with a corner of Munchkinland. Dorothy and the audience peek out, and the first bits of bright colors almost seem to explode onscreen. The audience becomes truly aware of color, and begins notice things: “The ground is yellow! Are those flowers pink? What else is there to see?” This moment is Technicolor saying, “You wanted real color, but we can give you better than real. We can give you magic.”

The best surprise of the shot is how well it works now, when color has become so ubiquitous as to be almost invisible. Al Jolson’s voice may not elicit cheers from silent theaters, and audiences don’t duck from Edison’s oncoming train anymore. We’re too used to the idea of sound and motion in film. We should be used to color too, seeing as it’s all around. But that carefully-crafted transition from brown to full Technicolor shocks us from our stupor and demands that we take notice.

In fact, this shot works so well that we might easily forget that The Wizard of Oz wasn’t the first Technicolor film. It was preceded by Snow White’s ruby apple, Miriam Hopkins’s outrageous gowns, Janet Gaynor’s red lips, and Errol Flynn’s emerald tights. But despite these precursors, we remember The Wizard Of Oz as the first and the best, because it makes us see, like Dorothy tells us, that we must be over the rainbow.

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About Anne Marie Kelly

Classic Film history & restoration nerd. Writer of A Year With Kate and Women's Pictures for The Film Experience. Follow me on Twitter @WeRecycleMovies.
This entry was posted in Film, Musicals and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Hit Me With Your Best Shot: The Wizard Of Oz

  1. Patrick says:

    That shot is probably the greatest shot in movie history!

  2. Nathaniel R says:

    thank you so much for doing this. I sometimes realize reading other movie blogs — like this piece right here — that I should learn more about the intricacies of film history because while i worship Technicolor i know nothing about its invention!

    • Anne Marie says:

      Thanks! If you ever get a spare hour, there’s a great short documentary called “Glorious Technicolor” that first got me hooked on the subject. And guess what shot it starts with!

  3. Lynmac says:

    Is there a missing video? The Technicolor one in example #1?

    • Anne Marie says:

      All of the videos are working on my browser. You should see #1 Two Color Kodachrome, #2 The Red Shoes Ballet, #3 Two Color Fashion Show, and #4 Singin’ In The Rain. Are you missing any of those?

  4. sona says:

    Another great film on my watchlist, the old ones are the best.

  5. Pingback: HMWYBS: Double Indemnity and LA Architecture | We Recycle Movies

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