Got talking about movies last night with friends over dinner and a comment was made about those moments in a movie that you remember time and again, those instances which prove to be magic for you. Most movies have them, to a greater or lesser degree. Among my favorites are:
— Han Solo arriving in the nick of time to help Luke destroy the Death Star. (“You’re all clear, kid. Now let’s blow this thing and go home!)
— The moment in Star Trek III when Enterprise is destroyed.
— Gene Kelly and his umbrella in “Singing in the Rain.”
— From the same movie, Donald O’Connor dancing up a wall.
— The tiny sideways flicker of Quint’s eyes when the fishing reel first clicks in “Jaws.”
But my all time favorite moment happened in the autumn of 1975, in Putney, Vermont when I saw “The Wizard of Oz” for the first time.
“The Wizard of Oz” premiered in 1939, a full eighteen years before I was born, but from the moment I was old enough to understand it even a little (probably circa 1962 or so), my mother sat me down to watch the yearly televised event. (Note to those of you who can’t remember life before videos and DVDs — sometimes we had to wait an entire year to see a beloved film, including all those Christmas specials you take for granted. Frustrating? You bet. But the anticipation was well worth it and made the moment special instead of routine.)
Year after year, I watched the adventures of Dorothy and her friends. When I was little, Bert Lahr’s Cowardly Lion ruled my heart (“If I…were the king…of the foreh-eh-eh-eh-eh-eh-eh-st!). When I grew older, it was Ray Bolger’s sweet-natured Scarecrow. I learned the songs by heart so I could sing along. I watched the movie so often, I knew most of the dialogue. But I’d never really seen the film.
Confused? It’s simple: Although the first color television became available in 1954, my family could in no way afford the hefty $1000 price tag. In fact, it was probably the very late 60s or early 70s before we bought our first color tv. You following me? Up until then, everything we watched was brought to us in black and white. By the time we purchased our first color set, I had (temporarily) out-grown “Wizard,” so I never watched it.
Fast forward to 1975 and the auditorium at Windham College where I’d seen a notice that they were going to show “Wizard.” Feeling a bit lonely and homesick, I thought to take it in. So there I was, seated in the middle of a mostly empty theatre, my feet up on the back of the seat in front of me. The movie starts out as expected and it’s all that I remember (except, of course, being much bigger than my accustomed television screen). The twister steals Dorothy and Toto and lands them — whump! Dorothy moves to the front door and slowly opens it…
And that’s where my jaw hit the floor and the five-year old who lives not very far beneath my surface came out to play because, of course, the door opens from black and white to COLOR! COLOR!!! I’d never known, never even guessed that Oz was in color! Drab Kansas vanished and rainbow-hued Oz took over. At last I saw that magical land as it was meant to be seen — and finally understood what the “Horse of a Different Color” was all about.
It’s not lost on me now that there were more than a few parallels between eighteen-year old me and young Dorothy Gale. Both of us wanted more out of life. Both of us itched to see the world. Like Dorothy, I was also standing on the threshold of an open door that led to a world of dreams…and dangers. Maybe watching her gave me the faith to take that first step. At any rate, I like to think so.