For the Love of Oz

Posted on October 1, 2009 |

“I didn’t know people loved this movie so much,” I heard someone say at the end of it all. This past Tuesday, September 29th, I attended the Netflix launch celebration for the 70th Anniversary of the release of The Wizard of Oz.
2 hours prior to show2 Hours Prior to Show

2 Hours Prior to ShowMost people arrived around 5:30pm for a free, “wizzed-up” concert at 7:30. Performers included ?uestlove (from The Roots) with the Illadelphonics, Bilal, Jennifer Hough, and an awe-inspiring, soulful rendition of “Over the Rainbow” by Jennifer Hudson that left the 800+ crowd of Oz fans on their feet in Rumsey Playfield of Central Park that night. Not to be outdone, it was followed by a free, big-screening of the movie on the same lawn soon after.

Jennifer Hudson, "Over the Rainbow"Jennifer Hudson, “Over the Rainbow”

Wizard of Oz, Central Park

Bilal "When I Think of Home"Bilal “When I Think of Home”

The crowd was full of many, from various Oz experiences. There were some first-timers, such as Jerry, an NYU-freshman. His friends had dragged him to the park because they were “so ashamed” when he told them he had never seen it before. “It just never made my to-do list,” he said while grabbing for a bag of chips from their picnic spread. The lawn they sat on had the potential to become ruinous should a downpour occur (which the clouds had once promised earlier in the day.) But the cold of the grass was covered; filled with different blankets and sheets, basketed snacks, and fold-up chairs. There were old, skinny men with grey hair, young hipster kids with bright clothes, loud and belly-flopping attention-seekers, quiet and soft-spoken loners, loud groups of college students and friends, and of middle-aged, working women all embedded amongst the crowd with hundreds of other profiles.

I had expected to find a group of loud, annoying, obnoxious school kids at the event, but their absence made for a better night. Even so– the crowd was childish enough in their display of love for the movie. The Wizard of Oz was released August 15th, 1939. I was first introduced to it around 1996 or so- over 50 years later. My sister and I would consider ourselves huge fans, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say fanatics. Yes– we know every song, almost every line, and will quickly turn on you if you have something negative to say about it. But I found out on this night, we are definitely not the only ones, and DEFINITELY not the worst!

He did not give me his real name, but proudly referred to himself as "Sambo Green."He did not give me his real name, but proudly referred to himself as “Sambo Green.”

“I knew no one else would dress up as him. Where else could I bring out this outfit and this top hat?” All dolled up in green, it was no mistake he was taking upon a role in one of my favorite scenes of the movie- Emerald City. “It’s the livest, brightest part of the whole thing! I think it’s even better than the munchkins.”

Though there were others dressed up as characters, most of them were part of the production. The grittiest fans looked the most normal. His name was Joshua, but he had “always wanted to be named Dorothy.” He was a bit overweight, but cuddly at best, had on a red outfit with red loafers, sat in a lawn chair, surrounded by a bottle of wine (which was prohibited), a scruffy brown blanket, and a few bags of chips, with remnants of fries and cheeseburgers in the air. After the concert, he made himself known during the screening of the movie. He boo’d, yelled and sissed at the Wicked Witch, whimpered for Toto, clapped for the Glenda the Good Witch, growled at the Cowardly Lion, and threw commands at Dorothy; “SMACK HER! SMACK HER!”

But he wasn’t the only one. The rest of the crowd got into it as well. (Maybe not as extreme with the comments, but defnitely participated in the excitement.) I found him to be overtly obnoxious, and figured he was just gasping for attention (which he was,) but he was more than a theatrical show. “Instead, I named my dog Toto. He couldn’t be here tonight,” he said while sipping from his glass. “I always loved this movie, AND ALWAYS WILL, because it’s more than a long kiss and a fairytale dream bullshit that we see in the movie theatre every year. It’s excitement, fear, pain, and… it’s… more than a good story. It’s a good lesson. Come on!” He gleefully yelled, while others applauded and laughed at the movie. “She just said ‘Only bad witches are ugly!’ That’s like my life’s motto. Well, switch the witch to bitch and you got it!”

The occassion was obviously a promotional one- for the digitally remastered version which is to be released on October 3rd, and for a one-time free screening from any computer nation-wide on Netflix.  That may have been the goal of advertisement, but for the lots of people who attended, it was simply for a joyous occassion. There was Mini, 24, who fell in love with Dorothy’s ruby slippers as a child, and got into ballet because her mom told her it could give her the “lightweight” effect of clicking heels. Jordan, 27, told of his favorite scene with the Talking Trees throwing apples, because it gave him an excuse to tell his mother why he wouldn’t eat them- “trees are mean, and you say that being mean isn’t nice,” he laughed.

The stories are endless, just as the movie is everlasting. This movie didn’t become what it is solely because of the record breaking production, but because of what lies embedded within the story. Those people didn’t go out to simply hear a free concert, or to see a free movie, but to experience, with hundreds alike, the magic of the Wizard of Oz and the unity of which the arts brings to life daily.

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