The Wizard of Oz: Formal Success through Movement and Photography

The 1939 film The Wizard of Oz directed by Richard Thorpe has been a successful film for quite some time, although it wasn’t a hit at first. Formalist movies were relatively new and The Wizard of Oz took many risks when it comes to form. Movies prior to The Wizard of Oz tended to focus more on Realism. These films didn’t have all of the tools that the director for the Wizard of Oz had when creating the movie. The director dared to play with formalistic elements, making the film larger than what audiences were used to at the time. Many people consider this film to be a classic and for good reason. Even today, one can appreciate the formal elements of the film. Perhaps two of the biggest elements that have contributed to the success of the film are its use of photography and movement.

This film is jam packed with movement from the very beginning. We almost never see the characters sitting. Characters are nearly always moving forward with the plot. There is a continual expression of motion which makes this film art. These stylistic choices keep the viewer engaged. Audiences rarely have time to grow bored because their eyes are constantly moving from one movement to the next. Unsuccessful films may have less movement or tighter framing. The people photographed have less freedom of movement than those in a formalistic film would have.

The motion is always changing and varied. Some scenes may be slower while other scenes are fast motion. One of the most well-known fast-motion scenes is the twister scene. The motion in this scene is jerky and chaotic. Tumbleweeds and debris move at an alarming rate which allows the viewer to participate in the action with Dorothy and the other characters.

The song “If I Only Had a Brain” opens with scarecrow and Dorothy sitting, but not for long. They are soon up and moving again. The scarecrow resumes song and dance and Dorothy, although not dancing, is still moving. She and the other characters are very kinetic, as they always show large expressions like head shakes and nods. This keeps the viewers engaged. The big expressions encourage emotions within the viewer allowing them to feel connected to the characters. Feeling connected to a character is something that keeps readers engaged and makes for a successful film. Quite a few classic films are musicals such as Singin’ in the Rain, West Side Story and the Sound of Music, according to the American Film Institute. What all of these films have in common is that there is movement. Scenes are often fast pace and the setting is constantly changing.

Photography also plays a large role in the film. The Wizard of Oz is automatically considered formalism because it is a musical. It is stylistically flamboyant and gives the appearance that it’s larger than life. This distortion of reality makes the movie successful because viewers in their own lives sometimes seek something bigger than themselves.

This distorted reality is also shown through filters used by the cameras to blur background when main characters are speaking, this brings the subject of the scene to the foreground, making them prominent so that we may see their expressions up close and sometimes allows the viewer to feel more connected to that character which then allows the viewer to feel what the character is feeling. For example when the tin man is singing “If I Only Had a Heart” there is a close-up on his face and you can see the hope that he has in his smile. Today says “One way that we perceive emotion in film is through I process I call the Mirror Rule, which says that it’s a good idea to mimic the visual input that you’re seeing. So if you walk up to somebody and they smile at you, it’s good to smile back.”

This concept of mirrored expression is used in many elements of the Wizard of Oz. Again, the expression hope is shown through different lighting techniques. The contrast of dark and light colors can be a symbol for hope, the “light at the end of the tunnel”. Like the bright light in the dancing and singing scenes compared to the scenes of the twister or the forest. This bright light is sometimes introduced through a technique called wide view. When opening the door to Oz, the camera shoots wide to one again show grandeur which reinforces the musical drama and supports the form, this is also an over the shoulder shot which establishes point of view. We are meant to see what Dorothy is seeing because again, the director wants the viewer to see what the character is seeing. The success of this film is continually including the viewer in the ever-changing journey of these characters.

The Wizard of Oz is a classic because it took risks. It’s success is because of the director’s use of various elements. Two of the biggest elements being photography and movement. The characters are almost always moving around and so are the other elements in the scene. We see chaotic movement in the tornado scene and dancing scenes. These movements are sometimes fast and other times they’re slow but this movement keeps audiences engaged and connected to the film. Photography also plays a large role in the success of the film. The distortions and enhancements make for a larger than life film with artistic value. Life imitates art. So when the film is full of life and expression, viewers are going to mirror these feelings, leading them to feel good about themselves which results in the longevity of a film’s success.