Posts Tagged ‘The Wizard of Oz’

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Until Jessica Lange emerged as the Supreme in American Horror Story: Coven, my life had lacked the presence of modern witchcraft, and admittedly this had gone unnoticed. For decades I have surrounded myself with my own coven of crafty conjurers, and it’s been quite some time since I have initiated any new members. Lange’s Fiona Goode is blessed with style, wit, and absolutely zero patience for those who attempt, unsuccessfully, to outsass her. Your welcoming to The Ticket Booth’s coven is long overdue, Fiona . . . please come meet the rest of the girls.

 

Jennifer, I Married a Witch (1942):

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Bolts of lightning probably followed Veronica Lake wherever she went, and Samantha Stephens can’t hog all the attention – I think we need more blond witches out there.

 

Endora, Bewitched (1964–1972):

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If Endora ever lost her powers in some freak curse or power outage, undoubtedly the fashion house that she would open to function as a mortal would lead her to world domination. Ah, Agnes Moorehead and her eyeshadow for days . . . the show hinted at some interesting points about prejudices that American Horror Story: Coven would violently incorporate decades later.

 

Carrie White, Carrie (1976):

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Since the late 1930s, witches tend to joke about the whole “dumping buckets of liquid on them” situation, but Carrie has no sense of humor when it comes to that kind of thing.

 

Princess Mombi, Return to Oz (1985):

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A blond witch at times, I guess . . . Jean Marsh’s demonic portrayal of Mombi and her habitual head swapping had children of the 80s hitting the fast-forward button just to make it end. I, instead, elected to rewind. A dear friend of Alice’s Queen of Hearts, this one.

 

Alex, Jane, and Sukie, The Witches of Eastwick (1987):

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With Pfeiffer popping up in here, maybe the list is filled with Goldilockses! The film that either ruined or enchanted the act of eating cherries also reminds me that, in fact, Cher is not a foot taller than Jack Nicholson. Why do I have that idea in my head as an uncontested truth?

 

Ursula the Sea Witch, The Little Mermaid (1989):

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It’s never easy to select only one villain from Disney’s powder room, but let’s go with the one who has “witch” on her birth certificate. I will never forget sitting in the movie theatre during a friend’s ninth birthday and thinking, “This isn’t how the story goes.” The 1975 Japanese anime film was “Mermaid truth” to me, and its Sea Witch had no motive other than to cause pain and heartbreak. Yes, when Ursula started singing, the truth was rewritten for me and coven admission was granted, but we all know that she stole her color scheme from her predecessor.

 

Miranda, Wicked Stepmother (1989):

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Because she’s Bette Davis, so shut up about it.

 

Miss Ernst/The Grand High Witch, The Witches (1990):

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Aside from yours truly, writers are a stubborn, picky, unyielding squad of artists who refuse to have their visions tampered with by any mortal, mere or miraculous. Therefore it thaws out our hearts to hear that Roald Dahl fully supported the casting of Anjelica Huston as his Grand High Witch. An offensive Oscar snub for both the actress and her makeup team.

 

Lisle Von Rhuman, Death Becomes Her (1992):

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She is the one who understands; she is the one who knows your secret. What we will never understand is the spell that she used to keep those beads in place for a PG-13 rating. Clearly the witchcraft of Miss Isabella Rossellini is one of our coven’s most advanced and mysterious. Maybe it’s genetic . . .

 

The Sanderson Sisters, Hocus Pocus (1993):

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The Internet machines have teased us with rumors of sequels and musicals, but alas, nothing. Damn, damn, double damn! Now if only I could find truth to the other rumors I’m hearing (or did I start them?) about Bette Midler and a biopic of Mae West.

 

Then, of course, there’s the original Supreme. I believe you’ve been introduced . . .

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Happy Halloween!

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Time goes by so slowly . . . at least this week. In a few days one of my closest of the close friends flies in to join me at my beloved San Francisco Symphony. Once again I took the liberty of freelancing for the Symphony’s marketing department and convinced an out-of-towner to join me on my third viewing of The Wizard of Oz (1939). Convinced that someone should write a children’s book about our friendship, my friend and I constantly exchange movie quote texts and articles from The Huffington Post that put a “cheer up, Charlie” spin on our days, hiding the deep sadness that life has put 1,500 miles between our cities of residence. Yes, we measured; we’re that close.

Showing up on my Internet machine recently was an article posted by a publisher that I happen to work with during my nine to fiver. Although I could appreciate both its style and content, deep inside of me was the ornery old businessman who stubbornly kept my mind in the office. This grumbly old man refused to let down the work wall and appreciate a clever little article about Mary Poppins and her former employer. In place of humor, the sight of the publisher’s name only fueled my fury over how habitually they missed deadlines for the selling season on which my team was already working. I began to wonder how on earth I would be able to slot their titles into a Children’s catalog that has already been paginated or how many months it would be until they sent cover images that we could feed to Amazon and Barnes & Noble. From a harmless article sent to me with the best and most loving of intentions, I felt nothing but work frustration – the flower in my lapel had been torn and withered in my coat. My top hat had been punched and placed back on my head. Over time I had let this publisher turn me into Mr. Banks.

Ever close your eyes in an attempt to banish a thought from your mind? It doesn’t work.

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The story of P. L. Travers and her frustrated efforts of transitioning Mary from page to screen have become well known through the film Saving Mr. Banks (2013), for which Emma Thompson should have received an Oscar nomination. Yes, that evening I would have sent Cate Blanchett home with the gold for Blue Jasmine (2013), but a Thompson nomination was deserved and would have been kindhearted of the Academy. Seriously, bring the Kleenex for that ending. I am no expert on the history of Ms. Travers and Mr. Disney’s relationship, so I can’t speak to the film’s accuracy, but for me it provides a broad background for those who are unfamiliar with Disney’s struggle for a film adaptation. An added bonus was Emma Thompson’s Travers finding Tom Hanks as irritating as I do these days, hence my ruffled Oscar feathers. If you have never seen Mary Poppins (1964), first please send me your parents’ phone number so I can have a little chat with them – and don’t give me that “we didn’t rot our brains with television” hogwash – and then please stop reading. The ending of Mary Poppins is an incredibly sensitive subject for those of us who idolized both the character and the actress that sang her to life. You have been given your spoiler alert, and you may now choose for yourself. I’ll be here when you get back, and Mary, who celebrated her 50th anniversary this year, certainly isn’t going anywhere. Why would she leave? What possible reason would Mary have for abandoning us?

Let us begin with the end. Mary Poppins (1964) was the first unhappy ending to crawl across my screen and slap me with the cold, cruel hand of disappointment. Mary arrives gracefully dancing on the wind like she owns it and breathes both life and magic into the Banks household. Successively Mr. Banks becomes a devoted father and husband; his children, with the help of Mary and Bert, come to have a new understanding of their father’s demons; and Mrs. Banks . . . well . . . no major changes for Sister Suffragette, but her daughter’s daughters will adore her. Happiness could not possibly reach greater heights for the Banks clan in the film’s finale, while, only a few blocks away, Mary prepares to open her umbrella and fly over the kites of familial love that decorate the London skies. To rational adults and perhaps the more mature younger viewers, this ending is indeed a happy one, as a family is united, a father’s cold heart is melted, and otherwise ignored children are flooded with the love of now attentive parents. As an inarticulate six-year-old, all I could think is, “Happy shmappy.”

My blue umbrella had a handle that somewhat resembled a cat (or was a squirrel?), and in no way did that shade of 80s blue couple with the purple plastic beach bag in which I placed a scarf, a hand mirror, and Mom’s black pumps with the little bows. I would not have the guts to wear red until I was out of college, so the scarf was a blue that absolutely conflicted with the umbrella, but no matter – I knew what my $1.99 drag queen outfit represented, and with no competition surrounding me, not only was I secure and confident in my Poppins accouterments, I also had no misgivings of Mary’s guaranteed approval, if only she could see me. However strong my devotion to wardrobe and attempt at mimicking the elegant accent of Ms. Julie Andrews, alas I could not change the course of events. A happy family, a mended kite, an outraged umbrella head – this extraordinarily powerful woman who donned the sass of a villain but the hat of a hero had changed the winds and left the Banks children forever. I’m sorry . . . she what?!? I should have dressed up as that umbrella head, since I agreed with his every word. If I had been more athletic, I just may have thrown my cat umbrella handle (good gravy, or was it a squirrel?) at the television. Choosing their parents over the woman who took their hands and jumped into chalk drawings? The woman who led and won a carousel horse race? The woman who chaperoned tea parties on the ceiling and a chimney-sweep dance party on the roofs on London? That’s gratitude for you, but that’s as it should be – those magical people who float into our lives and change us for the better may one day catch the next wind that takes them 1,500 miles away. But if we’re lucky, the very thought of them makes us smile and laugh at inappropriate moments, slaying the grumbly old man inside us.

Only minutes ago, as I watched Michael yell “Now!” while Mr. Banks tossed the mended kite into the sky, I felt the flower in my lapel perk up slightly, perhaps absorbing a tear or two. I can’t say for sure, but it feels like the winds are changing.

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Academy Awards for Mary Poppins (1965): Best Actress in a Leading Role, Best Original Song (“Chim Chim Cher-ee”), Best Original Score, Best Film Editing, Best Special Visual Effects

Add Mary Poppins to your queue.

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My jolly good fun friend Jessica and I were working our way through a delicious round two at our favorite wine bar when a thought dropped out of the sky and crushed me, right there in my fabulous shoes. I was debating my options for the following day over a glass of Pinot noir (one that turned out to be too easy to drink); either I was going to get all the work done that I had taken home that evening, or I was going to take advantage of the sunny day and see the latest film adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s Oz stories. Due to lack of leadership from the men and women behind the curtain, work has been cycloning out of control lately, so the choice was pretty clear to Jessica, me, and our empty wine glasses. Despite low expectations, the next afternoon somehow I found myself standing in line at the box office. Eating away at me more than the criminal ticket price—a price that would give Mom nightmares for a month—was that single thought from the previous evening, just as haunting sober as it was sloshy: the Wicked Witch of the West is not supposed to have cleavage.

Launching the Land of Oz and its inhabitants into the future hopefully keeps alive our precious 1939 classic, and viewing the returns to Oz with any sense of competition borders slightly on the absurd. How does one compare Fairuza Balk to Judy Garland or Kristin Chenoweth to Billie Burke . . . and doing so even necessary? From page to screen or page to stage, magic comes in many forms, and no two actors will interpret a character in precisely the same way. That said, this recent reincarnation of the West’s best was anything but. Remember when the science majors had to fulfill an arts requirement before graduation and ended up looking bored and stiff in their drama class productions? Scenes went on too long while plots and backstories were revealed too quickly, and above all, it felt disrespectful to the late and great Margaret Hamilton. At least her costume designers had the decency to cover up her lady parts. Rounding out the group and giving Oz its latest makeover was a politically correct and diverse ensemble of extras from around the globe . . . an issue with which I always have, if you’ll pardon the expression, mixed feelings. When I can see the effort, its intended effect is ruined.

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Tears don’t come to me nearly as easily as they did when I was a child. That quirky little boy cried at anything and everything, so maybe the water supply evaporated all too quickly in my early years. These days when I feel a tear roll down my cheek, I tend to look up at the ceiling to see if the roof is leaking. There must be a “heartstrings safety net” that Oz filmmakers bank on when they slam us with prequels, sequels, and remakes . . . subtle reminders of my attachment to MGM’s 1939 masterpiece can’t help but stir up my dusty tear ducts. Miraculously my eyes may have experienced a heavy mist at times, but no tears actually flowed during this latest revision. An unusual reference to Snow White and original makeup tests for early visions of 1939’s witch were oddly placed and practically ruined a scene for which I had been waiting an hour. With a hunched posture and flimsy foot placement, this newest Witch of the West looked incredibly uncomfortable on her broom. Not once did I feel drawn to any of the female villains, and believe you me, that’s the acid test ‘round these parts. As I should have said to every girl I ever kissed, this isn’t working for me! A good witch performance is judged by how much my brutally honest child within longs to emulate both the character and the actress:

Margaret Hamilton, check!

Idina Menzel, check!

Cher, Susan Sarandon and Michelle Pfeiffer, check!

Angelica Huston (hey, I guess witches can have cleavage), check !

This latest group of gals in Oz the Great and Powerful . . . we appreciate your efforts. I applaud anyone who has the courage not only to get in front of an audience but also reinterpret any roles as iconic as these. But ladies, these things must be done delicately, or you hurt the spell.

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Last Sunday Judy Garland would have turned 90 years old. I’ve long taken care of fawning over our beloved Judy, so this year I’ll let another voice chime in, one that’s slightly better than mine.

I have been fortunate to have spent some fantastic evenings at Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco. Highly enjoyable were the special screenings of Psycho, Casablanca, and The Wizard of Oz, during which the symphony provides the musical score. These were indeed impossible acts to follow, but eventually Liza Minnelli and her sequins popped in for a visit, and we all know how that went over for me. A few nights ago, I dyed my eyes to match my gown and floated down Van Ness Avenue to see Idina Menzel perform barefoot at the symphony . . . since then, I’ve been bragging about the experience to anyone who throws me even the most insincere form of “how are you?” This conversation starter of mine has a “hey look at my vacation slides” feel to it, yes, and it turned out that quite a number of folks had never heard of Miss Menzel. Tempting it was to burn for all of them a copy of a certain musical, but I was fresh out of the green CDs I buy at Walgreens . . . and, oh yes, apparently no one plays CDs anymore. It was in Wicked that the great Idina Menzel originated the role of Elphaba, the (un)fairly skinned young lady who is both forced into and chooses to become the Wicked Witch of the West. My abiding love for and attachment to this character matches the Witch’s own stubbornness in strength and is not to be mocked, particularly when discussing Margaret Hamilton’s should-have-won-an-Oscar performance in 1939.

Chills and goose bumps . . . so good you want to melt in your seat, but you stop yourself because you don’t want to miss the rest of her show. With and without a microphone, on stage and dashing through the aisles, Idina Menzel’s is a truly remarkable voice to hear and to feel. When the lights went down, I still could see her come out in the dark and stand behind her orchestra, the luminescence of her white dress refusing to remain in the dark. When the lights came up, Idina remained at the back of the stage and slowly the lyrics of her first song floated up to the first tier and found my well-guarded tear ducts: “Somewhere over the rainbow, way up high . . .” That witch!

I’m always impressed by anyone brave enough to sing this untouchable song outside the privacy of a car or shower. As expected, not only is Miss Menzel capable of nailing it, but she also brought tears to my usually dry eyes with the unique attachment that she now has to Oz and to Judy Garland. She went on to wallop us with numbers from Wicked, Rent, Cole Porter, and a bit of Barbra here and there, but with a single verse and chorus from “Over the Rainbow,” I surrendered to the Witch. Idina Menzel is more than just an unbelievable bundle of talent . . . you’ll believe in more than that before she’s finished with you.

Here’s to Judy on her 90th birthday, and here’s to one of her many courageous songs that continues to melt our hearts and minds . . . oh my!

Add Judy to your queue.

Spoiler Alert — If you’ve never seen Psycho, I must insist, out of respect for Mr. Hitchcock, Mr. Perkins, and Miss Leigh, that you read to the end of this paragraph and then call it a day. About two months ago, I began to think about how best to tackle such a masterpiece as Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. This was primarily because I had invited my family to come visit the Bay Area, as the San Francisco Symphony was going to perform Bernard Herrmann’s score for the film. We had gone to see the San Francisco Symphony do The Wizard of Oz (1939) about a year ago, and it is a truly remarkable experience. The musicians sit below a large movie screen that shows an entire movie with its dialogue only. The symphony provides the film’s full score, and trust me, when performed live, the Wicked Witch of the West’s theme music provided me with some wonderfully familiar smiles. So when I discovered that the beloved San Francisco Symphony was planning to do Psycho, I knew I had to get the family up here. As with The Wizard of Oz, I assumed the audience was pretty familiar with Norman Bates, his mother, and their motel showers; perhaps all moviegoers can’t recite the film from memory like a certain crazy film blogger, but I really believed that the majority of the audience knew in which direction certain scenes were headed. And if not, they at least knew how the film came to its wonderful close . . . I was wrong. The startled reactions that consisted of gasping, screaming, and even a kick or two were, in turn, what startled me — it never even entered my mind that Psycho’s storyline would surprise anyone these days. A part of me was a wee bit jealous of those who were experiencing (or re-experiencing) it for the first time. When it was first released in 1960, Mr. Hitchcock demanded that movie theatres refuse admission to those who showed up after the film had begun — oh, how I wished I could do the same when I worked at Beach Blanket Babylon in San Francisco. So again I beg you on behalf of all those who helped make it the masterpiece that it is, stop reading for now, pop yourself some corn, and treat yourself to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho from the very beginning . . . I’ll still be here.

If you’ve moved beyond my spoiler alert (there’s still time!), I’m guessing I don’t need to supply much of a plot summary — Marion Crane steals $40,000, hits the road, and stops at the Bates Motel for some rest, a meal, and perhaps the world of indoor plumbing’s most celebrated shower. Marion’s sister, boyfriend, and a private detective attempt to track her down and stumble into the Freudian world of Norman Bates and his mother. Originally stemming from a book by Robert Bloch, the idea to move from page to screen came about via Mr. Hitchcock’s weekly readings with his secretary of the New York Times Book Review. Joseph Stefano — who later battled the censor’s office over the film’s use of the word “transvestite,” not to mention the appearance of the first flushing toilet in film history — wrote a script that focused much more on the character of Marion (“Mary” in the book) than on Norman. When Mr. Hitchcock told Stefano that Alma read part of the script liked it, Stefano must have known it was going to be a success — from what I’ve learned, it was Alma Hitchcock who gave the last word on almost everything her husband brought to the screen.

After reading the story’s new treatment, Mr. Hitchcock felt certain that he could get a star to play Marion; he knew that since the poor girl is killed off about 45 minutes into the film, this would definitely throw even the sharpest audience off its game. According to her book, Miss Janet Leigh was the first actress to receive a copy of Robert Bloch’s book along with a definite offer from Mr. Hitchcock. Mr. Bloch’s original Norman Bates in an overweight, balding alcoholic, a character for whom the filmmakers did not believe audiences would feel sympathy. A few tweaks here and there allowed for the slim, young, and boyishly handsome Mr. Anthony Perkins to step into the role that, for better or worse, came to define his career.

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My first memory of Psycho is actually by way of another childhood classic . . . that is, a classic according to my family. My parents had taped the movie Meatballs (1979) off of TV at some point, and it became another regular in our loop of “Over and Overs.” Like The Wizard of Oz and our beloved Soap, the VHS of Meatballs had some wonderful commercials from the late 70s and early 80s. Naturally my favorite was the “Where’s the beef?” Wendy’s lady (whose husky voice convinced me that she was actually a man — my first drag queen, perhaps?). Two of those commercials stand out as some of my most terrifying childhood moments, along with Bette Davis as Baby Jane and Carol Burnett as Miss Hannigan. The first commercial was for a late showing of The Birds (1963), and I can still remember a scene with a group of children running from Mr. Hitchcock’s winged killers. The other commercial, in what must have been part of a delicious marathon, was for Psycho and showed Miss Janet Leigh screaming as her shower curtain was flung open. All that combined with the deep, dark voice of the station announcer (unless it was really the “Where’s the beef?” lady) was enough for me to put Psycho on the back burner for years. Thankfully I grew old enough to reach that silly burner and move Psycho to its deserving spot up front.

Evidently there are only two required elements that make up a truly terrifying moment on-screen — water and music. Steven Spielberg’s malfunctioning shark would not have kept me out of a pool’s deep end without John Williams’ brilliant score for Jaws (1975). The vulnerable freedom that water provides, be it in the ocean or in the shower, is truly terrifying even in the absence of sound. But when those music notes sliced through the shower curtain or burst up from below the ocean’s surface, I imagine movie theatre owners across the globe discovered how best to remove urine stains from their cushioned seats. The seven days that Miss Janet Leigh spent shooting in that shower certainly paid off. The 70-odd takes were pieced together with Mr. Herrmann’s score in a beautiful marriage of music of murder, and 15 years before John Williams and that shark dragged their first victim below the surface, Alfred Hitchcock and Bernard Herrmann showed us what it really meant to be afraid of the water. When Mr. Hitchcock finally found the perfect stunt double for Miss Leigh, it turned out to be a melon. Apparently he was hunting for something that would provide the perfect sound for when the poor dear is fatally stabbed. When the blue-prize melon was chosen, what else could it bleed but chocolate syrup, and that’s what we see running down the shower drain. Why Hollywood later chose to remake this movie in color, I’ll never understand.

Stories have always floated around about how Janet Leigh rarely (or never) took showers after filming Psycho. If there was no other way to bathe, Miss Leigh would make sure the doors and windows of whatever building she was in were locked, the bathroom door remained open, as did the shower door (or curtain, heaven forbid,) so she could have a clear view of the bathroom. Once in the shower, she would always face the bathroom door, despite the location of the shower head. I imagine the floods that must have built up on the floor were a greater hazard than any other physical danger, but we all have our meshugas. However accurate these tales of Miss Leigh’s bathing habits are (a part of me is slightly suspicious), she claimed that they set in after she saw the completed film, not during production.

Watching Marion come to the end of the road during her soul-cleansing shower leads me easily into a brief examination of movie violence. When film blood and guts are shoved in my face, my imagination is held back from creating a frightening image of its own — and those are the images that keep me up at night. Film violence that’s a bit more withheld stays with me and creeps into my head much more than when it’s handed to me on a bloody (s)platter. In reference to both the violence and sexuality of Psycho, Miss Leigh said that Mr. Hitchcock “allowed the audience to create what they thought they saw,” and using this explanation was a perfect tool for arguing with the fools in the censor’s office. I love to imagine him saying something like “you didn’t see a breast; you only thought you did.” We never actually see the Bates kitchen knife make contact with Marion’s body; the camera cuts (ha-ha) are so fast that for me, it’s actually the music and the melon that bring the murder scene to life. The music that lines up so perfectly with the cuts of the camera proves to me every time I watch it that the graphic violence isn’t always necessary — all I need for good old-fashioned movie fright is some violent music and the sound of the right fruit.

When the audience at the San Francisco Symphony saw “Phoenix, Arizona” flash across Psycho’s opening scene, the hissing darted from row to row, immediately followed by laughter. Arizona has recently left a bad taste in our mouths due to silly immigration laws, and yet after the hissing, we smiled over the one thought we all shared: “Oh San Francisco. . . !” Our evening at the symphony allowed me an opportunity for another one of my favorite thoughts — “I forgot how good this movie is!” Triggered by Bernard Herrmann’s score (which consists only of strings), my heart gets goose bumps — you know those times when you’re sitting still, and then suddenly it feels like you’re on a roller coaster that just took a sudden dip? That’s what I call a goose-bumped heart, and there it was again, only two chords into the film’s opening credits. It reminded me of the only scientific thing I can remember from college; a word I always loved but could never get off my tongue’s runway is “synesthesia,” (when normally separate senses are not separate but instead cross-wired — sight may mingle with sound, for example). If I controlled the dictionary, the more fitting definition would be “Bernard Herrmann’s score for Psycho,” music that I can’t help but feel when I hear it. Mr. Herrmann more than deserved an Oscar for his score, but apparently he was too good for even a nomination, goose-bumped hearts be damned!

Like so many before me, I could go on and on dissecting the shower scene, but really I don’t know enough about the technical side of film production to be of much use. I’m sure I can dig up a few books of quality for your reading pleasure. But I must move to the other side of the shower curtain and pay respects to dear Mrs. Bates and her son. Another performance that was just too good to even receive an Oscar nomination was that of Mr. Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates. Everything from his little-boy body language and stutter to his graceful facial expressions give Norman Bates the frightening charm that forever associated Mr. Perkins with Hitchcock, showers, and movie murders. As wonderfully creepy as he is, I think Mr. Perkins adds so much to the fright of the film with the realistic bits of humor that are thrown in by the Bates family.

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In this, one of history’s greatest suspense films, are some lines that do nothing but crack me up. When Marion first arrives at the Bates Motel and overhears Norman arguing with mother, Mrs. Bates informs her son, “I refuse speak of disgusting things, because they disgust me!” Since Mr. Hitchcock did not want audiences putting the pieces together too early, Anthony Perkins did not supply Mrs. Bates with her voice. Some reports explain that it was a combination of actors and actresses, and elsewhere I’ve heard it was only one woman. Because sometimes I laugh at uncomfortable situations, and other times I laugh when cranky old women are funny (especially when they’re really men), Psycho and its sprinkling of humor are not to be overlooked! When Norman goes to tell Mother she needs to hide in the cellar, Mrs. Bates screams at her son, “No! I will not hide in the fruit cellar. Ah-ha, y’think I’m fruity, huh? I’m staying right here!” Because he forces us to imagine what this conversation looks like, as we only hear it taking place, again I believe the power of Psycho lies in what Hitchcock decided to withhold from us, be it violence, humor, sexuality, or psychotic behavior.

So after all that, why should you watch it again? The more I write, the more I come to realize that “just because it’s a classic” is not an acceptable reason for me — that reason led me towards a number of films that I found less than enjoyable. Psycho, however, is one of those wines that only gets better with age (or do all wines do that?). It still makes me want to shout “For the love of God, don’t get in that shower,” or “Whatever you do, don’t go up to that house!” I must extend enormous thanks to the San Francisco Symphony for reminding me of Psycho’s ability to decorate my heart with goose bumps after all these years. From the overall beauty of a black-and-white film and its chocolate syrup blood to Mr. Hitchcock’s masterful skills that force me to shift sympathy from a victim to her murderer in a matter of seconds; from violence that, by modern standards, is only hinted at but sparks my imagination to no end, to the mesmerizing performances of Mr. Anthony Perkins and Miss Janet Leigh — these are just a few of the countless reasons why I recommend Psycho to you all. I hope you do watch. You’ll see . . . you’ll see, and you’ll know, and you’ll say “Why she wouldn’t even harm a fly . . .”

Add it to your queue.

Exactly 88 years ago today, Frances Ethel Gumm was born into a family of performers and found her way to the stage before she turned three. The little girl with the huge voice signed a contract with MGM when she was 13, and at 16, her immortality was insured when a cyclone swept down and blew her house over the rainbow.

Never has a voice crawled into my heart like Miss Judy Garland’s. I’ve paid my respects previously with entries on The Wizard of Oz and A Star Is Born, but I see no reason not to toast, once again, the voice that was just too good for this world. Happy birthday, Baby Gumm!

As our beloved Miss Garland discovered, the Yellow Brick Road is the perfect place to begin a journey into the unknown, especially when said journey is into the world of old movies. For many, The Wizard of Oz has followed us from childhood into our teenage years, when friends suggested we watch it backwards with certain party favors. Finally it’s a part of childhood we bring it into adulthood, a time when we realized we still remember each and every word.

At the tender age of out-of-the-womb, I was hooked on our VHS copy of the film the family had taped off of TV. The old Kit Kat commercials on that tape will forever be locked in my memory, as will the image of Michael Jackson’s sequin socks and Pepsi drinking. Watching my DVD today, I can pinpoint the moments when I expect the film to pause for a Kit Kat and Pepsi break. A scratch in the record becomes part of the song when you’ve never heard it any other way…

My experience of The Wizard of Oz — for I didn’t just watch this gem; I experienced it — was not always a shared one. Yes, I’m sure there were times early on when the family gathered together to watch Miss Garland in her razzle-dazzle slippers skip down yellow brick, but my memories begin a bit later than that. As I imagine is true with many readers, this was the first special relationship I had with a film, so for me naturally it took special preparation.

While the film as a whole was, and is, to be treasured on one of the highest shelves, there was one character who really got under my skin… and later, with the help of a green marker, onto the surface of my skin as well.

 Before I could begin my private viewing of the movie at the age of five or six, a certain black cape had to be balled up on the floor with a pointed black hat placed on top of it. As the necessary garments rested on the carpet, I’d grab the red-handled broom from behind the garage door, always holding it broom-side-up as I walked back to the stirring black pile. Since the cape remained tied even when an Oz session wasn’t in progress (I was one of the last to master the art of shoe tying), naturally I had to be cloaked first. Resurrecting her with the placement of the hat on my head, the Wicked Witch of the West once again returned to life. 

Who knows what outlet was provided by my dressing up as the terrifyingly brilliant Margaret Hamilton? I imagine 20 or 30 possible theories are all somehow correct, but it’s still a smidge of a mystery to me. I used to get angry when this part of my childhood was put on display by my family; I wasn’t so much embarrassed as I was protective of the memory —  I had created my own little Oz and didn’t really understand the raised eyebrows that seemed to scream “what a weird kid.” But in my mind… weird, no. Lucky, oh you betcha!

Margaret Hamilton’s performance was the first to spark in me whatever needed sparking, and I had begun to understand how movies could be a marvelous part of my life. That trusty hat, tied cape, and red-handled broom is my first memory of what I believed to be “confidence.” Ms. Hamilton’s Witch of the West is one of the finest in film villains — she won me over with that evil self-assurance and confidence that only a villain can have — and with this came what I later named my imaginary Oscar Time Machine. Nobel and Pulitzer Prizes paled in comparison to the importance of an Academy Award, the highest honor in the (or my) land. Before my exposure to glorious Hattie McDaniel in Gone with the Wind, I was convinced Margaret Hamilton had been robbed of the Best Supporting Actress Oscar without even a nomination.

Ms. Hamilton’s wickedness was so real to me that long before Elphaba rose up in the Broadway curtain, I had already given her character a name. As I understood it, the Witch was not threatening our post-makeover heroine when she wrote “Surrender Dorothy” in the sky with her broom; rather she was simply announcing her arrival by writing her name for all of Emerald City to see — “Sorrenda” is perhaps how I would have spelled her name at the time.

 The Cowardly Lion’s accent is partially to blame here (if we even need to assign blame), as I heard no hard “r” at the end of “surrender” when he read the smoke signal aloud to the rest of the cast. Since I can’t help but smile at one of my many childhood misunderstandings that paved the way to creativity, I’ll dismiss the need to point a witchy finger in any particular direction.

One of the comforting aspects about The Wizard of Oz is that so many of us have these wonderful, embarrassing, green-marker-all-over-our-hand memories attached to it… and I’d love to hear yours! My loving worship of dear Sorrenda should by no means drown out the strong attachment I have to the rest of the cast. As I continue down my own brick road of (mostly) black-and-white, you’ll discover my love knows no bounds for the one voice to which none will ever compare… … …except maybe Liza’s.

In my next piece I’ll tackle a film of the radiant Judy Garland’s that perhaps my generation has not had the pleasure of viewing, since I only came to love it at the age of 28. Released 15 years after The Wizard of Oz, it has become one of my “Judy favorites” that manages to get me a bit teary every time. For those who have never voyaged beyond Oz, I encourage you to do so… you’ll probably hear a piece of “Over the Rainbow” in every song she sings.

 

 

Academy Awards (1940) for The Wizard of Oz: Best Music, Original Score, and Best Music, Original Song (“Over the Rainbow”). Miss Judy Garland received a special Juvenile Award at the ceremony.

My Oscar Time Machine: Best Supporting Actress for Margaret Hamilton (tied with Hattie McDaniel for Gone with the Wind).

Add it to your queue.

 

At the age of three, I knew I was blessed with old taste. When I was a kid, the family would gather after dinner to watch old episodes of Soap, a brilliant TV show from the late 1970s, created by the same woman who later favored us with The Golden Girls.  As my sister and I moved backwards and earlier than our precious Soap, naturally my parents introduced me to I Love Lucy, All in the Family, and countless others, whetting my appetite for anything that was created before I was.

 

As luck and VCRs would have it, the backwards journey into entertainment took me into film as well. The look, the sound, the costumes, and the “nice and slow” pace of old movies all hypnotized me. The smell I imagined of the endless martinis and cigarettes was enough to draw me into the classic world in which I wanted to live, health risks aside.

 

As the years went by and I began to understand the lines I had committed to memory, my love and appreciation for a time that has since gone with the wind grew along with me. My intention here is not only to explore why the world of classic film sparks such a specified type of happiness within me but also see how many sparks out there I can light.  

 

Naturally I started my journey where so many others have, but over the years, I’ve discovered this is also exactly where so many stopped. The end of the Yellow Brick Road was the gateway into classic film for me; an Emerald City of my very own, full of curtains I wanted to look behind… … …here we go!