02 December 2006

MGM Wizard Rated as Overrated

Premiere magazine recently issued a list of "The 20 Most Overrated Movies of All Time". This actually consisted of twenty different people's answers to the question of what movie is most overrated, followed by rebuttals from twenty fans. So there was no debate over whether The Greatest Show on Earth is a worse Best Picture winner than The English Patient, though I think it's clear which would win: like a lot of these lists, this roundup leans heavily toward recent examples.

But of course people can also disagree about the "classics":

The Wizard of Oz (1939)

Judy Garland's appeal is undeniable, Bert Lahr ought to have been in more pictures, and most of the tunes have earned their places in the Great American Songbook, but a lot of this monument to studio piecework is an overcalculated self-promo for the dubious brand of enchantment it's pushing. The candy-coated art direction, highlighting Technicolor at its most garish, provokes insulin shock, and the Lollipop Guild, Glinda's damned voice, and Frank Morgan's "folksy" Wizard all give off the pungent aroma of neglected cheese. The film's reputation as kitsch-that-transcends-kitsch precedes it; a new viewer unaware of that rep might see kitsch, plain and simple. --F.S. [presumably a regular critic, but not one I can identify]

REBUTTAL: The fact remains that Oz is one of the most influential films of all time. Without it, there is no Star Wars or Harry Potter. Oz is enchanted land, where the scenery is as Technicolor as the characters who inhabit it—and a bright and purposeful contrast to Dorothy's gray reality. Kitsch? Perhaps, but the movie offers life lessons for even the most cynical of us big kids--it's just a matter of having the heart, courage, and brains to find them. --David Schlow, former deputy art director
My own opinion falls somewhere in between these poles.

Thanks to Scott Hutchins for the first alert.


Anonymous said...

To me, in terms of pacing and overall structure, the Wizard of Oz is a film that should be emulated by filmmakers such as Steven Spielberg (who often makes plodding too-long films--from ET to AI). After I read the Oz books, I had to learn to appreciate the film again because the books are so different (so much richer). I saw The Wizard of Oz on a big screen one Halloween when I was in college. The most surprising aspect of watching the film with a group of college-aged kids was that we all said this line aloud in unison: "And Toto too." Since then I've envisioned generations of kids saying that line along with Glinda as they watched it on TV.

David Lee Ingersoll said...

One thing I've learned from the internet - there are fans and detractors of EVERYTHING. I don't love The Movie but I do enjoy it and I recognize how culturally significant it is. Too often modern smartipantses insist on judging older films by comparing them to today's movies. Which just highlights their own blinders.

J. L. Bell said...

Another factor in deeming something "most overrated" is that it's a combination of three value judgments. First one makes a subjective determination of how well regarded something is. Then one makes a subjective determination of whether it deserves that regard. And finally one makes a subjective determination of whether the gap between the esteem it commands and the esteem it deserves is bigger than the gap for other things of the same sort. So there's bound to be a lot of variation in such a discussion.

For all the flaws I see in the MGM movie's story structure and overt message, I don't think anyone can deny how much of it works. And I can't think of any non-animated children's movie from that era that's held up as well, even considering how we Americans are indoctrinated into the movie's fanbase early on. The critique of Wizard seemed to focus on the art direction, which is undoubtedly over the top—but on its own terms it works.