Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Power of a Song

How does one even begin to write about a film that has been engrained in your memory since childhood? A film so universally known (and beloved) that the Library of Congress has named it the film watched by more people than any other in the world. A film so steeped in our culture that you can't go a day without coming into contact with a reference from it. (After reading that yesterday, I was a little skeptical. But, then last night, I was watching Wreck-It Ralph and a hilarious joke about Oreos–do I even need to spell it out?–made me realize: Yes. Every. Single. Day. Well played, Wizard of Oz.) The film is near perfect (if we're being honest, that "King of the Forest" number kinda slows things down) and trying to pick a favorite shot from it for the start of this season's Hit Me With Your Best Shot is overwhelming.

I remember being a child and watching it every year on television (we never had cable, so when a movie like this came on it was a big deal for me. I also have that feeling about The Ten Commandments–which I'll eventually finish once they leave Egypt one of these days, The Sound of Music, and Mary Poppins). Then in fifth grade, I did a community theatre production of it as a singing tree and flower (apparently, I was too tall to be a munchkin). I was then able to sing along to every word of the songs. (Including the cut Jitterbug number. It wasn't good enough to keep in the film, but–hey, let's leave it in the stage version...) And for all the special effects (the Wicked Witch's entrance in a cloud of red smoke and Glinda's in a dishwashing soap bubble are still pretty fun) or the incredible use of color (that door opening, revealing the Technicolor world of Oz is undeniably magical. The first film to use color! My dad used to tell me. It wasn't.), the thing that I remember most is a song.

That song. "Somewhere Over the Rainbow". It's taken on a life of it's own. At the end of a recent Broadway show about the last month's of Judy Garland's life, the actress playing Judy starts to sing an a capella version of it. My friend next to me immediately started sobbing. After the show was over, my friend turned to me and said, "that song will never not affect me." Because it speaks to the heart of what the film is and our connection to it. It's about beleiving in something. Dreaming of a life that's better than the one you've got. Remembering what it was like to be filled with childlike longing. Wondering if there's a place where the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true.

There have been many versions of it. (Tori Amos does a great, sad version of it. Surprise–Tori makes something sad! And there's that version with the Hawaiian singer with the ukulele. You know the one.) But no one can touch Judy Garland as Dorothy in this movie singing that song. That voice, that was able to carry so much depth and emotion gets right into your soul. And really it's just her and some hay in those rich sepia tones and that's about it. But, that's all you need. When the camera shows the sun shining through the clouds and she looks up and smiles at it, your heart melts. And I am immediatelly taken back to being a child.


  1. oh man. i felt all teary reading this. it's so true about that song. (and i also love Tori's version)

    1. It's such a good song! and it's interesting that it's the film's only ballad and the only song that judy sings by herself in the whole film.
      tori does another great cover of another judy song–have yourself a merry little christmas. so heartbreaking. i bet tori could make even ABBA's 'dancing queen' sound sad...