Jan 9, 2010

Best Films of the 1930s: The Wizard of Oz

1. The Wizard of Oz (Fleming, 1939)
2. It Happened One Night (Capra, 1934)
La Regle du Jeu (Renoir, 1939)
4. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (Disney, 1937)
5. The Lady Vanishes (Hitchcock, 1938)
6. King Kong (Cooper, 1933)
7. Gone With The Wind (Fleming, 1939)
8. Holiday (Cukor, 1938)
9. Top Hat (Sandrich, 1935)
10. Duck Soup (McCarey, 1933)

From a long-list that includes:—The Awful Truth, The 39 Steps, Bringing Up Baby, Scarface, Horse Feathers, Modern Times, M, Mr Smith Goes to Washington, L'Atalante, Nosferatu, Trouble in Paradise, The Blue Angel, All Quiet on the Western Front, Morocco, Gunga Din, Only Angels Have Wings, Stagecoach, City Lights, Angels Have Dirty Faces, Freaks, The Adventures of Robin Hood, Wuthering Heights, Camille, A Farewell to Arms, Frankenstein, La Grande Illusion, You Can't Take it With You, A Night at the Opera, 42nd Street, Mr Deeds Goes to Town, The Public Enemy
The films I most prize are the ones that look normal, and sound normal, and feel normal, but unfurl with the sinuous, sneaky logic of a dream. Movies that cast a spell. I don't mean surrealism — not a fan. I mean a big-budget studio picture that despite the involvement of hundreds of people, from money-grubbing producers to eagle-eyed costumiers, seems to have bloomed from the unconscious of a drowsy Keats. Birth is such a picture. So is Heat. And Blue Velvet. And Night of the Hunter. But the stepmother of them all is The Wizard of Oz. I recently had a spirited debate with my friend Nat about my theory that one cannot know and enjoy a picture made before you were born with quite the same casual intimacy of a film made in your lifetime. That older film can be 100 times better but it still doesn't breathe the same air you do in the same way that even a cruddy picture produced yesterday can. He brought up he example of a child watching the Wizard of Oz: doesnt it cast just as powerful a spell over child as anything produced last year. He had a point, but it had more to do with childhood, I think, than film's power to transcend period. Childhood is the one time of our lives where true communion with the past is possible. Surveying the films of the thirties — from King Kong to Snow White to The Wizard of Oz — is like taking a walking tour of my childhood. Not even a hundred Christmas viewings can dispel Oz's sheer oddity — its winged monkeys, flying cattle and evaporating witches — and yet the whole thing is dealt straight: I love the way Dorothy sets down in Oz and almost immediately starts dispensing good solid mid-western advice. Any film that gets both Michael Jackson and Salman Rushdie in its corner is doing something right.

1 comment:

  1. I think I'd probably put M first on this list. I'd have to include The Testament of Dr. Mabuse somewhere, I'd place The Awful Truth far ahead of Duck Soup, and Ruggles of Red Gap ahead of The Awful Truth, I'd want a spot for Dodsworth, but most importantly, my list would be very Ford-heavy: Stagecoach and Young Mr. Lincoln at the least, and maybe Doctor Bull too.