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WE'RE OFF TO SEE THE WIZARD...

Growing up in rural North Carolina, we didn't have cable TV- that was a luxury reserved for my city friends. In the Jackson household, you had 3 channels which were actually watchable, in addition to 3 fuzzy channels you could decipher if atmospheric conditions were conducive. The closest thing we had to HBO was the annual showing of two movie classics- "The Ten Commandments" and "The Wizard of Oz".

On a whim, I decided to track down a copy of "The Wizard of Oz". It had been nearly 20 years since I last saw the movie from start to finish. But as soon as the opening titles rolled, all those childhood memories came rushing back. Don't get me wrong, many aspects of the movie are quite silly- with over-the-top acting and telegraphed sentiment. Still, the movie works as both a technical achievement and as a lesson on the higher qualities of life.

"The Wizard of Oz" is effective because it taps into the universal fears of a child, which we (as adults) still remember. The fear of losing family (or pets), the fear of doing the wrong thing, the fear of leaving home, and the fear of monsters in the dark- all translated into fantastic set pieces and garish make-up. And yet, despite it all, the movie is strangely uplifting. It teaches that even in a world filled with evil, we can survive with the help of a few kind individuals. It offers a sense of hope.

The annual TV broadcast of the "Wizard of Oz" usually aired during the spring months. As a child, I was still desperately afraid of tornadoes. Needless to say, the monster tornado that struck Dorothy's small Kansas farm really scared me. The scene is a classic, and still holds up well against the modern computer effects of today. The funnel effect was achieved by suspending a large muslin "sock" on a movable gantry. Technicians moved sliders back and forth, allowing the sock to undulate effectively.

Wind machines and copious amount of fuller's earth were added to create a suitable "debris field" (and to partially obscure the crude muslin mock-up of the fake tornado). All of this was displayed by projection screen behind the actors on set. The black and white photography aided in the illusion by masking certain imperfections in the set design. Impressive sound effects really help to sell the scene.

I was astounded to learn that the "Wizard of Oz" did NOT win the Oscar for Best Special Effects. Ironically, it lost to "The Rains Came"- a movie which featured earthquake and flooding effects. But that movie didn't have a witch, a talking lion, or a bear. Oh my...

(Send comments to Jerry at jjackson@wwaytv3.com)

By: Jerry Jackson