The Wizard of Oz

(USA 1939)

“For twenty-three years, I’ve been dying to tell you what I thought of you! And now… well, being a Christian woman, I can’t say it!”

—Auntie Em


“Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas any more.”



“I’ll get you, my pretty. And your little dog, too!”

—The Wicked With of the West


“Only bad witches are ugly.”



“Why, anybody can have a brain. That’s a very mediocre commodity. Every pusillanimous creature that crawls on the Earth or slinks through slimy seas has a brain.”

“Hearts will never be practical until they can be made unbreakable.”

“You are under the unfortunate impression that just because you run away you have no courage; you’re confusing courage with wisdom.”

—The Wizard of Oz

Growing up when I did, The Wizard of Oz aired on TV every year, and only once a year. It was a special event. I distinctly remember it being on Thanksgiving, but digging around online contradicts me—while some sources back me up, others say Easter, February, and even Christmas. Whatever. I’ve seen it so many times, I know it by heart. So do many people. Like Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory ( ), The Wizard of Oz is a celluloid relic from my childhood that still stirs something in me.

This annual tradition stopped sometime in the ’90s, probably because home video and cable allowed one to see it anytime. So, I was downright thrilled to see a screening near me over a different holiday weekend this year: Memorial Day. I’ve only seen this film on the big screen once or maybe twice before, so I couldn’t resist.

This is where I usually launch into the story, where I might get into some of the details of Dorothy (Judy Garland) and her weird Technicolor odyssey to the Emerald City after a tornado lifts her, Toto (Terry), and her farmhouse out of Kansas and drops her somewhere over the rainbow in Munchkinland—right on top of the unseen Wicked Witch of the East, whose crazy striped socks and shriveled feet are permanently etched in my memory—provoking the ire of the Wicked Witch of the West (Margaret Hamilton) thanks to a pair of ruby slippers.

Let’s be honest, though: we all know the story. Does anything more need to be said about The Wizard of Oz, which is probably the best known and most seen film, ever? Classic and iconic, it set a cinematic benchmark that hasn’t been surpassed nearly a century on, and probably never will be. Loaded with character, song, color, and cool props, it’s a one of a kind spectacle. Its magic continues to inspire.

Harold Rosson’s cinematography is top notch. Seeing it today, I was wowed by the sepiatone Kansas scenes, which were plain old black and white on TV. I always feel a rush when Dorothy opens the door after she crashes, but seeing Munchkinland on the big screen is so much more awesome. So is that scene in the poppy field, and so is the Emerald City with its otherworldy green glow—like paranormal depression glass. Marvelous!

Based on L. Frank Baum’s 1900 children’s book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the film’s history behind the camera is every bit as colorful as…well, Munchkinland. Victor Fleming is credited as director, but The Wizard of Oz actually had five: Norman Taurog, Richard Thorpe, George Cukor, Fleming, and King Vidor ( ). Over a dozen writers contributed to the screenplay ( ). Although the munchkin suicide is by all accounts nothing more than a rumor, Hamilton was burned badly ( ). Buddy Ebsen was initially cast as the Tin Man, but he dropped out of the film when he suffered a severe allergic reaction to the aluminum makeup used on his face ( ). However, his voice remains in the scene where Garland, Ray Bolger as the scarecrow, and Jack Haley, Ebsen’s replacement, sing “We’re Off to See the Wizard” after the Tin Man is reanimated with oil.

Legend has it (though it’s probably exaggerated) that the actors who played the munchkins were worse than drunk sailors, holding sex parties and trashing the hotel where they stayed in Culver City ( ) ( ) ( ). Garland allegedly claimed that she was repeatedly accosted by a number of them ( ). What a world, what a world!

In 1989, the United States Library of Congress deemed The Wizard of Oz “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry (

With Frank Morgan, Bert Lahr, Billie Burke, Charley Grapewin, Clara Blandick, Pat Walshe, Charles Becker, Buster Brodie

Production: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/MGM

Distribution: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/MGM, Warner Brothers

102 minutes
Not rated

(ArcLight) A+

American Honey

(UK/USA 2016)

Andrea Arnold’s American Honey is not a typical teenage girl movie. It isn’t a comedy. Its protagonist, 18 year old Star (Sasha Lane), isn’t funny, cutsie, bitchy, or crazy. To the contrary, she’s smart, strong, serious, and quite desperate. Star is pursuing a boy, but her agenda extends beyond that, even if she doesn’t realize it. She also seems acutely aware that for better or for worse, she’s in control of her own fate.

American Honey opens with Star and two young kids chained to her side digging out discarded chickens from a dumpster for dinner. They walk aimlessly to K-Mart—a place I had no idea still exists—where they cross paths with a feral band of cracky-looking misfits led by Jake (Shia LaBeouf), a ringleader of sorts for the trailer park set. Star and Jake flirt, but security ejects Jake and his posse from the store when they get rowdy. Star ends up with Jake’s phone, giving her the perfect opportunity to continue their encounter in the parking lot. Smitten, she ditches the kids (it turns out they’re not hers) and takes him up on his offer to join him and his “mag crew” on the road.

A “mag crew” is a nomadic lot of door-to-door sales reps, usually kids, hawking magazine subscriptions ( The environment is cutthroat and the crew is often abused and exploited. Jake’s crew sells magazines in small mainly rural towns throughout middle America—places like Oklahoma, Kansas, South Dakota, and Missouri. It doesn’t sound fun or profitable, but it works for Star—for a little while, anyway. Despite unrelenting shade from the crew’s manager, suspicious and bossy queen bee Krystal (Riley Keough), Star finds her stride in this ragtag mess, competing for sales, partying with the group, and getting involved with Jake, the top salesman who takes her under his wing and trains her. As rapper E-40 says in “Choices,” one of the songs used for the soundtrack, “I choose to get money, I’m stuck to this bread.”

American Honey doesn’t feel very structured; it plays out more as improvisation than something planned from a script. At times, the pace is rambling and almost painfully slow, which usually sounds the death knell for a lengthy film such as this. Surprisingly, it works for these characters and this story. Arnold is clearly interested in the geographical, cultural, and economic continental divide of America, and she’s adept at exhibiting this through her artistic choices. The settings—mostly barren highways, shitty little meth towns, cheap roadside motels and truck stops, even an oil field—nicely frame the characters’ collective circumstances. The locations provide precisely the backdrop one would expect in a road movie, but somehow they’re more beautiful here. The music is a hodgepodge of genres from techno to country to rap to folk, and it all fits perfectly. I must confess, I downloaded the soundtrack (Bruce Springsteen is not on it). American Honey paints a lusty, vivid picture of life on the fringe.

Newcomer Lane is intriguing and charismatic; it’s hard to believe this is her first film. The part of Jake seems tailor made for LaBeouf, who brings a volatile, forboding edge to his character. The supporting cast is adequate but for the most part forgettable. A few stand out. One is QT (Veronica Ezell), a friendly and chubby pot smoking hippy. Another is Pagan (Arielle Holmes), a sweet goth chick obsessed with Star Wars. The true scene stealer, though, is Corey (McCaul Lombardi), the tanned, blue-eyed, tattooed, fake blonde horndog party boy with a penchant for whipping out his dick whenever because, well, he can. I hope and expect to see more of him and his chiseled cheekbones in the future.

I doubt American Honey has mainstream appeal; it’s too fluid, subtle, and open-ended. It’s got its flaws, but I loved it. On the surface, it’s a road movie about a girl pursuing a boy. The real narrative, though, is much deeper. Like the character in the Lady Antebellum song that gives this film its title, Star literally grows up on the side of the road, and does so before our eyes. She starts out a kid. In the final scene, she immerses herself in a pond, an event spurred by a turtle Jake gives her and likely by a few hungry, neglected children she encounters on her own while selling magazines earlier that day. Her “baptism” is symbolic: with it, Star resigns herself to the fact that she has a role in the grand sceme of things even if she’s never going to get all she wants. In other words, she’s grown up. It’s a gorgeously demonstrated point, if you can make it all the way to the end.

163 minutes
Rated R

(Facets) B-

The World’s Largest Ball of Twine

(USA 2015)

Only in America can something like a ball of twine serve as a point of pride and a heated contest that continues after 50 years. But that’s exactly what it was for Francis Johnson of Darwin, Minnesota, and Frank Stoeber of Cawker City, Kansas, as the two competed in the “Battle of the Balls” for the prestigious title of “World’s Largest Ball of Twine.”

Trivial but amusing. I can relate to a schlep to Nowhere for no other purpose than the goofy thrill of seeing some bizarre roadside attraction like the world’s tallest thermometer (done it) or prairie dog (have not). I expected a more interesting execution of the story, though. The World’s Largest Ball of Twine does a nice job getting behind its subject matter—it just turns out that its subject matter isn’t all that interesting. Side note: the graphics looked cheap and gimmicky; intentional or not, this detracted from the experience.

(St. Anthony Main) C-

Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival