The Long and Winding Yellow Brick Road

When you get down to it, Toto is the most important aspect of the entire epic. He discovers the Cowardly Lion, The Wicked Witch, The Flying Monkeys, he marches in place with the incognito troop from Oz, and surely enough he is the one who manages to uncloak The Wizard and reveal him to be nothing but smoke and mirrors. He’s the twisted government official who is little more than a sniveling little man hiding behind a sheet and some smoke. Toto has always managed to be regarded as something of a secondary element to the overall narrative of this adaptation, but when you get down to it he’s pretty much the audience, the one who watches and goes along with all of the other characters in hopes of making heads or tails of this whole charade. He’s the watcher, and surely enough, he’s the one who keeps Dorothy and the group’s moral center in tact the entire time they’re fighting with apple throwing trees and that dreaded field that puts the entire clan to sleep.

He also helps Dorothy to find out the weaknesses of many of the characters including the Cowardly Lion who epitomizes the classic bully. When compared to poor Toto, he’s really something of a giant, a monster to be feared. And he takes great delight in scaring the fur out of the poor little guy, but when coming across a very strict Dorothy who refuses to let Toto be pushed around, he cowers by the stern tap on his nose that reduces him to tears. In the end he’s not only just all bark and zero bite, but Toto manages to be much more courageous than he.

And I think that’s probably why the witch is so insistent on kidnapping the dog, because he is the key not only to Dorothy’s own innocence and courage, but he can also help guide her back home to Kansas. The power is surely in the ruby red slippers, but the power also lies in that seemingly insignificant little dog whose entire personality rides on the actions of his owner and her compatriots as they journey down the yellow brick road. The witch fears him to some extent and much of her malevolence feels threatened by this innocence but underhanded craftiness that’s substantial due to his own sense of self-awareness. Or maybe it’s just a stupid dog, who knows?

In either case, I like to think of Toto as a precursor to R2-D2, one who gets in to trouble, but is a real help in the end. I like to think of the Witch’s own fate with water as something of a hint as to the fate of Miss Gulch. While Miss Gulch did have the court order to get Toto taken away and ultimately destroyed we’re never quite clued in to what happened to the dastardly old woman once she rode off in to the storm, so the water could possible be indicative of the storm proving to kill her before she ever actually went home, while Toto managed to gain a keen sense of what was coming and retreat back to his owner in an attempt to warn her. This is also made evident by the unseen Wicked Witch of the East under the house, while also making it evident Gulch wasn’t around for long to celebrate with Dorothy when she awoke from her coma.

Beyond that the presence of water around the witch seems pretty unusual, especially for a woman so malevolent who could do just about anything in Oz and the Emerald City but not be aware that water was her true weapon that would prove to be her downfall. I never quite understood why anyone would not be aware of such a key element that would bring her to her knees and melt her. “The Wizard of Oz,” from what I’ve read from movie fans, is much more toned down than its original source material. From what I’ve heard there is much more menace, and that can be reflected from the 1985 cult classic “Return to Oz” which is not so much a sequel or a remake, but something of a spin on the original books that tries to take the tale to a completely different much more sinister direction. This is also made apparent by the casting change from the dreamy eyed Judy Garland to the future punk rock cult actress Fairuza Balk.

She’s a very talented actress, but going from Garland to Balk is a massive shift in tone. Sadly, I’ve yet to see “Return to Oz,” but it’s become a very appreciated take on the L. Frank Baum novel series and sadly reduced to being something of an underground cult classic. But on its own, the 1939 musical masterpiece is still something of a menacing little fantasy yarn that used to disturb us something fierce. And I think in spite of not being able to fully appreciate it as one of my all time favorite movies, it certainly is a movie I have grown to appreciate as a cinematic gem, and one that will undoubtedly follow me until death because that’s the lasting legacy of ‘The Wizard of Oz” in every form of pop culture, as it’s influenced millions. Pop it in sometime. And if you’re in for a real mind trip, pop in Floyd’s masterpiece with it. You won’t be disappointed.

For me at least as a classic rock buff, I never actually realized how utterly surreal and how absolutely mind-blowing “The Wizard of Oz,” celebrating its 71st anniversary this year, is and has been since its 1939 release until I managed to stumble upon one day and learn about the legendary Pink Floyd Dark Side of the Moon phenomenon in which many music fans have heard from a friend of a friend that they sync if you place them on in just the right instances. For years I didn’t realize it but here in America, the cable television network always, always played “The Great Gig in the Sky” while playing the television ad for their commemorative airing of “The Wizard of Oz” every year on their station and I had always wondered what the song was and why they played it.

Years in to my life when my uncle Freddy introduced me to classic rock and broke me out of my hell that was modern hip hop, I bought the CD of “Dark Side of the Moon” and lo and behold, not only was the album one of the most amazing rock operas I’d ever heard (which I play in full succession about once a month), but there was “Great Gig in The Sky” one of the most beautiful soulful cathartic experiences of all time–and frankly my favorite tune of the whole epic Floyd saga. And there was the song.

So after reading heavily about the Wizard of Oz/Dark Side of the Moon parallels for a few hours I took that ratty old VHS special edition my brother sister and I watched about three hundred times when we were children before the time of cable television and the world wide web, and I tried it. To say it was a royal mind melting experience is beyond any real words and would be an understatement to say the least. I don’t smoke weed, but I imagine if I had, the event would have blew my head up all over my room. So I sat and watched, and listened, and it was incredible.

The myth is true. Great Gig in the Sky plays when the farm house is in the hurricane funnel, “Money” begins playing when the film shifts to full color, and “The Lunatic is on the Grass” plays while the Scarecrow is dancing along the grass. Floyd continues to deny they actually intended on this happening and mocks fans for insisting they did it purposely, but I guess we’ll never know the truth. Honestly I don’t want to know the truth. Life should have some mysteries to keep it interesting, don’t you think? And I love keeping the mystery of “Dark Side of the Rainbow” as nothing but a treasure chest of the unknown, a spark of fate and destiny that aligned the stars one day giving lovers of rock, film, and urban myths something to chew on for decades to come.

Here are the steps for anyone with enough time and patience to try it out for themselves: (1) Insert the “Wizard of Oz” DVD into a DVD player. (2) Insert the “Dark Side of the Moon” CD into a CD player. (3) Start the DVD and stand-by to start the CD. (4) As soon as the “MGM Lion” roars the SECOND time, start the CD. (5) Turn OFF the volume on the TV set. (6) Crank up the volume on the CD player.

After trying it three times and watching it all three times in full length, I thought about it and muttered aloud “Damn this movie is weird!” I mean when we were kids we had only network television and our own imaginations to fill the days off from school when we weren’t outside playing with our friends, so often there was a steady rotation of VHS tapes my mom and dad played for us which could include kids movies like “The Land Before Time,” or odd fare like “Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker” and occasionally “Grease,” but there was also “The Wizard of Oz” a 1939 landmark masterpiece of a fantasy film that is about as far away a book adaptation as you can get but still manages to be a film for all ages.

“The Wizard of Oz” has stuck with me both as a movie lover and appreciator of pop culture since I was a kid and it’s followed me around literally everywhere. I love the film, don’t get me wrong, but… I’m not a hardcore fan of it and I’ve never read the source material. I know scant facts about the movie and the books and I’ve seen about three films from Judy Garland, but for some reason this film has followed me everywhere from watching the television airing of “Wicked” one afternoon thanks to my mom, to going to see a Spanish version of the musical at Madison Square Garden with my family one night.

In spite of what you may have heard I know zero Spanish. I grew up in a Spanish speaking household but I made no effort in learning, so the whole night was spent soaking in the beautiful scenery and mocking the way Dorothy said Toto which in her dialect and Spanish accent sounds she was calling out for vagina the entire time. It’s also one of the few times my mom allowed us to say it in a mocking tone, which still baffles me. Plus it made me see Dorothy as an entirely different kind of young woman. But that’s the fun of “The Wizard of Oz,” you can look at it however you want.

It’s something of a variation of “Alice in Wonderland,” and it’s filled with a swell of stories and legends that many people never stop talking about to this day. There’s the munchkin allegedly hanging himself during a filming of the movie, the whole face paint debacle, all of which seemed to have taken on a dual life of its own. But then that’s the norm whenever you make something that’s been embedded in to pop culture so easily, you tend to find that it takes on a whole other life of its own. “The Wizard of Oz” is a movie the studios are still trying to tap money out of and will continue to try to top Garland’s own musical fantasy that many people insist is not a faithful adaptation of the books.

But tell that to the thousands of movie-goers and fans who continue to fall for this film. As I explained in the aforementioned paragraphs, “The Wizard of Oz” was a staple of my youth. True, we had very little to watch during our weekends spent at home but the film was a constant time consumer, a wonderful little adventure film that managed to tug at my heartstrings quite often due to Dorothy’s own love for her dog Toto.

That little sidekick who always knew what to do in dangerous situations became a constant source for tears whenever the mean old Miss Gulch and her broom-like bicycle took away the poor little mutt as Dorothy cried her eyes out hoping for it to return. And return he did. It was almost like he was trained or just had something of an emotional connection with Dorothy whose unbiased relationship with him kept him at arm’s length.