Never having seen the classic film, The Wizard of Oz I attempted to watch it the other day. The attempt failed. From the outset I was disappointed by what I saw. The film begins in a monochrome sepia tint, it’s shot in 4:3 aspect ratio and uses obvious studio sets in its scenes. The film image quality when compared to HD television is unacceptable and the sound quality recording of the film is only just acceptable. Admittedly, the film bursts into colour after twenty minutes or so but the effect is lurid rather than sensational. And, when all is said and done, it is a children’s film.
No doubt the film was sensational in its day and represented cutting edge technologically in film-making terms. Unfortunately, time is not kind to such boasts and they only carry weight when the film is considered as a historical artifact and not as a work of art in itself. Viewing the film becomes a history lesson then, rather than an enjoyable experience in itself.
The Wizard of Oz is supposed to be a compelling story though, a timeless classic. It might be in print but the improvement in the mechanics of filmmaking over the decades has acted as a barrier to the enjoyment of the story. And such is the young age of the art form that camera techniques and editing styles are still being developed and therefore subject to fashion. And with new media competing for cinema audiences, how much of film-making technique is geared towards instant gratification rather than considered exploration of the subject matter? You only need to look at what is happening in the music industry to see the temptation.
The most successful children’s stories are as equally as compelling for adults. Indeed, the success of any story is determined by its relevance to as many demographics and to as many cultures as possible.
Some stories would be universal and timeless in film but the delivery of the story is not. Technical issues interfere with the connection between the storyteller and the recipient. This is why the written word (and by extension, theatre) is still the best medium for telling a story; the images remain as sharp and the voices as distinct as our own imagination (or eyesight) allows.