Monday, November 17, 2008

We're Off To See The Colonel

Barack rack rack rack

Over the weekend I watched Over the Rainbow again. I couldn't even begin to list how many times I've seen The Wizard of Oz. I do remember a Washington theatre (no longer in existence) was playing it when I was very small. I was probably about age three or four and went with my mother to an afternoon matinee. I was puzzled how the film went from sepia black and white to color, I remember being afraid of the tornado, but then we were having more serious hurricanes in Washington in those days, so I had knowledge of "a dangerous storm."

There still is a lot to be found disturbing in Oz: the wicked witch, flying houses, flying monkeys, Munchkins that look like the school bully, Butch (and back then, that would have meant "boy.") The holographic head, the haunted forest, even falling in the hog sty. My grandmother had hogs, and I knew them to be mean creatures, so I always wondered why Dorothy, a farm girl, would do something as foolhardy as walk the fence line above them. Shades of Hannibal.

A "Ben's Chili Dog" Kinda Girl

I still wonder why Dorothy, a girl raised in an area known for tornados, would come home and immediately run in the house, with the toronado funnel clearly visible and not think to run to the storm cellar first. But I quibble. There are so many things to nitpit and glom onto. I know when Glinda appears, my eye aways hits first on her Bakelite crown. On this viewing, I was thinking "Billie Burke is too old to wear her hair that long and what a cheap wig." Billie was born Mary William Ethelbert Appleton Burke on August 7, 1885, in Washington, D.C., by the way. I didn't know that until writing this piece. I always assumed she was British with that plummey stage voice of hers.

Is Everybody Lit?

I come by this critical eye honestly. My mother could not watch a television show without commenting, "She's wearing contacts. Look at how much she's blinking. And dismissing Dan Rowan, "He's a drunk. Look at that nose." A lot of actors had "that nose." She had an aversion to alcoholics and drunks in general, based in large part on the yard parties at my paternal grandmother's house that seem, in memory, like the Kentucky Derby played in a very minor key. A lot of "Give me some sugah" (meaning a hug) and hitting the punch table too vigorously. When my mother died, I inherited her punch bowl with eighty cups. Those 80 cups say it all.

I remember one summer a high living rake of an uncle roaring into my grandmother's backyard with his newest Cadillac and newest wife. Him with a diamond pinkie ring. Her in mink. In August. I take it back. It was the yard scene in the book Auntie Mame, when Mame goes to meet Beauregard's kin, and the dyspeptic old mother is still fighting the Civil War and the hunting dogs are called "Cousin Moltrie." I always identified strongly with that scene. My cousins and I the Greek chorus off to the side saying "That Sally Cato MacDougall is the meanest bitch in the county."

In truth, MGM always kept Judy fed....

on chicken broth and amphetamines

Forgive my Proustian drift. We were discussing The Wizard of Oz. So like you, I have seen the movie so many times I can't remember. Dorothy is walking the rail and falls into the pig sty. Bert Lahr hauls her out. Then this whole scene I have never given attention to appeared. Auntie Em enters the yard, barn left, with a plate of fried chicken. Maybe I always assumed it was cookies. She tells the workers they have to keep their strength up, gives them chicken, gives Dorothy chicken, and tells her to go play in traffic (not really, but tells her to get out of the way and not be a bother.) Dorothy wanders off with her chicken leg and tosses a tiny piece to Toto. The next thing you know she's over by the haystacks and wheel, cue to orchestra, and she's belting out Over the Rainbow, only this time I'm thinking, "What happened to the chicken?"

"I'll give ya extra crispy."

Lots of movies have actors do their scenes with food. You can't play Henry VIII without waving around a turkey drumstick, and Tom Jones has a famous food scene. I started thinking about how truly screwed up it would have been if Judy Garland had sang Over the Rainbow holding a drumstick. Not too long ago, TCM showed James Cagney in White Heat (you have GOT to see it) and there is plenty of food in that movie, too. He pushes a grapefruit in his wife's face, and he blasts a guy holding....a chicken drumstick.

Are you feeling lucky, punk? Original or spicey?

I started thinking about poultry in film, and I found this recent quote by Clint Eastwood in reference to Cagney and the White Heat film, "When he comes out in White Heat eating a chicken leg and blasting a guy in the trunk of a car, you go, 'Yeah, that's offsetting, but in a nice way.' The scene in Dirty Harry where I'm eating a hot dog in that shootout...that's a steal.''

“If a mans gonna eat fried chicken, he's gotta get greasy.”

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Blogger Kate said...

This was brilliant (as usual).......and I, for one, loved the Proustian lapse.

Keep on writing, gal! (I look every day for your wit and wisdom.)

4:10 PM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...

Thank you, Kate, for your very kind works and encouragement.

4:25 PM  
Blogger drewt said...

Cotton pickin, finger lickin good!

4:30 PM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...

Drewster: Thanks. The best fried chicken around here is at the Amish Market....not that I eat fried chicken anymore, but...passing it on.

4:57 PM  
Blogger Reya Mellicker said...

Oh man!! Poultry in movies. Washington Cube, I bow down to your genius. That IS one of your talents, you know - a curse and a blessing, oh yeah.

It's not JUST that you're psychic. You have the ALL SEEING EYE. That is so beyond psychic.

OK - I'm almost thrilled to report that in the film Dorothy does run to the storm cellar first. She kicks the door with her foot, tries to open it, but the roar of the storm makes it impossible for the people inside to hear her. Then she goes in the house.

I do not have a perfect memory, nor the All Seeing Eye, and I'm no genius, but I've seen Wizard of Oz at least a thousand times.

The digital remix was splendid, wasn't it?

8:17 AM  
Blogger Gilahi said...

Terrific post, except that now I have Three Dog Night's version of Kenny Rogers' "Tulsa Turnaround" as my earworm for the day thanks to your last photo caption.

And by the way, "tornado" is a twisty windstorm. "Toronado" was Zorro's horse.

8:25 AM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...

Reya: In the version I watched last week she ran straight into the house from Prof. Marvel then the storm cellar foot kicking, but from what friends have told me there are several "cuts" out there, including one with a jitterbug scene that was allegedly permamently removed. If someone asked me, I would say your version is the one that comes to mind. Just like this chicken thing...maybe they usually cut it out. I feel like with each viewing I'm going to be studying oddball things like the green fur mittens on the Oz door guard.

Gilahi: ...and this is why I should always write these things in Word before dumping them in Blogger. Not only that, but when I was writing yesterday, the system froze on me twice and I lost all text and pictures once. Did you hear me groan? I wish they had a more stablized software. and P.S. I adore Zorro. Let's sing his theme song,

"Out of the night,
When the full moon is bright,
Comes the horseman known as Zorro.
This bold renegade
Carves a "Z" with his blade,
A "Z" that stands for Zorro."

What imagery. What power. What drama. Whatta guy.

9:05 AM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...

P.S. Of course I have to toss Kenny Rogers into the mix. I run with The Playaz.

9:09 AM  
Blogger Hammer said...

If we're talking poultry in cinema, you have to include The Man's plan in Undercover Brother to use Billy Dee Williams' "Nappy Meal" to distribute mind control drugs through fried chicken. I still maintain that this film is an underrated comedy semi-classic.

7:29 PM  
Blogger I-66 said...

What's this Wizard of Oz you speak of?


7:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My initial thoughts, Cube: The butchered versions of this and other films that are aired on television are hideous. What a shame that we are forced to endure chopped-up versions of great work. Case in point: some versions of Blazing Saddles (yes, it is a great film) cut out the fart noises in the beans-around-the-campfire scene! (But the Yiddish naughty bits stay in -- go figure).

Secondly: poor Billie Burke had to return to work to make up for Florenz' debts, so I give her a pass on the outfit (plus, look at her terrific work in Dinner at Eight).

Having lived in the same county as two and three-story chicken houses, I'll have to give the chicken aspect some thought.

-- grince

10:17 AM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...

Hammer: Never heard of it, so definitely checking it out.

66: Touché

K: I am definitely not anti-Billie, just reporting on what passed through my mind at the moment. She is superb in Topper playing Leo G. Carroll's dithery society wife. Speaking of chicken and Eastern Shore and Delaware...I can remember sitting at a red light in downtown Salisbury on a windy Sunday morning, and the white chicken feathers just flying through town courtesy of Purdue.

9:48 PM  
Blogger cuff said...

My daughter loves The Wizard of Oz, and she's starting to analyze it based on her experience at preschool, where she's learning how to behave among others. She informs us that the wicked witch is someone who "makes bad choices." I think she's ripe for seeing Wicked now.

12:10 PM  
Blogger Phil said...

Love the post.

I am fascinated by this movie the more time passes. And it is definitely creepy.

I mentioned to my lady that in 1939, I'll bet the audience literally shat themselves when Dorothy walked out of her house in to the 'technicolor' world of Munchkinland.

When describing why the movie frightened me more now than when I was a child, I explained it was not due to the witch, but the talking scarecrow, tinman, and lion. She was incredulous, and I said "just look at them - they're hideous!" and she came back with a classic: "I prefer to look at their souls".

And 'Oz' was the reason for my childhood fear of tornados.

9:57 PM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...

Cuff: The wicked witch terrified me initially, but over time I started to think she was being given a bad break. Your daughter seems to have caught on to that very early on.

Phil: We didn't have toronados in the area I live in as a child. Even though it was a strip of muslin, it terrified me (and all children) as well. A few years and another job ago, I had to travel in the mid-west, and I remember hearing toronado warnings on the car radio for the first time. The sky did turn green, and I was prepared to get to an underpass or jump in a ditch if I had to....NOT that there's anything wrong with ditches....or witches. ;)

3:38 PM  
Blogger Sheri in Rehoboth said...

Cube: Great job as always!

Anonymous: I'm with you about the butchery of movies on TV. I don't even try to watch them or I will be reduced to a cranky mess when one of my favorite scenes is inevitably hacked out for a Midol commercial or something. Grr.

Grince: In travelling to & fro between Alexandria & Rehoboth for 20+ years, I have passed a LOT of chicken houses. I have also been behind tractor-trailers many times and been showered with feathers. Then there is occasional "one that got away" that goes splat on Route 16 or 404. Ew. At least now that I'm living in Rehoboth, I don't have to see (or smell--PFEW!) as much of the chicken houses/trucks.

5:20 PM  

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