A Wizard of Oz Leitmotif in Steven Spielberg's films
SCHINDLER’S LIST 1993
Famous for the moment this black and white film moves to color. Wizard of Oz was also renowned for that trick. Note: I do think on his serious films, Steven uses a very light hand when sprinkling in his bit of WOO flavor. I get why he sometimes has to be sly or vague about it. “These things must be done delicately.” Especially when handling highly sensitive material. So if you think I am reaching on some of my examples…maybe you’ve got a point…or maybe he purposely inserted it so deep that it would be perceived only subliminally.
I wonder if Spielberg didn’t originally intend to put the little girl in red shoes, but decided to fly under radar and use the red coat instead. He does finally use the red shoes in Saving Private Ryan. No accident that the hues Steven features in this film when B&W goes to partial color are yellow hair and red coat. Those two primary colors defined WOO’s commercial eye appeal. They were specifically chosen to make the most of a brand new process called Technicolor. The yellow brick road contrasted better with red so Baum’s silver slippers became ruby ones instead. See Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Jaws, 1941, Joe vs. the Volcano, Twister, Inner Space, Jurassic Park, Used Cars, Sugarland Express, Poltergeist for other highlights of red and yellow.
WOO’s creators wanted to create an ‘air of grayness’ for Kansas scenes, meant to imply a sort of hopeless environment, hence Dorothy’s wish to go over the rainbow. Steven employs that air of grayness throughout this film to emphasize the plight of the persecuted. See E.T. the Extraterrestrial, War Horse, Twister, Joe Vs. the Volcano, Twilight Zone the Movie Kick the can Episode, Poltergeist.
Note too the sepia tones that accompany Schindler’s color sequence. WOO’s intro was filmed in sepia but televised in B&W, so fans know it both ways.
There are a profusion of key scenes framed by windows… but camera slips over each with the barest gliding touch. Steven decided not to make a big deal of them so neither shall I. See WOO, Empire of the Sun, Catch Me if You Can, Poltergeist, Lost World of Jurassic Park for other surreal glimpses through windows. Like Dorothy’s peek into the center of tornado, everyday sights take on a bizarre twist.
Oskar Schindler is the consummate trickster. Spielberg returns again and again to the mischievous enabler in so many of his films. An honorable protagonist often needs some underhanded finagling to achieve his/her goal. In WOO, Professor Marvel (AKA Wizard of Oz, Gatekeepers 1 and 2, Driver of horse of a different color) often uses his guile to the betterment of all. In the case of Schindler, our rogue transcends to martyrdom. By his willingness to get dirty, Schindler achieves a noble goal at great personal cost, the sacrifice of his purity. His soul may never be at peace with his former deeds. SeeEmpire of the Sun, The Color Purple, Lincoln for other benevolent tricksters. In both Munich and Saving Private Ryan the protagonists’ missions carry out the virtuous aims of invisible tricksters. On a lighter note, you also find tricksters in WOO, A.I., Always, Goonies, Jaws, Catch Me if You Can, Joe Vs. the Volcano.