Let me begin by saying I never went to film school, never—in fact—have even taken a class in film. So outside of documenting Spielberg’s fetish with all things OZ-ish I can’t really explain why he’s inserting these OZ-elements into his body of work.
Is it a creative game he plays with himself? A superstitious good luck charm to insure a project’s success? Is it akin to Hitchcock’s personal cameos? A way to ‘sign’ his canvas?
Or should I try to make a case that subliminal pop culture icons cue viewers as effectively as fairy tale archetypes focus listeners… thus engaging the audience?
“Ooh, what a smell of sulfur!”
If you are more curious than invested in my theory…if you are disinclined to read my dissection of every movie…or if you would just rather play my favorite game and find the Oz-alikes yourself, read on for a few oft-repeated tricks Steven likes to pull out of his magic hat.
Watch for this director’s heavy handed set dressing and costumery in hues of red and yellow, particularly in his earliest work. His flying colors hearken back to Technicolor’s big debut on the formerly ‘silver screen.’ Wizard of Oz became color film’s first commercial. The choice for ruby slippers juxtaposed against the yellow brick was deliberate, an eye-popping graphic; never mind that Frank Baum conceived silver shoes for his Dorothy.
Keep an eye peeled for bicycles, especially kids on bikes, or people escaping on bikes, bikes going fast. Amblin’s logo is a flying bicycle just like the one in E.T. and —oh yeah— the one Almira Gulch rode through the tornado. Steven recycles one into almost every project, directed or produced.
Speaking of, nothing is more fun than some impressive cyclonic motion. The spiral is one of mankind’s most ancient symbols. It spins pure magic whether in nature or super-nature: in the guise of tornados, ghosts, or aliens, the twister’s motion is always a crowd pleaser.
You can predict trouble’s around the bend whenever storm clouds build.
You will know for sure something is evil if it in any way resembles flying monkeys in the sky.
In the same vein as flying monkeys, you may spy plants with anthropomorphic traits. I suspect Steven’s inner child still shivers in delight at memories of Oz’s apple trees. To animate the inanimate is classic spooky child’s play.
Which leads me to the silhouette of any character against a bright light. Beware! Danger is lurking behind the allure!
Windows are key. Whether a breeze ruffles or a gust rattles, if wind is blowing in, change is coming. Remember how Dorothy’s life was transformed after her bedroom window knocked her out? Steven also likes to showcase life’s surreal revelations through window frames, a playful technique snatched from Dorothy’s unique perspective from inside the tornado.
More curiously, I’ve noticed recurring imagery I can’t precisely explain, green smoke and green goo, for example. The Wicked Witch of the West and her Winkies are green-faced, but nowhere in Wizard of Oz is her smoke green. Even when she melts, her vapor is plain grey.
Weirder yet is the severed arm that keeps popping up in Spielberg fare, no matter if it’s comedy, action, or drama. Can it be inspired by a monkey-dismembered straw man? Or is it merely a gruesome prop Steven discovered in early days at Warner Brothers’ warehouse and re-uses time and time again as some silly private joke?
“The only person who might know would be the great and wonderful Wizard of Oz himself.”
Read about other parallels HERE.