Saturday, December 19, 2009

Readings: Behind the Curtain, Part 3

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In another example of the kind of synchronicity of which I’ve written before, during the work hours of the same day on which I read the following passage from Inherent Vice after dinner, I’d had a conversation about the film The Wizard of Oz with a colleague in the office. This guy is a film buff and talks about “the cinema” often. On this occasion, my colleague had told me of having experienced exactly the same eye-opener related to Doc Sportello by his colleague, Sauncho in Inherent Vice—i.e. seeing The Wizard of Oz for the first time on a color TV and discovering that Kansas is in black-and-white, while Oz is in living color.

Although I am nearly a decade older than this guy, and can well remember those days of yore when all “television sets” were black-and-white, I never had this particular experience. I had seen The Wizard of Oz in the theater, multiple times, as a child. The film was shown every year—I think during the Christmas season—at a theater in Grand Rapids, Michigan, near where my maternal grandparents lived. This theater was in the shopping district of a neighborhood called Burton Heights, a short walk from my grandparents’ house. Under the supervision of the oldest cousin, we gathered kids would excitedly make that annual walk, eager to immerse ourselves in the mind-blowing wonders of Oz. It was a family tradition.

Here, now, is Inherent Vice:

On the way back to the beach, Doc looked in at the offices of Hardy, Gridley & Chatfield. Sauncho was there, but mentally for the moment not available, having the other night happened to watch The Wizard of Oz (1939) for the first time on a color TV set.
xxx“Did you know it starts off in black and white,” he informed Doc with some anxiety, “but it changes to color! Do you realize what that means?”
xxx“Saunch…”
xxxNo use. “—the world we see Dorothy living in at the beginning of the picture is black, actually brown, and white, only she thinks she’s seeing it all in color—the same normal everyday color we see our lives in. Then the cyclone picks her up, dumps her in Munchkin Land, and she walks out the door, and suddenly we see the brown and white shift into Technicolor. But if that’s what we see, what’s happening with Dorothy? What’s her ‘normal’ Kansas color changing into? Huh? What very weird hypercolor? as far beyond our everyday color as Technicolor is beyond black and white—“ and so on.


I use the term “mind-blowing” above, which usage is, of course, anachronistic. That term came into common parlance in the psychedelic ‘sixties. The glimpsed perception of those alternate realties—those states of awareness just behind, below, above, or beyond, the workaday reality of the ego—offered by the use of psychotropic drugs, is mirrored here in this talk of Oz and “hypercolor.” But you can’t describe it. You have to have been there.

And Oz, of course, like, say…LSD…was not all sweetness and light. In Oz you had your witches and your flying monkeys. Bad trips, those.

Nonetheless, The Wizard of Oz has always been my favorite movie.
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Part 2 of this series is here.
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