Off to see `Wizard' on the big screen

FILM

Film Column

December 12, 2003|By Michael Sragow | Michael Sragow,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

In spirit the most animated of live-action movies, The Wizard of Oz (1939) returns to the big screen with two showings at the AFI Silver Theatre in Silver Spring, Sunday at 1 p.m and Monday at 6:30 p.m. - so even those who resist catching reruns on the small screen can savor once again the greatest family fare Old Hollywood brought forth. (For my money, only Disney's Pinocchio even comes close.)

Of course, it's a my-first-movie benchmark for millions, but it's also a brilliant film. The makers conjured a fantasy at once out of this world and down to earth. To a man (and woman, and dwarf) the ensemble cast mastered a broad masquerade style - the peak practitioners are Bert Lahr, whose Cowardly Lion knows only the roar of the greasepaint, and Ray Bolger, whose Scarecrow does a stumbling dance just flopping down the Yellow Brick Road. Judy Garland strikes a deep yearning note when singing "Over the Rainbow," then modulates it with a girlish enthusiasm.

Geoff Ryman's novel Was describes a boy watching the 1956 TV-network premiere in black-and-white and falling into a dream that he is seeing it in color. After the Sepiatone vision of Kansas the Technicolor glory of Oz lives up to a child's imaginative expectations - the cinematographer, Harold Rosson, is a key contributor to this classic, along with songwriters Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg, the director, Victor Fleming, and Jack Haley (as the Tin Man), Frank Morgan (as the Wizard), Margaret Hamilton (as the Wicked Witch) and Toto, too.

FOR THE RECORD - The Film Column in yesterday's Today section gave an incorrect date for the return of the movie Girlhood to the Charles Theatre. The film returns to the Chalres on Dec. 19.
The Sun regrets the error.

Oz authority John Fricke will introduce the screenings and sign copies of his new book, Judy Garland: A Portrait in Art and Anecdote. Check www.AFI.com/Silver for updates; call 301-495-6720 for general information or 301-495-6700 for pre-recorded program information. Tickets: $8.50 for general admission, $7.50 for AFI members, students and seniors.

At the Charles

From the opening arguments over shoes - Toshiro Mifune wants to make them sturdy, his executive-suite peers want to make them cheap - Akira Kurosawa's High and Low (1963) has a fiercenesss and drive that go beyond its melodrama.

Kurosawa bought the rights to Ed McBain's novel King's Ransom because it gave him the hook he needed to protest Japanese laws that were too easy on kidnappers who (like this movie's villain) extorted ransom from people who weren't directly related to the victims.

The director imbues High and Low with his disdain for moral shoddiness. It's one urban suspense film that isn't just a street western: It takes the spiritual pulse of a society.

The Charles screens High and Low at noon tomorrow and 9 p.m. Thursday.

After a seven-day absence, the Charles today brings back for at least another week the Baltimore-rooted documentary Girlhood, about two teen-age girls' journeys in and out of the Maryland juvenile-correction system. The girls (and the film's director, Liz Garbus) also appear on Oprah today at 4 p.m.

Cinema Sundays at the Charles will present Wayne Kramer's acclaimed gambling movie, The Cooler, starring William H. Macy as a Vegas loser who becomes a professional jinx for his casino-manager pal (Alec Baldwin). Michael Badley, co-owner of Video Americain and no stranger to craps or blackjack, will introduce the film and lead the discussion afterward. Coffee and bagels: 9:45 a.m. Showtime: 10:30 a.m. Admission: $15.

For more information, call 410-727-FILM or go to www.the charles.com and www.cinema sundays.com.

Film Festival events

Seats are still available for tonight's Maryland Film Festival-sponsored Baltimore premiere - 7:30 at the Walters Art Museum - of The Girl With a Pearl Earring, the film adaptation of Tracy Chevalier's conjectural novel about the story behind one of Vermeer's most famous oils.

Colin Firth is the painter and Scarlett Johansson is the maid who becomes his model.

Tickets ($10 for adults, $8 for students and seniors) can be bought at the door or online at www.mdfilmfest.com, or by calling 410-752-8083.

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