I remember what matters. More than that: I remember that when the possibility of my going to school in England was mentioned it felt as exciting as any voyage beyond the rainbow. It may be hard to believe, but England seemed as wonderful a prospect as Oz. The Wizard, however, was right there in Bombay.
My father, Anis Ahmed Rushdie, was a magical parent of young children, but he was prone to explosions, thunderous rages, bolts of emotional lightning, puffs of dragon smoke, and other menaces of the type also practiced by Oz, the Great and Powerful, the first Wizard De-luxe. And when the curtain fell away and his growing offspring discovered, like Dorothy, the truth about adult humbug, it was easy for me to think, as she did, that my Wizard must be a very bad man indeed.
He did, however, know a great deal more about the cinema of the fantastic than any Western child of the same age. In India, however, it fitted into what was then, and remains today, one of the mainstreams of production in the place that Indians, conflating Bombay and Tinseltown, affectionately call Bollywood. Blond Glinda arriving at Munchkinland in her magic bubble might cause Dorothy to comment on the high speed and oddity of the local transport operating in Oz, but to an Indian audience Glinda was arriving exactly as a god should arrive: ex machina, out of her own machine.
The other major difference is harder to define, because it is finally a matter of quality. Most Hindi movies were then and are now what can only be called trashy. The pleasure to be had from such films and some of them are extremely enjoyable is something like the fun of eating junk food. The classic Bombay talkie uses a script of appalling corniness, looks by turns tawdry and vulgar, or else both at once, and relies on the mass appeal of its stars and its musical numbers to provide a little zing.
It takes the fantasy of Bombay and adds high production values and something more—something not often found in any cinema. Call it imaginative truth. Call it reach for your revolvers now art.
The birth of Oz itself has already passed into legend: the author, L. And there are two even more important alterations. The Horse of a Different Color changes color in each successive shot—a change that was brought about by covering six different horses with a variety of shades of powdered Jell-O. Frank Baum did not invent the ruby slippers; he had silver shoes instead. Other writers contributed important details to the finished screenplay. The name of the rose turns out to be the rose, after all.
No single writer can claim that honor, not even the author of the original book. Mervyn LeRoy and Arthur Freed, the producers, both have their champions. The Kansas described by Frank Baum is a depressing place. Everything in it is gray as far as the eye can see: the prairie is gray, and so is the house in which Dorothy lives. She was thin and gaunt, and never smiled now. He was gray also, from his long beard to his rough boots. Toto was black. Out of this grayness—the gathering, cumulative grayness of that bleak world—calamity comes. The tornado is the grayness gathered together and whirled about and unleashed, so to speak, against itself.
And to all this the film is astonishingly faithful, shooting the Kansas scenes in what we call black-and-white but what is in reality a multiplicity of shades of gray, and darkening its images until the whirlwind sucks them up and rips them to pieces. There is, however, another way of understanding the tornado. Dorothy has a surname: Gale. And in many ways Dorothy is the gale blowing through this little corner of nowhere, demanding justice for her little dog while the adults give in meekly to the powerful Miss Gulch; Dorothy, who is prepared to break the gray inevitability of her life by running away, and who, because she is so tenderhearted, runs back when Professor Marvel tells her Auntie Em is distraught that she has fled.
This is the lost Eden that we are asked to prefer as Dorothy does to Oz? But Dorothy? Maybe we should invite her over to stay; anywhere looks better than that. The film Toto rather more deliberately pulls aside a curtain to reveal the Great Humbug, and, in spite of everything, I found this change an irritating piece of mischief-making.
The film begins. A girl and her dog run down a country lane.
Did she hurt you? Kansas, however, is not real—no more real than Oz. Kansas is a pastel. If Oz is nowhere , then the studio setting of the Kansas scenes suggests that so is Kansas. This is necessary. Dorothy looks extremely well fed, and she is not really but unreally poor.
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She arrives at the farmyard, and here freezing the frame we see the beginning of what will be a recurring visual motif. In the scene we have frozen, Dorothy and Toto are in the background, heading for a gate.
To the left of the screen is a tree trunk, a vertical line echoing the telegraph poles of the previous scene. Hanging from an approximately horizontal branch are a triangle for calling farmhands to dinner and a circle actually a rubber tire. In midshot are further geometric elements: the parallel lines of the wooden fence, the bisecting diagonal wooden bar at the gate. Later, when we see the house, the theme of simple geometry is present again: everything is right angles and triangles.
The tornado is just such an untrustworthy, sinuous, shifting shape. Random, unfixed, it wrecks the plain shapes of that no-frills life.
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Curiously, the Kansas sequence invokes not only geometry but arithmetic, too, for when Dorothy, like the chaotic force she is, bursts in upon Auntie Em and Uncle Henry with her fears about Toto, what are they doing? Why do they shoo her away? Leaping ahead to Oz, it becomes obvious that this opposition between the geometric and the twisty is no accident.
But the story is wrapped inside the kind of plucky, against-the-odds adventure yarn found in popular Young Adult novels.
As the novel switches between genres, it becomes a kind of running argument between hope and disillusion, granting us a view of unsalvageable evils through the idealistic lens of a simpler age. In stable and prosperous times, truth and entertainment can overlap. But periods of crisis wedge them apart, and being faithful to one compromises the other.
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He adorned his autobiography, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, with footnotes and appendices and amiable little gags for his friends. Its exemplary authors were people like Stephen Elliott, Neal Pollack, and Arthur Bradford, who each enjoyed moments of minor stardom. Pretty quickly, though, the limits of that sensibility—studied irony combined with a yearning for emotional validation—became clear. Eggers himself has subsequently bridled against the persona he worked so hard to establish.
What Is the What , published in , was his first politically conscious book, confronting the plight of Sudanese refugees. He followed with Zeitoun in , a nonfiction account of a Syrian-American man who acts heroically after Hurricane Katrina only to face discrimination and brutality from the authorities. Unmoored from his youthful affability, sanctimony crept in from the edges.
In his autobiography, Eggers had celebrated the radical transparency of a generation determined to transform the world through earnestness and candor; but in his Silicon Valley cautionary tale, The Circle , he caricatured over-sharing millennials as brainless apparatchiks of digital totalitarianism. His new novel, Heroes of the Frontier, is marked by the same cranky disillusionment.
Here a beleaguered American everywoman takes her children on a voyage to Alaska , but finds her quest for transcendence thwarted by oppressive social and economic realities. The writing is plain, impersonal, and lightly patronizing—a reversal of the style Eggers did so much to foster. Eggers continues to demonstrate his knack for relating to his readership. That readership is simply older now, has more money, and reads The New York Times. In the work of George Saunders, too, you can see the limits that an enthusiastic, quirky authorial persona places on novelistic insight. Bush era, are thin on humor and far too transparent in their messaging.