Means of witnessing the culture of the mid-west

The Wizard of Oz some regard as ‘like a dream’, a kind of Alice in Wonderland motif set in America. It represents a means of witnessing the culture of the mid-west, but also a dream world that allows someone like Dorothy to find herself and her way home. Dreams influence films and vice versa. How those that made The Wizard of Oz convey the dream element was through key decisions in cinematography, lighting, and acting style. Such decisions generated a film that even now is regarded as one of the best in its genre.

To begin, one must examine the cinematography of the film. The cinematography aspect of The Wizard of Oz follows several themes. One in particular, is the theme of “Dreams, Hopes, and Plans”. The dreams of Dorothy and her friends have been brought into focus via an acting out of what they desire most (Bulkeley, 1999).

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The Tin Man wants a heart. Dorothy wants to get home. The Lion wants courage. The scarecrow wants a brain. These things or places represent what each character treasures the most. It is in desiring these things that they feel propelled to move forward with their quest. The cinematography aspect lends to reinforcing this theme through the introduction of the characters that help Dorothy get home. The Lion is shown constantly afraid, the Tin Man emotionless, and the scarecrow lacking memory and critical thinking skills. Although Dorothy is not first introduced this way, when the tornado takes her to the land of Oz, her dream becomes getting home.

Cinematography is about visuals and how the camera moves and so forth. For the Lion’s introduction, he tries to be aggressive and mean, attempting to scare everyone including Dorothy’s dog. When he says he will go after Toto, the camera only focuses on him as he says: “I’ll get you anyway peewee.” Then it cuts to the dog and then after Dorothy slaps the Lion on his nose, it moves to him only again as he reveals he’s a coward. The same is done with Scarecrow when he gives silly directions to Dorothy. By the camera only featuring the character doing moments that reveal their desires or why they desire what they do, it reinforces the theme.

“Dreams, Hopes, and Plans” is a pervasive theme that even things like lighting help illuminate. The film used a combination of technicolor and all three lighting styles. Technicolor and high-key lighting was used in the Munchkin Land scene that signified happiness for Dorothy and the audience. When the characters met the wizard, the decision was low-key lighting to show fear. By using low-key lighting for dramatic and intense scenes and high-key lighting to ease someone into a new place, it provides the audience with the reassurance that the plot is moving along and even provides a dream-like quality to the journey.

This was first seen at the beginning of the film when Dorothy is at home and the film is in black and white. The decision to use three-point lighting marks Dorothy’s unhappiness with the situation and reveals to the audience the stage for what would then lead to the ‘dream’ part of the movie, the land of Oz (Plantinga, 2009). By separating the real world with black and white and the ‘dream’ world with technicolor, it provides a delineation and introduction of the dream theme. Using lighting to add a layer of emotion and subtly helps blend concepts together to reinforce specific plot points and themes.

Reinforcement of themes is essential. The actors from The Wizard of Oz were considered method actors. This kind of naturalistic acting from the actors allowed connection with their characters; using their real-life experiences to help them understand the moments in each scene. A key scene mentioned before, the introduction of the Lion, had Dorothy slap the Lion to stop his dramatic behavior. The director beforehand actually slapped the actress, Judy Garland, in order to have her perform the scene correctly.

By being slapped, Dorothy realized what it would be like and was able to perform the task after several times of not being able to do it. While this seems barbaric and insane on the part of the director, the method acting allowed for seemingly real performances while having actors in a fantasy landscape. Natural and real emotion was needed to bridge the gap between reality and fantasy, fantasy representing the dream element. The actors, especially the ones who played the Lion, the Scarecrow, and Tin Man, gave at times exaggerated expressions when interacting with Dorothy to show the dream side.

This was especially true for their introductions. This reinforces the theme of dreams because exaggeration can be an element of a dream and as Dorothy gets closer to getting home and reaching reality, her new friends remove some of that exaggeration and begin acting normally (Baumann, 2008, p. 322). By acting closer to normal, the final connection to the real world was made. Furthermore, by having these characters receive a clock, a medal, and a diploma, their hopes once dreams are now brought into realistic perspective culminating with Dorothy going home. As Dorothy awakes and is back home, she recounts her journey in Oz, she is told it was just a ‘bad dream’.

In conclusion, dreams were an important part of The Wizard of Oz. Through cinematography, lighting, and acting style, the film conveyed the hopes and plans of the main characters. These hopes were dreams that came to fruition in the end and helped bridge dreams into reality.






Baumann, S. L. (2008). Wisdom, compassion, and courage in the Wizard of Oz: A humanbecoming hermeneutic study. Nursing Science Quarterly, 21(4), 322-329. doi:10.1177/0894318408323488

Bulkeley, K. (1999). Touring the dream factory: The dream-film connection in The Wizard of Oz and A Nightmare on Elm Street. Dreaming, 9(1), 101-109. doi:10.1023/a:1021321227642

Plantinga, C. R. (2009). Moving viewers: American film and the spectator’s experience. Berkeley: University of California Press.


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