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Reading Meaning in Film Form - Wizard of Oz Exercise

by Paul Cote

Bordwell and Thompson’s Film Art: An Introduction - 9th Edition uses The Wizard of Oz as a text to introduce students to reading meaning in narrative film.  While the authors thoroughly illustrate the different layers of meaning – referential, explicit, implicit, and symptomatic – in their reading of the film’s larger “returning home” message, the film also offers other subthemes that the textbook does not touch.  The “Pay No Attention to that Man Behind the Curtain” sequence contains one of these crucial sub-themes, and close-reading this scene can serve as a useful exercise for students still learning the principles of film form.  The moment when the audience realizes that the god-like “Wizard” is in fact a regular man operating a smoke-and-mirrors illusion carries many potential implications outside of the film – students can use the sequence to discuss everything from the nature of illusion, authority, and the nature of cinema itself.  For this exercise, students will worth through the separate layers of meaning to develop their own close reading of the sequence.  In 1-2 pages, they will analyze:

The Referential meaning of the sequence

The Explicit meaning of the sequence

The Implicit meaning of the sequence

The Symptomatic meaning sequence

For more information on these terms, consult pages 62-63 of Bordwell and Thompson’s Film Art: An Introduction - 9th Edition.  It also may help to have students look at this scene after reading Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave,” as the scene invites comparisons to Plato’s conception of illusion and reality.

 

Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!

This clip contains a portion of the famous "unmasking of the wizard" sequence from THE WIZARD OF OZ. Bordwell and Thompson's FILM ART: AN INTRODUCTION uses the film as a model for mapping out the different layers of meaning - referential, explicit, implicit, symptomatic - contained in a Hollywood narrative film. While Bordwell and Thompson focus their reading on the film's larger "no place like home" theme, the curtain scene provides students with a chance to peel back the layers on a theme that the textbook does not mention. The scene, and the questions it raises about reality versus illusion, is particularly useful if students have recently read Plato's "Parable of the Cave."

from The Wizard of Oz (1939)
Creator: Victor Flemming
Distributor: MGM
Posted by Paul Cote
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