First autopsy; and laid out on the table before me is my dearly beloved Wizard Of Oz. Having to surrender Dorothy was no easy thing but this was film school and this was about becoming a better writer.
‘You will never see this movie in the same way again,’ the script doctor warns as I prepare to dissect the most wonderful three act screenplay I’d never written. My thoughts quickly turn to Christmas Day. Having already lost two great and powerfuls from my childhood trinity of fantastical characters – (the baby Jesus and Santa Claus) – I would now grieve for a third. The Wizard. Christmas Day now destined to become one big turkey because without this movie there would be no ham. What now would become my go-to movie for that epic escape from all things family? That other wonderful movie, It’s a Wonderful Life.
But life could never be wonderful without the Wizard.
To me Oz was much more than just wicked witches and flying monkeys – it was how I understood life. Good versus evil, black versus white and all that colourful stuff in between. If I had a religion the greatest story I was ever told would be its cornerstone. But what is a world when even it too can be melted down to fit some scientific mould called The Hero’s Journey? Not very pretty, my little pretty. Yes we have heroes, but they’re wholly tragic and with flaws taboot. In this instance, it’s the turn of the sweet and brave Dorothy to skip off on some predetermined journey where there would be Calls to Adventure and Refusals of that very same Call – lions becoming Allies and broomsticks, Elixirs. Even ‘the man behind the curtain’ has a man behind the curtain pulling at the story’s mechanical strings with the real Great Depression, being that even in Oz there had to exist an Ordinary World.
But now, every act, every scene, would be slashed then thrashed until each key element of the story was demystified, not leaving a single yellow brick unturned until all its foundation was laid bare. With exposition comes revelation and after, much needed resurrection – but by protagonist, antagonist, it all becomes a tad formulist. Butcherer turned engineer I question whether there really is any wizardry knack to storytelling when basically all you have to be is a good old fashioned word mechanic who knew how to tinker. Apply a few nuts and bolts and boom boom you got yourself one tight little movie script.
And so for the big clean up. My movie. My mess. Like the scarecrow, I gather up the guts of this wonderful story and proceed to put it all back together again. But it won’t ever be how it was. Ripping the heart out of Oz meant ripping the heart out of everything I came to love about story. It’s magic. It’s mystery. It’s magnificence. Everything in storyland reduced to the rule of three.
Christmas comes and I’m faced with a choice. It’s a Wonderful Life, or wonderful Oz? A black and white movie or a black and white movie that has suffered recent and irreversible discoloration? I opt for the latter albeit knowing there’d be a horse of less colour this time around – a wicked witch, and an unimpressive foreshadow of her former self in the shape of Mrs Gulch, and a yellow brick road – an unsophisticated synonymy to crossing the first threshold.
So armed with my transitional object, in this case a tin of Quality Street I settle in, down: the prologue, it had me at prologue – “For nearly forty years this story has given faithful service to the Young in Heart; and Time has been powerless to put its kindly philosophy out of fashion. To those of you who have been faithful to it in return … and to the Young in Heart … we dedicate this picture.” The Wizard of Oz.
A blissful seamless swap, my stony grey soil for the brilliant yellow bricks; L. Frank Baum’s world transcending mine. Yet again, swept up in the vortex of great storytelling I live through its many twists and turns, fearing and pitying like Aristotle said I should – not even noticing that seventeen minutes into the movie there was a Call to Adventure, or that a ‘big reveal’ will unfold in the final thirty. The ultimate suspension of disbelief, the burden being on me to achieve, not on the scriptwriters. Yes, I would never see this movie in the same way again because from now on I would see it for the great movie it would always be.
If I could click my heels I’d go back to that table where the dissection took place and know what I’ve known all along – what it is that makes this wonderful story tick. It’s heart.
(c) Grace C. Vaughan
Grace C. Vaughan is a mum, writer and all round blogger-woman from Co. Monaghan with an MA in Scriptwriting. Her first book ‘Chewing Gum in God’s Beard’ earned a meeting with Neil Jordan and was represented by The Book Bureau.
She says, “It’s such a magical thing, being born on Halloween night decidedly left-handed. ‘Life’s a witch, then you marry one,’ I keep telling my atheist husband. He says he doesn’t believe in witches. But I know he believes in me. Bless him. ”
Find out more about Grace and her work at her Emerging Writer Page