Pausing for a Look–Over the Rainbow

So . . . which scene is it for you?

The tornado sequence, perhaps, filmed in atmospheric black-and-white, and no doubt the cause of countless nightmares for young children throughout the decades?

tornado

 

Or maybe it’s the magical moment when Dorothy first enters Oz, as the monochrome of black-and-white suddenly gives way to a vibrant palette of color.

enteringoz

 

Not quite, you say?  Then how about the legendary Wizard of Oz himself being exposed for the fraud he is, hiding behind the curtain?

ozbehindcurtain

 

But of course, who can forget the Silver Screen’s most iconic villain, The Wicked Witch of the West, melting away?  “I’m melting, I’m melting!” is such a famous line, it has been mimicked and re-created many times over on both stage and screen in the years since.

wickedwitch

 

meltingwitch

 

Indeed.  There are many unforgettable scenes in The Wizard of Oz–arguably the most beloved motion picture in Hollywood history.  There are so many such scenes in the 1939 classic, based on L. Frank Baum’s novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, that, at first blush, it may seem impossible to choose just one as a favorite.

lfrankbaum

 

But for me, there is one sequence from the movie that stands apart, not only as my favorite scene in The Wizard of Oz, but one of my favorite scenes of all time, anywhere, from any film or TV show–the “Over the Rainbow” scene, featuring the film’s heroine, Dorothy Gale, and her dog, Toto.  The irony is–the sequence was very nearly removed during the cutting process.

overtherainbowscene1

 

Perhaps that’s because it doesn’t depict houses flying in the wind, witches soaring through the night on broomsticks, or cowardly lions and tin men and talking, walking scarecrows.

scarecrow

 

The “Over the Rainbow” scene occurs just five minutes into the movie.  Studio executive Louis B. Mayer and producer Mervyn LeRoy both thought it should be deleted because, they argued, it “slowed down the picture.”  If not for the sturdy resistance on the part of others associated with The Wizard of Oz, “Over the Rainbow,” the signature song of Judy Garland’s career, most likely would have withered and died.

garlandovertherainbow

 

After Dorothy is unable to get her aunt and uncle to listen to her about an unpleasant run-in she and Toto had (“Find yourself a place where you won’t get into any trouble,” her aunt snaps), she wanders off into the barnyard, loyal Toto at her side.

dorothyauntem

 

“Some place where there isn’t any trouble,” Dorothy muses.  “Do you suppose there is such a place, Toto?  There must be.  It’s not a place you can get to by a boat, or a train.  It’s far, far away.  Behind the moon, beyond the rain . . .”

And here she begins to sing of a place “over the rainbow way up high,” where all your “troubles melt like lemon drops.”

beginningovertherainbow

 

It must be pointed out that Mayer and LeRoy were right about one thing.  The “Over the Rainbow” sequence does in fact slow the picture down.  I would argue, however, that this effect makes The Wizard of Oz a better movie, and a far more memorable one.

*******************

When the adrenaline rush and creative maelstrom of a novel’s first draft gives way to the laborious and painstaking process of revision and rewriting, we often delete far more than we add.  And that’s the way it should be.  In his memoir On Writing, Stephen King suggests authors should be able to cut at least 10 percent of their total word count from a first draft.  First drafts are generally padded, bloated things, gorged and made fat with too much description, too much repetition, and chock-full of sentences, paragraphs, entire scenes just begging to be tossed into the pit of discarded excess.

firstdraft

 

It’s natural, when trimming the bulging waistline of a first draft, to look for scenes that slow down the action of the story, that seem to lack relevance  or that do not advance the plot.  And most of the time, such scenes should indeed go.  But sometimes . . . yes, sometimes, there are exceptions.

The Eye-Dancers, for example, is a novel told through the point of view of four main characters–Mitchell Brant, Joe Marma, Ryan Swinton, and Marc Kuslanski–and one of my primary goals when I wrote the story was to enable readers to get into the mind of each character, get to know him, and, hopefully, root for him.  There are several “slower” scenes where the boys talk among themselves or where one of them wanders off by himself to think, ponder over his problems, and try to figure out his place in the universe.

placeintheuniverse

 

While it’s true action sequences and scenes that serve to advance the plot should and do reveal aspects of character, they cannot capture the thoughts, fears, aspirations, dreams a character might have in a quieter moment.  Nor can they portray an everyday scene, where we can witness the characters interacting over events that are mundane and normal as opposed to earth-shattering.  Without such scenes, little islands of stillness amid the roller-coaster ride of action, intrigue, and death-defying chase sequences, we cannot pause long enough to know and like (or dislike, as the case may be) each character over the course of the story.

islandsofstillness

 

***************

When the forward momentum of The Wizard of Oz pauses, just long enough for Dorothy to sing “Over the Rainbow,” we as the viewers are introduced to one of the primary themes of the movie–magic, fantasy, the promise of a place far, far away bursting with color and life and sights to stir and astound the senses.  We get a foreshadowing of Oz itself, of the quest Dorothy and her friends-in-waiting will undertake.

emeraldcityofoz

 

And, perhaps most important of all, we get a glimpse of the girl herself.  We share in her dreams, her wishing upon a star if you will, her ability to see and imagine beyond the nondescript reality of her daily life.

This was not lost on history.  On June 22, 2004, sixty-five years after The Wizard of Oz debuted in theaters and exactly thirty-five years removed from Judy Garland’s death, the American Film Institute voted “Over the Rainbow” as the greatest movie song of all time.

afilist

 

So the next time you’re sweating over the edits of your second draft and are all too eager to cut a scene that does not push the action along, take a breath, read it again, and reconsider.

Maybe, just maybe, the scene in question will transport your readers to a land “heard of once in a lullaby,” where “happy little bluebirds fly.” where the “skies are blue,” and “the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true.”

bluebird

 

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

52 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Silvia Writes
    Jul 31, 2014 @ 19:35:22

    Dorothy singing, that’s a scene forever burned in my mind. But, of course, I love the sunset scene and the blue bird. Pure beauty.

    Reply

  2. BroadBlogs
    Jul 31, 2014 @ 19:42:50

    Yes, the “over the rainbow” segment is so filled with meaning that it’s a must-have in my book. And it’s well worth slowing down for. Even adds complexity to the film. I’m surprised the studio executive and producer didn’t think of that.

    It’s great to relate this to all of our writing. Thanks for the thoughtful post.

    Reply

  3. jjspina
    Jul 31, 2014 @ 20:02:17

    Beautiful thoughts, Mike.

    Coincidentally I just watched this movie with my two grandsons, 8 and 10 years of age whom I had been caring for the past three weeks. They loved it and so did I! I have seen it many times but it is different each time because I notice something that I hadn’t noticed the previous time. The ‘over the rainbow scene’ is my favorite too. The second favorite is the change to color in the Land of Oz. It is such a cheery place until the wicked witch comes. It makes me feel like a kid again.

    Many years ago my husband gave me a glass globe of the wicked witch that plays music. Guess what it plays? “I will get you my pretty and your little dog too.” I do the impression every time I press it. Love it! Ha ha! I really can do a great witch! LOL! Scares the little ones though!

    Thanks for sharing the memories!

    Reply

  4. motherhendiaries
    Jul 31, 2014 @ 20:30:29

    What a lovely stroll down memory lane! I thoroughly enjoyed this… And the advice about editing is spot on! 😊

    Reply

  5. Andrea Stephenson
    Jul 31, 2014 @ 20:48:53

    I always loved the black and white parts of the Wizard of Oz, including over the rainbow. Love how you’ve linked this to the writing process.

    Reply

  6. Invisible Mikey
    Jul 31, 2014 @ 21:40:59

    I enjoyed your reflections on this great film, however there are NO “black and white” scenes in The Wizard of Oz. The Kansas scenes are brown, dust-colored, what they call “sepia toned”. Those of us who are Baby Boomers just grew up seeing the movie on B+W TVs first, since it began being broadcast in 1956, before color. It’s a common confusion.

    Because the movie was made in 1939, the choice to use sepia was an aesthetic one to remind audiences of the “dust bowl” of only a few years before. There are even tumbleweeds blowing through, something that doesn’t exist in Kansas.

    Another source of the confusion may be people’s familiarity with the book:

    “When Dorothy stood in the doorway and looked around, she could see nothing but the great gray prairie on every side. Not a tree nor a house broke the broad sweep of flat country that reached to the edge of the sky in all directions. The sun had baked the plowed land into a gray mass, with little cracks running through it. Even the grass was not green, for the sun had burned the tops of the long blades until they were the same gray color to be seen everywhere. Once the house had been painted, but the sun blistered the paint and the rains washed it away, and now the house was as dull and gray as everything else.”

    Reply

  7. 2embracethelight
    Jul 31, 2014 @ 22:27:14

    One of my most favorite movies

    Reply

  8. ptero9
    Jul 31, 2014 @ 22:58:00

    Great post! I cannot imagine the Wizard of Oz without that classic song.

    Reply

  9. Donna Gwinnell Lambo-Weidner
    Aug 01, 2014 @ 01:57:15

    Thanks Mike! This post comes at a very opportune moment…it’s revision time …again. I’ll be thinking of you.

    Reply

  10. draliman
    Aug 01, 2014 @ 09:47:55

    Cutting that scene would have been a travesty (though we wouldn’t have realised it was ever there to begin with, of course!).
    Being a “100-word” writer I’m often surprised that I can cut (sometimes up to 30% of) the first draft and it still makes sense. Sometimes though, as you pointed out, a certain “something” gets lost.

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Aug 04, 2014 @ 18:14:06

      And the trick is . . . finding the scenes/sentences to keep. So much first-draft writing should be cut. It’s finding the keeper material that makes the process an art as opposed to a science, I suppose . . .

      Reply

  11. barbaramonier
    Aug 01, 2014 @ 12:03:29

    Well! Done!

    Reply

  12. jenniferkmarsh
    Aug 01, 2014 @ 13:30:56

    It’s such a beautiful, moving little song. So lovely.

    I agree with you! I love how you say things like this. So what if the word count is a little longer? It gives the reader more chance for depth in every respect – character or plot etc – and is that depth not the true joy of reading, for how else are you supposed to be taken far away?

    Reply

  13. AGentleandQuietSpirit
    Aug 01, 2014 @ 13:37:08

    Perfect timing on this article as I just finished the first rough draft of my novel. Good reminders all around! Thanks! And I love Over the Rainbow. It perfectly sums up my childhood daydreaming. 🙂

    Reply

  14. mcwoman
    Aug 01, 2014 @ 13:50:06

    “The Wizard of Oz” as I remember was shown once a year, and my family never missed it. It’s one of my all time favorite movies, too. I love the way you incorporated a movie we’ve all seen and compared it to editing. Very clever, my dear Mike. Very clever.

    Reply

  15. teagan geneviene
    Aug 01, 2014 @ 15:20:42

    Mike another grand and insightful post. And i know this is not really what you meant… but for me — the Flying Monkeys! No movie monster — not Alien, not Predator, has ever been more frightening and creepy. Sorry — couldn’t help myself! Hugs! 🙂

    Reply

  16. DeDivahDeals
    Aug 01, 2014 @ 15:35:29

    Those dang flying monkeys scared the heck of of me!!

    Reply

  17. evelyneholingue
    Aug 01, 2014 @ 21:07:28

    Good point about the cutting part in the drafts that follow the first. You are right to point out that sometimes slow scenes are crucial. Many terrific books have long descriptive scenes that are in fact essential to create the unique sense of place. I’m thinking of The Goldfinch, the last book from novelist Dona Tartt, for example. It’s a long book but without the long scenes wouldn’t be such an amazing story. So thank you for reminding us that although short can make for extraordinary, long scenes don’t always deserve the knife.

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Aug 04, 2014 @ 18:19:57

      And that’s what makes creative writing so much fun, as well as so challenging, isn’t it? There are very few hard-and-fast rules. For every maxim, there is an exception. So much of it is based on “feel”–but that’s what makes it so, well, creative!:)

      Reply

  18. Sonya Solomonovich
    Aug 01, 2014 @ 23:26:58

    Good advice! I like how you posted a picture of a bluebird at the end 🙂

    Reply

  19. Julie Butler Chanteuse
    Aug 02, 2014 @ 12:34:46

    Oddly enough, I had a gig yesterday based on women of Broadway and slipped that song in. So many see or and Judy as sad or tragic. On the contrary, I find it very uplifting and I sing it that way. I couldn’t help but point out to my audience that I doubt the song would have the legs that or has, had it been sung by Shirley Temple, as the first choice for the role of Dorothy.

    The song was a big hit, I might add. It’s such a wonderful song, I think it should be done more often. After all, no one pretends to be Judy.
    Sorry to go on. But it was an uncanny connection to read this piece.

    Reply

  20. Joanne Blaikie
    Aug 04, 2014 @ 08:57:24

    Absolutely. I think i read somewhere that fast action paced scenes should be followed by slower, calmer scenes to give the reader a chance to get their breath back and yes, as an author for you to show the characters more. I’ve kept stuff in mine I think some would say delete, but those scenes show other sides of the characters. In life we are not all running around every second in all action, breath taking moments. We pause, we reflect. Characters need to do that too. Great post Mike. 🙂

    Reply

  21. Ste J
    Aug 04, 2014 @ 15:25:21

    The most fascinating scene I came across in The Wizard of Oz is the scene where they come to the other yellow brick road that crosses their path…I wanted them to explore first and not go to the Emerald City, happily now I have got the whole set of Oz books I can do that myself.

    Reply

  22. stockdalewolfe
    Aug 05, 2014 @ 20:15:07

    “The Wizard of OZ” wouldn’t be the Wizard of Oz without Judy Garland singing “Somewhere over the Rainbow” and I am so glad you pointed it out. It is worrisome when editing, as to whether to cut or not. The comparison to almost cutting the song in the movie is very apt. Sometimes you throw the baby out with the bath water. Very interesting and instructive post.
    P.S. Sorry to be so late in responding but although signed up to get your posts, I don’t get them. Will investigate.

    Reply

  23. laurie27wsmith
    Aug 06, 2014 @ 08:56:12

    It’s one song that makes me cry Michael, it always reminds me of my sister who has passed on.
    Laurie.

    Reply

  24. Sue Dreamwalker
    Aug 12, 2014 @ 18:13:01

    Wonderful advice you give your readers Mike, and love your choice of subject.. I can not tell you the times I saw this film 🙂
    Have a wonderful Week.. 🙂

    Reply

  25. Aquileana
    Aug 13, 2014 @ 22:00:49

    A great tribute to one of my favorite stories as a kid … And a classic too!!!…
    Very lovely, dear Mike.
    Thanks for sharing. All the very best to you, Aquileana 😀

    Reply

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