Wednesday, April 23, 2008

We're off to see the Wizard

Ok, we already went to see the wizard. Several months ago I piled the entire family into Old Blue and made the trek across the frozen tundra of East-Central Illinois to the Virginia Theater in Champaign. We were surprising the kids with a trip to see The Wizard Of Oz on the big screen.

Or so we thought. We were there on the wrong day.

The kids didn't care so much. They've seen it a hundred times or so. They enjoyed McDonald's playland as usual. But I was disappointed. Movies are meant to be seen on the big screen with other people in the audience while eating popcorn flavored with a light yellow grease that vaguely resembles butter.

I did not enjoy the McDonald's playland.

Lucky for me six months later The Virginia was again showing the classic movie. We piled everyone into Old Blue one more time and this time arrived on the correct day, even at the correct time.

The Virginia is a brilliant old theatre. VirginiaIn need of some restoration work, it is largely serviceable and comfortable. It still has the old chairs (without cupholders!). The art-deco trimmings are all there and wonderful, and once the place is restored I'm sure they'll be glorious.

The movie opened to general applause. I was immediately struck by the crispness of the print. I've only ever seen the videotape / tv version (we haven't purchased the new restored DVD yet) and this was much sharper and clearer.

There was more applause when the film switches to color in Munchkindland. It really was a bit breathtaking on the big screen when Dorothy opens the door and the Technicolor (tm) comes flooding in.

The added clarity of the print allowed me to see several things I've never noticed before. In the version I've seen, the scarecrow's face looks to be a uniform brown, even in closeups. On the big screen it's clear that the makeup is somehow made to look like burlap in patches across the face. It's a really striking effect.

In the scene where they meet the Tin Man for the first time, you can clearly see the exotic birds around the set, On the tv screen they are blurry lumps at best, which led to other rumors about what they might have been

When the lion sings his "King of the Forest" song, you can clearly see the fishing line being used to swish his tail around.

When the Tin Man comes out of the 'cleaning' seen (scrub scrub here, scrub scrub there...) he is not merely clean but gleaming. It's clear they even lightened the makeup for those scenes immediately after.

The wicked which is not only a delightfully mottled green, but she has a lovely wart on her chin which we can see the hairs poking out of. That was my favorite thing, I think, those hairs sticking straight out. It showed to me an attention to detail that has likely rarely been noticed.

Almost needless to say, the kids loved the movie. The fine staff at the Virginia kept things interesting during the half-hour wait for the show to start by giving away a slew of prizes that were kid - friendly. They sat rapt for most of the movie (one bathroom break, I think) even though they've seen it multiple times each. Number Four Son, who is destined for the entertainment business in some form, sat rapt through the entire thing. I'm not sure he moved until the Wicked Witch finally bought it, when everyone in the theatre applauded.

It was just a great family time, well worth the $5.00 each and the gas to Champaign. If you get a chance to see something in the Virginia, don't pass it up. My next goal is to see something when they unroll the full 50ft of their Cinemascope screen, one of the few downstate.

080510_lawrence-of-arabia Lawrence of Arabia, anyone?
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