The Wizard of Oz came out more than 80 years ago, but there must still be a few among us who remember seeing it in the theater. Only they would have felt completely the power of its famous scene when Dorothy leaves black-and-white Kansas and enters the colorful land of Oz. Much of the power of art comes from contrast, and this particular contrast could hardly have been a more persuasive advertisement for the power of Technicolor. After a development history of more than twenty years, that color motion-picture process had by 1939 reached the stage of its technological evolution called “Process 4,” which enabled studios to make use of not just some but all of the spectrum.
This final form of Technicolor enraptures viewers even today, reproducing colors as it did at intense, sometimes borderline-psychedelic depths of saturation. The process found its ideal material in the fantasy of The Wizard of Oz, with its yellow brick road (choosing whose exact shade inspired about a week of deliberation at MGM), its ruby slippers (calculatedly changed from the silver shoes in L. Frank Baum’s original novel), and its host of settings and characters with great chromatic potential.
You can appreciate this un-repeatably fortuitous intersection of content and technology again in these scenes from an unofficial 4K restoration of the film posted by Youtuber Oriel Malik.
This is surely the sharpest and most-detail rich version of The Wizard of Oz most of us have seen, and, in those respects, it actually outdoes the original prints of the film. For some the image may actually be too clear, making obvious as it does certain artificial-looking aspects of the backgrounds and costumes. But in a sense this may not run counter to the intentions of the filmmakers, who knew full well what genre they were working in: even on film, a musical must retain at least some of the look and feel of the stage. Yet it’s also true that the softer visual edges of the contemporary analog printing and projection technologies would have enhanced the dreamlike atmosphere created in part by all those surreally vivid hues — which, according to die-hard Technicolor enthusiasts, only really come through on film anyway.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.