Some of our earliest memories often make the deepest impressions on our lives. If they are of traumatic events, those memories can be repressed and require sometimes years of therapy to unearth and understand how those events play out in our adult lives. But more benign memories have warm connotations and set us on a path to lifelong interests that are affirming.
The first movie I ever saw in a theater was Babes in Toyland, and I fell in love with the movies and Annette Funicello in one fell swoop. I saw her in all her movies and television appearances, except for Beach Party when it first came out, as Mother thought it was too racy. By the time I saw Annette sing “Dream Boy” in Escapade in Florence, I, too, was wondering when I’d meet the dreamy dream boy meant for me. But that would be a few years off, and a totally different story.
I still like to watch Beach Party, just for Annette and to remember how harmless what was once considered racy can be. It’s like any number of my other favorite movies that I see over and over again, much like old friends telling old stories that we act like we’ve never heard before.
But there can only be the one first time watching a movie, no matter how many future viewings there may be. And that first time may be a completely different experience than all those yet to come.
The first time I saw The Wizard of Oz, I was terrified for most of the movie. First, there’s that awful Almira Gulch, who takes Toto away from Dorothy, setting a tone of separation for the whole movie. There was a woman we went to church so like her that she could have given Margaret Hamilton a run for her money.
Then there’s a tornado, which was an ever present possibility growing up in East Texas. As a child, thunderstorms sent me running into my parents’ bedroom, and when I got too old for that, I’d slip in and try to hide under their bed.
Once Dorothy and Toto land, house and all in Munchkinland, everything turns to Technicolor, which I could actually see because we had upgraded to a color television, but Dorothy is separated from her family and wants to go home. Then the Wicked Witch of the West shows up and turns out to be that Gulch woman on crack, and she’s terrifying, too.
Of course, Dorothy picks up her motley crew of friends, and they go off to see the Wizard, who also turns out to be quite terrifying. In due course, we get flying monkeys, who went on to inhabit untold numbers of children’s nightmares for these past 80 odd years after capturing Dorothy, her legs kicking futilely in the air. Finally, they are all cornered in the castle by the Witch and her guards, and most of us, right now, can hear their chant if we pull up that sense memory. O-e-oh, e-o-ah, something like that.
So to hell with The Exorcist, The Shining, and Norman Bates. I survived The Wizard of Oz.
That wizard has been sort of evoked in recent days with the $83,300,000 verdict in the E. Jean Carroll trial. Ms. Carroll herself hints at it in her recent television appearances, describing her fear of facing Trump in the courtroom after all these years and all that has happened, only to discover that he is “nothing,” pulling back the curtain on him to discover there’s nothing to be terrified of after all. But I think that’s rather a misreading of the analogy that can be made. Right idea, wrong character.
Trump shows up in a cloud of smoke, throwing fireballs at those who oppose him, with a host of minions who do the actual dirty work. Many of those, like the Witch’s guards, really would like nothing more than for him to “go away,” but are too bullied, fearful, and kowtowed to say or do anything.
Meanwhile, some Democrats, even elected officials, as well as Never Trumpers, have spoken publicly of their fears. One said, in contemplating the 2024 presidential election, “I’m terrified.” I really hope that’s not true.
Being terrified should be reserved for scary things over which we have no control, like that tornado. Concern is the more thoughtful approach, and if a bit of fear (not terror) helps to motivate the appropriate action, so much the better. Besides, how terrifying can opponents be if they can be triggered by Taylor Swift?
Unless I miss my guess, Jack Smith, Fani Willis, and Alvin Bragg will bring a whole lot of legal fire power to the criminal trials that should begin in the coming weeks and months. If Alina Habba is any indication, Trump won’t be able to do so.
I’m in no position to advise Smith, Wilis, or Bragg, but nonetheless, they should know that it wouldn’t hurt to bring a bucket of water. Just in case.