- We're Not in Bombay Any More
Once upon a time, in a far-off land, there was a little boy who had a father full of thunder and lightning and goodness and fraud. To escape his reality, the little boy frequented a house where moving pictures brought fantasies to life before his eyes; one day, he found a magical film from an exotic land, which enabled him to create his own fantasies and finally to comprehend his father. Armed with the memory of the exotic film, the boy became a world-famous writer whose books combined magic and reality, just like the film and the father of his childhood.
It seems appropriate to begin this review with this biographical fairy tale because ultimately this book is as much about that little boy and how The Wizard of Oz created the author of Midnight's Children and Haroun and the Sea of Stories as it is about the 1939 MGM film itself. Rushdie begins with an autobiographical account of lost writing (his first story, written at age 10 and titled "Over the Rainbow") which segues into a reminiscence of his father, an Oz-like figure to rival the great and powerful wizard of the film.
But this is more (and less) than autobiography. It is also provocative film criticism, personal essay, and fiction (the book includes a short story about the imaginary auctioning of Dorothy's ruby slippers). Most of all, it is a stimulating tour through the imaginative mind—Rushdie's as well as the film's various creators' minds—and an invitation to debate the author's critical observations.
As Rushdie begins to dissect the appeal of what is arguably the most important and influential children's film produced by the American film industry, it is clear that he reads the film through the emerald spectacles of his own experience. Rushdie's criticism of Oz is playful, idiosyncratic, [End Page 231] personal in a way that at once illustrates both his postmodern sensibility and his distance from conventionally "academic" writing. We know a great deal about this critic's personal history, thanks to his stature as a major novelist and the notoriety accompanying The Satanic Verses; we see that many of his judgments are informed by his life. Certainly, his position as an observer from another culture highlights the distinction between his experience of the film and our own experience as members of the culture that spawned this artefact. Like the author's novels, which start many more ideas than can be fully developed within the confines of the form, this book generates ideas to stimulate the reader's own thinking about the film without necessarily concerning itself with the definitive working out of a particular thesis.
Instead of developing one thesis about the film, Rushdie offers several; when he does focus his attention on the movie's details, he does a remarkable job of unpacking the multiple layers of meaning in its signifiers. He returns several times to the tornado that carries Dorothy to Oz, and each time he examines another aspect. He sees it as a manifestation of the stultifying grey bleakness of Kansas life: "the greyness gathered together and whirled about and unleashed, so to speak, against itself (16); as an expression of Dorothy's own potential to rearrange the harsh necessities of her own life (her surname is Gale and she has a stormlike effect on those around her); and as an emblem of the chaotic nature of evil in the film's world.
Surprisingly, insofar as he elsewhere suggests that the MGM studio consciously sought, through the live-action film's special effects, to outdo Disney's animated tour de force, Snow White, he does not evoke the allusive relationship between this tornado and the one in Disney's The Band Concert. In both films, the tornado whirls characters through the air as they continue to pursue the activities they were caught up in when the storm struck. After the tornado, in Oz as in the Disney short, the world has been restored...