By Jen Webb
When the red velvet curtain goes up, the lights dim and everyone begins to holler and cheer — you know this isn’t a regular movie. No one is going to shht! you for talking during this show. People chat and yell because there’s no dialogue to follow. Their white noise, instead, is drowned out by the haunting songs of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon and the surreal technicolor visuals from the motion picture classic The Wizard of Oz.
It’s almost show-time at 11:30 p.m. and I’m standing outside the 100-year-old Bloor Cinema in Toronto’s Annex. Beside me people are still paying their $5 to get into the 14A rated show, dubbed “Dark Side of Oz.” Urban legend has it that British rock group Pink Floyd recorded their 1973 breakthrough album Dark Side of the Moon to syncronize with the action of the 1939 American classic, The Wizard of Oz. Since the early 1990s, the album and movie have been dubbed together on thousands of theatre and computer screens to make what has become a stoner classic: An example of what understimulated human minds can create.
Inside, there are 850 old, red velvet covered seats with foam padding poking through torn fabric. The theatre floor is sticky and a mouse runs past my feet. Beside me is a ladder leaning against the red and beige wall. Teenagers are talking excitedly about the show while they smoke-up in large groups. They wait with anticipation for the cult phenomenon to begin. A teenage boy with dark, shoulder-length hair in a black trench coat and black cords walks up and down the aisles one last time asking if anyone wants to buy some pot.
Alex Woodside, the snack bar attendant at Bloor Cinema, says that no one stops people from smoking weed in the theatre — although it’s a feature the cinema doesn’t advertise on the posters stuck to poles around the city. “We keep it fairly low-key because people behave, but there’s no alcohol allowed in the theatre; everyone’s bags are checked.” Woodside says the audience is mostly between 14 and 22-years-old. High school students usually sit in the balcony and older people sit in the mezzanine — an unintentional demarcation.
Throughout the movie, lights flicker sporadically while smoke rises above the heads, collecting at the lofty red ceiling. It looks like a scene in an old movie house, where people smoked cigarettes in theatres and watched newsreels.
The audience sports piercings, hooded sweatshirts, dreadlocks and black clothing. They boo and yell “fuck you” to Dorothy’s neighbour — soon to become the Wicked Witch of the West. They cheer for Toto when he escapes evil.
Woodside says that with a show like this, there are often a lot of repeat viewers. “It becomes a tradition for a lot of young people,” he says. Brendee Green, 16, has seen “Dark Side of Oz” five times but keeps coming back because she sees something new each time she watches it.
“I notice more when I’m sober but I make up extra plot when I’m high,” she says. “It’s just so cool how closely the music and the movie match up, like when the witch is first shown as the neighbour, the bells ring (at the beginning of) the song ‘Time,’” says Green. There are other similarities as well. When Dorothy first sees Oz, the song “Money” begins with a cash register going cha-ching, insinuating that she hit the jackpot. During the dance of the three munchkin men, lyrics from “Us and Them” echo — “and after all, we’re only ordinary men.” And when the scarecrow sings that he only wants a brain, the song “Brain Damage” blares on top.
Alex, 17 who wants his last name to remain unknown for some reason, has seen the show five times at Bloor Cinema alone. “I listen to Pink Floyd a lot and I grew up watching the The Wizard of Oz. I had to see for myself if it really matched up, and it did.”
On a number of occasions, Pink Floyd has categorically denied intentionally recording an entire album to line up with the film, which, much like Dark Side of the Moon, is considered to be a masterpiece that came before its time. Still, in 1998, guitarist and singer David Gilmour said in an interview that some person with too much time on their hands blew this unusual coincidence out of proportion.
Others have related the phenomenon to Swiss psychologist Carl Jung’s concept of synchronicity, which says the human mind has a tendency to relate two seemingly distinct events objects.
To decide for yourself, you don’t have to trek to the Bloor Cinema. If you play Dark Side of the Moon on repeat and start it at the end of the MGM lion’s third roar, the sound and picture will be in sync. It will.
Back in the theatre, the smoke is fading and although everyone is burnt out, they begin cheering because the wicked witch is “melting.” Then they slowly start exiting the theatre to go back home to their parents.