Melbourne Documentary Film Festival Review: The Slippers (Canada, 2016) is unbelievable, whimsical and charming

In the film, The Wizard of Oz Dorothy taps her ruby red slippers and says, “There’s no place like home.” But have you ever wondered where was home for those striking shoes? The documentary, The Slippers is a fascinating film that covers what became of this beloved slice of movie history in a story that is sometimes so strange and bizarre that you couldn’t make this stuff up. It’s a tale that has everything in it from romps through history to thefts, betrayals, conflicting emotions and obsession.

Morgan White directs this film and he is no stranger to covering forgotten slices of movie history because his previous film, The Rep was about the dying world of repertory cinema. The Slippers is a film that chronicles and celebrates the golden age of Hollywood cinema and the meteoric rise of the movie memorabilia industry. Fans who appreciate a little nostalgia and a walk through some wardrobes, archives and warehouses containing important pieces of memory lane will not be disappointed.

The story goes that the big movie production companies from last century did not realise the value in preserving their props, sets and costumes. In the 1970s MGM was being liquidated and the powerbrokers figured that the only major asset was their real-estate and they were going to throw out a lot of the precious items that had been produced and used in films. This changed when a costumer named Kent Warner was brought on board. He’d previously been horrified when he saw another company use Fred Astaire’s suits and Ginger Rogers’ gowns as dish rags. So Warner spent around 15 years before his premature death from AIDS saving or stealing (depending on your perspective) movie memorabilia from these production companies. An estimated 80% of memorabilia was attributed to Warner’s Robin Hood-like preservation techniques.

The ruby slippers were made in 1939 for a total cost of approximately $14. Everyone was shocked when they would sell for $15,000 at an auction in the seventies. There were multiple pairs of the shoes designed for Judy Garland’s Dorothy to wear as well as the Wicked Witch. No one knows exactly how many pairs were made but there are estimates of between four and ten. One pair currently resides at the Smithsonian and in 2000 a pair sold for $600,000.

This documentary incudes interviews with a number of different individuals like: historians, archivists, authors and experts. There are also interviews with some rather eccentric and rabid collectors of movie memorabilia. Perhaps one of the most famous collectors was the late Debbie Reynolds who amassed a huge collection of different pieces because she eventually hoped to open a museum dedicated to Hollywood cinema. This never eventuated and she would sell off a lot of these items. She is not interviewed here and only appears in some archive snippets that are occasionally repeated but her son, Todd Fisher is interviewed and he offers up some interesting anecdotes about his famous mother’s collection, remembering that time he and his sister – the late Carrie Fisher –played dress-ups using some famous outfits.

Make no mistake, The Slippers is a much bigger film than just a simple story about some red shoes. It’s a love letter to the golden age of Hollywood and The Wizard of Oz, in particular. The film is a nostalgic one that shows the dark side of collecting as well as the positive emotions that people experience when they get to see a prop and remember scenes from important films, especially those from their childhoods. The Slippers is ultimately an unbelievable, whimsical and charming little film that will appeal to the inner child in all of us.

Review Score: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

The Slippers is screening at the Melbourne International Documentary Festival, which runs from July 9th to the 16th. For more details head to http://mdff.org.au/.