30 June 2006

Oz movie festival to lead into 4th of July

On Monday night, 3 July, and stretching into the early morning of Independence Day, Turner Classic Movies will have an Oz movie fest, supplementing its frequent showing of MGM's Wizard of Oz with Judy Garland by airing three other versions of the story as well.

7:00 --> The evening starts with the hourlong making-of documentary about the MGM Wizard assembled in 1989 and hosted by Angela Lansbury because, well,...? She made The Court Jester, so I guess she had a better connection to fantasy movie musicals from the Hollywood studio age than any other star of 1989.

8:00 --> The MGM movie itself. Least favorite line: "Because she wouldn't have believed me. She had to learn it for herself." So Glinda kept vital knowledge from Dorothy, ensured she was away from home for longer, let her go into danger, and watched her become a killer--all so the girl could learn never to leave her own back yard again. Bitch.

10:00 --> The Wiz. I haven't actually watched this overbuilt Diana Ross vehicle all the way through. I saw the stage show on Broadway, and it was terrific, so I go just a few minutes through the movie before deciding not to spoil my memory. Director Sidney Lumet had interesting things to say about the production in his memoir, Making Movies.

12:30 AM --> The 1925 adaptation by silent-movie comedian Larry Semon.
A teenaged Dorothy who turns out to be a kidnapped princess, awful racist jokes, high falls off silos, cacti in the bum, a transvestite dancer,... It's been thirty years since I first saw this silent movie at the University of Wisconsin. I've never wanted to see it again.

1:45 AM --> A fifteen-minute novelty from 1910, recently found and restored.
The image above comes from a frame of this movie as Dorothy meets the Scarecrow. This is probably the second filming of The Wizard of Oz, though it may have incorporated footage from the first, commissioned by L. Frank Baum himself. There's a lot of dancing, not a lot of plot, as I recall. Practically no plot, in fact. Not worth staying up for but well worth recording. And a good reminder that people have been saying, "The book's better than the movie," almost as long as there have been movies.


Eric said...

In defense of Glinda's line that you don't like: Hey, it's a dream! As Aunt Em says, "Oh, we dream lots of silly things when we..." Too bad she never finishes the thought ("...get clonked on the head by a badly installed window," perhaps). For all those folks who want the movie to make sense and wonder why it doesn't, I always trot out, "Hey, it's a dream, it's not supposed to make sense."

My favorite line from the movie? After Dorothy asks the Scarecrow, "How can you talk if you don't have a brain?" the Scarecrow replies, "I don't know. But some people without brains do an awful lot of talking. Don't they?"

Which is my cue to stop this reply now, I think...

J. L. Bell said...

There are indeed a lot of good lines in the MGM movie. And good not just because they've been worn into our brains through repetition.

But the Glinda line I so dislike is tightly connected to the plot, and that's my real problem with it. (I could live with Billie Burke's syrupy delivery if she'd had something else to say.)

As you say, MGM made Dorothy's journey to Oz into a dream. And dreams aren't supposed to make sense. But fiction—including filmed fiction—is supposed to make sense. More sense than real life, even. Even if Dorothy's trip never actually took place in the MGM re-telling, it's still supposed to have some meaning for her and for us, the moviegoers.

The MGM screenwriters united Baum's two Good Witch characters into one "Glinda, Good Witch of the North." They then had that character withhold important information from Dorothy as the simplest way to explain why she didn't send Dorothy home right away. And that turned the girl's whole journey into Oz from an adventure (as in the book) or a random dream into a lesson.

"What have you learned, Dorothy?"

"Not to trust a witch who glues silk to her face to pull back her wrinkles."

Anonymous said...

I don't think it's necessary to accept the MGM film version of The Wizard of Oz as a dream. The ruby slippers waft the house back to Kansas, drop it into place on the farm, and put Dorothy back in bed asleep. Unlike the book, where the silver shoes merely take Dorothy back to Kansas in three steps, in the movie the ruby slippers do a lot more. Watch the last bit of the movie again and see what you think.

J. L. Bell said...

The MGM movie's ruby slippers would also have to restore Dorothy and her home to Kansas before her family and friends notice that they were gone, most likely bending time to do so.

Possible--after all, their magic must be very powerful or else the Wicked Witch of the West wouldn't want them so much. (Which reminds me of the movie Glinda's lie to Dorothy that she doesn't know what the ruby slippers can do.)

But still not a plot that satisfies me as much as the Dorothy-driven original.