Tuesday, May 14, 2019

The Birthday Boy of Oz: L Frank Baum

One of our favourite days is here: May 15 - L Frank Baum's birth-date.

Literally a man of many talents (and trial and errors) who found his true calling later in life, making the most of what he did with the ones he loved and making others happy, more than even he could have possibly wildly imagined!

Two of the Biography books written about him, on either side of a page from the oversize "Queer Visitors from the Marvelous Land of Oz" book by Hungry Tiger Press

Whether they were Fantasy, contemporary, Politically Romantic ("Daughters of Destiny"), science-fiction, exotic adventures or even articles.
Whether he was an author, actor, playwright, salesman, shopkeeper or whatever job he took ... he certainly touched a lot of people, made a lot of connections and released a surprising amount of ideas.

Most of all he has brought so many people together, he has created Friendships and given us beloved gatherings.

He was a man, simply trying to find his way with the right job in life, who became a Creator and Royal Historian with his dream world.

Much has been written about him and his writings, especially a certain production of a particular book which brought him security and recognition, but we may never truly fully know every single tiny little thing about him, nor should we.
We have had a semi-accurate (and that term should be considered loosely) onscreen portrayal of his writings ... so hopefully someday we will get an accurate biographical dramatization of the man.

Thank You L Frank Baum for Oz and the many stories you have given us to read ... not just fairylands, but the Flying Girl, Aunt Jane's Nieces, the Master Kay, Sam Steele / the Boy Fortune Hunters, Annabelle and many more stand-alone books and series!

We salute and applaud you sir!

Thursday, April 04, 2019

GoFundMe OzCon Campaign

OzCon International is just a few months away, held on July 26-28 at the Kellogg West Conference Center.

This is certainly a BIG one: Celebrating the writings of L Frank Baum (who passed away in 1919) and the 80th Anniversary of MGM's "Wizard of Oz"

Everybody loves to go, though sometimes there are those who may have a little difficulty doing so, whether it's due to money or distance.

That is why I have made this campaign to ask for help, so that I may not miss out on this special event.

Normally I rely on myself and don't ask for assistance, but there are times you need to take a chance and ask for help, then see who is willing and able to help.
It's a reasonable goal and will cover the main expenses: travel, accommodation and spending.

If all goes well, some of the extra money may go to attending next year's OzCon in 2010, to celebrating "Glinda of Oz".

If you are able to help donate and spread the word around for this, that would truly show the spirit of the Oz community - where you help someone, just as Dorothy selflessly helped the Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman get out of their positions through the goodness of her own heart.


Please and Thank you.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Meet artist David Valentin

Ever wanted to see the Oz characters in 3D, looking just like how John R. Neill drew them? Artist David Valentin has begun modeling them as a hobby. He's shared with us his work so far, Tik-Tok, the Tin Woodman, the Scarecrow, Jack Pumpkinhead and the Sawhorse.

And to make this a bit more than just showing off some cool art, we did a little Q&A over e-mail.

How did you get interested in Oz?
My love of Oz began very early. Growing up, the 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz was my favorite fantasy film and watching it on television every year was a special treat for myself and my siblings. This was before VCRs and DVDs so as a child, watching it on TV was the only way to see it and it was an exciting event for me.

In 1989, I purchased The Wizard of Oz: The Official 50th Anniversary Pictorial History and it was at that time that I was introduced to the Oz Books by L. Frank Baum. I immediately purchased as many of the Oz Books I could find, mostly via Books of Wonder, a children’s bookstore in NYC that published great facsimile editions of the Oz Books. I was always a fan of all things Disney, Fantasy, and Science Fiction and Oz certainly fit the bill.

Years later, at age 17, my very first job was working at Books of Wonder and it was my love of Oz that started it. Of course, at the time, I think the majority of my paycheck went right back to Books of Wonder to pay for Oz books and Oz items. I’m sure the owners didn’t mind. I also began collecting Oz items wherever I could find them. Below are images of my collection when I had them displayed. Today, most of my collection is in storage where I someday hope to have the additional room to display them again. 

What do you do when you're not recreating the beloved characters in 3D?
Sketching and 3D Art have been a hobby of mine for over 20 years. Most of my professional work include architectural renders and character design for games including animation. I’ve attached a few examples of some of that work including one project that I completed for Topps Trading Cards a few years ago. It was to create 60 Sketch Cards that would be included in their Star Wars Chrome Perspectives Jedi Vs Sith Hobby Box. When I’m not busy, I spend the majority of my time learning new software and watching tutorials that I can utilize to bring my ideas to life.
In addition to my freelance work, I work at New York University full time which has allowed me the opportunity to further my education and explore new technologies in Digital Arts. I have been lucky enough to have been taught by some incredible instructors who work at Blue Sky Studios, Weta Digital, and Marvel Studios. One instructor of mine worked his magic on James Cameron's Avatar and taught me the same techniques he created for the texturing and painting of the main characters in the film.

How did you start modeling the Oz characters?
Unfortunately, due to contractual restrictions, I am not able to showcase most of the work I create professionally so knew I wanted to start a project that I could share with others. 

Being a huge fan of John R. Neill and his illustrations, I decided to create the Oz characters in 3D based on his work. There are thousands of Oz artists out there who have completely reimagined the characters throughout the years but I wanted to go back to the original illustrations and see what I could come up with. With the advances of 3D technology and my passion to further explore the different types of software available, I was finally able to create the first 5 characters, Tik-Tok, The Scarecrow, The Tin Woodman, Jack Pumpkinhead, and the Sawhorse.

What software do you use?
For the five characters I created, I used the following software packages: Blender, Chaos VRay, Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop, Marvelous Designer, and ZBrush.
Though it can easily become quite overwhelming, planning each stage is extremely important and there is always trial and error. The majority of the time is spent on testing materials, lighting, and textures for the characters. 
Before even beginning any of the work on the computer, I try and gather as much reference as possible. Luckily there are great images online for most of the Oz Characters and I gather the best ones for reference (Fig.1).

In Fig. 02, I block the initial pose for Jack Pumpkinhead using basic geometry until I get it right. I then pose a rigged “Stand In” character to pose the body. This is done using Blender, a 3D Modeling Program. I created certain characters like the Tin Woodman and Tik-Tok using a joint system which allows me to pose them in any way and if I ever want to animate them in the future, it will save me considerable time. Example of two different poses I created for the Tin Woodman can be seen in Fig. 02. 

Once I have the final pose, I import him into Marvelous Designer (Fig. 03) which is a clothing simulation software. I create each article of clothing using patterns and stitch them onto the character. Once I get this right, I export the clothes into ZBrush, which is a sculpting programs where I add the details.

Fig. 04 shows the original clothes I created for the Scarecrow before I changed his pose along with various heads I created for Jack. I use a Wacom Tablet with ZBrush to sculpt the details. It feels like playing with digital clay and you can add as much detail as you want.

The next stage (Fig. 05) involves using Photoshop and Illustrator to create all the textures that will be applied to the final model. You can think of textures like wrapping paper that completely surrounds the model to give it the look. Texturing a character takes the most time as I’m constantly testing the look development of the scene.

Next stage is lighting the scene using virtual lights. In Fig.06 you see a test using outdoor lighting that I didn’t wind up using for Jack Pumpkinhead.

Finally, a scene is rendered in the computer using Chaos VRay and I combine all the render elements back into Photoshop. Fig.07 shows six of the render passes I use most of the time but more complex scenes use about a dozen separate passes.

Finally I combine and tweak all the passes to create the final completed render (Fig.08, at the top of this post.)

What are your favorite Oz books, films, plays, music, etc.?
Besides the 1939 MGM Wizard of Oz film, I enjoy all of Baum’s books but especially enjoy The Marvelous Land of Oz and Ozma of Oz. I reread Marvelous Land right before leaving my small town in Puerto Rico after finishing high school. I moved back to NYC on my own when I was 17 and while I never met any talking Pumpkins, I can surely say that most of the people I met at the time in NYC were just as colorful. 
I’ve seen many stage shows of The Wizard of Oz including one in Madison Square Garden which starred Eartha Kitt as the Wicked Witch and Mickey Rooney as the Wizard and also had the opportunity to attend an Oz Benefit Concert starring the singer Jewel as Dorothy. While all were entertaining, I found a VHS Copy of the Children’s Theatre Company production of The Marvelous Land of Oz to be most faithful to Baum’s Oz. Another favorite of mine is Disney’s Return to Oz because it features more of the characters found in later Oz books. While I absolutely love the visuals in Disney’s Oz The Great and Powerful, I personally wished they had stuck to the original stories.

What are some of your favorite things about Oz?
I think the overall theme in the first Wizard of Oz story is a sentiment I hold very dear to my heart. In the end of the first book, Dorothy and the other characters finally realize everything they always wanted was already within themselves. I remember as a child believing in that and it suddenly became clear that life wouldn’t have to be a struggle. It’s a belief I wished more people possessed, especially these days where people blame others for their unhappiness. One cannot find happiness anywhere unless you already have that happiness within.
And last but most important, tolerance and acceptance of everyone is key within the Land of Oz, where we find thousands of different types of characters who all learn to work and live with one another. This to me is why I love Oz so much and wish more people would learn from reading the beloved stories by L. Frank Baum.

If you enjoyed seeing David's work, check out his website and follow him on Instagram.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

The Royal Podcast of Oz: Hit the Bricks with PJ Blankenship

After a long hiatus, the Royal Podcast of Oz returns as Jay chats with PJ Blankenship, creator of the upcoming Hit the Bricks, a fiction podcast featuring modern adventures in Oz!

You can listen, download and subscribe at the podcast site, or use the players and links below. The Royal Podcast of Oz is available on iTunes, Stitcher, Player.FM, Google Play Music and other podcast services and aggregators that mirror these.

Right-click to download the episode.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Oz in 2019!

Happy New Year everybody!

Sorry for the lack of posts lately from all of us (and for those of you who don't like keep hearing "happy new year" after a week).

Calendar by the International Wizard of Oz Club, each month focusing on a certain possession of a different member with a story

Oz has a few specials this 2019:
* 100 years since L Frank Baum died on May 6, 9 days before his birthday, before his penultimate book "Magic of Oz" was published
* 80th Anniversary of the 1939 MGM film

More updates and Announcements will be declared once information has been known.

Personally, I will making work on MANY Oz illustrations for a few story / book-related projects as well as continuing with my Oz-related commission (check out "Devotion" on DeviantArt to find out - there should be 14 pages, so just check my page for any missing pages - Hand-Sam-Art).

There are also some new Oz books I have and will be reading soon, so when I can I may provide reviews.

Not much to read now, but a small update never hurts.

Here's a good one for all of us and Oz this year!

Sunday, November 25, 2018

The Magic Belt

It's been awhile since we got an Oz-related book from Paul Miles Schneider, six years in fact since his second book The Powder of Life was released. And keeping in theme with that book and his first, Silver Shoes, the third one features an item from the third Oz book, Ozma of Oz, The Magic Belt.

Donald Gardner and his friends are having trouble going back to their day to day lives after the events of The Powder of Life as Halloween draws near. Not helping are the mysterious earthquakes happening nearby.

Donald actively wants to forget about Oz and just get back to a normal life, but it doesn't help when his classmate Katie gives him an old copy of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz that someone has scribbled in.

Finally, Halloween rolls around and Donald and his friends go trick or treating, when they spot a new home that seems to be open for trick or treaters. However, the host isn't just dressed as a witch, she is a witch! Namely, Mombi!

Joining with Katie, old family secrets are turned up as Donald and his friends discover that the Nome King and Princess Langwidere have joined forces to reclaim the Magic Belt, which has been hidden in Kansas, its magic greatly decreased by hiding three gems from it in some very Ozzy places.

There's a number of twists and turns along the way and plenty of magic in tow, and some visits to actual places of interest to Oz fans, Schneider giving a wink and nod to places that celebrate Oz that he's visited.

This one wasn't quite as exciting as the first two books and it felt more like this was written to wrap up the series. If Schneider continues with stories about Donald, they might be more self-contained. As such, if you haven't read Silver Shoes or The Powder of Life lately, you might want to re-read them before getting into this one for the best effect.

Although there's a pretty major conclusion to the story this time, as said, it's not a huge, action-packed one and when the enemies were dealt with, there were still a few more chapters as everything else was being addressed. There were so many pages left I thought for sure there had to be one last encounter with the Nome King, but there wasn't. The writing is still quite engaging, and I wasn't bored with the story.

But that's not really a problem. The Magic Belt is concluding a trilogy and in that matter, I think it succeeds at concluding the over-arcing story. Donald has grown older and wiser and learned new things. The slower ending really handles that well. As a standalone, I wouldn't recommend it as there's a lot of things referenced that are better explained in the first two books.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

The Lost Tales of Oz

Joe Bongiorno's Royal Publisher of Oz has a new book out, illustrated by eminent Oz illustrator Eric Shanower. Instead of a single Oz story, it presents seventeen stories by thirteen writers.

I'm one of the writers who contributed to the anthology and thus have some insight into the creation. Each writer was solicited for a story that didn't necessarily have to stick to traditional Oz themes. It didn't need to be “safe for kids,” Joe encouraging us to think of stories that wouldn't be in traditional Oz books. I chronicled the creation of my contribution in one of the appendices.

The book features a framing sequence in which Dorothy, Trot and Betsy Bobbin look through some of the stories that appear in the Royal Library. You could interpret this that not all of the stories are “true,” but the book goes on to consider them so.

Joe runs The Royal Timeline of Oz website and as can be expected, has a big focus on continuity. When he edited the stories, it would sometimes mean that he would add notes to continuity. He might also add other things as well.

The first story is The Great and Terrible Oz Mystery by Michael O. Riley in which Ojo spots some suspicious behavior of the Wizard around the Palace. With some information from Jellia and help from his friends, it's up to Ojo to solve the mystery.

Next is The Witch's Mother of Oz by Paul Dana. This midquel takes place during the final chapters of The Marvelous Land of Oz, introducing the mother of none other than Mombi, who approaches her, revealing some secrets from her past.

The Trade: A Langwidere Story by Mike Conway features a young woman offering her head to Ev's mysterious dignitary. The response reveals that there may be a bit more to explore about the head-swapping princess.

Ojo and the Woozy is J.L. Bell's attempt to create another “Little Wizard Story,” focused on the titular characters. As Ojo meets some new friends, he runs into a situation that the Woozy might be quite suited to handle.

Nathan DeHoff makes the first of three contributions in The Other Searches For The Lost Princess. Taking place during The Lost Princess of Oz, these three short stories follow the other three groups who didn't find Ozma: the Scarecrow and Tin Woodman; Shaggy Man, his brother, Tik-Tok and Jack Pumpkinhead; and Ojo, Unc Nunkie and Dr. Pipt. This one is chock full of puns and Easter Eggs for fans of the Oz series and its adaptations.

Next up is Chop by Eric Shanower. Originally written for an Ozzy horror anthology, it tells how Button-Bright came across the home of Chopfyt and Nimmee Aimee. But this was never a happy home, and it hasn't become any happier... It's probably the darkest story in the collection.

Following is In Flesh Of Burnished Tin by Jeffery Rester, a short piece depicting the relationship of Nimmee Aimee and the Wicked Witch of the East.

David Tai's Diplomatic Immunity comes next, revealing Trot and Betsy investigating an island that has descended on Oz from the sky. It is—in fact—Sky Island, and as Trot is the ruler she has to make the choice whether to enforce Ozma's rule or help her people.

The late M.A. Berg offers The Scrap Bag Circus of Oz, in which Scraps comes across a small circus of plush people and animals, who it turns out where made from the cloths that were also used in the crazy quilt that made up Scraps' body.

Following this is a pair of stories by the late Sam Sackett with Joe helping out. In The Wizard in New York, the Wizard goes to check out the 1939 World's Fair. It's not a majorly eventful story, mostly the Wizard reacting to the state of the world he left behind several years before, including going to see MGM's The Wizard of Oz. But he does pick up a stray cat he names Ali, who features in Ali Cat in Oz, which follows the adventures of the Wizard's new pet cat as it travels through the palace, then the Ozian countryside.

Joe then presents an unusual Oz story in Lurline and the Talking Animals of Oz, which follows the diaries of a resident of Oz who lived through Oz becoming a fairyland and animals beginning to talk and asserting their own place in Oz. It further addresses how Lurline had to intervene to maintain the peace.

Then comes the story from yours truly: Tommy Kwikstep and the Magpie. Journeying to a Gillikin village with Corina the Magpie, Tommy Kwikstep discovers what became of the Good Witch of the North before making a new acquaintance in Perry, the son of the ex-General Jinjur. It's very much a story about relationships, from the families we are born into to the ones we choose.

Up next is Nathan DeHoff's Ozma and the Orange Ogres of Oz, which follows the conquest of the Emerald City of a group of orange ogres and how it was resolved. If you thought it might be a timely political allegory, Nathan actually wrote it over two decades ago and it was revised heavily by Joe for publication.

Marcus Mebes offers Quiet Victory which reveals how Victor Columbia Edison, the talking phonograph, came to live with Allegro De Capo, the Musicker. Perhaps these two were made for each other.

Nathan's final offering in the collection is Vaneeda in Oz, which I admit I had a hand in. Not a big one, but I told Nathan that as I'd written a story featuring Jinjur's son—who was a twin—perhaps he might write a story featuring the other one, Winnie. (As they're Munchkin-born, their names are similar to perriwinkle, a blue flower.) Anyway, Winnie and her friends Henrietta and Paella the Cookywitch decide to investigate the claim that Vaneeda, daughter of the Wicked Witch of the East (name and identity suggested by a never completed story by Ruth Plumly Thompson), has turned the Munchkin Royal Family into glass.

The final story is The Puppet-Mistress of Oz by Andrew Heller. As Dorothy relates her first adventure in Oz, Trot begins to think some things added up too well. Suspicions are raised and questions are answered. And if you've thought about Oz history, it's exactly who you think it is.

Each story is introduced by an opening page that features an introduction written in character by Dorothy, Trot or Betsy. A small illustration by Eric Shanower also tops this page. With the exception of The Trade, there's two illustrations by Eric per story: the small one on the introductory page and a full page illustration. It's all right for some stories, but this means many characters will only be seen in your imagination.

What a lot of Oz fans love about Shanower's artwork is that it's finely detailed and drafted. His human characters look human, and the characters of Oz are designed after John R. Neill's illustrations. He also adds well-proportioned design work to scenery and animals and other creatures so it adds a believable look to the world of Oz, even when completely unreal creatures such as the Woozy are being depicted. I had to admit, I only had a determined visual for Corina when it came to creating my story as she is a Sri Lanka Blue Magpie, also known as a Ceylon Magpie, specifically. Perry I had decided to let the illustrator handle. While Eric did draw Perry and I was pleased with it, what impressed me was that he drew a lot of birds I'd described in the story. That I was not expecting at all!

The book also features notes on the stories that tell how they came to be written, as well as continuity notes by Joe, and then biographies of the authors are given. Mine sadly dated quickly as it mentions that I live with my two cats when that's no longer the case. But I don't think I'll request it to be revised.

The book is laid out in classic Oz book style with the text set in the Schoolbook font with the title of the book being at the top of left hand pages over a line with the title of the chapter being on the right hand page over another line.

With the exception of Chop and moments in Lurline and the Talking Animals, most of these stories fit the traditional Oz style of being fun adventures for all ages with some strange twists. The Oz stories have always toed that line between whimsical and macabre, though. One might want to be a little wary about giving this one to children without some supervision, though. Literature provides a good way for readers to learn about certain concepts, but in the form of fantasy and fiction, it might be best to discuss these stories with young readers.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Remembering The Wiz Movie at 40

Original illustration by Bob McGinnis, intended for a
movie poster. From the collection of Bob Gold.
Image courtesy of Sam Milazzo.
To celebrate the 40th anniversary of the film adaptation of The Wiz, the Royal Blog of Oz solicited comments about the film from several Oz fans. The film was the subject of an episode of The Royal Podcast of Oz, which featured fan Garrett Kilgore. Opening is a history of the movie and thoughts from Jay.
The Wiz movie, what a loaded one this is. It was, of course, based on the stage show of the same name. A stage show that took Broadway by storm despite having a closing notice on opening night. The way I've heard the story is that Motown originally intended to have Broadway star Stephanie Mills star in the film, but when Universal offered to help fund the movie if Diana Ross was Dorothy, it was an offer Motown couldn't refuse.

Since Diana was 33, there was no way they could stick with the play's script, which hewed closely to L. Frank Baum's novel, reimagining the story through an African-American perspective. Joel Schumacher (yes, that one) was brought on to write a wholly new script, which he infused with inspiration from Werner Erhard. His connections also helped them with the massive number of costumes needed. After the Ross-switch, Saturday Night Fever director John Badham dropped out, and Serpico and Murder on the Orient Express director Sidney Lumet was brought in.

The cast was filled out with Michael Jackson (post-Jackson 5, pre-King of Pop) as the Scarecrow, Nipsey Russell as the Tin Man, Richard Pryor as the Wiz, Lena Horne as Glinda, Thelma Carpenter as Miss One (the Good Witch of the North), and Ted Ross and Mabel King reprised their roles from the original Broadway cast as the Cowardly Lion and Evilene (the Wicked Witch of the West), respectively. Motown producer Quincy Jones would arrange the music, dropping much of the instrumentals from the musical and creating new tunes, which used a lot of cues from a song ultimately dropped from the movie, "Is This What Feeling Gets?"

The film would eschew the story's original setting on a farm in Kansas and placed Dorothy as living with her Aunt Em and Uncle Henry in a Harlem apartment. Oz was depicted by many locations in New York City redressed into a bizarre fantasy world, which alone made the budget skyrocket. The yellow brick road was actually linoleum, which was also available for commercial sale.

The film was released on October 24, 1978, and wound up only bringing in $13.6 million on a $24 million budget and critics panned the movie. The failure put studios off of making all-black movies, ending the "blaxpoitation" genre and big budget musicals for a time. But it did find an audience, especially after the film began to air on television in 1984 and later when it would be released to home video, and it is available on VHS, laserdisc, DVD, Blu-Ray and digital formats.

The movie certainly has problems. One is that it's too long, running at 135 minutes. While that's comparable to how long the play would go for, it should be remembered that the play was in two acts, giving the audience a break mid-way. That time for the play also includes the overture, entr'acte music and curtain call.

A major issue with the run time is the dance scenes. Many of these extend the song sequences for far longer than they need to be, and sadly, much of the time, the fact that you're seeing these dances filmed takes away a lot of the energy the performers were giving off. The first time Dorothy and the Scarecrow sing "Ease On Down The Road" features a big problem as instead of using multiple angles, the two are filmed from behind, the scene panning into a large wide shot.

The movie also throws off the pacing of the original show by having the Tin Man's two songs "Slide Some Oil To Me" and "What Would I Do If I Could Feel?" back to back. While it's clear that "You Can't Win" shows off more of Michael Jackson's vocal talents, this comes at the cost of the optimistic and upbeat "I Was Born On The Day Before Yesterday." Richard Pryor didn't sing, so the Wiz's version of "If You Believe" was given to Dorothy and "So You Wanted To Meet The Wizard" and "Y'All Got It!" were cut. "Who Do You Think You Are?" and "A Rested Body Is A Rested Mind" were also dropped.

The movie also can come off as creepy. The revival of the Munchkins with no context looks and feels pretty creepy. The peddler with his puppets is just weird, and even after the subway sequence (the adaptation of the play's Kalidah chase scene), we have no idea what their deal is. The concept of turning New York City into Oz is interesting, but there's something unsettling about seeing Dorothy and her friends dance through empty streets littered with garbage bags.

The movie is actually very colorful and visually rich, but a lot of scenes take place at night, making them visually dark. When the movie was shown on TV and released to home video, the colors looked muted and a lot of the finer details disappeared into the background. It wasn't until Blu-Ray and digital HD that people viewing at home could begin to see these.

The re-framing of Dorothy as a timid introverted elementary school teacher was interesting. She's in a good job, but should be willing to take more risks and become more adventurous. Aunt Em mentions that Dorothy has been offered to take on a high school job and encourages her to move out on her own. This is a good setup, but when Dorothy sets out into Oz, her desiring to go home is puzzling. She needed to get out on her own, and now she is. I suppose she gets to go home and apply this knowledge to her life, but you forget about that during the long song sequences and with how it rarely comes up after she gets to Oz.

It's easy to see why fans of the original musical were disappointed with the movie. Movies can easily be seen by people on television and now home video, much more cheaply and conveniently than going to see a play. For a lot of people, The Wiz would be the movie, not the original show. It would not be until The Wiz Live! in 2015 that there would be another easily accessible version of The Wiz.

However, The Wiz movie has its fans, some very devoted. There's a lot of iconic talent in the cast, there's a lot of great songs, and it is inventive in many ways, even if those ways didn't win over audiences. But for African-American families, what other fantasy film offered them an adventure featuring people who looked like them? A lot of the shortcomings noted by their peers were easy to ignore in light of the fact that they had this movie that featured people who represented their lives and culture. The Wiz filled a void, and to be honest, it's a void that few other movies have filled.

I happened to first pick up a VHS copy of The Wiz in 2005, the same day that The Muppets Wizard of Oz was released to DVD. I had gone over to a store to pick up the new movie, then I went over to the library to use the internet (no home connection at that time), and then went over to a movie trading store and found the VHS.

I watched the movie with my siblings. Being a used copy, we noted that the tape resumed during the "A Brand New Day" sequence during which the Winkie slaves remove their ugly costumes. I could only imagine a prudish mother freaking out, taking the tape out and disposing of it by getting it to a movie trading store. (Coincidentally, it was at another location of the same line of stores that I purchased the movie on Blu-Ray later.)

My siblings and I weren't impressed with the movie, the running time taking a toll on us. Still, as a collector of Oz film, I held onto the tape until after I replaced it with a widescreen DVD that I ordered from a third party seller on Amazon. I would later also pick up the 30th anniversary DVD that presented the movie in anamorphic widescreen for the first time. It was not a movie I revisited often.

When I got the Blu-Ray, I decided to watch some of it to see how it looked. At the time, I was using a CRT TV, having not yet upgraded to an HDTV. Even on that, the upgrade in clarity and color was very noticeable. At one point, I decided to watch the "He's The Wiz!" sequence and wound up watching the rest of the movie.

I think my feelings shifted from disdain to acceptance to being able to see how you can enjoy the movie to finding some enjoyment. It has its flaws, and I certainly wish we could've seen the original conception of Stephanie Mills recreating her Broadway role on film, but in the end, it is what it is.
 - Jay Davis
A collection of The Wiz merchandise, courtesy Sam Milazzo.
I can remember my first viewing of The Wiz movie was in Primary school, as one of the teachers had taped it from a TV broadcast - where each time there was to be a commercial, it would use and slow down the shot of Dorothy and Toto spinning inside the blizzard - and I have so many memories from that viewing, even if they are inaccurate and the scenes in my mind are different to those in the actual film on video: I even remember the dreams I had growing up afterwards from seeing it:
* a magazine I "found" at the end of my bed with a double-page spread showing Dorothy, holding Toto in her arms and talking to Miss One, wearing fluffy pink slippers (this is because, earlier, someone thought I was talking about the OTHER movie) ... naturally when I woke up the next morning, I checked the end of my bed for the magazine, which wasn't there because it didn't exist.
* a zooming close-up on Dorothy's Silver Slippers when she returned home at the end which led to a "dance number" on the street (which was not snowed under).

I remember a friend in high school talking about the film with its changing color city lights and the Witch wanting the girl with the Silver Shoes.

The first time I read anything on the 1978 film, was a small section in The Annotated Wizard of Oz (and many other things I would eventually and gradually be exposed to and collect, or avoid).
Even before I saw it again, the image of a tall Dorothy and a short Good Witch/Miss One stayed in mind and would be remembered whenever I saw a similar thing on screen, such as Maggie and Yetta in one episode of "The Nanny" or Nicole Kidman and Shirley MacLaine in the "Bewitched" movie.

Soon as I got the DVD I loved it, even in its low, dark quality and gaps in story (especially why Glinda created the storm to abduct Dorothy in the first place) and faulty editing.  I loved this film because I resonated with them showing a grown-up Dorothy having difficulty becoming a full proper adult and resisting a change of jobs, something I am still learning to do myself.  Whenever I watch it, I find something else about it that adds depth to the detail in scene or shot, or reveals a possible new meaning of interpretation like reasons or characters that may represent a different aspect of Dorothy's personification.  Even the Blu-ray can reveal details I could never notice so clearly before.

As much as I love this film, I would be blind and foolish to not see where improvements are needed. However, while this film does severely lack proper and excellent editing and design choices (especially wasting so much time, effort and resources in costume changes for the Emerald City tri-colour number/s, when White would have been easily adjustable!), I am clever enough to know that video and TV allows us to mute, fast-forward or even adjust color settings to improve viewing - choices of which I am willing to take advantage of.

I am interested in the magazines that cover the production, but am also disappointed in the complete absence of more interesting merchandise and memorabilia, particularly the abandoned Comic treatment, as I strongly feel that this companion piece would have not only filled up blank spots in the film (especially dialogue in scenes without singing and, in particular, Dorothy's thoughts once she had returned "home") but also be a better adaptation than what "Return to Oz" got in similar form.
- Sam Milazzo
I first saw the movie on TV many years ago. I don't know how old I was. I think it's good. Though I still think Diana Ross was too old to be playing Dorothy and I thought the Tin Man's crying was annoying. (I mute at that part.) Plus, what the hell was up with the poppies looking like strippers and the Winkie guards running around in their underwear? But I bought the DVD four or five years ago.
- Sarah Crowther
I really hated it. The premise was good, it was an unique spin on the story (for the time). What killed it for me were the dance numbers that just went on and on and on. I get it, you're free and you're happy but can we please get back to the story?
- Erica Olivera
There's so much I can say on this one. One scene that sticks out for me is the first version of "Ease on Down the Road." As a child I loved seeing Dorothy and Scarecrow dancing to that. As I got older I realized just how crazy that scene was since it's friggin' Michael Jackson and Diana Ross!!! Growing up, the MGM film was the standard for Oz fun, but whenever this movie would come on TV, I would beg for the world to stop just so my young eyes could watch. It was important for me to see that race is not an issue when it comes to telling this story. This story is for everyone. Later on this became more apparent when I was in an all Filipino version of The Wiz playing the Scarecrow. The Wiz film has not become one of my favorite movies, but I can appreciate it. If anything, the recent Live version has become one of my favorite Oz adaptations.
- Eduard Cao
Pages from the unpublished comic adaptation of The Wiz,
from the collection of David Lee,
image courtesy of Sam Milazzo.
I saw this movie on my last night in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in June 1979. My family moved back to the states the next day. I don't remember knowing there was to be a movie version of The Wiz, though of course I was aware of the stage show. So it was a surprise when the title showed up on the marquee of the Officer's BOQ lyceum.

My father, my mother, and my sister watched it, too. A female friend my sister's age (Karin Kaempfer Mann) and the little girl she was baby-sitting also came along. By the time of the Munchkin scene the little girl was so terrified she and the baby-sitter left. I watched the whole thing. The seat got really, really hard.

I had never been to New York City and did not understand what the thing was with the locations or why. I still don't understand why. I wish they'd stayed closer to the stage show and just made it take place in a standard Land of Oz, not this weird, unreal New York City version of Oz.

It's also too bad they booted Stephanie Mills and cast Diana Ross as Dorothy. An older Dorothy just doesn't work for the story as they filmed it. And the other weird decisions like shifting one of the Tin Woodman's songs to give Nipsey Russell two songs in a row. He's one of the weaker singers in the cast and that whole scene's really hard to sit through.

Giving Michael Jackson the cut Winkie song in place of "I Was Born on the Day Before Yesterday" makes no sense in context. Don't get me started on the nonsensical Emerald City stoplight number—although I have to say the fashions look better and better the older the movie gets.

Why in the world would they reveal the Wizard's a humbug before Dorothy discovers it for herself? What were they thinking to make such a huge anti-story, anti-interest blunder?

And there's so much more that's just anti-theatrical in the movie version. The two best scenes are still "Mean Ole Lion" and "No Bad News." Taken out of context, both are flat out great. It's telling that those are the two performances which use the stage stars in their original roles. I wish the producers and director had gotten a clue from that to help the rest of the movie.

I avoided seeing any version of the stage show for years because of this dreary, drawn-out movie version. But when I finally understood that all the bad parts of the movie were added just for the movie version, I finally went to see the stage show. Fortunately it was the early '90s tour with Stephanie Mills and Andre deShields reprising their original roles.

WOW! What a great show! So joyous and fun and Ozzy. No wonder it won so many Tonys. I don't hate the badly thought-out movie version, but it's really hard to sit through, although I find it easiest to take if I simply watch it to gawk in disbelief at the numerous moments of bad movie-making decisions.
- Eric Shanower 
To put my two cents in, I prefer the stage version of The Wiz to the movie version. Even the TV version is one, if not two steps above the movie! Fortunately, I was able to see the stage version in NYC (with family and friends) in 1976. Still have my program guide. On my first WinkieCon in 1978, I dressed up as Dorothy from the stage Wiz. Still have that photo. I would like to see Wicked for comparison, but am already convinced that the stage version of The Wiz is the best revision since the 1939 movie.
- Beverly Mendheim
I love the film. Sure Diana is too old for the role, but she plays it to the hilt. I believe her. I love the musical numbers. I only remember seeing it as aired on TV, but I had the LP and played it over and over and over. The only scene that makes no sense to me is the vendor in the subway with the weird pump up marionettes that grow and grow. What is the correlation to the original novel? The kalidahs? I dunno, it just stands out and want to just move on. I want to watch this again. I own it on Blu-Ray. It's been a year or two since I watched it last. (I also loved The Wiz Live! as well.)
- Barry Dougherty
There is so much I'd like to say about The Wiz that I don't have time for at the moment. It's an odd duck that I enjoy. There's parts I would have liked to have seen done differently, but all together I have fond memories of it. Being too young to have seen seen the Broadway version went it came out, it was my only version of The Wiz. I can't afford going to the theater now, so revivals are out. The TV version, I haven't seen.

Growing up as a POC it was the only version of Oz where everyone wasn't white and that was a big deal. It was a very large departure from a traditional Oz, and also a kid from California, the NYC version of Oz always intrigued me. New York City was a mystical place so for me that fit for a version of Oz. MGM's Oz was a dream, but things worked normally, not dream like. The Wiz was full on dream/nightmare. Things didn't make sense, things were scary, the most horrific scenes in any movie for me were the subway scenes. The peddler still gives me nightmares, I'm surprised it's not a staple Halloween costume. There's a lot I'd change, there's a lot I'd keep the same, but all and all it'll always hold a place in my cold frozen Ozzy heart.
- Aaron Almanza
The peddler sequence freaked me out as a kid. Even as an adult I won’t get too close to a subway column.
- Garrett Kilgore

Sam Milazzo presents us with another little tribute...
Dubbed "Wiz City," this video sets clips from the film to song "Kansas City" by Sneaky Sound System.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Oz news!

Any Oz fan who enjoys podcasts needs to be subscribing to a couple podcasts. (In addition to The Royal Podcast of Oz, which will be returning soon.)

First of all is Crossover Adventure Productions, which is currently running Season Two of "The Chronicles of Oz," adapting The Marvelous Land of Oz. This adaptation takes a few twists on the story, just as season 1 took twists on The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, but it's proved delightful and very exciting.

Second of all is another story telling podcast, Hit The Bricks. This series has a pilot up, with a brand new story that involves some of the smaller Oz characters. They'll soon be running a Kickstarter to raise funds to pay the costs of running a podcast, and are also casting several characters.

In some sadder news, blog team member Craig Noble is having to part with his collection of valuable Oz and Baum books, including many first editions in dustjackets. PBA Galleries will be handling the auction in San Francisco on November 29, 2018.

In new Oz book news, The Lost Tales of Oz is finally out. This anthology is full of fun Oz stories by Oz fans and established writers such as Nathan DeHoff, Mike Conway, Michael O. Riley, Eric Shanower, David Tai, Paul Dana, J.L. Bell, Jeff Rester, M.A. Berg, Marcus Mebes, Andrew Heller, Sam Sackett, editor Joe Bongiorno, and yours truly. The book is illustrated by Eric Shanower in his lively, detailed classic Oz style. The book features a framing sequence of Dorothy, Trot and Betsy looking through new entries that have appeared in the Royal Library of Oz. Some of these tales have supposedly slipped through the cracks and aren't presented in chronological order. One of the longer tales follows the three other search parties in The Lost Princess of Oz, offering many Easter eggs for well-versed fans. And it's not quite all rainbows and yellow brick roads, either as a few stories might contain a moments better appreciated by older Oz fans.

Finally, Oz fan Anthony Whitaker is using Indiegogo to seek funding for his new play, Scraps, presenting the further adventures of the Patchwork Girl. Perks include a poster, online access to a video version of the play, and a script in return for donations from $35-$100.

Tuesday, September 04, 2018

Oz news! The Ruby Slippers are finally all accounted for!

Of all the existing costumes and props used in MGM's The Wizard of Oz—which will have its 80th anniversary next year—the most iconic have been the Ruby Slippers. Audiences thrill to see the sparkly red pumps on Judy Garland's feet throughout the film, at first taken from the Wicked Witch of the East, then given to Dorothy, which makes the Wicked Witch of the West target her. At the close of the film, Glinda reveals these very shoes were Dorothy's ticket home the entire time, having her tap her heels together and say the now iconic line, "There's no place like home."

The film had changed the shoes from the book's Silver Shoes, deciding that a sparkly red looked better than shiny grey. The effect was created by sewing sequins onto shoes made by the Innes Shoe Company of Los Angeles, dyed a dark red. In addition, bows studded with false glass gems were added.

No one knows how many pairs of shoes were made and used in the film. The producer once gave a figure of "from five to ten," a wardrobe department employee offered a number of six. The need for so many is easily explained. Judy's stand-in and double also needed pairs. Judy's feet would swell after filming in the morning and she would use a slightly larger pair later in the day. And if something happened to the shoes, if they became damaged, there would be a backup so the crew could simply change pairs and continue with filming. Some pairs had felt on the soles so when Judy had to dance, the felt would muffle the sound of them hitting the stage. At least one pair didn't have felt as the soles were seen in the film without them.

One test pair with a notably different design, including curled toes, is known to exist. Of however many pairs were made and used in the film, we only know about four pairs. Counting the test pair which wasn't used in the film, that makes five pairs.

These pairs were found by one Kent Warner as he was preparing for a major auction of MGM studio memorabilia. One of these were auctioned off in that auction for $15,000 in 1970. It seems that this is the pair that was recently conserved by the Smithsonian and will soon be back on display. Warner sold the test pair to Debbie Reynolds, and they were auctioned off in 2011. Another pair is in a private collection. Warner's own pair was eventually sold to a collector who used them for charitable purposes and let the Smithsonian display them as a substitute when their pair was elsewhere. This pair was sold in 2012 to become an asset for the upcoming museum by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Among the people who donated to purchase this pair were director Steven Spielberg and actor Leonardo DiCaprio.

And so we come to the most scandalous pair. Collector Michael Shaw loaned his pair to the Judy Garland Museum of Grand Rapids, Michigan (Garland's hometown). In 2005, the pair was stolen with hardly a trace as to the culprit or where to find them. The theft caused a sensation for fans of the MGM film, Oz at large and Judy Garland. There were much publicized searches for the stolen shoes involving flooded mine shafts and other places. Theories flew wild, I even reviewed a novel that presented a first-person fictional account of the theft. A documentary about the Ruby Slippers and the case was made. Some believed Shaw needed money and was holding out for the insurance payout, and given that it had been so long, he did indeed get the payout. (I state this not to accuse Mr. Shaw who I genuinely believe was grieved over the loss, but to state a theory and the fact that the payout did occur.)

Oz fans got the news today that after thirteen years, the stolen pair had finally been recovered by the FBI. It seems arrests of the culprits have yet to be made, so the full details of the case have not been revealed. What has been revealed is that they were recovered in a sting operation over the summer, which resulted from an extortion attempt (a "we'll give them back if you pay us" situation). A conservator from the Smithsonian who had been working on their pair of Ruby Slippers assisted in authenticating the recovered goods.

It appears that the long term plan is to restore the slippers to public display, however as the investigation is ongoing, the FBI is holding them as evidence.

In some other news, it is the 40th anniversary of the film adaptation of The Wiz, starring Diana Ross and Michael Jackson. Looks like we're not getting a 40th anniversary 4K Blu-Ray or any special merchandise or reissues. To be fair, the film didn't recoup its budget, but it proved to be a big enough seller on home video that it was released on three Region 1 DVD editions (fullscreen, widescreen, anamorphic widescreen in 2008), and got upgraded to Blu-Ray in 2010, a fairly short time into the format's life. In addition, it's been subject to many airings on television as well as a handful of special film screenings.

And The Royal Blog of Oz would like your thoughts on the movie! We'd like to get a variety of perspectives on it. Love it? Like it? Hate it? Neutral? Let us know.

You can comment on this post or send an email to scarecrowandtinman2002@yahoo.com. Your commentary will be posted in a special blog entry and your name (or a pseudonym if you prefer, please specify) will appear with your comment. (I reserve the right to edit content appearing on the blog.) The plan is to release the blog within the next two weeks.