Saturday, August 15, 2009

Yes, THAT Wizard of Oz

Exactly 70 years ago today, MGM's The Wizard of Oz premiered at Grauman's Chinese Theatre. A landmark in fantasy and family film, it has gone on to become one of the most widely-watched movies in the world. It was also the first movie based on The Wonderful Wizard of Oz that offered a very faithful adaptation. (With the possible exception of The Fairylogue and Radio-Plays adaptation, but as that one no longer exists, it's hard to tell.)

Today, the movie is loved by many: children, adults, families, you name it. Despite the easily-seen through special effects, the movie has passed the test of time, thanks to the classic songs and performances of the cast, headlined by Judy Garland.

I have to thank the MGM movie for my own interest in Oz. I saw it on television when I was young, and my interest caused me to read the book, and later, I discovered the other books in the series. After a number of years consciously avoiding Oz, seeing the movie again at a youth center made me remember just how good Oz was. That led to my re-reading all of Baum's books, looking it up online, research into Baum's life and works, collecting Oz and Baum books and movies, which has eventually wound up to my writing this blog.

You'd think I'd be crazy about the MGM movie, right? Well, the surprising answer is no. I don't hate it, but it's not my favorite take on Oz. Aside from owning the movie on home video and owning the soundtrack on CD, I'm not interested in collecting memorabilia related to the movie. (What I do have are gifts.)

One annoying thing about the movie is that it is the most popular version of Oz. Normally, there would be nothing inherently bad about that, but this has led to many people to reject other versions of Oz, such as The Wiz, Return to Oz, and Tin Man. Many of these new adaptations are very well-done, but people fail see that they are good because of their preference of the movie they fell in love with, usually as a child. Some people have even claimed the book that inspired this masterpiece of a film is inferior to it. (To say that would be to suggest that the book is an unreadable mess, and that they managed to base such a successful film on it is a miracle.) I disagree with that sentiment, and I feel that if the writers, directors, or even the cast members were asked, they would agree with me. (Early drafts of the script drifted far away from the book, but Noel Langley was the lead in tying the story closer to the original version.)

As for me, I've gotten very annoyed when I talk to an Oz fan, and all they want to talk about is the MGM movie, when there are so many other topics that could be covered. It even gets irritating when someone tells me they got a new "Oz book," and I inquire, only to discover that it is in fact a biography or autobiography of one of the cast members. (I'd call this an Oz reference book, though it's not one I'd usually turn to.)

It just annoys me that people want to cling to this one version of Oz when there is so much else out there, the books and other adaptations and interpretations. (Not that these fans are bad people. The ones I've come across are very courteous.) Like I said, I don't hate this movie, and I don't think it's a bad movie, but I just don't have any special love for it.


Nathan said...

Isn't the Wizard film actually the one part of the Fairylogue and Radio-Plays that DOES still exist?

I pretty much agree with you on the movie, by the way. Good film, and I did see it before I'd read any of the books, but Oz means so much more to me.

Jared said...

The Selig Polyscope Company produced the films for "The Fairylogue & Radio Plays," and Baum turned over movie rights to them to make up for the cost of production. While it's likely they re-used the sets and costumes, the 1910 silent is a completely separate production.

Chris Dulabone said...

Very well stated. I agree 100%