Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Depicting Oz: the Scarecrow

Since it's been fairly (no pun intended) quiet and uneventful here lately, now's the perfect time for another Oz Blog, but I promise this one will be as shorter, as much as it can be than the ones before!

Aside from the Munchkins and the Good Witch of the North, the SCARECROW is the first strangest character Dorothy meets in Oz. While the Munchkins and Good Witch of the North were human, the Scarecrow here is the first living human-like character.

"Its head was a small sack stuffed with straw with eyes, nose and mouth painted on to present a face. An old, pointed blue hat, that had belonged to some Munchkin, was perched on this head, and the rest of the figure was a blue suit of clothes, worn and faded, which had also been stuffed with straw. On the feet were some old boots with blue tops, such as every man wore in this country, and" the eyes were painted blue as well, with the left eye being made bigger than the right (there is some truth behind this, as the left eye tends to see better than the right *cover your right eye and look through your left, then swap over, and see for yourself*).

When it comes to some films or animations depicting the Scarecrow, some have been good and others bad, as is normal. The better ones, in my opinion and belief aside from Ray Bolger's dancing version, have been the 1910 Selig short (and maybe the 1914 Oz Manufacturing Company silent films), possibly the 1933 Ted Eshbaugh cartoon, Disney's "Return to Oz", the 1987 Pan Media anime series, Kermit in "the Muppets Wizard of Oz", maybe the 1982 Toho anime and at the end of the 2000 Sony animated "Lion of Oz", certainly Skottie Young's refreshing characterization in Marvel's latest comic line and Michael Jackson in "the Wiz" . . . and, although still too early, Sean Gates and Clayton Spinney's puppet in their independent Barnyard Studios + Used Production digital film / movie. The worse ones, however, include the 1991 Korean animated version and 1976 Australian 'Surfie'.

While it is always up to the individual to imagine the characters how they like, it must be noted that the Scarecrow is not all that human. The paint used to make his face may have been magic, but I doubt it was THAT magical to materialize such details like teeth and a tongue (since he does not need to and cannot eat, already stuffed with straw) or even eyelashes and nostrils that smell (otherwise he wouldn't have been able to help the Tin Woodman save Dorothy and Toto from the Deadly Poppy Field) - sometimes his nose been a carrot point or a rounded off part of the sack with a knot or tie. L. Frank has the Scarecrow wink to Dorothy when she first gazes at him, yet in "the Marvelous Land of Oz" the Scarecrow points out that his "eyes are not painted to shut.", so this is something to think about (the Tin Woodman Nick Chopper is said to have "tin eyelids" here).

In few screen versions or even printed versions (like David Hutchison's Manga or the 1982 Toho anime), the Scarecrow also has sticks inside his body as frameworks . . . since the character was made simply to scare away the crows from eating the corn and not go on a life-changing journey, I can't really see this being necessary.

I don't mind it if the Scarecrow has been given straw in his hat around his head to give the slight impression of hair (like the 1987 anime or the 80s Polish cut-out animation/stop-motion series), but it's the fully function of a mouth including teeth and tongue that aren't really that well needed.

Other times when the Scarecrow has been depicted, when he is not so human-like, he can also be depicted as quite clownish, like "Lion of Oz" or the Toho anime (and, I suppose, Michael Jackson's). Blue is my favourite colour, so you can assume I'd keep his colouring description.

Another important notice concerning the Scarecrow, aside from his clothing, is his height.
* he was made by Munchkins
* Munchkins are about the same height as Dorothy

In theory, the Scarecrow should be the same height as Dorothy. But it's understandable that he would be made taller, as it looks better. It's possible that there COULD be normal sized humans living in the Munchkin region, but it's clear that Munchkins occupy this Eastern domain of Oz, and since they are short people their clothes would be short too. Maybe some Munchkins are a bit taller than others, and perhaps the suit used to dress the Scarecrow had its pants unrolled at the hem so that the straw man would be more imposing to the crows rather than being short and no threat.

The Munchkins also have bells on their hats yet the Scarecrow is not mentioned to have any. Perhaps his hat lost its bells, but there's no reason for the Scarecrow not to have bells on his hat if he is to fool the crows into thinking he's a Munchkins and protect the corn.

Some films have forgotten to remember that the Scarecrow is also a (unofficial) member of the Munchkin community, having being made by one of their own farmers, so his appearance is radically (and unfortunately) different to that of the Munchkins as can be seen in the Toho anime, the MGM film (and its live versions), the Korean animated short, possibly the Muppets and the Rankin/Bass series/TV-movie.

So here's the point: although the Scarecrow is a straw stuffed man, he is also designed by Munchkins and not to be depicted too life-like.


srgates said...

I've always assumed the the reason Scarecrow's hat doesn't have bells (and I'm making this up, of course, but it's always been my belief) is that the bells cost money and would probably be cut off of the hat before it was used. Bells can be recycled, and Munchkins are poor.

Although for my script I decided the bells are only added for festive occasions, such as celebrating the recent demise of a hateful witch... rather than having bells hanging all around the brim of their hats, our Munchkins will probably have a couple of bells hanging on a ribbon tied around the band of the hat.

Also, can I just say...we really appreciate having our work referenced in your blog. Especially since we came in on the "good Scarecrow" column, even if with reservations. :) Very cool!

Charlie Richards said...

"Another important notice concerning the Scarecrow, aside from his clothing, is his height.
* he was made by Munchkins
* Munchkins are about the same height as Dorothy

In theory, the Scarecrow should be the same height as Dorothy."

An excellent insight, Jared, and one that's often occurred to me. And your explanations are undoubtedly correct. And where did that Munchkin farmer get those over-sized clothes?
I was just re-watching "His Majesty, the Scarecrow of Oz" the other day and truly enjoying it - but it occurred to me that the actor portraying The Scarecrow in the film (forgot his name) NUST have been influenced by Fred Stone's Scarecrow in the 1903 musical - as he was as wobbly as could be. Baum never describes The Scarecrow's walk as wobbly (although he does stumble into small holes while walking due to inexperience), but Stone was known for his wobbly Scarecrow. Bolger's Scarecrow is wobbly too (I believe Bolger had seen Stone in the role on stage) - so, in a way, our modern view of the Scarecrow is somewhat all based on Stone, although no film footage of Stone in the role exists. Funny how tradition can be passed on, time and time again, over such a long period.

Jared said...

Thanks for the comments, Charlie, but I need to point out that this blog is by Sam.