Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Royal Podcast of Oz: L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

In this episode, Jared Davis interviews Clayton Spinney and Sean Gates, the director and writer of L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, an independent production set for completion in 2012. As always, you can listen and download at the podcast site, or use the player below.
Download this episode (right click and save)

(And yes, Jared plans to blog again soon!)

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Depicting Oz: Dorothy Gale of Kansas

I spoke before my thoughts on how I feel Oz is best depicted and how often it shouldn't be depicted. For this post, I'd like to express some more on Dorothy, again referencing past and certain portrayals.

(* Any mistakes or errors please let me know so I may fix mistakes to proper formatting *)

When "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" was published, it was 1899-1900, the Turn of the Century, the new 20th Century and still the time of Pioneers.

Electricity had to be fully realized and mainstream, so the families at that time would use oil lamps with lit candles, and rely more on resourcefulness, neighbourly help and elbow grease.

When I imagine Dorothy, I don't see her as a very pretty girl. Not to say that she is ugly, but just normal looking and, as Princess Langwidere says in 'Ozma of Oz' "Not at all beautiful . . . but a certain style of prettiness". Add that she is an American farmgirl, I prefer not to and don't see her with blonde hair. Nothing to do with Judy Garland but more with Baum and perception, a Dorothy with brown hair looks more normal and properly akin to a farm's setting than a blonde Dorothy - in turn I usually imagine Ozma to have blonde or a more beautiful coloured hair. Dorothy has been well known to be illustrated with a blonde bob by John R. Neill, Eric Shanower and the other artists who have done the Famous 40 and other Oz books. However I feel like this makes her too similar to other girls and less of her own person.

Dorothy having brown hair and visiting a magic land like Oz, Ev etc. stands out more in contrast than a blonde Dorothy coming from a happier Kansas and visiting the magic land of Oz. In film she has been given blonde hair in the 1976 Australian M15+ "Rock 'N' Roll Road Movie", the 1982 Toho anime, 1987 direct-to-video "Dorothy Meets Ozma of Oz" (faithful) half-hour short and a Funky Fables anime. To a lesser extent, you could also include Disney's "Rainbow Road" excerpt played by Darlene, and the 1994 Russian live-action alteration film.
Notable illustrations with blonde Dorothy are Charles Santore and Yutaka Ono for the Japanese books. And there Yutaka gives Dorothy some starry eyes, rosy cheeks, flowery head band, and some near-fancy clothing. He has illustrated the first 3 Oz books several times and has drawn the characters differently, but each time Dorothy is a pretty girl (also the Good Witch of the North is young+pretty and the west Witch is green-skinned). Yutaka doesn't ALWAYS do Dorothy blonde, but they do have a philosophy that girls with blonde hair and blue eyes signifies innocence, though of course this is not always so true in real life or other media.
I believe that Dorothy looks better suited to brown hair and wearing simple farming gowns when experiencing her visit in Oz and is more appropriate that way, than with blonde (short) hair with pretty dresses and "Mary-Jane" shoes with straps which can make her seem less distinct from and bear a greater resemblance to Alice who dreams of Wonderland/Looking Glass, who was first illustrated with blonde hair (although the real life Alice Liddel had a black bob - as the real Dorothy was a five month old baby, little is known about the actual hair).

Another matter concerning Dorothy, moreso than her hair colour or length, is her dressing colour: Baum of course writes her wearing a blue-and-white check gingham gown, "somewhat faded with many washes" and a pink bonnet (plus a basket of food). Yutaka Ono has often drawn Dorothy outside of blue and without her other bearings. My favourite colour is blue so I am a little perplexed when someone avoids this description in the original text, but worst of all the neglecting of a bonnet - protection from the sun - and the basket - food for sustenance along the long journey. It is up to the individual artist to draw Dorothy how they like, but I wonder why at times they take her out of the blue and give her something else like red, pink or some different colour.

- Please don't take this to think that I don't like blondes or pink, I don't mind Dorothy being shown as a blonde when she's done so well by Eric Shanower or John R Neill; I just get tired of seeing it so often and have seen more dark-haired versions -

Baum mentions that Uncle Henry has a long (gray) beard, rough boots, looks stern and solemn, rarely speaks and "worked hard from morning till night", while Aunt Em has lost the sparkles from her eyes and red from her cheeks & lips, is thin and gaunt and doesn't smile. Several adaptations leave out Henry's beard (sometimes completely shaved or with just a moustache & balding hair), but more to the point tend to make Aunt Em fat.
Their age is never specified or hinted at in the text, but the few images of them suggest they could be in their late 40s, early-mid 50s and even late 50s/early-60s. At times however, they are depicted on screen as being old enough to be grandparents, another depiction I don't agree with. Yes it's true that exceedingly hard work and weight can make one appear older than they actually are, but not necessarily DECADES older.

When you consider the time of the story's setting and that the family is poor, it's easier to understand with Baum's description than the chubby-grand portrayals. They are so poor that their beds are out in the open, in the ONE ROOM which also has the dining table + chairs, the cyclone cellar and "a rusty looking cooking stove", all within just these four walls of the house, a house whose paint has peeled away and gets built from wood "carried by wagon many miles". They have no electricity (or even shaving foam) so Henry can't trim his beard as well even if he could, nor should Em fatten up with so little food and neither can Dorothy afford to have dolls or pretty dressings. Some adaptations don't show the family as poor, which is why those tellings give the house some more windows or rooms and even a second floor, but this again could be avoiding the original text description.
The weather is constantly sunny and hot but also cloudy, so the crops don't always get the proper treatment. Crops that are below expectation for sale receive little money, and little money limits the supplies farming families can get. When money is limited, you need to spend what little you have on the more important things like food or house/farm things, and cannot get treats like fancy dresses or toys.

Although Toto is the one black animal that stands out against the grey surroundings, it is this dog that keeps Dorothy happy and appropriately in playful character for her age, preventing the harsh realities of life affecting her prematurely. And an energetic dog with a playful attitude is better than a toy which can get broken and may sometimes be rendered useless, even if it is another mouth to feed.

I know little of farms and what they had or did in that time of life, but I am sure that a trap door in the middle of the house as a cyclone-cellar is safer and closer, even easier, to access during a hurricane or windy storm than one outside the house, as seen in MGM (or even Disney's "Return to Oz").

When Kansas is dreary, Aunt Em and Uncle Henry are worn and grey, and Dorothy has brown hair with simple gowns, then the visit to the fairyland of Oz has a greater and much clearer contrast and shows for a much better telling of the story.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Hearts and Minds

Since Valentine's Day just recently ended, I suppose it would be appropriate to talk about hearts. And since this is an Oz post, I'm sure the first subject to come to anyone's mind would be the Tin Woodman, who sought one for his tin body from the Wizard of Oz. The Wizard had no magical powers at this point, but he still provided Nick Chopper with a plush heart stuffed with sawdust, and his friend the Scarecrow with brains made of bran mixed with pins and needles. The story makes it clear that the Tin Woodman and the Scarecrow, respectively, were already kind-hearted and intelligent, but they needed the symbols to be satisfied. In Tin Woodman, Nick explains that his heart is kind rather than loving as an excuse for not having sought out Nimmie Amee, the girl he had planned to marry before his series of axidents. Really, though, I think it's just that, what with his new life and new friends, he really no longer had any interest in Nimmie Amee. He is certainly capable of showing love, even if he claims he isn't.

Some of the later Oz books also play with the idea of hearts and brains. Jack Pumpkinhead uses the seeds in his pumpkins for brains, and while he's hardly the brightest man in Oz, he has occasional flashes of insight. Dr. Pipt gave the Glass Cat brains of shiny pink stones that made her conceited, and a ruby heart that wasn't very compassionate. The Wizard temporarily made her more humble by giving her transparent brains at the end of Patchwork Girl, but she has the pink ones back again in Magic. By the time he brings the Patchwork Girl to life, Pipt seems to have improved on his brain-making abilities, with a set of powders that each provide a particular trait used for her brains. In Tik-Tok, the Great Jinjin Tititi-Hoochoo is said to have no heart, so that emotion and compassion will not interfere with his justice. Moving on to Ruth Plumly Thompson's books, the reanimated Terrybubble seems to function just fine without physical brains or a heart, but he does prefer to keep Speedy in his chest where his heart once was. When dealing with such matters, it's not entirely clear whether the presence or absence of hearts and brains really impact these characters, or they just think they do. In the end, though, I guess it amounts to about the same thing.