Thursday, October 31, 2013

Happy Halloween!

Copyright 2012 S.P. Maldonado
Happy Halloween! Oz and Halloween go together hand in hand, with the Scarecrow and the Wicked Witches of past, present and perhaps future, and of course Jack Pumpkinhead, who has a Halloween icon—a jack o'lantern—as a head.

Jack Pumpkinhead wound up being part of the main cast of my book Outsiders from Oz which I released last year. Jack remained himself, but I wound up changing one little thing about him from what Baum had established. It wasn't a major plot point, so for the holiday, I'm going to share a little excerpt from my book in which Ozma helps Jack fashion a new head before they go on an adventure.
"How wonderful!" replied Jack, "But I better get a new head. This one is getting a little old, and if I'm away for too long, it could spoil, and that would not be very pleasant."

"Oh, let me help you," said Ozma. "I don't get to work in the Emerald City, and it would give me pleasure."

"All right," said Jack, leading her to the pumpkin patch.

Ozma selected a large, round, firm pumpkin, that was just ripening. She and Jack carried it inside. Very carefully, Ozma removed some of the insides (but not too many, as Jack fancied these to be brains), and then carved a nose, two eyes, and a smiling mouth. Then, she carved a hole in the bottom for Jack's neck to fit through.

Jack gingerly lifted off his head and put on the new one. The old head watched as Jack adjusted the new head to its correct setting. It did its best to smile at its old owner before the life faded away from it. Jack had seen this process many times and was used to it, but for Ozma, it was very sad.

Jack picked up the old head in one arm and carried it out, Ozma following solemnly. He set the head down and picked up a spade and began digging. After the hole was deep enough (which didn't take long, as the spade had been enchanted to dig quickly), the old head was placed inside and quickly covered.

"Didn't you mark where you buried your old heads?" asked Ozma, noting there were no such markers or monuments around.

"Yes," replied Jack, "but then they started getting covered with pumpkin vines. The seeds in my old heads started sprouting and growing more pumpkins. So, instead of finding places where I buried old pumpkins, I kept finding new ones."

Ozma smiled at this. It was reassuring to know that Jack's heads didn't really die.

You can get your own copy of Outsiders from Oz from Lulu or Amazon through the links below.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Disney's Journey to Oz, part 2

Walt Disney always had Oz in mind for a future film project, and he kept his eyes open about the rights of the books. After Maud Baum's death, he inquired about the rights again and this time was able to pick up the film rights to eleven of the Baum books: Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz was optioned by another studio (for almost the same cost of the 11 books, he later got it) and the first two Oz books would soon be slipping into the public domain.

In 1957, it was announced that Walt planned to produce a live action musical Oz feature film featuring the Mouseketeers from The Mickey Mouse Club. On September 11, 1957, the Disneyland TV show had its "Fourth Anniversary" episode, which finished with the Mouseketeers "convincing" Walt to let them make The Rainbow Road to Oz with two musical numbers. Walt finally agrees, and they finish with the grand number "The Rainbow Road to Oz." It must be remembered that these were not film clips.

The late Annette Funicello was set to play Ozma, and I wrote about her death with more information on her and her brief time as Ozma, including showing the entire Oz segment. That blog can be found here. Darlene Gillespie played Dorothy, Tim Considine as Zeb, Kevin Corcoran was Button-Bright, Jimmie Dodd was the Cowardly Lion, Bobby Burgess was the Scarecrow, Doreen Tracy was the Patchwork Girl, and Karen Pendelton was Polychrome. Tommy Kirk was set to play the villain of the story, but appears only on the Disneyland episode as himself and is silent throughout the Oz segment.

The most famous thing about The Rainbow Road to Oz is that it was shelved. The reason was never made exactly clear. Some blame the songs or the appeal of the Mousekeeters not carrying over to film. Some believe the studio was put off by fearing comparison with the MGM film of The Wizard of Oz. While I do admit that most of the songs featured on the Disneyland episode were not up to the same standards of the Harold/Arlen score of MGM, a couple of songs were actually quite good: "The Rainbow Road to Oz" and "Why Don't They Believe?" It is more likely that the songs were works in progress and would have appeared quite revised and re-arranged for the finished film. Also, if Disney was concerned about the legacy of MGM, why on earth had they sunk so much money into acquiring the Oz books? It is not as if that could have been an afterthought.

My personal favorite explanation for the shelving is that the story and script (being constantly revised) were just not gelling, and Walt decided that if he was going to produce an Oz movie, it needed to have a story worthy of being an Oz story, and he shelved it deciding that this would not be a good time to produce such an Oz film.

This also answers why so few Oz films were produced for so long, aside from many adaptations of Wizard and an occasional version of Land: the Disney company was sitting on the rights. By the time the later Oz books were going into the public domain, Oz wasn't such a hot property, aside from the MGM film.

From what I've heard from numerous sources, Dorothy and her cousin Zeb would ride a tractor over the Rainbow to Oz (presumably meeting Polychrome on the way), where the Patchwork Girl would emerge from a patchwork quilt. The villain (possibly based on Ugu the Shoemaker) casts a spell on the Cowardly Lion, the current King of Oz, that makes him cruel and conceited, and Dorothy and her friends try to break the spell. And also, Ozma, the true heir to the throne of Oz, would be recovered. (As Disney hadn't optioned The Marvelous Land of Oz, I would not be surprised if this part was based on The Lost Princess of Oz.)

What remains of The Rainbow Road to Oz eventually found its way to commercial items. In 1965 and 1969, Disneyland Records produced four "story and songs" albums featuring Oz stories. Three were adaptations of Baum's Oz books, but one, The Cowardly Lion of Oz, was a completely original story, with songs. Many of the songs were actually originally intended for The Rainbow Road to Oz, particularly "Living a Lovely Life" and "If You Believe." ("If You Believe" was originally "Why Don't They Believe?") The book Disney's Lost Chords printed sheet music for "The Rainbow Road to Oz," "Patches," "Why Don't They Believe?" and "The Lost Princess Waltz." Finally, the entire Fourth Anniversary Show episode was released on Your Host, Walt Disney, part of the now-defunct Walt Disney Treasures line of DVDs.

As part of the publicity of Oz the Great and Powerful, D23 magazine featured The Rainbow Road to Oz in its Spring issue of 2013. The DVD and Blu-Ray releases of that film have the special feature "Walt Disney and the Road to Oz," which discusses the aborted project, including interviews with the Mouseketeers.

I have thought that perhaps The Rainbow Road to Oz could eventually be revived as a Pixar project, but it seems Disney will not be pursuing such a project for a long time, focusing on sequels to Oz the Great and Powerful instead.

The Disney company didn't give up on Oz. Over the years, an Oz animated television show or TV special was suggested. Theme park attractions were also conceptualized, but not realized. Some hints of Oz still turn up at Disney's parks, however. At Disney's Hollywood Studios, MGM's The Wizard of Oz is part of "The Great Movie Ride," and the Emerald City is part of the "Les Pays des Contes de Fées" attraction (a Fantasyland boat ride) at Disneyland Paris.

Still, even with these concepts, it would be some time before there would be a major Oz production by Disney.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Wonderful World of Oz: An Illustrated Hisory of the American Classic

So, it was announced that John Fricke's name would appear on a new Oz book this year: The Wonderful World of Oz: An Illustrated History of the American Classic. John Fricke's name has appeared on quite a number of worthwhile Oz books, but when I saw the description of this, I was highly reminded of another book Fricke penned: 100 Years of Oz. After the book arrived, the copyright page confirmed it: "... an expanded, revised, and redesigned republication of the edition titled 100 Years of Oz published in 1999..."

100 Years of Oz paired Fricke's text with some lovely (and collector-drooling) photos of items from the collection of Willard Carroll, a film producer widely considered to have one of the largest collections of Oz memorabilia. The text offered a decade-by-decade look at the beginning of the Oz phenomenon and how it evolved from 1900 to 1999. While Fricke was brief, the book was still quite informative.

100 Years of Oz also holds a very special place in my heart. It was THE FIRST book about Oz I ever got for my collection that wasn't an actual Oz book. And after my first reading of Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, I needed a reminder of everything that Oz is and can be, and it offered it and then some.

So, how do we treat a new, expanded edition? I mean, since 100 Years, Wicked has become a musical, and we've had Tin Man, The Muppets Wizard of Oz, and Oz the Great and Powerful.

This expanded edition drops the decade by decade focus of 100 Years, and adds a wholly new foreword and a lengthy introduction. In addition, there is a new chapter focusing on the latest 14 years. I noted that it doesn't mention how Oz has caught on with the internet age, ignoring some excellent projects, such as the Heartless: The Story of the Tin Man short film. Also missing are projects such as The Witches of Oz/Dorothy and the Witches of Oz and others, but then, 100 Years also missed quite a number of Oz films, so their exclusion was almost expected. This still isn't a thorough look at the Oz phenomenon, but just a beginning.

Most of the same photographs from 100 Years reappear, supplemented by a number of new photographs, which also feature items from the collection of Tom Wilhite. The expansions of the first 10 chapters feel rather light, the most new material shows up in the new front matter and the new last chapter. The text seems to have been revised, though I haven't fully compared both of them.

So, would I recommend this? Yes, I would. Though 100 Years' layout is still very pleasing to the eye and contains some photos not reproduced here, I did find that the updated material here is worth the price (particularly that with the preorder's price and Amazon Prime free shipping, it was only $18). However, other owners of 100 Years of Oz might understandably not want to shill out for an updated version of a book that is only 14 years old. In my own opinion, the differences between the two editions is enough to justify owning both, but others might differ on this point.

Monday, October 21, 2013

The Royal Podcast of Oz — The Movies of Oz: Anime Oz

The Royal Podcast of Oz is back as Jared and Sam look at six short anime adaptations of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. What makes them different? Will Jared snap after looking at so many versions of the yellow brick road? We'll see!

As  always, you can listen and download at the podcast site or use the player below!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Characters of Oz — Eureka

Jumping out of the buggy he put Dorothy's suit-case under the seat and her bird-cage on the floor in front.
"Canary-birds?" he asked.
"Oh no; it's just Eureka, my kitten. I thought that was the best way to carry her."
The boy nodded.
"Eureka's a funny name for a cat," he remarked.
"I named my kitten that because I found it," she explained. "Uncle Henry says 'Eureka' means 'I have found it.'" 
 So, Dorothy picked up another pet on her vacation: a white kitten she called Eureka. Baum never tells us, though, if Dorothy found Eureka in Australia or San Francisco. Personally, I find the idea of Dorothy bringing a cat from another country to be a little implausible and lean towards the idea that she adopted Eureka shortly before Uncle Henry went on to Hugson's Ranch alone.

It is curious, though, that Dorothy arrives with an animal companion each time she visits Oz: she first arrives with Toto in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, then with Billina in Ozma of Oz, and then Eureka in Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz. Toto accompanies her again (Baum notes in the introduction of Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz that readers wanted him to bring the little dog back) in the next two books.

Eureka doesn't really appear properly until Dorothy, Zeb and Jim arrive in the Land of the Mangaboos. Zeb notes right away that she is pink. Dorothy notes that the colored suns of the Land of the Mangaboos must be to blame because Eureka is a white cat. (Neill depicts Eureka as such consistently in his illustrations for the book.)

Eureka, admittedly, is only instrumental a couple of times before the group reaches the Land of Oz. She is able to warn the Wizard that Jim is being forced into the Black Pit by escaping and fighting off the Mangaboos herself. In the Land of Naught, after the travelers are captured, Eureka is able to use her claws and stealth to observe how the Gargoyles use their wings. Both times, her actions lead to the travelers moving on to the next stage of their journey.

But most memorably of all, Eureka craves to eat one of the Wizard's tiny piglets throughout the book. She is repeatedly warned that she will not be allowed to do so, Jim even threatening to eat her if she does so. Baum finally gives her desire a payoff late in the book. The Wizard presented Ozma with one of the piglets as a gift, and she gave it an emerald collar and kept it in her bedroom. But one day when she asked Jellia to bring it to her, Jellia couldn't find it, but she saw Eureka leave.

Everyone believes that Eureka has eaten the piglet, but she refuses to confess. So Ozma has Eureka put on trial, defended by the Tin Woodman. Knowing that Eureka will likely be found guilty which will make Dorothy unhappy, the Wizard decides to offer another piglet to be revealed as the missing piglet. All goes exactly as he expected in a comic courtroom scene, and the Tin Woodman offers the new piglet after Eureka is deemed guilty.

Eureka, however, has proved sulky and seems to not want to be proven innocent, even acting up to contradict the Tin Woodman's defense. She is, in fact, the one that points out that the piglet is not the missing one, noting the telltale lack of an emerald collar. She then reveals that she did not eat the piglet, though she meant to, but only scared it into a vase. The piglet is recovered.
Then the crowd cheered lustily and Dorothy hugged the kitten in her arms and told her how delighted she was to know that she was innocent.
"But why didn't you tell us at first?" she asked.
"It would have spoiled the fun," replied the kitten, yawning.
 However, for attempting the crime, Eureka is not held in the best graces of the people of Oz and is confined to Dorothy's room. She prompts Dorothy to think about going back home to Kansas.

Baum doesn't mention Eureka again until The Patchwork Girl of Oz. The Shaggy Man says that Dorothy has a pink kitten with blue eyes named Eureka. (Eric Shanower had Eureka mention that she came to Oz along with the rest of Dorothy's family in his The Secret Island of Oz, while his comic book adaptation of The Emerald City of Oz has Toto and Eureka both accompany Dorothy to her bedroom when she signs for Ozma to bring her to Oz.) The curious thing is that he says that she's a favorite at the palace and that if Bungle the Glass Cat becomes Eureka's friend, she has no fear of being broken.

Curiously, in Glinda of Oz, Dorothy refers to Eureka as her purple kitten. Most fans ignore this, and there are a number of fan-written tales that explain how Eureka went from white—a fairly normal color for cats—to pink, a fairly unusual color for cats. A few tackle the purple issue as well, but generally when Eureka does turn up in new tales, she is pink.

Perhaps Baum vividly remembered Zeb's first glimpse of Eureka, or a fan who remembered it well asked what became of Eureka and mistakenly called her the pink kitten. And so, Baum threw in the few lines of the Shaggy Man's dialogue in The Patchwork Girl of Oz to reassure readers that Dorothy's cat was in Oz with her as well as her more famous dog Toto. It is rather disappointing that little documentation of the creation of the Oz series survives and so we have no idea if some of these were simply Baum mis-remembering his own work (and considering Baum's extensive output, you can't exactly expect him to keep everything on his mind) or if he was trying to please his reader's specific requests.

Eureka is loyal to her owner and the friends she does make, but at the end of the day, she's a cat. While her desire to eat a piglet in Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz is a rather nasty part of her character, she is simply responding to her natural instinct of hunting. She is smug, observant and self-centered, personalities many cat owners imagine in their pets. It is a fact that the Baum family had at least one cat: one of Baum's sons was punished by Maud for dunking a cat in a rain barrel by being treated in the same manner. Baum mentioned on an anniversary card that one of the few times Maud was in tears was because the cat died. Finally, in a photograph of his Chicago home, one of Baum's sons is seen holding a cat.

While Eureka may have been mentioned in later books in the Famous Forty, she never plays an important role again in them.

Eureka is another example of Baum using the characteristics of an animal and working it into a character. It wasn't enough to say that a cat was speaking or doing things, readers had to believe that Eureka actually was a cat, and when it came to this one, Baum really excelled.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Disney's Journey to Oz, part 1

Walt Disney, the man who people thought should adapt
the Oz stories, with Shirley Temple, the girl who people
thought should play Dorothy. This was at the 11th
Academy Awards, the award being for Snow White in
an honorary move: "a significant screen innovation which
has charmed millions and pioneered a great new
entertainment field."
Today is the 90th anniversary of the Walt Disney Company, which started as a tiny cartoon studio and is now a multimedia empire.

Earlier this year, Disney released a movie titled Oz the Great and Powerful, but that was far from Disney's first trip down the yellow brick road. It is actually Disney's third Oz movie and just the latest of a handful of completed projects.

Walt Disney made several strides for animation: the Disney studio created the first cartoon with synchronized sound, the first color cartoon, and pioneered many animation techniques. The animated shorts eventually led Disney to create the first feature-length fully animated film: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, released in 1937. (A silent film with cutout animation was completed in 1926, but was scarcely seen: The Adventures of Prince Achmed.)

Disney had been one of the major animation studios at the time, and many Oz fans began to realize that perhaps animation would be a great way to visually depict the wonders and magic of Oz. Even before Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs premiered, some fans thought Disney would find Oz a good match for his skill. Afterward, the studio noted that they received more suggestions to tackle the Oz stories in animation than anything else.

According to The Wizardry of Oz, the studio drew up a synopsis for each of the fourteen Baum books, and even dreamed up a cartoon concept in which Mickey Mouse would be blown to Oz instead of Dorothy.

However, it was not to be. Maud Gage Baum and Ruth Plumly Thompson had already been entertaining the idea of Oz cartoons, but were interested in animator Ken McLellan's pitch. While McLellan eventually got permission from Maud, he could not secure funding. Walt Disney did approach Maud, but she refused his request. She was not a fan of his animation. (I hate to presume, but did she completely miss seeing Snow White?)

Anyway, after the success of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Hollywood studios began looking for fantasy properties to bring to the big screen. 1939 would see the second fully animated cartoon feature: Gulliver's Travels from Max Fleischer's Studios, and 1940 would see The Thief of Bagdad as a full color fantasy epic.

However, the push for fantasy led Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer to try to equal the animated spectacle of Snow White with live action. They purchased the rights to a certain famous children's book from Samuel Goldwyn (who had sold his old studio of Goldwyn Pictures and had begun again as Samuel Goldwyn Productions) and also picked up the film rights to any of its previous adaptations to avoid competition. I scarcely need to tell you that this book was, in fact, The Wizard of Oz.

So, with a big studio already making a movie based on the first Oz book and the executor of L. Frank Baum's estate refusing to work with him, it became clear that Walt would have to wait before he could attempt to step down the yellow brick road.

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Wizardry of Oz

The wonderful thing about films is that so much work goes into them from so many angles. Often we focus on the script, the directing, the music and the cast and sometimes forget the massive amount of work it can take to make the film look just right.

The Wizardry of Oz, by Jay Scarfone and William Stillman, was assembled to highlight the creation of the sets, props, costumes and makeup of MGM's The Wizard of Oz.

Like fantasy epics of today (The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, Harry Potter), most of what was seen onscreen in The Wizard of Oz had to be created specifically for that picture. The costumes and set pieces and props to depict the Land of Oz had to be made for the picture: they were depicting another world. Yes, they made it a dream world so they were a little free from adding a level of complete reality to it. But still, the fantastic look of Oz couldn't be found in a store.

The book starts with a look at where the MGM film owes its origins: the original book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and other adaptations of it and also Disney's groundbreaking fantasy film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. It makes it clear that when MGM set out to make The Wizard of Oz into a movie, they were trying for a new spectacle that audiences had not seen before. Today, these films are such classics in our collective psyche that we forget that what they were doing was breaking new ground. Like Snow White, Oz would draw in audiences with an engaging story, lovely music and songs, and spectacular visuals that had never been seen before.

The book is, of course, highly illustrated with sketches, art, stills, on-set photographs, test photographs, but very rarely actual frames from the film. These are beautifully put together and the book is as much fun to look through as it is to read.

We then move straight into the makeup. Highlighted is Jack Dawn's challenge to take the faces of the stars of The Wizard of Oz and turn them into the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, the Cowardly Lion and the Wicked Witch and yet have people be able to recognize them as Ray Bolger, Jack Haley, Bert Lahr and Margaret Hamilton. Although they were less challenging, the detail of the makeup of the citizens of Oz, Frank Morgan, Billie Burke and Judy Garland are not ignored.

Next is the costumes: surprisingly, costume designer Adrian had been drawing Oz character designs since childhood and worked with the vivid fantasy MGM was aiming for in creating costumes not just for the principal cast, but also for the Munchkins, the Winkie Guards and the people of the Emerald City.

Third is set design, how MGM's artists turned soundstages into the fantastic world of Oz and the farm in Kansas. The surprising thing about the film is that if you think about it, you can see how it's a soundstage, but it doesn't matter if you're not. The effect is sold that well.

The fourth and last section on the film's production is about the special effects from matte paintings to creating the cyclone to moving trees and flying monkeys, it's all there.

Next, the book showcases the promotion campaign for MGM's movie. Having spent $2,777,000 on the movie, they wanted to be sure people were excited and would go see it. The book discusses the lavish campaign with many, many images of surviving examples of advertising from covers of magazines to posters to cards found in packages of candy cigarettes. A surprising piece is a newspaper page drawn by artist Michelson. It very quickly brings to mind John R. Neill's Oz artwork, though the designs are clearly of the movie.

The book then talks about the impact the MGM movie had on Hollywood after its release from films that tried to mimic its format by bringing full-color fantasy to life onscreen (Shirley Temple's The Blue Bird and the 1940 production of The Thief of Baghdad) to Oz tributes in cartoons and films to re-use of props and costumes in later MGM movies. An especial favorite photo of mine is Shirley Temple at her desk, typing. Next to her is her bookshelf with all of the Oz novels on it in order, except they are in order with the oldest to the right and the latest (The Giant Horse of Oz) to the left. (Giant Horse and Land are the latest and earliest seen. As the photo is dated 1941, we can assume Shirley actually did keep up on the series, and surely she had a copy of The Wizard of Oz.)

The book was originally released in 1999 for the movie's 60th anniversary. My edition was released in 2004 for the otherwise generally ignored 65th anniversary. (The special edition DVD came out in October 2005.) The new edition is listed as "Revised and Expanded" with a number of new material. I haven't seen the 1999 edition. There is a section that gives a brief biography of Terry, the little dog that played Toto, as well as her filmography. The back cover lists the filmography as a new feature.

The Terry section is preceded by a section of never-before printed photos of filming of the movie by Peter Stackpole. It's followed by a complete credit listing for everyone they could identify who worked on the movie.

Overall, The Wizardry of Oz gives a nice look at the creation of the visuals of one of the most important fantasy films of all time. Definitely recommended.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

The Wizard of Oz: The Screenplay

The screenplay for MGM's The Wizard of Oz is, today, available in a variety of editions. Copies of the screenplay were included with The Ulitmate Oz laserdisc collection and the Gift Set Edition of the DVD in 1999. But the first time it was published was in 1989 by Delta, a division of Dell Publishing.

The screenplay included was based on the continuity script prepared for the movie's original cut. Editor Michael Patrick Hearn (who had previously become famous in Oz world for The Annotated Wizard of Oz and had also annotated Huckleberry Finn and A Christmas Carol, and was already at work on his yet to be published biography of L. Frank Baum) reduced it to what was in the finished film. Deleted pieces of dialogue and scenes showed up as footnotes and appendixes.

Hearn writes a foreword that discusses how the script came to be written. The rejected drafts are mentioned, but it details how the final script it mainly the work of Noel Langley, revised heavily by Florence Ryerson and Edgar Allan Woolf, revised by Langley again, and finally a few uncredited (but important) tweaks from John Lee Mahin.

Included is the script for the deleted "Rainbow Bridge" sequence which was an alternate version of occurrences in the Wicked Witch's castle, cutting in right after Dorothy sees the Wicked Witch in the crystal ball. The Witch puts Dorothy to work, and she sings "Over the Rainbow" as she cleans the Witch's castle as the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion come to her rescue. The Witch is inspired by the song to create a rainbow bridge leading from one tower to another that would support one for awhile before they fall to a gruesome death, which she tests with a Winkie guard. Dorothy's friends arrive and wait in the opposite tower, as Dorothy tries the bridge. The Ruby Slippers keep her safe, though, and so the chase we know from the finished film ensues.

Also included are additional lyrics that were never intended for the movie: additional opening lyrics for "Over the Rainbow," "Ding Dong! The Witch is Dead!," "Off To See The Wizard," "If I Only Had A...," "The Merry Old Land of Oz," and alternate lyrics for "The Jitterbug." A lot of those will be familiar with Oz audiophiles, but Hearn surprises with an additional British sheet music verse for "Over the Rainbow":
Once by a word only lightly spoken
All your dreams are broken
For a while,
Sadness comes and joy goes by;
But ev'ry tear like the rain descending
Finds a happy ending
In a smile,
Doubts and fears all fade and die
To the blue beyond the grey
Love again will find its way...
This book as it is seems to be unavailable in a new edition. Looking at used copies on Amazon tonight, third-party copies went from under $1 to $40. No other edition of the script I've seen online has a credit for Hearn, but that doesn't mean that the additional material might not have been included in any others, or if the complete continuity script was reprinted. I have not seen any other editions in person, so I can't say for sure. If you have any more information on these, I'd be glad to hear about them. Otherwise, this is the only edition I can recommend.

EDIT: I have been informed that the script included with the Ultimate Oz collection is the complete continuity script. The same script was reprinted in 1999 for the DVD Gift Set, and a "Loose Leaf" edition is listed on Amazon. Premiere Magazine reprinted the script, but it appears to be only the script of the finished film. Any edition published by Faber and Faber is simply a United Kingdom edition of the book I have detailed above with Hearn's work. (Thanks, Kurt Raymond.)

Monday, October 07, 2013

The Wizard of Oz Original Motion Picture Soundtrack — Deluxe Edition

Even the toughest critics of MGM's The Wizard of Oz find it hard to fault the music. One major fan of the Oz books says that even though he doesn't care for the look of the movie or the story adaptation, he does like the songs. As with every other part of the movie, the songs and score went through a long development process before finally becoming the familiar tunes we know and love today.

MGM of course recognized that the songs were viable outside of the movie and sheet music was made available with the movie's premiere of the songs and "The Jitterbug." Decca Records released a set of records that featured their own singers covering most of the film's songs. ("If I Were King of the Forest" was dropped.) Fortunately for them, they had Judy Garland contracted and she sang "Over the Rainbow" and "The Jitterbug." Both of these early commercial versions contained additional and alternate lyrics to help the songs be sung outside of the film.

In the mid-1950s, MGM finally released a proper soundtrack album, featuring most of the songs. Since the songs would be too short for a full record, actual audio from the film was included to retell the story. The sound on the record is severely chopped as can be expected. Eventually, other record albums showed up with more proper "soundtrack" tracks and pieces of score, and soon went over to audio cassette and CD. And, of course, the songs were licensed for covers on record albums not by MGM.

Rhino Records finally came around with new CD releases in the 90s. They issued a single CD with the songs
Almost indicating what's on
each disc, Billie Burke's Glinda
graces disc 1 as she appears in
the finished film. Margaret
Hamilton wears an early
version of the Wicked
Witch's costume on disc 2.
and major pieces of score from the movie, utilizing some audio from the MGM archives to present extended versions of "If I Only Had A Brain" and "If I Were King Of The Forest," as well as "The Jitterbug" and "Ding Dong! Emerald City." They also issued a new CD version of the dialogue and songs album, which took advantage of the longer running time of CDs to present a better edited version.

But most desirable of all was a 2-disc Deluxe Soundtrack set. Instead of releasing the complete score of the finished film, Rhino went back to that archival audio and recreated the score and songs of the movie's original two-hour cut. The tracks were all seamlessly extended where available. The audio was not remastered in stereo, but it could easily be argued that this is representative of the intentions of the original composer since it wasn't made to be heard in stereo. (The same archival recordings would later be utilized by Warner Brothers to create the multi-channel audio track you can hear on today's home video and theatrical releases.)

The complete score and songs is excellent enough, but after one hour and forty-three minutes of music representing the movie (which is actually about two minutes shorter), there is over half an hour of alternate versions of the score, including instrumental-only versions of "If I Only Had A Brain" and "The Merry Old Land of Oz." (It's almost like they predicted the karaoke trend.) Probably the track a lot of people will want to hear is Buddy Ebsen's version of "If I Only Had A Heart." While the orchestration and arrangement is the same, Buddy's voice lends itself well to the character of a man who's been living in the woods. (But one could also imagine this same voice playing the Scarecrow, the role Ebsen was originally cast to play.) We can also hear demo and rehearsal versions of some of the original songs and a partial take of "Over The Rainbow" in which Judy suddenly coughs right after starting to sing the song. Although these audio elements aren't exactly the most complete selection of Oz audio outtakes (owners of The Ultimate Oz laserdisc note audio that is not on the CD set or on any subsequent Blu-Ray or DVD release), they present a good look at the evolution of the classic movie music that has delighted generations.

The set has one of the best liner notes ever: a booklet by John Fricke, detailing the creation of the music of The Wizard of Oz and how the movie was made, focusing on how changes in the script, casting and editing affected the music. A complete track listing with notes is included, as well as a synopsis of the movie. About the only thing that could have made the book more complete would have been the lyrics. But even without that, it's hard to complain about this lovely little book.

This set is now out of print and it seems that Rhino no longer has the rights to re-release it. It can be found online, but it's hard to find for under $40. (I luckily got my copy before the price went up.) Collectors hope that the set can be re-released soon. Hey, Warner Music, the 75th anniversary of the movie isn't quite here yet! I'm sure there's plenty of time for a reissue!

Saturday, October 05, 2013

The Film Grain of Oz

Screengrab from the 2009 Blu-Ray edition
Pictures from DVDbeaver
In a couple recent blogs about MGM's The Wizard of Oz, you may have noted me use the term "film grain." Some questions might arise: what is it? Why is it important?

Nope, that's film grain.
Some people haven't been quite so enamored with the HD print of the movie released in 2009, and it comes from a big misconception about film prints and video transfers. The complaint is that the film looks grainy and (because they forgot what it looked like) they say it looks like a bad VHS copy. But, this is quite the opposite of the case. Film has a fine grain texture that holds the image. When this was reproduced onto videocassette, laserdisc or even DVD, the resolution wasn't high enough to show film grain. When Blu-Ray and high definition video came out, we were finally able to see this fine texture. Most of us know The Wizard of Oz from seeing it on television or home video. We didn't notice film grain there because it didn't show up.

Is it possible to remove film grain? Yes, however, the results are often held to be detrimental as this basically blurs the image so the grain disappears. Sure, in high definition, the image may look sharp, but a lot of detail has actually been lost in this process.
"The grain's gone!"
And so's the whites of her eyes...

Furthermore, film enthusiasts believe that since movies like The Wizard of Oz were filmed on film, the grain should be retained so it still looks like film. There are people who believe movies should be tinkered with until they "look real," but can any of us really say that we should mess that much with a film, particularly one so classic as Oz? Would making the movie look like a live sporting event really improve it?

I say, NO. The look of the film—even if limited by the time it was made—was how the crew wanted it to look. If we remove that, the film is no longer what people saw in theaters. Would The Wizard of Oz be as magical if we recolored it to look like modern photography instead of Technicolor?

Furthermore, such a conversion simply would not be possible. At least, not in high-definition. The loss of detail that would happen by eliminating film grain would actually require making the picture smaller so as not to look artificial.

Screencap from the 2005 DVD release
If you want to see The Wizard of Oz without film grain, dig up a copy of the DVD from 2005. This is actually a fine-looking transfer, nice, clear, sharp and rich in color. But if you want to see the movie in high definition, that film grain will be part of it, at home on your HDTV or in a movie theater.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

The new Oz Blu-Ray!

 So, my copy of the new 75th anniversary Blu-Ray edition of The Wizard of Oz arrived. It's actually titled The Wizard of Oz 3D since it features the new 3D conversion of the movie on its home video release.

Also, this is the first time the movie's been released with an Ultraviolet code for its digital copy. I've mentioned Ultraviolet before, and I find the idea of streaming a movie to watch it on a computer or digital device to be more preferable than the old Digital Copy concept (which Warner Brothers used in the last re-release in 2009) of placing a large video file on your computer.

Now, to be exact, this is 2013, so this is actually the 74th anniversary. However, we simply have to consider this edition to be released in anticipation of the 75th anniversary. As I said on Facebook once, if you have a 3D setup, you can enjoy the new 3D version all through 2014.

I do not have a 3D setup, but I decided to get the new box set anyway. I enjoyed the 3D version at a theater, so I assume that the disc version looks just as good, just the screen is smaller. (Also your specific 3D setup might affect how the movie looks.)

The movie's presentation

MGM's The Wizard of Oz debuted on Blu-Ray in 2009 and was met to much critical acclaim, and sure, the film grain is presented, coming as close as you'd get to actually screening a film copy in your home as we'll get until Ultra High Definition comes out. (I joked about that, but turns out it's actually being developed.) This same transfer has been re-utilized in this new set.

However, sharp eyed viewers have noted issues with the lauded transfer: there's a few lines present during the opening credits (not too badly noticeable, but still there) that were likely "scratches" from a projector. This is removable, so I assume Warner Brothers' restorers missed it. Other issues were noticed, mainly problems with how they felt the movie should look. Probably the biggest is that as Glinda leaves Munchkinland, part of the picture has a stuck portion. These issues are not major, but, as film enthusiasts note, these errors should be corrected to maintain the integrity of the movie, one of the biggest movies ever made.

To the indignation of film enthusiasts, these errors were corrected for the 3D version of the movie, leaving us with the baffling issue, why wasn't that restoration used for the new 2D disc? The disc has been re-authored and is not a straight reissue of the 2009 disc.You can view the 3D version as a 2 dimensional image, but you'd need a 3D disc player and 3D television or adapter to do so.

The audio, however, is actually a new mix. All dialogue is in the center audio channel, while the music has been remixed for surround sound home theater systems. For a very long time, movies only had monaural (one channel) audio mix, so this isn't exactly how the movie sounded in 1939. A tiny portion of audio has been missing from the movie since the 1998 theatrical release and subsequent home video releases. As Miss Gulch is taking Toto, Dorothy said "Oh, To, oh Toto." In 1998, it was considered an accidental stutter in the audio mix due to a reel change at that point so it was excised. However, film enthusiasts note, as the film was exhibited with that audio for over 50 years, it at least should have been made available, like, say, on the "original mono track" feature.

Special features, discs 1 and 2

Onto bonus features! The 3D disc contains all of the alternate audio tracks that the standard Blu-Ray disc contains. These are the 2005 audio commentary with John Fricke, a "music and effects" track (allowing you to view the movie without dialogue) and the "original mono track."

The press release wasn't in depth about the special features, saying that "all previously released special features" would be retained. This, however, was found not to be the case as observant fans got their copies: the Angela Lansbury-hosted TV special The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: The Making of a Movie Classic (present in all DVD and Blu-Ray releases since 1999) has been dropped in favor of a new 70 minute documentary titled The Making of the Wonderful Wizard of Oz. For the completist home video collector, we shall be hanging onto our old DVD or Blu-Ray editions to keep it.

That said, the new feature is not a brash usurper, offering a more focused look at the creation of the movie than the Lansbury special, as well as a number of experts and Munchkins and archival audio and footage. The tiny extant bit of the deleted "Triumphant Return" sequence (from a trailer) is presented in likely the highest quality possible. All footage from non-widescreen sources (except a couple zoom-ins) have a curtain design on the sides to fill in the picture on widescreen television sets.

The rest of the re-authored disc contains familiar bonus materials from previous releases, but dropping some major stuff. The audio-only features, supporting cast career profile videos, the Wonderful Wizard of Oz Storybook, stills gallery and trailers have been retained, but the remaining features from the 2009 disc have been moved to disc 3. This was probably done due to the fact that the new making of feature is in high definition. This means, though, that the more affordable standalone disc has less special features than its 2009 counterpart.

Special features, disc 3

So, yes, everything else is on disc 3: the remaining documentaries and featurettes introduced in the 2005 DVD and 2009 Blu-Ray, the deleted scenes and home movies, the far from pristine transfer of The Dreamer of Oz, vintage featurettes for MGM studio publicity, excerpts from Off To See The Wizard, and the same versions of the silent Oz films and the 1933 cartoon that we've had before. I find it rather disappointing that the only way to get this disc is to purchase this large set. Unlike 2009's DVD, English subtitles are included on most features.

DVD Copy

The fourth disc is a DVD copy of the movie, and to be honest, I kind of wish it hadn't been included. Although I stuck with DVD for a very long time, this disc is a simple reissue of the 2009 DVD, which was a modified version of the 2005 DVD. I still have my DVD collection from then, so I actually have no use for it. It exclusively contains "Prettier Than Ever: The Restoration of Oz," a featurette from the 2005 DVD restoration that was obsolete and yet retained in the 2009 editions as they used the new high definition print as the source. (In my own opinion, as film grain doesn't look good on DVD's limited resolution, the 2005 version is the best the movie has looked on that format.)

Disc 5

Disc 5 I have yet to peruse, but it is the four-hour documentary MGM: When The Lion Roars on a dual-sided DVD. There are a number of features I now think could be added to a future re-release: the 1932 Land of Oz Meglin Kiddies short, existing celebrity wraparounds from early TV showings of the movie, expanded audio features including the audio commentaries from the "Ultimate Oz" and Criterion Collection laserdisc editions of the movie ("Ultimate Oz" also contained a number of audio outtakes from the movie not included on any subsequent DVD or Blu-Ray), a biographical piece on Judy Garland, and now that it's gone, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: The Making of a Movie Classic, hosted by Angela Lansbury. If the next re-release is still on Blu-Ray, I'd like to see all of the features in this paragraph on a disc.

What else is in the box?

 Like the 2005 and 2009 collector's sets, non-disc goodies are included. Pictures from a friend's set can be seen at this blog entry, so I won't be photographing my set.

The physical bonuses include a hardcover journal, a timeline of the film's production by John Fricke that has been heavily illustrated and presented as a book, a Ruby Slipper sparkle globe (that lights up with a red glow), and a pin collection.

There is also a print showing Dorothy standing on the bridge in Munchkinland that is listed as a "photo card," but on the back, it doubles as an advertisement for the new book by Jay Scarfone and William Stillman. The same advertisement can be found in the timeline book.

There is also a map of Oz, which mashes up the Oz geography from the books (the four countries and their colors), the film's plot and location names from Wicked. I was not too pleased to see that. The route of the Yellow Brick Road is far too winding and complicated: instead of going straight to the Emerald City, it winds around Oz, showing the Scarecrow in a Gillikin Cornfield and the Tin Woodman in a Gillikin Forest that reaches into the Winkie Country and turns into the Haunted Forest. The northern part (which isn't so bad, I guess) is where the Cowardly Lion lives. Finally, the approach to the Emerald City runs through the Quadling Country, where Glinda's palace is shown.

Whoever designed this map should think about what it means to the plot of the movie. Dorothy went on a long, winding road that actually takes her into the domain of the Wicked Witch of the West to get to the Emerald City. She could have cut across country and made a far shorter trip. The straightforward road Baum created makes far more sense. And the inclusion of locations from Wicked is going to be irksome to any Baum fan, though the nutty fans of the musical who want to see it as "canon" with the movie are going to be glad.

My major gripe is that there isn't a printed index of the discs' rather extensive contents, much less a chapter list for the movie. They did stop making those a while ago, but I rather miss them as it was nice to have them on hand to refer to. (The menus also no longer title the chapters, they only give them numbers.) One would think that this could have been included in the timeline book. Or perhaps instead of the journal (a plain affair), they could have presented another edition of the movie's shooting script with that index included.

The discs come housed in a standard Blu-Ray case that's just a little thicker than average cases. This means it won't stick out too badly if you put on a shelf with your other Blu-Rays.
My current collection of Oz Blu-Ray titles.

Should I buy it?

Perhaps, as they did in 2009, Warner Brothers will release the discs on their own from this massive set, but no announcement has been made yet.

If you're not interested in the non-disc goodies this time around (understandable as it contains little aside from Fricke's timeline book to interest a film buff), and you have the Ultimate Collector's Edition or Emerald Edition from 2009, then you can get the 3D version and the new documentary simply by purchasing the standalone 3D edition. If you want to pass on the 3D one but still get the new documentary, then get the new standalone Blu-Ray or the new 2-disc DVD set if you don't mind that documentary not being in high definition. And if you're not interested in that documentary at all and you do have the 2009 set, then feel free to pass this time.

As this is my first time purchasing the movie on Blu-Ray, I do feel a little more justified in the purchase, but considering the dropping of a major feature from past editions and the rather underwhelming new content, it wasn't an entirely exciting re-release.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

The Wizard of Oz: The Official 50th Anniversary Pictorial History

I haven't really done a lot of reading up on MGM's classic adaptation of L. Frank Baum's famous Oz book, but this year, I've finally rescinded and picked up a few books about the making of the movie.

This is one of the big ones, and one I think I would have enjoyed as a child due to how heavily illustrated it is.

The Official 50th Anniversary Pictorial History details the origins of The Wizard of Oz story briefly but details the making of the film much more. It actually shows the covers of all of the Famous Forty Oz books and then some (Who's Who in Oz, the Reilly & Lee Visitors from Oz, Yankee in Oz, The Enchanted Island of Oz, The Forbidden Fountain of Oz and Dick Martin's The Ozmapolitan of Oz).

The section on pre-production of the movie proved very fascinating, with the different adaptation concepts nicely detailed. (At one point, none of Dorothy's friends were going to be actually a Scarecrow, Tin Man or Lion, but only people who thought they were brainless and heartless, and a man who'd been transformed into a lion.) Even some pages from abandoned screenplay drafts are included, making me wish some of them would be published in their entirety. Although modern critics sometimes say that the MGM film is nothing like the book, surprisingly, a lot of what it got right was simply stepping back to the source material.

The casting is detailed along with the long, arduous production schedule that went through several directors, a complete scrapping of filmed footage, and the studio almost shutting down the production due to high costs.

Finally, the premiere and re-releases and TV airings are discussed, as well as noting the passing of the principal cast.

Other books have been produced about the making of the film since (Stillman and Scarfone even produced a book dedicated mainly to the design of the production and are coming out with a new book at the end of the month), but this one is an easily readable one if not fully comprehensive. Although out of print, used copies in paperback and hardcover (mine is an ex-library with minimal markings) can be found easily and inexpensively.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

The Characters of Oz — Zeb and Jim

As Dorothy and Uncle Henry headed home from Australia, Dorothy decided to stay with some new friends in San Francisco.

There's been some debate about the continuity here. Some Oz fans have read Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz in that Dorothy is on another trip with Uncle Henry. However, it makes much more sense to see this as their return from Australia. Baum opens the fourth Oz novel with the line "The train from 'Frisco was very late." Now, there is a city in Texas called Frisco, but since it says "'Frisco," we may assume that this is the nickname for San Francisco. It also wouldn't make much sense for Dorothy and Uncle Henry to visit Texas, then return home to Kansas by way of California. Considering what The Emerald City of Oz tells of their financial situation, we can imagine that this entire trip was planned very frugally.

Uncle Henry went on to Hugson's Ranch. Dorothy went by train later, and arrived late, very early in the morning. She met Zebediah ("Zeb"), who explained that they're second cousins. Aunt Em's sister married Bill Hugson, who is Zeb's uncle. (For this to work, Dorothy is Uncle Henry's blood relative, just as I've always thought.) Zeb's last name is never revealed. It could be Hugson, but only if his father is Bill Hugson's brother. Baum never explores that part of the family.

To pull the cab that is on Hugson's Ranch is an old horse named Jim. Apparently, he's retired from pulling cabs in Chicago to only pulling the Hugson cab when needed. Dorothy notes that he's skinny and bony and his head looks too large for his body. Still, he seems to be well-cared for.

Thanks to an earthquake, Zeb and Jim accompany Dorothy and her kitten Eureka (next blog) underground where they meet the Wizard as they face the Mangaboos, the Invisible Bears of Voe, the Gargoyles of Naught and the Dragonettes in their quest to reach the surface before Ozma finally brings them to Oz. Both Zeb and Jim get to prove their resourcefulness by fighting enemies or by stealing the wings of the Gargoyles. These wings are attached to Jim and the buggy and he must make the daring attempt. In addition, Jim (who can talk as soon as they begin to fall into the earth) befriends the Wizard's tiny piglets and even threatens to eat Eureka if she harms one.

However, while Dorothy welcomes adventures in fairyland with enthusiasm, Zeb is hesitant. Jim makes it clear that he would far rather be back at home, enjoying his retirement.

In Oz, Jim attempts to befriend the Sawhorse, but they are later pitted against each other in a race, which Jim loses. When he tries to attack the Sawhorse in frustration, the Hungry Tiger attacks him, letting him know that he will look out for his friends. Jim begins to tell Zeb that they don't really belong there.

Zeb is part of the jury in Eureka's trial, and while the jury's process is not detailed, we might assume that his interaction with Oz citizens made him feel out of place.

Zeb explains that he would like to go home, and that "not being fairies," he and Jim just don't belong in Oz. And he's right. Oz might be open for all, but it is not the place for everyone. Zeb has grown up outside of fairyland, and while he enjoyed the fantasy in The Arabian Nights, a land of fantasy isn't for him. He and Jim do not reappear in the remaining Famous Forty Oz books. Dorothy longs for adventure, Zeb just wants to be a regular working man and Jim just wants to enjoy being a regular horse.

As a young reader, I felt sorry that Zeb and Jim didn't get to go back, and later, my earliest ideas for new Oz stories involved bringing them back to Oz. In reading Oziana, one story had them returned to Oz to stay. But as an adult, I have come to peace with the fact that Zeb and Jim didn't go back to Oz and yes, grew old and eventually died while Dorothy lived on in the Land of Oz. But sometimes the fairytale ending of living happily forever after isn't for everyone, and it certainly wasn't the case for these two characters.

I do believe that Zeb and Jim did end their days quite happily indeed. Likely their experience in Oz gave Zeb new perspective on how to care for the horse, and when it came for Jim to die, Zeb probably did everything in his power to ensure his old friend would be comfortable until the end. Zeb either got his own ranch or took over Bill's ranch and probably married and maybe he had children. And since it became obvious that the Oz books existed in the universe they told about, maybe he picked up some of those for them.

In any case, a few years later when his Uncle Bill heard that Uncle Henry, Aunt Em and Dorothy had vanished without a trace, Zeb most likely knew exactly what had happened.