Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Judy - Movie Review

I don't often talk about Judy Garland here. As much as I respect her talent and legacy and even own a couple of her films outside of The Wizard of Oz, I don't consider myself a fan. Yet, when I heard about this film, I knew I wanted to see it and checked listings to see if any theaters nearby would be screening it. None of them listed it, so I decided I should check back and keep an eye open for the Blu-Ray preorder.

Well, I happened to be walking home after seeing a different film and passed by The Moxie Cinema, a local non-profit theater that specializes in the smaller movies that your multiplex typically doesn't carry. There, in the window, was a poster for Judy, so I checked their website and picked a time to go see it.

Biopics have become a popular type of cinema, often following a rise and fall and rise again story arc. Factual accuracy is often secondary to storytelling, with many biopics playing fast and loose with facts. More often, they try to paint a picture of the person in a favorable light, using drama based on the person to help you connect with their story. So, while a biopic might spark someone's interest in a bit of history, don't look to it as a definitive document.

Most of the movie focuses on late in Judy Garland's life when she took on a five week engagement in London, hoping to earn enough money to stabilize her life with her two children, Lorna and Joey Luft. However, the film also flashes back to Judy's time at MGM with a few scenes of her being sternly talked to by Louis B. Mayer on the set of Oz, dealing with her assistant and her relationship with Mickey Rooney.

The movie breaks away from the typical flow of biopics. Rather than depicting Judy's rise to stardom and trying to document much of her life, it only goes for some scenes from her past and dramatizing an engagement that concluded some six months before her death. We see how Judy became addicted to barbiturates to curb her appetite to keep her weight down. Going forward thirty years sees the Judy at the end of the line: she's tired but wants to give so much but gets so little in return. The film shows a wide range of emotions for Judy, from being determined to putting on her best face to getting angry when she deals with a tough crowd.

I'm sure a good amount of the film is fabricated for the sake of dramatic storytelling, such as Judy meeting a gay couple who try to take her to dinner late at night and instead she goes home with them. And when we see the set of The Wizard of Oz, it looks nothing like any scene from the film, even with a woman riding down the yellow brick road on a bicycle. (She looks nothing like Margaret Hamilton, who would certainly not be in costume as Miss Gulch on set as the Kansas scenes were filmed near the end of the production schedule.) I'm fairly certain this was done to allude to the film without violating any trademarks of Warner Brothers.

Renee Zellweger deserves an Oscar nomination for her portrayal of the older Judy as she skillfully all but disappears into the role. Similarly, Darci Shaw was excellent as the younger Judy and just about looks exactly like her. The film certainly isn't a particularly happy one, but it does well in evoking emotion. Even yours truly teared up during the finale, which—of course—depicted Judy singing "Over the Rainbow."

It was fairly good timing to release this film during the 80th anniversary of MGM's The Wizard of Oz and fifty years since Judy's death. If you've yet to see it and it's playing near you still, I'd recommend checking it out. If that's not the case, check it out after the home media version releases. There's not a lot of Oz, though Judy's role as Dorothy is mentioned several times, but if you enjoy a good drama, here's one with a connection to Oz.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

A Tale of Two Wizards

This is a feature article I wrote for the Winter 2014 issue of The Baum Bugle discussing the differences between L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and MGM's famous film adaptation The Wizard of Oz. Rather than simply point out what the film did differently than the book, this article's intent was to explore these differences and why they were made, asking audiences to enjoy both versions of the story. I must thank then Bugle editor Craig Noble in helping to make this piece quite accessible to readers, though I've made some new edits in this posting.
“Hey, Jared,” my mother said one night. “There's a movie coming on TV, and I think you'll like it.”

“What's it called?” my seven-year-old self asked, walking into the living room.

“The Wizard of Oz.”

For the next two hours, I was rooted to the living room floor, watching the incredible story of how a girl from Kansas was taken to a fantasy world and met some amazing friends and faced a scary witch. I was fascinated.

Shortly after, my grandfather was moving to a smaller house and asked my father to pick up some of his childhood books. I wound up tagging along and discovered a familiar-looking book: the Grosset and Dunlap Illustrated Junior Library edition of The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, illustrated by Evelyn Copelman. Later, I fished it out of the garage, and after a disastrous attempt at borrowing the MGM film on VHS from the library (resulting in a broken VCR), I decided to read the book for myself.

I read the book over several days and was quite enchanted by it. More Oz! More characters! More adventures! Of course this version was better, right?

That was twenty years ago, and by now I've read all of the Famous Forty Oz books and then some, as well as seen most of the film and television adaptations of the Oz stories. I've also seen some of my other favorite stories become movies and even taken a shot at a writing a few screenplays. Consequently, I often think about the adaptation process from book to film.

One rule that modern screenwriters seem to cite is, “Don't change the story, change the storytelling.” While this rule has been commonly cited only in recent years, when we look back at MGM's classic film adaptation of The Wizard of Oz, we can see that it has been in place for a very long time.

I've come to realize that saying one version of the story is better than another—no matter what well-worded reason you may cite—is failing to appreciate both versions for what they are. Books and films are very different mediums, and what works in one often will not work in the other. A book requires one to use imagination: what do the characters look like? How do they sound? What about buildings and landscape? A typical film adaptation offers a single interpretation of these missing elements, which may not match what the reader imagined.

A bigger difference between books and film—particularly evident in the case of The Wizard of Oz—is the pacing. Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is a chapter book with children in mind as the target audience. Children would not be expected to finish the entire book in a single sitting, whether they were reading it themselves or having it read to them.

Baum promises in the introduction to to present stories “in which the wonderment and joy are retained and the heart-aches and nightmares are left out.” This does not mean that the book is free from any violence or death, far from it! However, each chapter—with a couple of exceptions—ends with Dorothy and her friends being relatively safe. Scary situations are routinely dealt with by the end of each chapter, resulting in an episodic narrative style.

Unlike books, films are designed to be taken in during a single sitting, presenting as a continuous story. This often calls for a more linear narrative style, and it may require the dropping of certain plot elements. In the case of the MGM Wizard of Oz, a rather large overhaul was required.

By modern standards, it is perfectly all right for a film to dip into fantasy, even setting the bulk or the entirety of the plot in an unreal world. In 1939, however, such movies were scarce. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was set in a magical version of Europe in the past. Laurel and Hardy's Babes in Toyland presented a fantasy based around familiar nursery characters paired with the comedy duo’s typical shtick. Since the bulk of The Wizard of Oz takes place in a world with good and wicked witches, flying monkeys, unreal landscapes, and some very non-human characters, it was decided to ground the film in the realm of reality from the start. In order for audiences to accept this fantasy world, MGM needed to open the film in a world that was believable and possibly even familiar.

MGM also was inspired by Paramount's disastrous 1933 adaptation of Alice in Wonderland. While the movie was a charming adaptation of Lewis Carroll's book, the film studio made a huge mistake in casting big stars and making them unrecognizable under bulky masks. The film was a flop and spelled near ruin for Paramount. If famous movie stars were going to play the Oz characters, then the audience needed to be able to see and recognize them.

Thus, we have the opening set in sepia-toned Kansas, where Uncle Henry and Aunt Em have ordinary worries, such as possibly losing chicks due to a broken incubator, and most of the key Oz characters are suggested by familiar personality types—farmhands, a nasty neighbor, and a tricky showman. We are presented with a reality that audiences in 1939 could easily relate to, and faces that they could recognize. When these faces reappear in Oz under character makeup, we can still see who they are and connect them to the characters from Kansas.

Furthermore, the Kansas scenes foreshadow the new linear plot adaptation of the Oz story: Dorothy and Toto are threatened by a cruel female character, are helped by some friends, and travel to see a man who sends Dorothy back on the road home.

In Baum's book, Dorothy meets two powerful women in Oz who appear at the beginning and end of her journey: the Good Witch of the North and Glinda the Good. One could make many arguments for the significance of keeping these characters separate, but for the purposes of MGM's film adaptation, the two are combined, the former receiving the latter's name. Glinda was a popular character in the Oz books, and leaving her entirely out of the movie would have been nearly unthinkable. Yet introducing her in the film's final moments would have proven problematic to the linear adaptation, so the characters were combined. A downside to this change in the story is it begs the question of why Glinda quite willingly withholds critical information from Dorothy and sends her on a dangerous journey.

In contrast to her one-chapter appearance in Baum's book, the Wicked Witch of the West is redeveloped into a recurring threat to Dorothy in the film. The Wicked Witch of the East’s magic footwear is transformed from the book's silver shoes to the movie’s iconic Ruby Slippers. After Glinda gives them to Dorothy, the Wicked Witch of the West targets the girl and threatens her throughout her journey.

Perhaps the most altered character is Dorothy. In the book she is of an indeterminate—but likely prepubescent—age. The character played by the sixteen-year-old Judy Garland is supposed to be twelve, but she clearly looks older. In another change, Dorothy is a rather reserved child in the book, whereas in the film, she runs away from home and even scolds the Wizard when he scares the Cowardly Lion. This is not to say that Judy's Dorothy is consistently bolder than Baum's. She has her weak moments in the film, such as when she's trapped in the Wicked Witch's castle with nothing to do but wait for rescue or death, and her defeat of the Witch is only by accident. In contrast, Dorothy defies the Wicked Witch in the book by feeding the Cowardly Lion and later throws the fateful water at the Witch because she's had enough of her.

Dorothy is given a character arc in the film, whereas the book simply tells her adventures in an episodic fashion. Baum didn't set out to moralize with his story, but the film clearly has a moral as evidenced by the Tin Man asking, “What have you learned, Dorothy?” By the end the film, Dorothy has found a new appreciation for her home and family, but it’s near the beginning of the book (shortly after meeting the Scarecrow) that Dorothy states, “There is no place like home.” Her desire to return home is always inspired by her love for her guardians.

MGM based its approach to The Wizard of Oz on previous adaptations of Baum's story. It borrowed freely from the most famous adaptation of the story at that time: the original stage musical from 1903. For example, rather than attempting to depict the rescue from the poppy field by the field mice, MGM borrowed from the musical's grand Act One finale and had Glinda send snow to kill the poppies.

The encounter with the poppy field is the only one of Dorothy's adventures along the Yellow Brick Road that is included in the film. This is partly because it would have been too difficult to film most of these scenes in a visually interesting manner. (Does anyone really want to see Kalidahs that are just men in costumes?) Another reason is the linear plot adaptation removed the need for these episodes by placing the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Lion's needs to prove that they always had the qualities that they were looking for themselves into the expanded mission of defeating the Wicked Witch.

A number of elements from the book are moved to other points in the film’s chronology. In the book, Toto bites the Wicked Witch, while in the film, it is the Witch’s Kansas counterpart, Miss Gulch, who reports that this has happened to her. The Fighting Trees encountered during the final journey to Glinda’s palace in the book become the Apple Trees that lead Dorothy to find the Tin Man in the movie. The bee swarm that originally attacked Dorothy’s friends is referenced by the Wicked Witch in a threat to the Tin Man in the film.

Some elements from the book appear in the film briefly, though their importance is not mentioned in dialogue. For example, we see the Wicked Witch with the Golden Cap in one scene in the movie, but its importance is never brought up. In a similar vein, Glinda kisses Dorothy's forehead, but we are never told whether it has a magical purpose. (Given that the Witch attempts to kill Dorothy with a spell, we might presume that it does not.) The Winkies have spears as weapons, and the Witch sends them to attack Dorothy and her friends much like she did in the book.

Other changes were made for stylistic reasons. Scarcely any dialogue from Baum's book is carried over into the movie. The movie uses the precedents established by the 1903 stage production as a license to tell the story as a musical, in which songs are used as a vehicle to establish characters or move the plot forward. The story must keep moving, and even when Dorothy and her friends take time to sing about their desires, the lively songs are accompanied by choreography and cinematography so the audience doesn't feel like they're just listening to a song.

Although the MGM production took many design cues from W.W. Denslow’s illustrations, few of the character costumes resemble their book counterparts. Given that the movie Munchkins have doll-like figures, it has been suggested that perhaps they were supposed to bring to mind the Dainty China Country. Further cosmetic changes are made as well: the Munchkins and Winkies do not have cultures based around colors and the Wicked Witch does not have an eye patch or a far-seeing eye, but instead green skin and a crystal ball.

So, while both the book and film tell of how a Kansas girl goes to an amazing fantasy world and meets new friends and defeats a Wicked Witch on her quest to return home, they tell it very differently. It is the opinion of this writer that each should be appreciated for its own approach, rather than being pitted against the other. After all, they have delighted readers and audiences for one hundred nineteen and eighty years respectively.

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

Seawolf Press Reprints L. Frank Baum's Oz Books

Print on demand opened up a wide world of publishing opportunities, although it has its limitations. Yet for public domain texts it means a wide number of editions featuring just the text sometimes with just barely passable layout.

Meet the folks at Seawolf Press, who invited me to peruse some of their new reprints of L. Frank Baum's books. I was given a pick of titles and selected three books that used a lot of graphic elements: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Ozma of Oz and The Patchwork Girl of Oz. Many of the other Oz books simply used line art and color plates. These three used color printing on the pages. Thus, these three would be the most difficult to reproduce.

Rather than simply doing a photo facsimile of the books (you can get nearly that with Dover and Books of Wonder editions) these have new layouts while reworking the illustrations to fit in them. All of these are black and white, so color plates and color inks are re-rendered as grayscale.

The most daunting of these was definitely The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. It's mostly a handsome new edition with the original design adapted for a new layout, with now grayscale images under and around the text as well as line art. Sometimes this means a two page spread from the original edition is now two sides of the same page. However, most of the time it works. Some of the art could've looked better, though.

Ozma of Oz fares even better, with just about no complaints with the treatment of the art, which all looks fine.

The Patchwork Girl of Oz, looking at the cover, it became clear why this one would look fine in black and white: the images for it were sourced from a White Edition with Dick Martin's redraw of the cover clearly visible, the Road to Oz endpapers replacing the Scarecrow and Tin Woodman riding the Cowardly Lion and Hungry Tiger images. To be fair, reprinting the White Edition version isn't a bad choice as Dick Martin did a great job reworking the art to look good without color, and his take on the front cover—adapted from the original's dustjacket—is rather more pleasing. That means those endpapers and the original cover design (Scraps hanging out with her title solo) are the main casualty here.

There are a wide variety of editions of the Oz books on the market, from collectible editions to antiques to scores of paperbacks and other editions, but the Seawolf Press editions attempt to put the books in a uniform format. At present, they only offer the fourteen Baum titles in terms of Oz and directly related literature.

Without perusing all of the titles (I'm wondering how the color plates of Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz fared now), I'd say that these editions are a good option for picking up the books as uniform paperbacks. While Dover reprinted the books in a uniform size as well, these also have a uniform cover design and a full set would look nice on a shelf.

Friday, August 23, 2019

The Wizard of Oz 4K - October 29, 2019

Preorders for a 4K edition of MGM's The Wizard of Oz are now available, dated for October 29, 2019. The movie will have the distinction of being the oldest film on the UHD format.

4K Blu-Ray or UHD (Ultra High Definition) is the latest physical home video format, with an image width of nearly four thousand pixels allowing for clear detail and HDR processing allowing for more vivid color range.

Warner Brothers has yet to detail this new edition, but the lack of a moratorium on previous editions of the title should let fans and collectors know that this is simply a 4K release of the movie.

Many 4K titles—both new releases and catalog titles—are released with a 4K disc that usually contains only the movie in 4K with HDR, looking simply amazing. It's basically a case by case basis as to if alternate audio tracks such as audio commentary are included. No bonuses are usually on the disc. (There have been 4K discs with some bonuses included on the 4K disc, but the ones I can recall reading about were from Lionsgate and Sony, not Warner Brothers.)

Included is a standard Blu-Ray disc, which, for catalog titles, is usually a copy of the latest edition of the title. There are cases (including Warner Brothers) in which the disc is a new one. Also standard for US releases is a digital copy code to redeem for a 4K digital copy so you can stream and download the title. (You will be able to purchase the digital 4K version on October 29, but people who bought or redeemed their previous digital copies via iTunes have reported that their copy has been upgraded.)

Best Buy exclusive Steelbook edition.
While there might be a new Blu-Ray included, I think Oz fans should only expect the new 4K disc. There's currently no new "big box" Ultimate Collector's Edition announced as was released the past two major times the movie was released to home video. The Ultimate Collector's Edition of the past release was the only new way to own a whole two additional discs of bonus features.

So yes, unless a collection with three or four discs is announced, this will include fewer bonus features than the last releases. In addition, the 3D edition is not included as 3D has become a small niche in the home video market, collectors being forced to either import international editions for the 3D disc or turn to exclusive retailer editions that have them. (If available.) So, for collectors who enjoy having the most bonuses available, this new edition should supplement, not replace your older editions. Don't expect new bonuses unless Warner Brother announces them.

I do want to say something about the artwork. It's stilted, looks far too clean and is generally not dynamic or very appealing. The best looking covers from the 2013 reissue were the 3D editions with just Dorothy front and center on the covers. (The 2-disc one featured her in a field of flowers against an Ozzy landscape, while the case in the big box edition featured her face against a white background with the title.) What baffles me is that this movie has been around for decades, with multiple excellent pieces of artwork being created for posters, merchandise and other home video editions. Given how I've used Photoshop, I decided to take a crack at creating alternate 4K covers.

This one repurposes artwork from one of the original posters in 1939, with Al Hirschfeld's portraits of the characters framing the left side and bottom of the front cover.

This one repurposes the artwork from the final MGM/United Artists home video release, circa 1997.

While I'm sure the 4K edition is going to look and sound amazing, especially with HDR, using artwork like that is certainly questionable. Better artwork has been produced for the film which I'm sure with only a little bit of work, Warner Brothers could use. Or there are a number of fine artists who could create new original artwork that would look much better.

Also, Warner, if you'd like to maybe also announce Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz: The Complete Series on DVD or Blu-Ray soon, I wouldn't be mad.

EDIT: UK retailers will be offering their own 4-disc collector's edition.
This set promises a dedicated special features disc in addition to the 4K disc and the standard Blu-Ray. It will likely be a reissue of the special features disc from the 2013 edition. The fourth disc will be a soundtrack CD. Also included are art cards, a reproduction poster and the "map" of Oz that was also in the 2013 big box edition. This set looks very pretty, so UK fans and collectors should be quick to snatch it up, and collectors outside of the UK might want to contact fellow UK collectors to help them get copies as well.

EDIT: Wow! An official press release from Warner Brothers is out there now. It confirms that the Blu-Ray disc will have all the same features from the 2013 edition. It is possible that the version of the film on the disc will be sourced from the 4K version, but that will likely remain unseen until the disc is released and reviewed. There is no mention of a standard Blu-Ray reissue.

The press release confirms that there will be two bonuses on the 4K disc: the audio commentary and the 1990 special The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: The Making of a Movie Classic, hosted by Angela Lansbury. This special was included with every Warner Brothers home video release of the movie from 1999 to 2009, but was dropped in 2013 in favor of a new documentary they'd created. After a lawsuit from the producers of the documentary, it was released on its own DVD as part of the Warner Archive Collection. Now, the 4K disc will include it.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

The Wizard of Oz songs on vinyl

Well, the 80th anniversary of the premiere of MGM's The Wizard of Oz is today. Looking back over my blogs about Oz vinyl records, I noticed the soundtrack album of the movie was unrepresented.

Well, let's fix that, shall we?

In 1940, the songs from The Wizard of Oz were released onto 78rpm records for fans of the film to purchase. However, this was not a soundtrack album. A soundtrack release is made of selections from a film's music, sometimes mixed differently or even using different recordings of the music designed to be listened to without the film.

This release, from Decca Records, featured new recordings of the songs, and only one of the cast could be heard: Judy Garland, singing "Over the Rainbow" and "The Jitterbug." The rest of the singers on the records were members of the Ken Darby singers, under his direction. Victor Young and his orchestra performed the music. The other songs on the records were "The Merry Old Land of Oz," "If I Only Had A Brain" (but it also included "If I Only Had A Heart" and "If I Only Had The Nerve"), "We're Off To See The Wizard" and "Munchkinland" (the entire song sequence, filling both sides of a 78 record).

These recordings used some additional lyrics for the songs not used in the film. These were added to commercial sheet music to help the songs be performed outside of the context of the movie. To help tell the story of the song during "The Merry Old Land of Oz," a soloist in the role of Dorothy says "We can't see the Wizard like this, we're all dirty." The Tin Man says he's rusty and the Scarecrow says he's lost a lot of straw, while the Lion says he's afraid of water. The chorus sings "Here we rush with soap and brush to make you clean and fair!" This line has been added to some other versions of the song, for example at the first OzCon karaoke in 2018, I was surprised to see it in the onscreen lyrics for the version of the song I performed.

This collection of records sold well for Decca and in time was reissued as a pair of 48rpm records. Later still, it made side one of a new album that paired the songs with Decca's recordings of a similar collection for Disney's Pinocchio. And that is the version I own.

The first true soundtrack recording of the movie was released in 1956, but unlike modern soundtrack albums, it presented dialogue from the film along with the songs. This meant it included a lot of the score, but it was clipped very short to reduce the audio from 101 minutes to a mere 40 minutes. A number of scenes got the cut, and oddly, the cuts eliminated any mention of the film's iconic Ruby Slippers. For the modern Oz fan, the original version of this album can be very jarring to listen to. Still, for many years, to hear the original cast of the film sing the songs without seeing the film in theaters or on television, creating an audio recording from TV or somehow owning a film print (looking at you, Rob Roy MacVeigh), this was your only option.

This version of the album would be reissued many times with very different album artwork over the years until compact disc came along. It was rebranded "The Story and Songs of the Wizard of Oz" and expanded. My personal vinyl copy seems to be a rather common one that was reissued well into the 1980s.

In 1995, Rhino Music released two new soundtrack albums for MGM's The Wizard of Oz on compact disc. The big one was a 2-disc set that I've profiled before, but there was also a single disc version that in time has become more widely available. This one featured the main titles overture, the songs of the film—opting for extended versions when available—, the Cyclone music, "The Jitterbug," the deleted Emerald City reprise of "The Witch Is Dead!" and the finale music. This version of the soundtrack is now the standard version and has been released on various CDs, digital and even some special vinyl releases.

Do you have these versions of the MGM songs in your collection? In what format? Go ahead and fire away in the comments.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

80 Years Of The Wizard of The Emerald City

This past weekend was OzCon International 2019. I attended and presented a panel on Alexander Volkov's Magic Land series as it was 80 years since his original version had been presented. I have blogged about the series indepth, but this panel was designed for those who were not familiar with the series and might be interested in finding out more. Below is what I'd written to read during my panel as well as the videos I'd planned to show during it. Not represented are the questions I received during the panel and the clips of other television adaptations I showed afterwards as we had extra time.

So, you probably didn't understand a word of that. But I think it's fair to say you recognized the story it was celebrating. Over in Russia, generations have grown up with the story of a little girl lost in a fantasy world seeking the help of the magical ruler so she can get home. But it's not Oz, but Volshebnik Izumrudnogo Goroda: translated, the Wizard of the Emerald City.

The one behind this switch was Alexander Melentyevich Volkov. He was a teacher who came across the original Baum book about 1937 when he was given the book to translate as part of his mastering the English language. He enjoyed the story and decided he would publish his own translation. His version of the story, however, would change a few things.
Now, at this time, Russia did not honor international copyright law, allowing writers to freely borrow from other works. Volkov's essentially rewriting an existing work into a new one was not unprecedented, as Pinocchio had become the Russian Buratino at the hands of Aleksey Nikolayevich Tolstoy. Yet it was not even original to Russian writers. A very famous example is none other than Alexandre Dumas' The Three Musketeers, which was inspired by a part of a believed to be fictionalized memoir of the real life d'Artagnan. So before one writes Volkov off as simple plagiarism, just remember that it's a long-established tradition in literature.

Originally published in 1939, Volkov's translation was mostly a straightforward retelling of the original Oz story. The name "Dorothy" wasn't common in Russia and didn't have a real equivalent, so Volkov renamed the heroine "Ellie." Toto's name was translated to "Totoshka." The Tin Woodman was now changed to the Iron Lumberjack as iron actually rusts. The Good Witch of the North and Glinda were now renamed Villina  and Stella, respectively, while the Wicked Witches of the East and West were Gingemma and Bastinda. "Oz" was also renamed "Volshebstrany" or "Magic Land."

However, Volkov had some ideas for Magic Land and twenty years later in 1959, he revised and reissued the book with even further changes. Ellie Smith now lived with her parents in Kansas with her dog Totoshka. As the story opens, her old shoes are wearing out and her mother reads her a story about a Wicked Witch who tries to conjure a hurricane to wipe out all life on earth that she doesn't find useful. Lo and behold, this story is actually happening in Magic Land with Gingemma being the Witch. However, Villina, the Good Witch of the northern Rose Land, alters the spell so that a house that should be abandoned will be dropped on Gingemma.

But the best laid plans of mice and men so often go awry and just like Dorothy, Ellie arrives in the eastern Blue Land of the Munchkins. To her surprise, Totoshka can now talk and expresses himself quite enthusiastically. She is told that in order to return home, she must help three beings fulfill their fondest wishes. She takes with her Gingemma's Silver Shoes and along her way down the yellow brick road, she meets Strasheela who wants a brain, the Iron Lumberjack who wants a heart and then an ogre who wants to eat her after she takes a detour into a trap. Surprise! Shortly after Strasheela and the Lumberjack rescue her and Totoshka, they are joined by the Cowardly Lion on the way to the Emerald City.

There's a few expansions, such as many characters that Baum didn't name in his first book now having names. The Queen of the Field Mice is Ramina, the Guardian of the Gates is Faramant, and the Soldier who guards the palace is Din Gior. Instead of Kalidahs, we have sabre-tooth tigers. The Wizard is named Goodwin.

Volkov also made a few interesting changes. Bastinda has a cook named Fregosa who Elli confides in and makes her question just how powerful Bastinda is. When Goodwin is leaving Magic Land, an eclipse occurs, making the people believe he has actually gone to the sun. When Ellie and her friends journey south, there are no fighting trees or China country. Instead, they attempt to cross a river and it turns into a flood that separates the friends. When it comes to the colors of the Land of Oz, the eastern Munchkin Country is Blue Land and the Emerald City is still green, but the western country is now Violet Land, the northern country is Yellow Land, and the south is Rose Land.

So, there was a brand new, distinctly different Oz tailored for Russian audiences, and over the next sixteen years, Volkov wrote five sequels. These were serialized in magazines before being collected in book form, the last one actually being released five years after Volkov's death in 1977.

 The first sequel was titled Urfin Jus and his Wooden Soldiers. A woodcarver who served Gingemma finds his property overrun with mysterious thorny plants. After burning them, he discovers the ashes will bring things to life, so he creates wooden soldiers called the Deadwood Oaks to conquer Magic Land. While he quickly conquers the Munchkins, Strasheela puts up quite the defense at the Emerald City, until a traitor named Ruf Bilan helps Urfin win. After Urfin captures both Strasheela and the Iron Lumberjack, Kaggi-Karr the crow is sent across the mountains to Kansas to ask Elli and her peg-legged sailor Uncle Charlie Black to come to Magic Land.

Just so we're clear, Urfin is basically a male Mombi mixed with Jinjur with a dash of the Nome King. Uncle Charlie clearly feels a lot like Cap'n Bill. And in a nod to The Road to Oz, the return to Magic Land is achieved through a wheeled boat. Just don't ask why there's a mountain range and a desert in Kansas with all of Magic Land hidden there that no one's noticed.

In Magic Land, Elli and Uncle Charlie meet up with the Lion who helps them free Blue Land, and then with the help of Ramina and her knowledge of underground tunnels, they free Strasheela and the Iron Lumberjack to help them free Violet Land. With Urfin's supply of magic ashes now exhausted, the Deadwood Oaks at the Emerald City are taken out with flaming debris and Urfin is sent home. The remaining Deadwood Oaks are given new faces and serve Strasheela.

 In The Seven Underground Kings, Ruf Bilan fled into the Land of the Underground Ore-Diggers, who have a system of seven Royal Families who take turns ruling. This is acheieved thanks to the Soporific Waters, which send people  to sleep for an extended period of time and wipes their memeories. When each family and their court awakens, they are re-educated as to who they are and then allowed to rule for one month. Ruf Bilan has damaged the source of the water, stopping the system, meaning that over time, each family has awoken.

Back in Kansas, Ellie and her cousin Fred Canning explore a cave, but are trapped and journey to Underground Land, where Ruf Bilan claims that Elli is a powerful fairy who can restore the waters, so she and Fred are kept prisoner. Totoshka is sent to find Strasheela, who arrives with Ellie's other friends to advise on the matter, though the underground climate isn't favorable to any of them.

When Fred suggests finding another source of the Waters, they manage to set up a pump, and each of the Seven Kings decides to send the others to sleep. However, the Timekeeper Rujero decides that all of the Kings will be sent to sleep and he will take permanent ruling duties, with the former kings being sent to new jobs to work with their people.

As the Underground People move above ground, Ramina predicts that Ellie will not be returning to Magic Land before she rides home on the back of Oyho the Dragon.

 So, now on to The Fiery God of the Marrans. Urfin Jus goes south and convinces the Marrans that he's a god using Charlie Black's abandoned cigarette lighter. The Marrans are a short, primitive people who can jump high who Volkov used to replace Baum's Hammerheads. And so, he decides to go conquer the Emerald City again. Strasheela now has a Magic television set that shows him anything he wants to see in Magic Land and has dug a moat around Emerald City. Yet, even with this, the Marrans are able to conquer.

Over in Kansas, we are introduced to Annie, Ellie's seven year old sister and Arto, the son of Totoshka. She and her friend Tim O'Kelly are obsessed with Ellie's tales of Magic Land and when Fred Canning sends them two solar-powered mechanical mules, the two children ride them to Magic Land. Once there, Annie helps to free a fox who gives her a circlet that makes her invisible. As she heads into Munchkin Country, she discovers what's going on with Urfin and grabbing some Soporific Water, she manages to free Strasheela. Urfin lies to the Marrans that the defeated Marrans were killed, but when he arrives, the Marrans see their supposedly dead friends playing a game of volleyball, causing them to revolt against their "Fire God." So all goes well as Tim, Annie and Arto return to Kansas.

 Now, over to The Yellow Fog. The giant witch Arachna awakens from her five thousand year slumber and catches up on the history of Magic Land. She decides she will conquer Magic Land. She tries brute force, but the combined forces are able to repel her. So she casts the yellow fog, which begins to irritate the throat and eyes, but the people of Magic Land manage to find ways to allieviate the effects. It's not until it brings severe winter weather that Oyho goes to fetch Annie and Tim to tell them how to deal with the new climate. However, uncle Charlie makes his return and helps the people defy Arachna with a giant robot named Tilly-Willy who comes to life and fights the witch, making her fall to her death.

 All right, now on to the final book, The Mystery of the Deserted Castle. Now, if you thought Magic Land is sounding a little strange, hold onto your seats. Magic Land is invaded by aliens from the planet Rameria. The cruel Menvits control the peaceful Arzaks with their hypnotic gaze, and soon make it clear to the people of Magic Land that they're up to no good, so the people create an elaborate ruse to keep the invaders in check. But when the Menvits kidnap some citizens and even Annie when she comes in for a visit, mice manage to pipe the Soporific Water to the castle to send the Menvits to sleep. The Arzaks discover that emeralds counter the Menvits' powers and taking a lot in the rocket ship, they head back home to free Rameria.

There's some debate as to if the final book was possibly finished by a ghostwriter.


There's a major difference between Baum and Volkov I noticed when I read through the series. After the first story, Villina and Stella only get mentioned and aside from Annie and Arachna, most of the new characters are male. In The Yellow Fog, Tim even quotes a maxim saying that men go out on adventures and seeking fortune while women care for the home. Compare this with Baum's world where women are often the adventurous protagonists and leaders and in the case of the Patchwork Girl, even reject having a domestic role to life a life of independence. That said, after reading a number of fan sequels to The Wizard of Oz in which Oz is in trouble and they send for Dorothy, it was refreshing to see the people of Magic Land come together and face threats as a community.

The series promotes people coming together as a community and working towards a common goal. In a common fairy tale trope, Ellie in the first story must first help others before she can expect to be sent home. While it gives Ellie some motivation to befriend her companions, I think I prefer the original Oz story in which Dorothy just befriends them because she wants to help them. Giving her a motivation makes it seems like her friendships are a means to an end. Totoshka, however, is a great twist on Toto with his winsome and energetic personality.
Now, the books have been popular over in Russia and other nearby countries, and they've inspired a number of adaptations, from stage productions to live action television productions to animated versions. However, the most popular seems to be a 1973 10-episode series adapting the first three books. The series was animated via stop motion. That song I opened this presentation with is "The Song of the Friends," which thematically combines "We're Off To See The Wizard" with "If I Only Had A Brain," "If I Only Had A Heart" and "If I Only Had The Nerve." How popular is this song? Well...

I have some bad news if you think those puppets are charming. The series was produced by Soyuzmultfilm, who lost their puppet building to the Russian Orthodox Church about 1990 who did not give notice to the animators before sending in a squadron who threw out the puppets, saying they were "satanic" and "animated with the blood of Christian babies." No salvaging of the puppets or other materials was allowed. So, sorry for a depressing episode of "Where Are They Now?" *

The series has had its continuations. Leonid Vladmirsky, who illustrated the series, wrote Buratino in the Emerald City, sending the Russian version of Pinocchio to Oz.

Yuri Kuznetzov wrote at least four books properly continuing the series.
However, one Sergei Sukinhov has written no less than twenty books set in a version of Magic Land that only went off the first book and then created its own continuity.
If you're wondering about the proper Oz series being translated to Russian, yes, that's since happened, allowing readers to experience both series. For America, thanks to Peter Blystone, Volkov's books are available in English in the "Tales of Magic Land" series, and he's also translated a number of Sukinhov's books. I couldn't tell you about every plot beat, so my summaries there just had to skim the basics of the stories. I highly recommend checking them out.

So, back to that song, I found the lyrics and managed to translate them. The lyrics are only functionally translated, so they don't rhyme, but at least you'll get an idea of what the characters are saying. So, let's head down the yellow brick with Ellie and her friends one more time.

* Despite having seen the series lumped in with Soyuzmultfilm's work, after posting this blog, I was informed that the series was produced by Ekran, a separate company. It is entirely possible that the puppets survive!

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!