THE WIZ (1978)
Article 4538 by Dave Sindelar
Directed by Sidney Lumet
Featuring Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Nipsey Russell
What it is: Soul version of THE WIZARD OF OZ
A 24-year-old schoolteacher finds herself swept up by a winter tornado into the land of Oz, where she comes into the possession of silver slippers. She seeks a great wizard to help her return home.
I think three things were important in the shaping of this musical. The first was to make a soul all-black version of the Oz story. I have no problem with this idea, and since Motown produced the movie, at least there were some authentic soul music roots involved in the making of this (though if I’d had my druthers, I would have been much more interested in what George Clinton and Parliament/Funkadelic would have made of the story). The second was to use authentic New York locations to portray Oz; I suspect this would be most satisfying for those who either live in or are enamored of New York City, but I’m neither. The third is something I read in the trivia section of IMDB, and I think it may be the thing that is most responsible for how the movie turned out; apparently the scriptwriter was into est (Erhard Seminars Training), and the philosophies of that movement were incorporated into much of the story. I suspect this explains the preponderance of songs in the movie about “believing in yourself” that bring the story to a screeching halt. And therein lies my biggest problem with this movie. The 1939 version of THE WIZARD OF OZ is a model of how to incorporate musical numbers into a story; the songs are short, catchy, and advance the story. The musical numbers here are long-winded and stop the story short; I could easily jettison all of Diana Ross’s ballads, Lena Horne’s number, and the big dance numbers (when they get to Oz and when the Winkies are freed) because they are all unnecessary and boring. As for the rest of the movie, I’m afraid I found the manifestation of the ideas more cute than interesting, with an occasional foray into the totally bizarre (the whole subway sequence, for example). But I often found myself utterly bored, and that’s something I’ve never been by the 1939 version of the movie.