Mervin Malone
This is a place — a BLOG, if you will — about music, film, culture, the arts and whatever else co-exists and generates popular culture. Enjoy!

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Sunday, February 17, 2008
"The Wiz" Gets Its Proper Due!


And yet ANOTHER quintessential classic from my youth has been given a proper remaster!

On Tuesday, February 12, Universal Studios re-released The Wiz in a commemorative 30th Anniversary edition set. The film has (at last) been given a much-deserved anamorphic widescreen presentation. More, the DVD's audio has been re-rendered in two appealingly powerful formats – Dolby Digital 5.1, and DTS 5.1. By comparison, the original 1999 DVD release was recorded in disappointing Dolby Digital 4.0 audio. The Wiz: 30th Anniversary Edition includes (as a bonus) a music CD containing choice songs from the film – perhaps the only downside to the set; The Wiz (Original Soundtrack) has been widely available since 1998, so a bonus DVD of special features would've been more appropriate.

A lavish production, The Wiz was directed by renowned director, Sidney Lumet (Serpico, 12 Angry Men, The Verdict), and produced by Rob Cohen and featured music by Quincy Jones. The film starred Diana Ross as Dorothy, Michael Jackson as the Scarecrow, the late Nipsey Russell as the Tin Man, and Ted Ross (also sadly gone) as the Lion. More, the film featured appearances by Lena Horne as Glinda, as well as Mabel King and Richard Pryor (himself, the “Wiz”) – both of whom are tragically no longer with us.

The Wiz – in the tradition of a great many movie musicals before it – was the big-screen adaptation of a highly successful Broadway musical that preceded it. The film was widely panned by critics in its initial 1978 big-screen release. Indeed, admirers of the 1939 Victor Fleming-directed film, The Wizard of Oz, which starred Judy Garland in her timeless turn as Dorothy – a much earlier adaptation of the L. Frank Baum children's novel on which both films are based – were ESPECIALLY critical of this 1978, all-black cast version, unfairly dismissing it as just a blaxploitation-style remake (?). Film historians, however, more often attribute the then-denouncement of The Wiz to lead actress Diana Ross being cast as Dorothy; singer Stephanie Mills, who'd originated the role [Dorothy] in the initial Broadway run of The Wiz in 1975, had been originally intended for the big-screen production. Mills – then 21 – had been desired by Berry Gordy – the film was a joint Motown/Universal Pictures venture – to play Dorothy. However, Diana Ross – then 33 – had expressed an interest in the role and quite determinedly acquired it by going around Gordy straight to executive producer, Rob Cohen.

Personally, I've never thought of The Wiz as a "re-make" of the film The Wizard of Oz, but rather a different interpretation of the L. Frank Baum novel on which both films [The Wiz and The Wizard of Oz] are based. More, I suspect the critical bashing rendered on The Wiz in its initial 1978 release had more to do with cultural differences than anything else. I mean – historians have long drawn suspected correlations in Baum's symbolism and commentary on various political themes – most notably the Yellow Brick Road and the gold standard monetary system. Also, Lumet's The Wiz – despite some obvious differences – was actually more faithful to the book than Flemings' 'Wizard of Oz. For example, Dorothy's slippers were silver in the book and The Wiz, whereas they were made ruby in 'Wizard of Oz. Also, there were two "good" witches in Baum's book and the The Wiz, but one in The Wizard of Oz. No – I suspect a lot of the viewing public just didn't understand the urban themes present throughout The Wiz – and there were many; in layman's terms, I proudly say, it's a black thing!

Despite its rough launch and poor showing at the box office in '78, The Wiz remains a cult classic with many African-Americans, kitsch aficionados and '70s enthusiasts to this day – of which I am all of the above. Get your copy today!

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Posted at 03:46 am by Mervin Malone


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