The Wiz [retro review]

“She would have killed me, she would have found out I had no power, and took over Oz.”

The Scoop: 1978 G, directed by Sidney Lumet and starring, Diana Ross, Michael Jackson and Richard Pryor

Tagline: The magical Broadway musical based from the sensational 1939 “Wizard of Oz” as told by African-Americans comes to the big screen.

Summary Capsule: If The Wizard of Oz wasn’t surrealistic enough for you, this should do.

Justin’s Rating: Ease THIS down the road!

Justin’s Review: Movie critics often think that they’re both incredibly unique and also gifted in the wielding of puns. They don’t get out much; pity them. For some reason, these freaks assume that the readers of reviews will be most drawn to blunt wordplay and not-so-clever twists on the titles. We also highly suspect that critics have a good pun in mind before they ever see the movie in question, and bend over backwards to make it work in their article. So we here at MRFH want to give you a test to see if you can derive a pun or word twist based on these movie titles:

  • Nothing
  • Ten Things I Hate About You
  • Say It Isn’t So
  • The Postman
  • Xanadu

The correct answers are: “Aptly put.” “#1: You made me watch this film…” “Okay, I won’t.” “Return to Sender” “Xanadon’t”

So as we wing our way to the 1978 Academy Award-nominated musical The Wiz, I must fight — with every fiber of my being, and that’s a lot of fiber — the urge to feed you some line like “The Wiz Whizzes a Whopper”. And then you would hate me. More than you do now, I mean.

Based on an acclaimed Broadway musical, The Wiz took the classic Wizard of Oz tale and reworked it for the urban community. And by that, I mean “recast it as a ghetto version with an all-black cast”. Too-old Diana Ross plays Dorothy, a meek schoolteacher with a penchant for skipping far, far too much during her musical numbers. She gets sucked into the land of Oz during a freak snowstorm tornado (?), and there begins her atrocious two-plus hour journey of song after life-sucking song to get through the story we all know by heart.

The fact that the Wizard of Oz story can be recited perfectly by every child age seven and on up takes away any interest in the “plot” — all that remains are (1) the scores of new songs, and (2) seeing how they take the whitebread elements and urbify them. I’ll save you the time: neither are compelling reasons to throw two perfectly good hours of your life away, hours that you could be using to eat dirt or pretending like your vote on American Idol means a damn in the course of the universe.

The songs range from forgettable to half-way decent, but since none of them are timeless classics that harken me to buy the soundtrack, it quickly became a grueling marathon to endure cruddy choruses, repeating reprises, and loathsome lyrics which arrive at a machine gun-rapid pace. Even with Michael Jackson as the singing, swinging Scarecrow (yup, still in his “Raw Umber” days), there’s just not enough here to keep you from lolling back into an unmedicated coma. Heck, when they originally pick up the Tin Man, he gets no less than two full-fledged musical numbers before Dorothy and the Gang can make one more step.

The setting is better, with Tim Burton-ish projects, loopy rollercoasters and menacing subways, but it all screams “stage theater!” instead of “we spent $24 million making this!”. I could appreciate the graffiti people popping out of the walls as artistically interesting, but by the time we arrive at the Wicked Witch’s sweatshop (consisting of a throne, two long tables, and some red lights), I felt as if the creativity was front-loaded on this flick and abandoned long before the end credits.

I also have a large problem with the faulty logic (why does the Wicked Witch have a sprinkler system — which could KILL her — installed into her factory?) and some pretty blatant stereotypes of the African American community. Is it okay to portray black actors as human-shaped crows? Does it break down any barriers to show blacks living in nothing more than squalid downtown apartments, using drugs and fighting off motorcycle gangs? Is it any surprise that The Wiz is widely credited for grinding the 70’s black cinema revival to a groaning halt?

Billie Jean, that kid is not my son. Off with ye, now!

Okay, so what the heck?

Intermission!

  • In his book “Making Movies”, Sidney Lumet admits that the filming of the Emerald City Sequence on the plaza at the World Trade Center had to be cut short due to wind and scheduling. The Port Authority would not allow more time to fix the mistakes and the red sequence had to be shortened due to a lighting error and no time to reshoot.
  • Diana Ross was 33 years old at the time of filming.
  • The Wiz was filmed at Astoria Studios in Queens. It was produced by Motown Productions and released to theaters in 1978 by Universal Pictures. The decaying New York State pavilion from the 1964 New York World’s Fair was used as the set for Munchkinland, while the World Trade Center served as the Emerald City. Mabel King and Ted Ross were the only cast members from the original Broadway production to reprise their roles.
  • Quincy Jones served as the musical supervisor and music producer for the film, marking his first collaboration with Michael Jackson. Jones would produce three hit albums for Jackson: Off the Wall, Thriller, and Bad.
  • The Wiz was nominated for four Academy Awards: Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design, Best Original Music Score and Best Cinematography, although it did not win any of those awards.
  • MICHAEL JACKSON ALERT! Contact your local rhinoplasty expert.
  • Joel Schumacher was a busy boy, even back in the 70’s
  • Kids at home! Have fun screaming “TOTO! TOTO!” along with Dorothy!
  • African Americans playing crows just seems a bit… wrong, doesn’t it?
  • Dorothy seems to forget Toto quite a bit, but then gets hysterical at times when he takes off

Groovy Quotes:

Tinman: The genius who created me only took care of my dashing good looks, my razor sharp wit and my irresistible attraction to the wrong women.

Aunt Em: Girl, do you know that you’re 24 years old, and you’ve never been south of 125th Street? Well, you haven’t!

If You Liked This Movie, Try These:

 

  • MICHAEL JACKSON ALERT! Contact your local rhinoplasty expert.
  • Joel Schumacher was a busy boy, even back in the 70’s
  • Kids at home! Have fun screaming “TOTO! TOTO!” along with Dorothy!
  • African Americans playing crows just seems a bit… wrong, doesn’t it?
  • Dorothy seems to forget Toto quite a bit, but then gets hysterical at times when he takes off

5 Comments

  1. I rented this a while back on a dull January day as a very strange double bill with “Blazing Saddles.” I liked it, but I’ve also heard the original Broadway cast album where Dorothy is played by a kid the correct age. It’s very strange, even for a musical from the late 70s and early 80s. (This is the era that spawned “Xanadu” and “Can’t Stop the Music,” among others.) The music was good enough that I didn’t mind the rental, but it’s nothing I’d recommend even major musical fans like me to buy.

  2. Reviewers universally pan this movie, but none ever captures the lasting lure it had on the psyche. It is a very dark movie that, if you compare it to the Wizard of Oz, should be bright and happy. The Wizard of Oz was about literally finding home while The Wiz was about finding your inner self. This may be too profound a theme for a kid movie and, therefore, the kiddie images feel the way wierd dream state symbols feel. The movie gives you the feeling that you have when you awaken from a strange dream and think that the symbols should mean something, but you don’t know exactly what. It makes you feel languid and otherworldly. This is not a good feeling, but that may not mean it is a bad movie. I hear that it has a cult following, especially among African-American kids. This is what I need a reviewer to explain.

  3. Pingback: Blacula [retro review] « Mutant Reviewers From Hell

  4. Pingback: The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz | Mutant Reviewers

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s