Tuesday, July 31, 2012

THE WIZ 1978

A conversation between Motown head honcho Berry Gordy and Universal Studios in regard to the already eight-months-into-preproduction film adaptation of The Wiz:
Gordy -“I just got awakened by a call from Diana (Ross) who wants to play Dorothy in 'The Wiz'! She had a dream that she played the part and the film was one of the biggest smash hits of all time!”                                        "The Wiz Scrapbook" by Richard J. Anobile

And thus began one of the most divisively controversial casting decisions since Jack Warner threw Julie Andrews over for Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady.
Diana Ross has the answer to the question:
 "Whose turn is it to be the big screen's next Dorothy Gale?"

The Wiz is based on the 1975 Tony Award-winning Broadway musical that is itself a very '70s, funkified, all-Black reimagining of Frank L. Baum's 1900 children's book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The story of the little Kansas farmgirl who gets whisked away by a tornado and learns the value of home and family through the help of characters she meets in the mythical land of Oz is a tale as well-known and beloved as Alice in Wonderland. The Wiz, which hews closely to Baum's book (silver slippers, not ruby) was created at the height of the '70s Black Pride revolution in fashion, music, film, and art. The Broadway production (then billed as The Wiz: The Super Soul Musical "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz") was an attempt on the part of Charlie Smalls (music) and William F. Brown (book) to create a modern children's fantasy familiar enough to encourage crossover appeal, yet reflective of contemporary Black culture. The score is full of songs influenced by funk, soul, and gospel, and the book is peppered with comic dialog derived from '70s slang idioms. Thanks to the creative contributions of director/costume designer Geoffrey Holder and the powerhouse vocals of 17-year-old Stephanie Mills as Dorothy, The Wiz proved a great success and went on to win seven Tony Awards that year, including Best Musical. 
Diana Ross as Dorothy
Michael Jackson as The Scarecrow
Lena Horne as Glinda
Richard Pryor as The Wiz
Nipsey Russell as The Tin Man
Ted Ross as The Cowardly Lion
Mabel King as Evillene
Theresa Merritt as Aunt Em
When it was learned that Motown and Universal Studios were to collaborate on a film version of The Wiz, speculative casting buzz centered around Stephanie Mills reprising her Broadway role and Motown Golden Girl Diana Ross being cast as the glamorous Glinda the Good. Of course, all that changed with Diana's fateful dream and the subsequent early-morning call to Berry Gordy.

Disregarding the very real possibility that Miss Ross’ dream could just as well have been a nightmare, the powers that be behind The Wiz—a film that stood the chance of being one of the most expensive musicals ever made—abandoned plans to conduct a nationwide talent hunt for a talented, age-appropriate unknown yo play Dorothy and instead went with what then must have seemed a smart business move: casting an internationally famous, Oscar-nominated singer/actress with both marquee value and mainstream appeal. Thus, swayed by variables ranging from the capricious (Diana wanted it, dammit!) to the practical (Ross' participation most assuredly contributed to the acquisition of other notables, like pal Michael Jackson and Lady Sings The Blues co-star, Richard Pryor), The Wiz was launched with considerable fanfare and star-power, but also amid a flurry of boxoffice-crippling negative publicity.
While I really liked the look of Diana Ross in The Wiz, a vocal majority let it be
known they preferred their Ross glamorized and Mahogany chic.

The mounting of a large-scale film adaptation of The Wiz was already a sizable professional gamble (not only was the public touchy about anyone challenging the memory of a film as beloved as The Wizard of Oz, but there had not yet been any kind of boxoffice precedent for such a big-budget film with an entirely Black cast). A gamble not entirely helped by the almost unanimously unpopular announcement that the, shall we say, “mature” Diana Ross would be playing Dorothy; a character whose age is unspecified in Baum’s books (a fact Ross was quick to point out at every opportunity), but whom even the most imaginative of readers were unlikely to have envisioned as a fully-grown woman.
One wonders how things might have turned out for The Wiz and indeed, Diana Ross' feature film career (it came to an abrupt halt with The Wiz) had Ross campaigned for the role of Glinda. As it now stood, the head-scratching incongruity of her casting and all the changes it precipitated (Dorothy was now a 24-year-old Harlem school teacher with a doozy of a social anxiety disorder, living in a brownstone with her Aunt Em and Uncle Henry) fueled the public's already strong perception of Ross as an ego-driven diva. The mainstream press tends to already look upon the ambitious artistic endeavors of Black artists with a hyper-scrutiny not applied to the work of white artists, and so in the film's initial stages of production, the negative advance buzz threatened to overshadow everything else. 
The news of Ross' casting set off a veritable tornado of outraged cries of ruinous miscasting the likes of which we wouldn't hear again until 1990 when perennial daddy’s darling Sofia Coppola plodded through the waters of casting nepotism and single-handedly sunk The Godfather Part III.  In hindsight, it's obvious that the preoccupation with Ross's casting also served as a convenient grievance smokescreen for those taking racist umbrage over Black artists "daring" to tackle a beloved all-white cinema classic.
The casting of 33-year-old Diana Ross proved an insurmountable hurdle for many viewers, blinding them to The Wiz's many delightfully witty design concepts. Here, Dorthy and pals dance atop charmingly bulbous Oz Taxicabs in front of a surreal rendering of the Cowardly Lion's home, The New York Public Library.  The cabs, in satiric commentary on an all-too-familiar urban reality, are always off-duty when the black characters try to hail them. The Yellow Brick Road traffic signals flash "Ease" or "Don't Ease" for pedestrians.

When Diana Ross was brought into The Wiz the film's original director, John Badham (Saturday Night Fever), took a powder. Scrambling for a replacement, the studio settled on Sidney Lumet (known in the industry as Mr. finish-it-on-time-and-under-budget) in spite of his inexperience with the musical genre. It's a perverse Hollywood tradition that an industry famously averse to risk-taking ONLY seems to take chances when it comes to placing directors unfamiliar with a genre at the helm of multi-million-dollar productions (cue: John Huston and 1982s Annie)

Then-screenwriter Joel Schumacher (Sparkle, Car Wash), later hack-director (Batman and Robin), jettisoned the entire Kansas-to-Oz elements of the play and, at Lumet's suggestion, fashioned the film into an urban fantasy with an Oz resembling a surreal, fever-dream vision of New York. Schumacher, who, like Diana Ross, was a proponent of EST (Erhard Standard Training - the self-help teachings of Werner Erhard which were popular at the time), also inserted tons of Me-Generation proselytizing into the script and supplanted The Wiz's simple themes of "There's no place like home" with a great deal of the "You'll find it within yourself" navel-gazing of the '70s Human Potential Movement.
The Yellow Brick Road leading to The Emerald City
Tony Walton's Oscar-nominated production designs for
The Wiz 
convey a charming storybook wit  

The relative haste with which The Wiz was fashioned perhaps explains why a film of this magnitude contains so many errors of editing, dubbing, and "We don't have time for a retake!" awkwardness. As with many films, it was given a release date before even a foot of film was shot. Slated as a summer 1978 release, the date was later moved to the fall due to issues of weather, union strikes and Ross burning her retinas staring into the white beams of The Wiz's eyes. Critics were quick to call attention to shots of a buckled yellow brick road, sweat stains under Miss Ross' almost perpetually upraised arms, poor lip-syncing by the Cowardly Lion, and surprisingly cheesy-looking special effects for a film that cost a whopping $24 million (Dorothy's mannequin-stiff entrance into Munchkin land and Glinda the Good's graceless"floating" were popular targets). However, almost unanimous praise was afforded Quincy Jones' work on the musical score, and the brilliant production design and costumes by Tony Walton (Mary PoppinsThe Boy Friend).
Dorothy Learns the Value of Friendship
In another of the film's witty, New York design concepts, the Yellow Brick Road leads to a subway entrance where a sign directs pedestrians to "Get Down"

I first saw the theatrical production of The Wiz in October of 1976 when the touring company of the Broadway show played in San Francisco. Ren Woods (Xanadu) was taking over for Stephanie Mills and I remember it being a spectacular production. My single strongest memory of the show is the fabulous staging of the tornado whisking Dorothy and her farmhouse away to Oz: The tornado itself was embodied by a beautiful, leggy dancer sporting a scarf headdress that billowed behind her, far beyond the wings of the stage. She danced seductively around the farmhouse, ultimately (and provocatively) straddling its roof. As the house began to rotate on a turntable, the ever-elongating scarf wound itself around and around the entire structure until it completely enfolded the house in the fabric. It was mind-blowing!
In the movie version of The Wiz, Glinda the Good is something of a supernatural life-coach. Here she creates the tornado that will blow the house-bound Dorothy out of Harlem into a vision of New York unlike anything I'd ever seen. 

By the time the film version was released in October of 1978, I was living in Los Angeles and any initial trepidation I may have had about Diana Ross' casting had long been absorbed by all the exciting hype surrounding the film. Michael Jackson's film debut! Quincy Jones arranging the music! Lena Horne returning to the screen for the first time in almost ten years! From Richard Pryor landing the role of The Wiz, to the behind-the-scenes talents of Tony Walton and Albert Whitlock (the latter, visual effects artist for The Birds, Earthquake, Day of the Locust); it seemed as though all the top talents in Hollywood were working on this musical. Once the colorful billboards and posters began appearing around town (tagline: The Wiz! the Stars! The Music! Wow!) and the Ross/Jackson duet single of "Ease on Down The Road" was in heavy rotation on the radio...well, I was gone. Everything surrounding the promotion of the film looked so fantastic that I convinced myself the final film was going to be something so stupendous, it would make us all eat our words at ever doubting the wisdom of casting superstar Diana Ross.
If it can be said that any single image sold me the film version of The Wiz, it has to be this vision of Oz rendered as a surreal landscape where the Coney Island Cyclone roller coaster meets five Chrysler buildings. It's exactly like something a kid would conceive of as a fantasy image of New York.


As I mentioned in a previous post, the one way to get both the best experience of a movie yet at the same time the least reliable impression of how that film will perform at the boxoffice, is to see it on opening night. The Wiz opened at the famed Cinerama Dome theater in Hollywood. The Dome itself was bathed in yellow light, as were the decorative fountains out front. The only thing missing was a literal Yellow Brick Road. Lines stretched around the parking lot and the sold-out opening night audience was primed for an "experience." And that's what they got. The crowd ate the film up. Laughter drowned out dialog, special effects and sets drew gasps of approval, and the conclusion of every number was met with rounds of applause.
The audience was especially responsive to Diana Ross' vocal performance (which, no matter what one thinks of her acting, is pretty phenomenal here). Seriously, Ross was never known as a belter or even considered particularly soulful...not in the Aretha Franklin vein, anyway...yet in The Wiz she displayed a versatility and range that had audience members literally screaming! By the time her soul-searing rendition of "Home" ended, some members of the audience were acting as though they were at a live concert. It was all very heady and a major goosebump experience for me, especially the dancing. Ah! Such dancing! Were The Wiz edited down exclusively to its dance sequences, that alone would be enough for me. Needless to say, I was absolutely thrilled by The Wiz and was positive that the film was going to be a big, big hit. Of course I was dead wrong.
The cast of The Wiz reacts to early reviews

The newspaper critics savaged virtually everything about The Wiz, all uniting in agreement over Diana Ross' adult Dorothy being a severe liability no amount of movie magic could surmount. The public even chimed in, complaining of the film being too dark (if cinematographer Gordon Willis ever shot a musical, it would look like The Wiz), too scary, too preachy, or just too somber in tone. Grease (a film I absolutely abhorred, by the way) emerged the big musical blockbuster of 1978, and The Wiz, much like the misguided reworking of the film's title character, pretty much slumped away in ignominious defeat.

I like Diana Ross a great deal. Indeed, I get teased a lot by my partner due to my baseless belief that she can't be as bad as her diva reputation attests, because she has such kind-looking eyes (I also think Faye Dunaway has kind eyes...so maybe my partner has a point). I find Diana Ross very likable in The Wiz but I'm the first to say that she really needed to turn it down a notch. Her idea of conveying Dorothy's shyness is to approach the role as though she were portraying Laura in The Glass Menagerie...with all of the attendant ponderousness. She's far too high-strung and neurotic from the start. By the time she reaches Oz you almost expect her head to fly off, she's so unwound.
No one can say Diana Ross didn't throw herself into the role
The rousing production number Brand New Day is one of my favorites...for any number of reasons.

That being said, I think Ross is rather appealingly game throughout the film, throwing herself into the strenuous dancing and singing in a way I can't help but admire. She's in the finest voice she's ever been, and while I get a little worn down by her personality towards the end (she's a tad harsh on Richard Pryor), I have to say her grown-up Dorothy has never bothered me as much as it has others. A friend of mine once made the astute observation that when The Wiz came out, the concept of a grown-up unable to leave home was such an anomaly, with audiences balking at what they considered to be the obvious contrivance of her character. Today, with what we know about social anxiety and the phenomenon of "Boomerang Kids" who stay under their parents' roof well into adulthood; The Wiz seems almost ahead of its time.
The Great and Powerful Oz

If my blog has any objective at all (which it doesn't, but I'm trying to make a point) it's to promote my firm contention that "good" movies are not always the ones we most enjoy, and that a film's boxoffice success or failure has absolutely no bearing on its actual quality or value as entertainment. For example: Variety's list of the 100 highest-grossing films of all time reads very much like an "avoid at all cost" inventory of my least favorite movies. Whereas the films that bottom out in the "flop" category (Day of the Locust, 3 Women, Two for the Road) are among those that have meant the most to me.
The great Quincy Jones makes a cameo as one of the fashion-conscious citizens of The Emerald City

The Wiz is in many ways a mess. There is little time devoted to character; it seems over-infatuated with scale over emotion; some script choices are seriously ill-advised (by this point, the cinematic de-fanging of irreverent comic Richard Pryor had come to border on the tragic); it doesn't seem quite fair to the legendary Lena Horne to have Diana Ross have first crack at her only song; and finally, it's much too long.
But I swear, there is something about The Wiz that has the power to lighten my heart every time I watch it. It's certainly full of spectacle and eye-popping visuals, it has moments when it's lighthearted and fun, and there is no lack of energy and style in the thrilling musical numbers. Michael Jackson, Nipsey Russell, and Ted Ross provide refreshing contrast to Diana Ross' twitchy over-emoting (which reminds me of Joan Crawford's exhaustive earnestness), but even that is mitigated by her peerless singing, which is the finest part of her performance. Her rendition of "Home" forgives all transgressions.
The Emerald City sequence, filmed in the Plaza of the World Trade Center Towers

I've always loved the show's score, and Quincy Jones' arrangements are very good. But in the end, I always come back to Tony Walton's designs for the look of The Wiz as being one of the most enduring pleasures of the film for me. I keep noticing new details in the costuming and sets each time I revisit it. The Wiz's whimsical take on a grungy New York City may not be to everyone's liking, but it is the single most cohesive thematic thread in a film that at times feels as though it were created by a hydra. Envisioning and constructing a complete fantasy world on film can't be easy, but Walton's contributions meet and even exceed the potential The Wiz had for being one of the great musicals of the 70s.
The New York State Pavilion of the 1964 World's Fair was transformed into Graffiti City for Dorothy's arrival in Munchkin Land  
The Emerald City
In a world where three Transformers films and three Twilight films rank among the highest-grossing movies of all time, you'll never convince me that audiences avoid films simply because they're "bad" or even "inept." Many factors play into why a movie flops, some of them having nothing to do with what's happening up there on the screen, others having to do with our culture. Hollywood doesn't have the most stellar record when it comes to highlighting and showcasing black talent, and American movie audiences STILL have a long way to go toward accepting films with African-Americans in principal roles. The Wiz isn't perfect, but there's no doubt in my mind that large segments of the populace were never going to give it a chance from the getgo, and Hollywood allowed its boxoffice performance to excuse its already rigid practice of rarely greenlighting motion pictures with Black protagonists or Afrocentric themes.
Escapism Politicized
Hollywood films are predominately about the white experience. Unless politicized or shunted to the background, the depiction of black life on the big screen is still all too rare.

In a strange way, The Wiz is one of those movies I think many people wanted to like, but the film kept thwarting the viewer's goodwill. Diana Ross' Dorothy is a tough nut to crack. Ross' one-note performance never engages our hearts. Then there is the matter of her "journey" in Oz. We're given endless spectacle in lieu of character identification and sometimes it's hard to find reasons to care what happens to her. The script, which relies on the impressive makeup effects to provide most of the character distinctions for the Scarecrow, Lion, and Tin Man, doesn't always make a lot of sense...even for a fantasy. For example: I thought it a grievous mistake to have Dorothy actually "resolve" to kill Evillene as The Wiz requested. Killing the witch by mistake in an effort to acquire her broom is one thing; having her make a conscious decision (however reluctantly) to murder Evilene (even if she IS a baddie) feels somehow wrong.
Dorothy is just a little too happy for a woman who's just committed involuntary manslaughter

When I think of The Wiz and how much pleasure I derive from it in spite of its flaws, I think of my friend, a big fan of Grease, who will call my attention to how much he loves that film in spite of its cast of middle-aged teenagers; icky message of "conform or be unpopular," and the score's anachronistical '70s-sounding, disco-era musical arrangements.
Just like Dorothy discovers that her imperfect home is nevertheless a place that makes her happy, it's good to remember that if a movie brings you joy, it doesn't have to be perfect. It only has to have something that makes you respond to it. That's personal, that's private, and it has nothing to do with whether the movie is deemed a hit or a flop by Variety.
There's No Place Like Home

Although The Wiz is only 34 years old as of this writing,  Diana Ross is the only major cast member still living.

According to the book Footprints on Broadway by David W. Shaffer, dancer Gregg Burge (he played Richie in the film version of A Chorus Line, was featured on TV's The Electric Company, and co-choreographer of Michael Jackson's Bad video) appears as Michael Jackson's dance double in certain scenes in The Wiz and had to sign a release promising not to seek credit.

Diana Ross' self-produced album Diana Ross Sings Songs From The Wiz was intended for release in 1979 but shelved when the film performed so poorly. The album was finally released in 2015.

Copyright © Ken Anderson 2009 - 2012


  1. Argyle here. I’m having a hard time thinking I might have to watch this again. Have to say, I also liked Diana’s look in this film, sort of unintentionally avant-garde, hasn’t dated at all. Bare face, shirt-waist dress. And her casting sort of makes sense in that it is such a break from Judy Garland’s (relative) youth and freshness. If you’re going to re-make a classic, really re-imagine it. That said, I think I remember being miserable and bored out of my mind! But sometimes that can be a good reason to look at something again. Was Sidney Lumet married to Lena Horne at the time? I’m going to resist googling right now.) Just remember her insane number late in the film where she’s singing straight into the camera for a very long time “Be-a-leeve in ya say-ulf!” and she doesn’t seem very happy. And I love Lena Horne, but that reminded me of the weird “Bluebird” film with Elizabeth Taylor. Not flattering. And I mainly remember a very dark (lighting-wise) and empty (people-wise) film. Again, very different from the original (and I realize this was not at all a re-make, but I feel the need to compare and contrast.) Like the casting of Diana, almost willfully opposing “The Wizard of Oz.” Gloomy, shadowy versus glittery, glossy. Static, lonely sets versus busy, people-filled sets. Not saying it all worked for me though. Strange to remember how the World Trade Center was used in movies of that day, this, “Superman.” Talk about your gloomy, lonely, over-wrought places. Don’t mean to be such a downer; maybe a re-viewing will reveal artistic intentions and results that I missed in 1978. Unless my timing is screwy, I feel like the thud of “The Wiz” sort of set the stage for Michael Jackson’s “Off the Wall” which really sparkled by contrast. Again, I’m not googling, just going off my memory. Thank you Ken!!

    1. Hi Argyle
      Your memories sound pretty accurate to me, and echo what a lot of people felt/feel about The Wiz: it's a bit of downer. You're right in that the total reimagining of it succeeded in preventing undue comparisons with Judy Garland's film, but even I have to concede that it wasn't reimagined with a lot of joy attached. You may be too old to remember,but in the 70s New York was having a lot of financial trouble and there was all this talk about it being a city "dying." Far from being the somewhat sanitized city it is today, New York was in the papers for it's garbage strikes, horribly graffiti'd subways, and seedy 42nd street district. I'm afraid a great deal of this view was interposed on the film and to many today "The Wiz" is far too gloomy, scary, and dark.
      I hope no one reading the post thinks that I am calling for a rexamination of the film. By no means no! I just really enjoy it, but perhaps for a lot of weird reasons. If you have no personal fondness for it, I don't recommend subjecting yourself to it again. It is Loooooong! Thanks, Argyle, your recollections are very spot on and sound authentic to how you saw the film. In fact, you sound a good deal like a relative of mine who just couldn't get over with how dark the movie was and how needlessly scary it all seemed.

  2. Argyle again. Feel I have to clarify: I felt bad for Lena Horne. She was so gorgeous. And she was hot at the time with her one-woman show and gowns by Giorgio Saint Angelo. Feel like she was badly directed.

    1. At the time Sidney Lumet was married to Lena Horne's daughter, but I think he had some mother-in-law issues he wanted to work out. Horne is rather ill-served by the film and her scenes looked the most to me to have suffered from odd creative decisions and the need for retakes. I mean why that bulky, unflattering, intergalactic gown for one of the sleekest bodies in show biz? Why pin her to a wall like an insect and have her "bounce" her way through her number? A number that Diana had sung just two seconds earlier. The overlong film didn't need any extra padding by this point and had already had at least two conclusions by now. No, Lena Horne was not particularly well-served by "The Wiz" (not even particularly well lit).
      Argyle, I think your comments are very valid and far from a "downer" take on the movie. In fact, I think they really illustrate how "The Wiz" was one of those movies a lot of people "wanted" to like, but didn't, and when they didn't perhaps weren't sure if it was OK to not like it. Take it from me, I love this movie in all its misguided miscalculations, but let's face it, the filmmakers didn't really have it all together. My pleasure in the film is derived from things unique to what appeals to my personality. Not because "The Wiz" is wonderful. Stick with your first impressions. You're a pretty observant movie fan and you know what you like. I'd hate to be the one to rob you of 133 minutes of your life (again) because I just happen to have a soft spot for this endearingly overwrought musical. As always, I love hearing your observations (the Liz Taylor "Bluebird" reference was the best!)Thanks, Argyle

  3. Diana the Diva's story of having a dream about starring in the film sounds like something she'd make up just to get the role.

    I saw this at the theatre a couple years or so ago, after having seen it on television many years before. It stands up rather well. The subway sequence is rather memorable. I do know that Sidney Lumet was not exactly pleased with the overall result. The songs are rather catchy, though. The sets and the costumes are extremely impressive--everything's so colour co-ordinated, and there is a definite wow factor when seeing them on the big screen.

    1. Ha! Poor Diana...she should have known how that one act of ambition might be perceived by the public as being on par with taking candy from a baby.

      Every time I talk to someone about the film, most have their favorite memorable sequences, but only a few really love the film. But like Xanadu and other cult-hits, those who love "The Wiz" REALLY love it!
      Seeing it on a big screen is indeed quite impressive, and I've always found the music, dancing, and Tony Walton's sets and costumes to be enough compensation for those areas where you're just left with "What were they thinking?"

  4. Great post! Diana Ross' acting "choice" in "The Wiz" still saddens me because it ended her chance to become a major movie star. She had so much pizzazz in "Lady Sings the Blues" (another problematic 70s movie)and then squandered all of that good will on "Mahagony" and "The Wiz."
    Like you, I love what Tony Walton did design-wise. With a different director and a vivacious Ross this could have been a classic.
    I chuckled when you referenced Gordon Willis (like most people you forgot that he DID shoot a musical - "Pennies from Heaven" - which I think was an even bigger bomb than "The Wiz"!)

    1. OMG! I DID forget about "Pennies from Heaven"!!!! That film was absolutely gorgeous to look at, but about as much fun as a trip to the dentist. I love the musical numbers in it (everyone should see Christopher Walken dance) but virtually nothing else. It’s so brilliant that you remembered that!

      Yes, "The Wiz" leaves a lot of viewers with the feeling that a lot of money and talent had not been put to the best use. Movies are so collaborative its always hard to lay the blame at one person's feet, but Diana Ross makes it easy for us all by giving a lead-balloon performance that submerges everything that is most unique and engaging about her as a personality. Sometimes in the film it looks as if she has spent entirely too much time with an acting coach. A bad one.
      To this day I still think Ross should have been Glinda, and the film mounted with notable African-American stars supporting an unknown little girl as Dorothy. But I guess they tried something like that with "Annie" and that didn't fare much better than "The Wiz".

  5. This is a film that I wanted to love when I first saw it. I was 10 at the time and even back then I knew the film was no good.

    I was so disappointed that I have a very hard time even watching it today. I do however love the music and the soundtrack is a mainstay in my music library.

  6. Hi PTF

    While I can't agree with you that "The Wiz" is no good, I identify with what you say about really wanting to love a film and finding it wanting. Both "Grease" and "Nine" I really wanted to like, but hated the execution of both that I too can't bring myself to watch them. I just see the lost opportunities.
    But, as I say ad nauseum in my posts, a movie we don't like and even a movie we hate isn't necessarily a movie that is "no good." I can watch "The Wiz" with my partner, and just have a ball ripping the film to shreds (deservedly so). Yet I've heard many of my younger dance students speak of it and I have watched it with my two nephews, and they are thrilled by it, finding it joyous and magical, wanting to watch it again and again.
    If there's one thing almost everyone agrees on is that "The Wiz" lacks heart. I don't know of anyone who has been touched by it made to cry. A kid's movie without heart (any fantasy for that matter) is a hollow experience...for me that's "The Wiz"s biggest shortcoming.
    But as you say, the score for the show is particularly strong, so much so as to incite disappointment at the flawed film constructed around it.

    1. You know in re-reading my post I realize I made an unfortunate choice in words. I think what I was trying to say and you said much better than I did was that I was disappointed in the overall execution.

      I've tried watching it straight through countless of times and just couldn't get through it.

      I do have to agree that Tony Walton came up with some highly imaginative designs and the musical numbers, "A Brand New Day (Everybody Rejoice)", "Home" and "If You Believe (Reprise)" are all winners but it isn't enough for me to make an overall satisfying experience.

      You're absolutely right when you say it lacks heart...and warmth. It's too dark and Ross' high, screechy histrionics ultimately grated on my nerves.

      Curiously it has gained a cult status and Universal continues to make it available. I just came across the blu-ray the other day while shopping so there is still an audience for the film.

    2. Hi PTF

      Thanks for the follow-up email. I kinda thought that's what you meant, but were just being concise. Beyond an individual's personal emotional response to the film, it's difficult not to categorize "The Wiz" as a film that, given the talent and budget, fell far short of its potential. because it does harbor tiny snatches of brilliance is where it might have gained its cult status. It's far from perfect, but there's a lot of good thrown in, here and there. Thanks for elaborating your point of view!

  7. Ken, I haven't seen "The Wiz" since it opened at, if I recall, the now long-gone Northpoint Theater in San Francisco. I thought it was a bit of a mess, to tell you the truth and haven't seen it since. I'd completely forgotten it was directed by Sidney Lumet. How odd. Do I dare revisit???

    1. Hi Eve

      I didn't know you were a San Francisco girl (or I'd forgotten)! The old Northpoint is where I first saw Ken Russell's "Tommy"...about 8 times.
      As I hinted to a previous poster, I would hate to be the one responsible for you losing 135 minutes of your life revisiting this film only to discover your first impressions were correct.
      Some movies do undergo a kind of nostalgia-born revisionist alchemy over time, but I can't say "The Wiz" does the trick. It's length, dark tone, and the weepy Dorothy are sizable hurdles. Best to stick to your state of blissful amnesia where this film is concerned! :-)

  8. I think the funniest thing about "The Wiz" is that it was directed by Sidney Lumet--probably the most un-musical director around. By that time, Sidney had quite the reputation for directing great films with minimal music. Some of his best known films have little-to-no incidental music. "Dog Day Afternoon" has zero non-diegetic music (i.e. the only music we can hear is actual music that can be heard by the characters). "Network" is devoid of non-diegetic music. Both films were right in the same period as "The Wiz". Going back a little, "Fail-Safe" was another "music-less" movie. I don't seem to recall much non-diegetic music in "The Group", either. Sidney must've wondered what the hell was going on with all this music blaring, half-naked people jumping around, Diana Ross screeching her head off. I'm not even sure to call this a Sidney Lumet movie, because his fingerprints are barely on this one.

  9. I know what you mean. I feel the same when I watch "Annie"...craggy old man's man John Huston running roughshod over a gaggle of little girls...never made much sense. I appreciate the theory that a non-musical director might bring something fresh to the mix, but usually they bring a total lack of understanding of the genre. Interesting what you bring up about Lumet's use of music. In "The Group" his exclusive use of period school songs sung by a girl's choir is one of the strongest things i remember about that film. Interesting observations, Mark!

  10. Just tumbled onto your blog! I love it. I am also a lover of great cinema. I really love The Wiz and I've done so since I was a small child. I wanted to mention that the "low-cost" feel was most likely done to convey the urban starkness and hunger for the birth or maintaining of dreams, which make them all the more important to one's well-being and soul.

    1. Hello!
      Always nice to meet someone who loves film as much as I do. Also, it's nice to hear from someone besides myself who enjoys the film. I agree, a good deal of what many might have characterized as the film's offputting urban starkness was a way of making a visual statement on how the fanciful and magical can be found within the everyday that we might otherwise see as squalid.(I love how such dismal NY city phenomenons like garbage strikes, graffiti,red-light districts, are converted into a kind of "Wonderland" Dorothy makes her way through). I've always thought that had "The Wiz" kept the dream framework of "The Wizard of Oz" and had Ross awakening at the end, the dark and scary vision of New York we have seen would only have been a fever-dream embodiment of her fears of the big city and leaving home. All the young people I know who like the film do so for the reason you state: the film is about the importance of dreams.
      Thanks very much for sharing your thoughts and hope you stop by again!

  11. 'Brand New Day' is a gem. A good editor could re-edit this film into a classic! I would have Dorothy's scenes shortened. Diana's voice is grand.

    1. Hi Anonymous.
      You know, I think you might have something there! There is plenty that is wonderful and salvageable, and re-edits can sometimes totally re-create a film (films like The Wild Party, and New York New York were greatly improved by many-years-after-the-fact editing). Though they could leave "Brand New Day" alone. It is wonderful, as is. And indeed, as you indicate, Ross is in terrific voice. thanks for your post suggesting something someone should have suggested years ago.

  12. I am watching the WIZ right now. I have a love and hate relationship with this movie. I tune out certain parts of the movie and as soon as I am ready to turn the channel an incredible scene like new day pulls me back in. Every time it comes on I can not help but watch it. The very thing I hate about this movie is the very same thing that draws me to watch it over and over again, which is its dark and gloomy scenery. I have to admit I am known for watching movies that the average person would not enjoy. I was born and raised in New York in the 70's and I find Diana's character relatable in some ways. Just because the world may seem scary that can not stop you from going out there and living your life. It will not be easy but you can still find joy even in the gloom.

    1. Hi Booklyn!
      "the Wiz" is a perfect holiday movie I think. It doesn't require all f your attention, but as you mention, it has many great scenes that just pull you in. I like how you are drawn to its dark and gloomy appeal and that you are honest about your love/hate relationship with it. I think most fans of the film will attest that it is not perfect, but it does have a unique charm, and no one could fault the musical sequences.
      As a New Yorker who lived there in the 70s, it speaks well for "The Wiz" that its fantasy has within it something you can relate to. I think you made a wonderful case for folks to give this gem another look if they haven't seen it in a while. I so much appreciate your comments. Thanks!

  13. Hello All,

    Everyone's commentary is quite enthralling. I actually didn't intend to read all of the replies, but did.

    In all honesty, I landed on this page because I am looking to throw a birthday party for my husband who absolutely loves The Wiz. He hails it as one of the best black productions of all time. Possibly so. However, I am not quite as amused nor impressed... but I digress.

    Does anyone have any The Wiz party ideas? My apathy for the film is outweighing my creativity; Yet and still, I love him with all my heart and want to throw him The Wiz surprise party he'll never forget.

    Suggestions?... (please!!!)

    1. We are having a tiny The Wiz themed party tonight. NBC is airing a live broadcast of my beloved favorite film of all time! I wish someone would have replied to your post. I did a Google search for party ideas and your post popped up and led me to this blog. It was truly a treat to read everyone's posts.

    2. Maybe after your Wiz-themed party tonight you can post a couple of the ideas you used. I'm sure when The Wiz-Live! comes out on DVD there will be others wishing to do the same sometime.

  14. I probably have never responded to a blog, Ken..but I had to reply. While millions of folks absolutely hate THE WIZ, I'm actually one of the millions that LOVE IT! Thats right. There really are millions of people that are moved by it. It is my absolute favorite movie of all time! I remember going to see it as a kid and being afraid of it. It was indeed dark. I got the album for Christmas and screamed when I got it because I was afraid. LOL..THE WIZ over the years has crept into the hearts of many many folks. It has moved and continues to move people in ways that are indescribable. This film was specifically designed for a certain type of individual. I've noticed that those that love the film are very much spiritually in tune with the universe, they are otherwordly, whimsical, and mystical beings that understand whats beneath the surface of things. its not a film to be approaced from a place of technicality...its a film to be experienced. Just go where IT goes and you'll receive the gift it brings.

    1. Hi Devon
      Thank you so much for your beautifully expressed love of this film. Indeed, my experience has been that those who love it (and each new generation seems to bring new youngsters to it who marvel at its music and refreshingly old-school lack of GCI spectacle) love it a great deal and hold a fondness for it in their hearts like everyone should have about at least one film they see when they’re a kid.. A great many films, especially musicals, were not well-received on initial release ("Singin' in the Rain", the original "The Wizard of Oz", believe it or not!) but find their audiences as the years go by. I love that it is an all-time favorite of yours and that you were a child when you first saw it and it scared you.
      Your post speaks to what movies are all about...they give each of us a uniquely personal experience, even when we're in a crowded theater. Even though I find the film uneven, I am always thrilled to hear from huge fans of the film. Thanks so much for taking the time to share your love for this movie and for reading this post!

  15. Chalk me up as another person who finds this film flawed (yep, waaay too long and very unevenly paced) but a lot of fun. "Everybody Rejoice" is one of the few lengthy showstoppers I can think of that manages to warrant its 7 or so minute length and Quincy Jones' orchestrations are incredible throughout.

    I'd also have to agree about the African-American cast being an unfortunate turnoff to wide audiences. We're still dealing with that issue today, after all. "The Princess and the Frog" got about as good reviews as "Tangled" and "Frozen" did amongst the Disney princess movies, but didn't make near so much money. (I haven't sat through the whole of any of them -- they all seem so much more "plastic", insecure, and contrived than the lovely romantic melodrama that was "Beauty and the Beast" -- but they all seem to share the same tonal and structural issues.)

    Also, I found your "boomerang kids" comment amusing. I myself still live with my parents owing largely to my autism and related anxiety issues (I never learned to drive because of them) and have managed a more fruitful life than our heroine here, but it's funny to ponder how the film was kind of ahead of its time.

    I confess to being intrigued by the announcement that a new staging of "The Wiz" will be the next NBC live holiday musical, if only because Cirque du Soleil will be contributing to the production. I'm a huge fan of that company, and the combination of their frequently-beautiful aesthetics with the more book-accurate script of the stage show (with all those dance numbers to boot) could be a winner.

    1. Hi Rori
      I think it speaks well of a viewer when they can appreciate different aspects of a film without feeling the need to dismiss it in its entirety. Enjoyment of "The Wiz" is a matter of taste, to be sure, but I really wouldn't trust the judgement of anyone who wasn't able to acknowledge that there is a great deal of talent on display (if perhaps in need of a tighter rein).
      I am not a big fan of most of Disney's new output, the flatness of "Frozen" almost coming as a shock given its level of success. You're so right about their all sharing the same tonal and structural issues (and the same big eyes/tiny noses facial design). They found a formula that works and they're sticking to it.
      But acceptance of diversity at the box office is a push-pull business. I'm hoping that the recent success of TV shows with African-American casts and casts of PoC will incite a future impatience in moviegoers with the same all-white casting and storytelling we've had for years.
      And like you, I'm intrigued by the TV version of "The Wiz" . Not only for the reasons you cite, but because so many people think this film adaptation is representative of the theatrical version. I hope they cast an actual little girl as Dorothy, and I'm sure many will be shocked that Michael Jackson's "You Can't Win" is nowhere to be found. It will be interesting to see what they do.
      Thanks for sharing too about your anxiety issues. I have a handful myself (one of the reasons I became a dancer was my almost crippling shyness and social anxiety). I think a lot of film fans, dreamers, artists,and sensitive people have a touch of autism and share anxieties that are softened by the magic, shared communication of film. Had I not been such a shy adolescent who found escape and inspiration for expression in film, i would have missed out on a great deal. A fruitful life, as you put it, is always possible.
      Thanks for writing, Rori! Great to hear from you again.

    2. Hey there! I've noticed that too -- people confusing this film for what the stage version is like. I think that was a big reason for the cringing I noticed in the Cirque du Soleil fanbase when the new TV staging was announced.

      Also, today it was announced that Stephanie Mills will play Aunt Em in that staging! I figured that was news worth spreading.

    3. Hi Rori
      Wow! that is wonderful bit of casting! And so respectful of the original production that it stands as an initial sign that perhaps they're going to do this TV "The Wiz" right! Thanks for passing on that casting news!

  16. Dear Ken: Hi! I know I'm writing this comment years after you posted this review. But I just saw "The Wiz" last night, for the first time ever, and I really want to share my reactions with you.

    First, though, a brief "thank you" again for your blog. Your fun and insightful reviews have encouraged me to watch (or in a few cases, re-watch) movies I wouldn't otherwise have considered. Last month, my husband and I saw "The Ritz," and we both loved it--in fact, we're going to rent it again soon to share with some friends. (I have to tell you a cute, "Ritz"-related story: the day after we saw the movie, my husband was preparing to take our clothes down to the laundry room, but for some reason stopped in the midst of getting dressed. When I asked what was going on, he commented, "If Googie Gomez can get through her act with only one shoe, I can do the laundry with one sock!")

    Back to "The Wiz": my husband loved it, and while I had some reservations, I too am very glad I saw it. The things I didn't like are things that you and others already have mentioned above: the not-always perfect fit of Diana Ross in her role, the strangely dark lighting in many scenes, director Sidney Lumet's odd decision to film many of the musical numbers from hundreds of yards away (at times, I thought I was watching a circa-1929 musical like "The Great Gabbo" or something!).

    I also agree that having Ross sing "If You Believe" first, before Lena Horne, made Horne's dynamic rendition seem anti-climactic. I suspect Ross just wanted to have a crack at singing the song, too. But the sequence would have been more effective if they followed the example of what was done with the title song in "On a Clear Day You Can See Forever": Yves Montand, as the older, experienced "guide" sings the song first, then Barbra Streisand reprises it as she continues to grow in self-belief (and please, no jokes about Streisand and lack of self-belief!).

    But there were many things I loved about "The Wiz." I absolutely agree with you that Ross is dynamite in the role. She sings with a fire and passion that I don't think she's shown before or since. And she threw herself into the dance sequences with such abandon that she is marvelous to watch.

    I love Ted Ross as the Cowardly Lion. Just like Bert Lahr in "The Wizard of Oz," Ross' performance makes the Lion the most endearing and entertaining of Dorothy's three companions.

    There are some fantastic songs in the score, especially "Bad News" (Mabel King was fantastic; I remember her from the sitcom "What's Happening!!!"), "Be a Lion," and the beautiful "Soon as I Get Home/Home" that Ross sings when she first gets to Oz. Quincy Jones' orchestrations throughout were absolutely beautiful.

    Director Lumet does do some good work, too. The shot where the yellow brick road is first gradually revealed to us was very clever. And I loved the striking sequence of shots when, after Evillene's death, her sweatshop workers shed their costumes and we see the beautiful dancers emerge from them one by one.

    But I think what I (and my husband) liked most was the overall, late 1970s "feel" of the movie. It took me back to that era when, as a white, young Midwestern teen, I was just starting to be obsessed with disco music and, more generally, the beauty of black culture. During 1978-1980, I bought album after album by artists such as Donna Summer, Sister Sledge, A Taste of Honey, etc., never knowing that the music's popularity would be so brief. (I'm convinced that the whole "disco backlash" definitely had a racial edge to it, that it was started by whites who never wanted to have to hear black music in the first place).

    Sorry for the lengthy comments, Ken. But you allowed my husband and me to have a wonderful evening of entertainment last night. And I thought I should express my appreciation!

    1. Hi David
      Such a very nice and enjoyable comment, David! You never have to apologize for such an entertaining contribution! I am flattered that you have been inspired to check out some of the "oddities" highlighted on this blog, and I am glad that you've gotten into the spirit of sharing your experience of a film with us, even if it's a few yeas past my post.
      Can't believe you just saw The Wiz for the first time! That's so great.
      Just reading your impressions made me smile with recognition (especially Lumet filming the numbers from so far away).
      So much of what you recount makes me feel as if I were watching it with the two of you. So many smart and insightful points. The best being your suggestion that Ross singing "Believe in Yourself" as a follow-up, rather than a precursor, to Horne's version.

      The 70s R&B/disco feel of the movie is something I too enjoy about the film. The music produced in this brief, prolific era, being some of the most fun and influential.
      And being much younger than me, i'm glad you noted the racial element of the whole "Disco Sucks" movement. Some of it had to do with the gross over-exposure and watering down of the music (I mean, by the time Etherl merman and Helen Reddy began cutting disco albums, you knew a coffin for the genre couldn't be far behind), but I keenly remember that there was just such a strong crossover emergence of black and gay talent, there was bound to be a backlash.
      Thank you for sharing your "The Ritz" story too! Again, you couldn't have paid me bigger compliment in saying that I steered you to a film you and your husband enjoyed.

  17. I love the wiz. I was born in 1979. My birthplace was Jamaica Queens Ny. I left as an arm baby when my parents moved to a small town in Ga. I have only been back to New York once since leaving. I was 8 when we went back. All I ever knew was my small town so when we went to New York I fell in love. I have always been drawn to the 60's and 70's so The wiz was it . My father first introduced me to The Wiz as a child. my favorite parts of the movie as I began to grow older was the symbolism. The crows trying to convince the scarecrow to stay ignorant and stagnated was like finding buried treasure. I began searching for other symbolism in the movie. I have now introduced it to my oldest son. He is in love to. It was right after Michael Jackson died and became relevant to my then 5 year old son. He reminded me of myself falling in love with MJ in his prime. He memorized every song from the wiz and would dance and have costume changes thorough out the movie. Tonight we will watch NBC's live broadcasting of my son and my favorite movie of all time. I also get to introduce it to my 3 year old son. I loved your post and enjoyed reading it tonight!

    1. Hi Keisha
      What an absolutely wonderful story about your history with this film! And probably the best indicator I've seen of the shift in attitudes toward "The Wiz".
      Now that it is a film old enough for many people to have grown up on it, it is proving itself to be a genuine beloved classic in many households. And for many of the reasons you site.
      There's nostalgia for the era; there's Michael Jackson's only screen role; there are lots of messages, symbols, and hidden references in the film that make revisiting it a new experience. And of course, the music is great!
      I got all choked up reading about how you shared this with your children and how they've grown to love it. That is so beautiful (especially your youngest son memorizing the songs and so getting into the whole experience!), and the best part, it vindicates all the hard work that went into this movie.
      In spite of its reception in 1978, it has endured, just like The Wizard of Oz.
      I am so jazzed about watching tonight's The Wiz-Live! telecast, and i'm so grateful for you sharing your history and memory of this movie.
      Your very personal comment is perhaps one of my all time favorites. Thank you! And I hope you and your family enjoy seeing the new version tonight!

  18. Thank you for this article. It pretty much echoes my own feelings about the film, though there's a difference in the way we experienced it: I was a kid when I first watched it, some years after its release, and I found it very frightening. The stuff of nightmares. A parade of sinister clowns in a destroyed city where night falls at random moments. Frightening--but mesmerizing too. With the passing of time, another factor has come into play: nostalgia. Whenever I watch The Wiz, I experience the sounds and colors of my early childhood, and feel that same sense of wonder and alienation. It's the world I was born into.

    So indeed, I did respond to it--do respond to it--and as you wrote, that ultimately means much more than any list of greatest films. The Wiz is one of my essential films.

    1. Thank you for sharing a perspective of the film unique to your experience of it. I can well imagine how frightening (if not terrifying) the film could appear to a young person. You comments reflect a pure, sensual experience of the film, devoid of its history or film industry context.
      I especially love the observation about how night seems to fall at random moments. That's a brilliant observation worthy of the kind of table discussions more films need to have before production begins. I hadn't really thought of that before, but it is a HUGE choice to posit a children's fantasy in the darkness.
      I know many of these choices were made because of expenses (the WTC was available only for night shooting), and some dictated by special effects or the mood needing to be created. But it does make me wonder if anyone involved in the film considered how sunlight-free the movie is. Awesome observation!
      Anyhow, from what you write, I know you understand the spirit of my essay and I appreciate the point that one's personal experience of a film (even if never corroborated by another living sole)is valid for that person to deem a film a classic or essential in their life.
      This flies in the face of film criticism that would wish to establish broad, sweeping classifications of what constitutes "good" and "bad"; but I hold that the personal experience and academic evaluation don't have to agree.
      Thank you very much for taking the time to read my post and add such thoughtful comment! Glad to hear "The Wiz" has remained a favorite!

  19. Hi Ken-
    My partner Dave and I have finished our Miss Ross trilogy. I'd only seen The Wiz once prior, and didn't remember a lot about it; Dave, being a huge budding MJ fan, was only into "You Can't Win" and the initial version of "Ease On Down the Road"...oh, and as he revealed during our viewing, he would forward to "Brand New Day" (who can resist that jubilant chorus?), partly for the song and partly for the scantily clad male dancers. ;-)

    The film is definitely a mixed bag, but as you prove it still has its merits. As someone who lived in NYC for twenty years, I love the idea to set the film there and appreciated all of the location filming (which was especially amusing, knowing the actual distances between the sites along their travels). That is the BEST an MTA subway station has EVER looked! Lol.

    Speaking of the subway sequence, I was taken aback by some of the sequences being genuinely creepy, the platform attack being one of them. (Aside from the silly toothy trashcans.) The overly darkly lit entrance into Oz with all of the Munchkins popping off of the wall was another. Such a polar opposite to Judy Garland's technicolor emergence!
    An aside: Dave and I also wondered if the subway location was the same one MJ later used for his Bad short film with Scorcese...

    I personally find the film drags a bit too much when Dorothy has her solo moments, but considering she's the lead character/diva I understand a certain percentage of the audience will live for that very aspect. (I also wonder if I'd feel the same with an age-appropriate actress.) As you and your commenters point out though, Miss Ross really put 110% into her vocal performance and "Home" is especially brilliant. (Did I need to see straight up her nostrils though?) She really didn't need to sing Lena's song mere minutes before her.

    Is it me or is the Poppy Love sequence a tad suggestive for a G rated family film? (As much as I love it being set in the adult theater-heavy Times Square of the time.) That mouth/hole entrance...

    It's kinda surprising that for the Emerald City sequence (one of my favorite moments, especially musically) they didn't just make silver costumes and use creative lighting and gels to save money. The cost of that segment alone! The IMDb trivia page says that Lumet wrote the sequence had to be cut short due to wind and scheduling, and that there was a lighting error during the red portion that couldn't be re-shot. The sequence is already pretty long...how much longer did they want to make it!?!

    Regardless of how good/bad the film is, The Wiz deserves to be seen purely due to the still-sadly-rare all-African American cast. It's really striking. Everyone puts so much effort and love into it that the joy involved is very much in obvious abundance. The Brand New Day dance sequence must be one of your all-time favorites.

    Lastly, on a related note, one of my favorite displayed artifacts in the Museum Of The Moving Image in Astoria (housed in one of the former Astoria Studios buildings, where the sets were located) was a roll of the yellow brick road linoleum. So 70's and kinda cheap looking but overall it works! I'm not sure if it's still featured but I always admired it leaning in a corner.

    PS: Is the 2015 live tv version worth seeking out in your opinion?

    1. Hello Pete
      You made good on your goal to see the entire Ross theatrical release oeuvre! THE WIZ is indeed a mixed bag, one that’s interesting to review through your perspective as someone who hasn’t seen it in a while. Your partner’s favorite bits mirror my own, even down to appreciating so many barely -dressed male dancers in a G-rated movie (when I talk to young people who first saw this movie when they were 8 or 10-years-old, I try to imagine what my own 10-year-old self would have made of all that flesh on parade at such an impressionable age. I probably would have considered THE WIZ the absolute best movie ever made). Maybe hetro little boys feel that way about the Poppy sequence.

      My partner echoes you in your opinion that he feels the film drags a bit whenever Ross opens her mouth to sing because he expects another slow song. I keep trying to get him to appreciate her voice, but to no avail.

      Just recently I posted a photo of one of the Wiz dancers in a red outfit from the Emerald City sequence, and someone admitted they had always thought the scene WAS shot the way you mentioned: Silver material and changing lights.
      I’m forver glad they went to the expense of making three outfits in different colors, as that form of “casts of thousands, no expense spared” kind of real-deal filmmaking is a thing of the past and all spent on CGI today.

      The one thing that has grown clearer to me over the years, a point you touch on yourself, is that independent of the film’s relative flaws, it has become apparent to me that it has a value I hadn’t heretofore appreciated. Many Black kids reflect on how this film was the very frst time they ever saw themselves represented in a movie fairy tale. The first time they were able to see themselves represented in a large-scale, fun entertainment that didn’t frame Blackness as part of a white-gaze social issue. Most importantly, it’s a movie where many Black kids heard the words “Believe in yourself” said to them. So, independent of may personal plus and minus opinions, I now regard THE WIZ as the children’s classic so many who have grown up with it have claimed it to be.
      And you’re right…there is a level of work and joy and commitment on display in the film that frequently overrides some of the questionable elements (like that linoleum yellow brick road! I’m so jealous you got to see it).

      As for the TV version of THE WIZ, I’d say it depends a great deal on your fondness for the material. While the production is solid and there are many things like costuming, choreography, and set design to recommend it, it nevertheless feels like it’s perfectly fine without being “essential’: it’s not poorly done, but you won’t miss much if you skip it.
      Reading about your Wiz-watch felt like I was there. On a closing note, what you said about Ross really not needing to sing Lena Horne's song just moments before she does it, will always be my biggest pet peeve about the film. Even if that's how it happens in the play, even if it was in the scrip before Ross was attached...SOMEONE should have noted "This is LENA HORNE!!" she deserved her own song (one she thoroughly slays with) and that it would have more dramatic punch for Dorothy to be TOLD that, not telling that.
      I always felt it just robbed Lena's number of the impact it could have had. Thanks for letting me ramble, Pete, and thank you for sharing your amusing and insightful thoughts on this film with us!

    2. Ken, I consider a blog a dialog. You're engaging your readers, and it's up to them if they choose to continue the conversation and develop it further. I not only appreciate that you take the time to read and respond, but also that it inspires more reflection and insight. I don't consider it rambling at all...it just shows how near and dear this film is to your heart. And I totally understand why.

      In regards to the representation of seeing one's self on screen, it's great that so many are finally seeing more variety in the projects and given that opportunity while young (even if it's sadly still way too slow of a transition). Sadly it reminds me of Margaret Cho reflecting on only seeing Asians in the background of M*A*S*H (and even then rarely), but on the flipside it also makes me think of how much more Black Panther must mean to black youth.

      I still find it odd that the show/script has Dorothy singing that song to her friends but then immediately needing to hear it from Glinda. Perhaps if it was spaced out a bit (like having her sing it in the Emerald City Motel, perhaps). Speaking of the the ECM, that was one set that made my partner perk up. All of that pretty/groovy blue. Lol.

      The reason I asked about the TV version was because I've never seen the actual show, and I believe that's the only rendition outside of the film that's sadly available. I'd like to see it closer to it's original vision, especially with the wonderful visual you gave of the dancer tornado and the farmhouse.

    3. Thanks, Pete
      The communication aspect of blogging/comments is one of the reason I'm so protective of it ever sliding into what I encounter on YouTube and remember from IMDB: comment areas giving people licence to be rude and unpleasant with one another. So appreciate what you say.

      Given that you've never seen a stage production of THE WIZ, the TV version may well be worthwhile to you. I revisited my Broadway album to see if Dorothy does indeed sing Glinda's song before she does, and I was surprised to find that it's the song The Wiz himself sings to each character as he awards them with those totems of valor.
      I'd forgotten that entirely! To it's benefit, it was spaced out by at least three songs before we heard it again.
      So it seems Glinda never had that song to herself, but they rectify that in the TV version.

      Lastly, that scene in the Oz Motel (great design) was set to feature yet another lugubrious ballad for Dorothy...a 3 minute Oscar-bait ballad titled "Is This What Feeling Gets?" It appears on the LP and it's lovely, but it would have ground an already overlong film to a halt. I don't know if footage was shot, but I kept wishing it would at least appear on Blu-ray Bonus Material.
      So I hope you do check out THE WIZ - Live! if only just for contrast.
      Cheers, Pete!

  20. Oh yeah, I also meant to include one of Dave's observations: Diana looks and dances like she popped out of one of Juliet Prowse's L'eggs commercials. I have to agree. Lol.

    1. Ha! Just because of the images invoked by that hilarious observation, I have to say Dave's take is 100% on point. L'eggs commercial! Stop!

  21. Hi Ken,

    I come from the future just to tell you that this afternoon I saw The Wiz and that I would like to travel back in time to attend that Hollywood premiere that you describe with such emotion in this post.

    P.S I have borrowed a couple of photos for my blog. I hope you don't mind.


    1. Hello Juan - Ha! I love that you saw THE WIZ! I hope it was one of those new high definition Blu-ray copies...the movie looks even better now than when I saw it so many years ago. Thank you for stopping by here to tell me about your enviable experience of seeing it for the 1st time nearly 45 years after it was made.
      I hope you enjoyed it. And as for the screencaps, I feel flattered you wanted to use some from my blog. I don't mind at all, and please take this as an open invitation to help yourself in the future should the occasion arise (although I think your taste in films might be classier than mine!) Thank you, Juan!

  22. Lena Horne as Glinda! Good! The first time I was aware of Ms Horne over here (at Sixteen years-old or so) was in an episode of A Different World of all things. Well, I say "of all things" but, as with the original Freaky Friday (not as much tho', I LOVE Freaky Friday!), I really liked it. Jasmine Guy as Whitley, Darryl M. Banks as Ron, I was a regular viewer. Enough of that digression, as dislikeable as I found Cliff and Clair in The Cosby Show, I enjoyed the rest of the characters (at least until Raven-Symone turned up, the annoying child actor Anti-Christ/Damien Thorne to Keshia Knight-Pulliam's adorable Christ. Okay, that metaphor doesn't quite work!) and the introduction to many elements of Black American pop culture (and culture culture) of which I as an Briton was unaware, same with A Different World (tho' it tended to be less sometimes-forced there; also I watched for the characters primarily). I remember thinking - with no idea who she was - that Lena was charismatic and attractive. It's odd, I couldn't imagine her not being a success with *everyone*; I suppose I was deadly naïve that people were *that* racist, that obsessed with skin colour et al. I can only say that after choosing to do a project on Dr King that in some ways I still didn't have a firm grasp on time at the, uh, time. Shocking but true. Perhaps it was seeing lots (to my mind) of black people on television and elsewhere that I didn't fully realize - somehow - how evil people can be. (You'd think that after learning of slavery, the Holocaust, the Rwandan genocide, et damned cetera and just encountering nasty people in life who hate for no reason I would in my mid-teens have known...but I would learn)
    Away from all that, Lena was very different to Billie Burke as Glinda but I love them both. The cinematography and design, as well as much of the music. The rest... Interesting... I can't decide who is creepier, Diana as Dorothy or Michael Jackson as Scarecrow. I'm afraid they both give me the heebie-jeebies!
    Fascinating perspective, Ken.



    1. Hi Robert – Thank you so much for your kind compliment and for reading this post on The Wiz, a movie I have come to appreciate more the older I get.
      And thank you for sharing the memories and impressions of seeing the exquisite Lena Horne in your youth and the images of Black culture you gleaned from television. The evolution of your contextual awareness of the shows you saw as a teen really sheds light on the definite pluses of visibility and inclusion, while highlighting one of its great myths. Or rather, a misunderstanding.

      I can only speak for the US, but when I was young, I think there was a general misunderstanding or hope (at least among the assimilationist factions of the civil rights movement) that a white culture exposed to Black excellence in the way of authors, artists, sports figures, etc., would come to reevaluate its prejudices.
      But the problem turned out to be (as evidenced by the strong racist backlash following the Obama presidency) that since racism and white supremacy are essentially rooted in a deeply ingrained sense of white inadequacy, Black accomplishment and achievement didn't inspire or unite...it only made racists feel MORE inadequate.
      They didn't see Lena Horne's beauty or talent, in her and her ilk, they saw proof that the prejudices they were taught and believed in are lies.

      Happily, the tide is shifting more to Black culture recognizing that racism is the problem of the racists, and appealing to them or hoping to change them is fruitless. As the world evolves, they'll be left behind like the dinosaurs...beauty and art can and will flourish because their acceptance is nether desired or required.
      So once again, Robert, you provided a lot of food for thought by looking a bit beyond the border specifics of the film in question (The Wiz), and coming up with thoughtful talking points. Always a pleasure. Thanks!

  23. Thanks, Ken. I remember watching President Obama's inauguration and being scared something bad would happen which shouldn't be an issue at an inauguration*. Even as he gave a great address I had at the back of my mind the anxiety that some racist nut(s) might try something. What kind of world IS it, in which such fears seem all too justified? I have absolutely no time and less respect for those who badmouth liberals as if their anxieties aren't based concretely in the way the world seems scarily weighted, still.
    I saw an episode of the sitcom Black-Ish awhile ago in which one of the characters spoke about black people's (or people of colour's - I can't precisely recall which term was used) anxiety at that inauguration and how non-black people couldn't comprehend it. It goes to show how too many people can't understand each other. Anyone of Presidenta humane liberal stripe was worried about what extremist racist right-wing loons might do (and were right to worry). Obama wasn't a president for black people, he was a president for everyone which is what a president is supposed to *be*. As soon as people start narrowing the definition of a person down they drain all the complexity away and help to encourage bigotry. It suits racists and bigots of various stripes to say *this* guy is a Black guy, *that* woman is a Jewish woman, as if that is ALL they are and nothing more forever and ever Amen. No one is *just* one thing and anyone who *does* see themselves that way is probably a person from whom you want to run away. That's why those people who define themselves as conservative (and usually tho' not always White) are unable to detach themselves from the G.O.P. or the Tories even when they are not even "conservative" but extremist, ubercapitalist and right-wing in a very very scary way. What does it take before they say *this is wrong*, could they ever admit it or is their selfhood so bound up in party loyalty? To be fair, the same can be said of some supposed progressive liberals who can't bear to stand out of line and say, "Are you sure that things are so simple, so beyond question? Is there no room for debate without being declared unmutual, a non-person?" You got me thinking about this (of course, I make myself ill thinking about this all the time), you are right in what you say. Hey kids, come to read about The Wiz find *this* instead!
    I hope I didn't go too far off track, Ken.