Can't Get Enough Oz

Take a look at the many versions of The Wizard of Oz

We alerted you a while back to the Maricopa County Library District's monthlong celebration of the centennial of L. Frank Baum's Oz books. And we told you the 1939 Judy Garland Wizard of Oz is to be screened at 1 p.m. Saturday, September 23, at Southeast Regional Library, 775 North Greenfield Road in Gilbert. It's followed by an appearance and autograph signing by the author's great-grandson, Roger S. Baum, and by Margaret Pellegrini, an original Munchkin.

But in case you can't go, there is no shortage of video offerings to feed the fever for the merry old land of Oz. Here are a few titles:

The Wizard of Oz (1925) -- Many film buffs don't know that Garland's wasn't the first film adaptation of Baum's yarn. There was a version as early as 1910! This '20s-era Wizard was directed by the then-popular, now-forgotten comic Larry Semon, who also plays the Scarecrow. It also featured a Raustus-style Negro character as the Cowardly Lion, but is chiefly remembered for the actor who played the Tin Man: Oliver Hardy, pre-Stan Laurel.

The Wizard of Oz (1939) -- The MGM musical is obviously the definitive version of the Oz story, and one of the most universally beloved films of all time. There's no need to extol its virtues here, only to note that the various video versions of it come with different bells and whistles. The standard edition includes a behind-the-scenes short about the film, hosted by Angela Lansbury. The VHS gift set comes with photos, posters and a reproduction of the script. The DVD gift-set edition is the top of the line for the Oz fiend, however -- all of the above, plus outtakes, trailers, trivia, recording-session materials, and clips from earlier Oz films.

The Wiz -- This 1978 musical retells the tale with an all-black cast: Diana Ross, defiant of the length of her tooth, played Dorothy; the Tin Man was Nipsey Russell; Ted Ross was the Lion; and the kid from Neverland himself, Michael Jackson, played the Scarecrow. Also juicily cast were Mabel King as "Evillene," Lena Horne as Glinda, and Richard Pryor in the title role.

Return to Oz -- Few would place this 1985 sequel, directed by legendary sound editor and film theorist Walter Murch, anywhere near the 1939 version, but it's worth seeing anyway. It arguably comes closer to capturing the sometimes grim flavor of Baum's yarns: Dorothy gets thrown in the loony bin, suffers shock treatments, and eventually makes it back to Oz, which she finds imperiled by Princess Mombi (Jean Marsh) and the Nome King (Nicol Williamson). Future teen temptress Fairuza Balk played Dorothy.

The Wizard of Oz in Concert -- This semi-staged 1995 concert rendering of the MGM version features an all-star cast: Jackson Browne as the Scarecrow, Roger Daltrey as the Tin Man, Nathan Lane as the Lion, Joel Grey as the Wizard, and Debra Winger as a very sexy Wicked Witch, performing with the St. Louis Light Opera. The real surprise is Jewel, in a splendid, tongue-in-cheek performance as Dorothy. Highly recommended.

The Oz Witch Project -- The adventures of Dorothy (Meredith Salenger) and pals, à la Blair Witch. This funny nine-minute short, directed by Michael Rotman, may be viewed at www.ozwitch.com.

 
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