The Wiz

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

A Thanksgiving dinner brings a host of family together in a Harlem apartment, where a 24-year-old schoolteacher named Dorothy Gale (Diana Ross) lives with her Aunt Em (Theresa Merritt) and Uncle Henry (Stanley Greene). Extremely introverted, she has, as Aunt Em teases her, “never been south of 125th Street”, and refuses to move out and on with her life.

While Dorothy cleans up after the meal, her dog Toto runs out the open kitchen door into a violent snowstorm. She succeeds in retrieving him, but finds herself trapped in the storm. A magical whirlwind made of snow – the work of Glinda, the Good Witch of the South – materializes and transports them to the Kingdom of Oz. Upon her arrival, Dorothy smashes through an electric “Oz” sign, which falls upon and kills Evermean, the Wicked Witch of the East. As a result, she frees the Munchkins who populate the playground into which she lands; they had been transformed by Evermean into graffiti for “tagging” the park walls.

Dorothy soon meets the Munchkins’ main benefactress, Miss One, the Good Witch of the North (Thelma Carpenter), a magical “numbers runner” who gives Evermean’s powerful silver slippers to her. However, she desperately wants to get home. Miss One urges her to follow the yellow brick road to the Emerald City and find the mysterious “Wizard” who she believes holds the power to send Dorothy back to Harlem. The good witch and the Munchkins then disappear and she is left to search for the yellow brick road on her own.

The next morning, Dorothy happens upon a Scarecrow (Michael Jackson) made of garbage, whom she befriends. The two of them discover the yellow brick road and happily begin to follow it together; the Scarecrow hoping the Wizard might be able to give him the one thing he feels that he lacks — a brain. Along the way to the Emerald City, Dorothy, Toto, and the Scarecrow meet the Tin Man (Nipsey Russell), a turn-of-the-century amusement park mechanical man, and the Cowardly Lion (Ted Ross), a vain dandy banished from the jungle who hid inside one of the stone lions in front of the New York Public Library. The Tin Man and Lion join them on their quest to find the Wizard, hoping to gain a heart and courage, respectively. Before the five adventurers reach the Emerald City, they must face obstacles such as a crazy subway peddler (a homeless man) with evil puppets in his control and the “Poppy” Girls (a reference to the poppy field from the original story), prostitutes who attempt to put Dorothy, Toto, and the Lion to sleep with magic dusting powder.

Finally reaching the Emerald City (an analogue of the real-life World Trade Center plaza), the quintet gains passage into the city because of Dorothy’s ownership of the silver shoes and marvel at the spectacle of the city and its dancers. They gain an audience with the Wizard (Richard Pryor), who appears to them as a giant fire-breathing metallic head. He will only grant their wishes if they kill Evillene (Mabel King), the Wicked Witch of the West, who runs a sweatshop in the sewers of New York City. She learns of their quest to kill her and sends out the Flying Monkeys (a motorcycle gang) to kidnap them.

After an extended chase, the Flying Monkeys succeed in capturing their prey and bring them back to Evillene. She dismembers the Scarecrow, flattens the Tin Man, and tortures the Lion in hopes of making Dorothy give her the silver shoes. When she threatens to throw Toto into a fiery cauldron, Dorothy nearly gives in until the Scarecrow hints to her to activate a fire sprinkler switch which she does. The sprinklers put out the fire but also melt Evillene. She is flushed down into her toilet. With Evillene herself gone, her spells lose their power: the Winkies are freed from their costumes (revealing humans underneath) and their sweatshop tools disappear. They rejoice in dance and praise Dorothy as their emancipator and the Flying Monkeys give her and her friends a triumphant ride back to the Emerald City.

Upon arriving back at the Emerald City, the quartet takes a back door into the Wizard’s quarters and discovers that he is a “phony”. The “great and powerful Oz” is actually Herman Smith, a failed politician from Atlantic City, New Jersey, who was transported to Oz when a balloon he was flying to promote his campaign to become the city dogcatcher was lost in a storm. The Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Lion are distraught that they will never receive their respective brain, heart, and courage, but Dorothy makes them realize that they already have these things. Just as it seems as if she will never be able to get home, Glinda, the Good Witch of the South (Lena Horne), appears and implores her to find her way home by searching within and using her silver shoes. After thanking Glinda and saying goodbye to her friends, she takes Toto in her arms, thinks of home and the things she loves most about it and, after clicking her heels, finds herself back in her neighborhood. She, now a changed woman, carries Toto back to their apartment and closes the door.

REVIEW:

How many people in 1978, were wondering what it would have been like to have an African-American version of The Wizard of Oz, complete with a funky soundtrack? Well, whoever those people were, they got their wise with The Wiz.

What is this about?

Motown’s Oscar-nominated take on L. Frank Baum’s ageless tale stars Diana Ross as Harlem schoolteacher Dorothy, who exits a family gathering to search for her lost pooch, Toto, gets caught in a blizzard and is transported to the magical land of Oz.

What did I like?

Different. Whether you love or hate the direction the filmmakers went with this story, you can’t deny that this is the same tale we all know and love. Everything is here, the yellow brick road, wicked witch, the friends along the way, flying monkeys, Oz, etc. I guess this was just a different time, when things didn’t have to be changed for the sake of change.

MJ. It should come as no surprise, but Michael Jackson was arguably the best thing about this film. I’m not too crazy about his being the Scarecrow, but you can’t deny that he is quite entertaining, including arguably the best song of the film. On the acting front, one has to wonder why Michael wasn’t in more films. He obviously had the talent, but I guess the scripts weren’t right.

What didn’t I like?

Music. With a couple of exceptions and the funky 70s vibe going on throughout, the music in this film is quite painful to listen to. The songs are forgettable, with the exception of “Ease on Down the Road” and “I’m a Mean Old Lion”, and just make you wonder what Motown was thinking allowing these songs to see the light of day.

Too old. Diana Ross was not mean to play Dorothy. She is too old, and it shows, but somehow she got the role and caused a director change before filming started because of it. I won’t say that Diana has no chops, because she does, as we say in Lady Sings the Blues, but let’s be real…this is a role for someone younger.

Waste of talent. A couple of things bothered me. First, if Diana Ross is going to be in this thing, then let the woman sing. As it is, she sings 1 1/2 songs, and that’s it! If this was because she wanted to do more acting, then that is one thing, but this is a musical, let her flex those pipes. At this point in time, she was one of the best around. Second, Richard Pryor, who is still one of the funniest comedians to take the stage doesn’t really get to be funny. Similar to Diana, if you’re gonna cast someone like that, then let them do what makes them special, not just have them there reading some lines!

I remember the first time I saw The Wiz. I wasn’t too crazy about it because it felt like a bad acid trip gone horribly wrong. My opinion has not changed, but after recently seeing Oz: The Great and Powerful, I was inspired to watch it again. Would I suggest this to anyone? That is a hard one, but I have to say no, as there isn’t enough going for it to merit a recommendation. That being said, there are a some moments in here that are enjoyable. That’s what Youtube is for, right?

3 3/4 out of 5 stars

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One Response to “The Wiz”

  1. […] Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross & the Supremes, etc. Sadly, after such hits as Lady Sings the Blues and The Wiz, The Last Dragon would be the final film to come out of this studio, before it was shut down or […]

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