The Wiz (1978)

DailyView: Day 88, Movie 151

The film I watched today for the DailyView is one that is infamous, considered a financial and critical flop. The film, starring Diana Ross, Michael Jackson and Richard Pryor, was The Wiz, a black adaptation of the classic L. Frank Baum novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and a Broadway musical. Having watched the film, I am unsure why this turned out to be such a failure. It was a wonderful piece of entertainment.

Dorothy (Diana Ross) lived with her family in Harlem with as much drama as one would believe. During a snowstorm, her dog Toto ran outside and Dorothy desperately followed him. When she caught up with Toto, a magical snowstorm swept the two of them off to the mystical world of Oz, which shared several characteristics with New York itself.

Once in Oz, Dorothy was shown that she had accidentally killed the Witch, some special silver shoes appeared on her feet and she was being celebrated by the Munchkins. They sent her down the Yellow Brick Road to go and see the Wiz (Richard Pryor), but Dorothy could not find the start of the road. Along her travels she meets up with the Scarecrow (Michael Jackson), the Tin Man (Nipsey Russell) and the Lion (Ted Ross) and the four of them (five if you count that dog too) continued to ease on down the Yellow Brick Road.

If you know the story of The Wizard of Oz, you would have known The Wiz. It follows the main structure very closely, with only some general specifics being altered. It plays very much like a Broadway show in the way it is shot and presented which is part of the charm.

Diana Ross and Michael Jackson are both wonderful in their roles. Who thought Jackson could have provided such as in depth performance, so sweet and soft.

The music was rousing too. Quincy Jones was involved in crafting the music from the Broadway show and writing some new music for the film, along with married couple Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson. You had the voices of Ross and Jackson to play with, as well as Lena Horne, who played Glinda the Good Witch.

Surprisingly though, the standout for me was Nipsey Russell. I only knew Russell from his days on The Match Game, but he showed off his acting skills, his dancing skills and his singing ability. As the Tin Man, Russell brought such humor, passion and so much skill. The scene where Dorothy and Scarecrow found Tin Man in the broken down amusement park is just masterful.

The Wiz is too long with a few of the scenes, in particular the underground subway scene with the Lion, potentially being shortened. However, there is an energy in the music and the dance. I enjoyed watching The Wiz and would put it among the solid films of the late 70s.

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