OK. Watch this first. Better yet, watch it and then go to the YouTube page and click the ‘like’ button. God knows I could use the hit count, and I’d rather get it fairly than resort to artificial inflation.
The Wizard of Oz is one of those films that has followed me round for most of my life. You may remember, some months ago, that I blogged about our household’s first video recorder and the many viewings of Ghostbusters that followed. The Wizard of Oz may have been the fourth or fifth pre-recorded tape we bought. I’d already got through the book and wasn’t quite prepared for the glossy Technicolor buoyancy that followed. It would be years before I learned about the mythology that sprung up around the film, with the in-fighting amongst the cast, the problems with Garland’s breasts, the near-omission of ‘Over The Rainbow’ and the urban legend about the dead Munchkin.
I was saying to sj only the other week that the interesting thing about The Wizard of Oz on film is its utter trashing of the ending. While it takes a number of liberties with the book, with many characters dropped and many adventures abandoned, the biggest thing that happens is the solidification of Dorothy’s Kansas life, giving her a reason to come home. But it’s more than this: the very end of the film is a direct reversal of the very end of the novel, in which Dorothy arrives out of nowhere and lands on the grass outside the house that her parents are rebuilding. In the film, the entire journey to and from Oz – and, crucially, all the inhabitants therein – are seemingly imagined constructs, with friends and nemeses taking on counterpart roles when she and Toto set off along the Yellow Brick Road.
In other words, in the film Dorothy doesn’t actually go to Oz. She only thinks she does. The novel – and its many sequels – establish Oz as a real place that’s not on any map, but which anyone can visit (and indeed, Dorothy and her Aunt and Uncle eventually uproot and take up permanent residence there in one of the later books). In the film, she gets concussion during the cyclone and wakes up in her own room some hours later none the worse for her ordeal, with no one willing to believe that she’s been gone for days. This isn’t revealed until the very end of the film, unlike, say, Life on Mars – a show that was in many ways a direct homage to Oz – which featured a protagonist who spent most of his time trying to work out whether he had in fact time-travelled or was merely trapped in his own subconscious. The show’s sequel, Ashes to Ashes, explained everything (and nonetheless posed as many questions as it had provided answers), but perhaps the best explanation to this conundrum came from Albus Dumbledore near the end of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, in which he reassures our eponymous hero that “Of course it’s happening in your head, Harry. But why on earth should that mean it isn’t real?”.
And I’m rambling.
This all started with the scarecrow. I picked him up in Cancer Research one Friday evening for a bargain price. As I snapped the lid on the plastic tub that contains the Doctor Who figure collection, making a mental note to do another photo-shoot some time, I noticed that if you were to team him up with one of the Cybermen, and – ooh, I don’t know, the Werewolf from ‘Tooth and Claw’, you’d have the three sidekicks from The Wizard of Oz. And after that, all you really need is Dorothy and Toto.
Casting was the real joy here. Pantomime is a big part of Christmas – at least it is in this country – and The Wizard of Oz is on every holiday, so I took the approach of the Who figures staging their own amateur dramatics production, sort of like the characters in Toy Story: Hawaiian Vacation. There was no question of who to cast as Toto, and with that in mind there was really only one choice for Dorothy (unless I can find a Leela or Romana figure, anyway). Sarah Jane’s a bit long in the tooth here, admittedly, but so was Garland.
The Wizard of Oz features an amusing turn by Frank Morgan, who not only plays the Wizard himself (and his real-world counterpart, Professor Marvel) but also the Emerald City gatekeeper, the cab driver and the weeping sentry outside the Wizard’s inner sanctum. It’s the sort of multi-role casting that Eddie Murphy now seemingly does in every single movie he makes, but in 1939 it worked beautifully – and when it came to casting the Wizard (which obviously has to be the First Doctor, who looks the part), it made sense to cast some of his other regenerations in these supporting roles. The wish-fulfilment scenes of John Barrowman getting run over by the pirate ship / eaten by Joshua’s Playmobil clam were something I stuck in at the last minute when I realised I really wanted to feature Jack, without having anything for him to actually do. (Those familiar with musical theatre will have worked out that he’s singing – or attempting to sing – ‘The Doctor and I’, an adapted version of ‘The Wizard and I’, from Wicked, itself an unofficial prequel to Oz. I love joining up those dots!)
MGM are notoriously hot on copyright when it comes to The Wizard of Oz. They allow for short scenes on YouTube, but will block certain iconic moments (like Dorothy’s arrival in Munchkinland) and I read of several people who had seen videos deleted or audio disabled because it infringed copyright. So I took no chances and stuck instead to a four-minute summary of the entire film, in short bursts that tell the story (sans music) without ever telling too much of it at once. The result is a video that jumps all over the place, but it works, more or less.
I shot this over an evening and a morning, and then it was just a question of synching the photos with the narrative. I didn’t feel confident enough to venture into stop motion on this occasion, so you’re stuck with the pictures, but they do – wherever possible – mimic the positioning of the actors in the film. The sets are dreadful, of course, but I was working with Duplo and Playmobil. Likewise the lighting is second-rate – if I’m going to start doing this properly I really ought to invest in a decent studio area with spot lamps, but at least you can see it.
It’s the credit visuals I’m quite pleased with. Here they are again, without all those words getting in the way.
The scarecrow, as a friend of mine pointed out, is a surprisingly good breakdancer. Who knew?