Thursday, August 29, 2013

In A Silent Way: Oz-ified

Frank L. Baum’s literary world of Oz has been quite a magnet to filmmakers. Just this year Sam Rami added to the catalog with “Oz The Great And Powerful”. The 1939 musical film is one of the most iconic pieces of cinema ever and is the most familiar version to most folks. However, the Oz properties are also among the movies earliest sources of inspiration. This leads me to "His Majesty The Scarecrow Of Oz" which was filmed in 1914. 

I have to confess that I have absolutely no familiarity with the Oz characters beyond what I know from having seen the Judy Garland classic. I've never read the books or any of the other adaptations. Despite this handicap I was absolutely enthralled with "His Majesty The Scarecrow Of Oz".

The plot concerns King Krewl and his daughter Princess Gloria. The king wants her to marry an old courtier named Googly-Goo but she is in love with the gardener’s son, Pon. The king is infuriated by this and seeks out the wicked witch Mombi to hire her magic. Mombi uses a spell that freezes Gloria's heart, making her indifferent and uncaring. Pon and Dorothy witness this heinous act. They set about freeing Gloria from the spell, accompanied in the mission by the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, Button Bright, the Cowardly Lion and the Wizard. Ultimately this quest leads to the overthrow of King Krewl, who is succeeded by the Scarecrow. 

I think what enchanted me the most about the movie was the sophistication of the effects and the costuming. Cinema director J Farrell MacDonald was able to coax some astounding in-camera stuff that included an underwater sequence, a wall of water and the Tin Woodsman decapitation of Mombi! (Don't worry she simply picks it up and puts it back on). It clearly shows the influence of the pioneer George Melies. Notable too is actor Fred Woodward who does an outstanding job bringing to life all the animals including the Cowardly Lion, an ass, a humongous crow, a kangaroo and a mechanical beast called the sawhorse.

All in all it was a lot richer film experience than I expected to see, going in. How magical it must have been to sit in that audience in almost 100 years ago!


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