The Wizard Of Oz (1939) 4

Between 1st and 14th March BFI Southbank will be Returning to Oz with a season dedicated to the fictional world created in 1900 by L Frank Baum. With the imminent release of Sam Raimi’s Oz the Great and Powerful (due to in cinemas in March) and the global success of the musical production Wicked, it seems that Oz’s appeal is unfaltering. This season will take a look at the fairyland at the end of the yellow brick road with screenings of the classic 1939 musical The Wizard of Oz, but also a series of film adaptions which audiences may not be so familiar with. These will include 1914 film The Patchwork Girl of Oz, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz  from 1910, two further films of The Wizard of Oz - from 1925 and 1933 -  as well as late-70s New York set The Wiz . Completing the programme will be a screening of BBC documentary In Search of Oz (1994) and a lively discussion event The Radical Land of Oz.

Along with illustrator WW Denslow, in 1900 L Frank Baum published a small children’s book called The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The story of a little girl from the Kansas prairies whirled by a cyclone to a land of dreams would become a best seller and the basis for 1939's The Wizard of Oz , which in 2010 was declared by the Library of Congress as the most-watched film of all time. Baum returned to Oz 16 times in print between 1900 and 1920.

However, less well known is that during the same period he co-founded one of the first film studios in Los Angeles, the Oz Film Manufacturing Company, which produced three feature-length Oz films in its short life. These early films were a critical but not a commercial success, and today – despite not surviving in their entirety – their qualities still shine, with inventive special effects and glorious physical performances, including acrobat Pierre Couderc in The Patchwork Girl of Oz which will screen alongside the earliest surviving film of the Oz story The Wonderful Wizard of Oz from 1910.

The 1925 version of The Wizard of Oz was essentially a vehicle for the comedian Larry Semon who directed and co-starred in the film. Structured like a pantomime, the film played with several levels of story within story and is bookended with a toymaker reading The Wizard of Oz to his granddaughter. Ted Eshbaugh’s '33 version ofThe Wizard of Oz is charmingly rendered in Technicolor animation and was the first adaptation to portray Kansas in monochrome and Oz in colour - it would not however be the last.

In 1939 MGM made The Wizard of Oz starring the spellbinding Judy Garland as Dorothy. The film whisks Dorothy away from a sepia tinted farmland to a Technicolor fairyland. At the then enormous cost of $2,777,000 it is one of the most lavish, elaborate and polished productions ever to come out of Hollywood. 

The season wouldn’t be complete without a screening of 1978's The Wiz, the late-70s New York set Motown inspired rendering of Oz. With an all star cast including Michael Jackson as a body-popping Scarecrow and Diana Ross as Dorothy, as well as vast and spectacular dance numbers, The Wiz is essential viewing for all Oz fans.

Also screening will be the BBC’s In Search of Oz from, an insightful, richly illustrated documentary examining the enduring interest in the Land of Oz, with contributions from noted admirers like Salman Rushdie and Gore Vidal. Completing the programme will be a lively discussion event The Radical Land of Oz in which panellists will examine different readings of Oz; guests will include writer and critic Sophie Mayer and academic Matthew Beaumont (UCL).

For more information vists the BFI Southbank Website