Short Starts typically presents a weekly short film from the start of a filmmaker or actor’s career. This week we present a short film from the start of a film property.
Say what you will about Oz the Great and Powerful (I’m not a fan, but the $80 million gross implies some of you are), but you can’t dismiss it simply out of loyalty and preference for MGM’s The Wizard of Oz. That film may be a classic, but it’s far from being an original product that can be ruined by any remake, sequel or prequel. Sure, the new Oz strangely attempts to get away with as much visual linkage to the 1939 film as Disney could get away with, but it’s also just another in a very long list of adaptations of L. Frank Baum’s children’s stories, which includes animated versions, Muppet versions and all-African-American versions, as well as silent incarnations going back more than a century, many of which involved Baum directly.
The first cinematic treatment of Oz was in 1908, as part of a compilation of stories adapted from Baum’s books (including non-Oz works) titled The Fairylogue and Radio Plays. I don’t technically qualify the project as the first Oz movie because it only partly involved colorized film material in addition to slides and live performance, all wrapped up in a traveling stage show. Naturally, this means it doesn’t survive – also it was not financially successful, resulting in Baum’s bankruptcy in 1911, so that may be another reason the film footage is lost – although stills, slides and script can be found online.
Next came an actual film release, 1910’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, which is based on Baum’s 1902 Broadway music version of his original novel. Like the Fairylogue project, this 13-minute effort was produced by Hollywood legend William Selig. There are some changes to the source material. For instance, both Toto and Imogene the cow appear, while the former wasn’t in the show and the latter wasn’t in the novel (she was a substitute for the dog). And it’s notable for there being disputes about who directed the film and who the actors are (Dorothy is believed to be played by Bebe Daniels). Because of how the previous production turned out, Baum was not creatively involved.
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is a quick and busy film. There’s lots of dancing and running around and what appears to be Imogene and Hank the mule humping a bale of hay (what is exactly going on there?). Like many films of the time, it looks like a mere recording of a stage work, aside from a few of the special effects, and unfortunately the preserved copy available online is without the original music. One version you can find has different titles and uses music from “The Nutcracker.” I recommend just putting on Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon.” Here is the film in full:
While this is to be watched primarily as a curiosity with historical interests, I also recommend the next group of Oz adaptations from 1914, which Baum himself scripted and produced through his Oz Film Manufacturing Company. They’re much longer and clearer and include the titles The Magic Cloak of Oz (watch here), The Patchwork Girl of Oz (watch here) and His Majesty, the Scarecrow of Oz (watch here).