“If you dig rock ‘n’ roll, you’re gonna dig Oz!”
So declared the trailer for a movie produced in Australia (the “other “ Land of Oz), in 1976.
If you dig Oz, as in L. Frank Baum’s fairyland, this movie might not be for you. As a well-crafted film it stands on its own merits, but certain elements of it would probably astonish, if not appall, L. Frank Baum. It is worth mentioning, however, as it further demonstrates the influence of the 1939 MGM movie adaptation of The Wizard of Oz, which reshaped worldwide perception of that story. The Australian film’s plot structure more closely follows that of the MGM movie than of the book.
Released in Australia as Oz: A Rock’n’Roll Road Movie and in the United States as 20th Century Oz, this semi-musical, filmed near Melbourne in five weeks, updates Wizard and presents a sixteen year-old Dorothy (25 year-old Joy Dunstan, who, in the few clips I’ve seen, acts convincingly under her age) as a roadie for the rock band Wally (Graham Matters) and the Falcons (Bruce Spence, Michael Carman, and Gary Waddell). As they travel cross country, their van is involved in an accident which knocks Dorothy out.
She comes to in what appears to be the same place and, not finding the others, makes her way to a shop called The Good Fairy, attracted by the sight of a pair of glittery red high-heeled shoes in the window. Going in, she meets the shop’s effeminate proprietor Glin (Robin Ramsay), who is fay in more senses than the merely colloquial. He informs Dorothy to her shock that her van has killed a local bully, and as a reward— and also protection — he makes her a gift of the red shoes. The slain bully’s brother (Ned Kelly), a “Truckie” (Aussie slang for “trucker”), enters the shop and threatens Dorothy, but Glin sends him on his way.
Glin tells Dorothy that she ought to see the Wizard, not because he’d be likely to help her to get home, but simply because he’s a great rock star and will soon be performing his final concert.
As she hitchhikes along the highway (the budget didn’t allow for a yellow brick road), Dorothy meets Blondie (Spence again), a “Surfie” with a gentle nature, but not too high an IQ, Greaseball (Carman), a mechanic of a rather unfeeling demeanor, and Killer (Waddell), a tough-talking “Bikie” who is really a wimp. They become Dorothy’s friends and more than once rescue her from the evil, not to say dishonorable, intentions of the vengeful Truckie.
Finally Dorothy gets to see the Wizard (Matters) perform, and is enthralled. When she meets him in person, however, her estimation of him diminishes rapidly. Learning from Glin that the shoes can get her home, she clicks her heels together, repeats a mantra that will not be repeated here, and finds herself at the roadside with Wally and the band gathered around her… and the shoes still on her feet.