It has long been held that some things improve with age. Examples include a fine wine, an elegant cheese, a cast iron skillet, and, your humble History of Oz Examiner is assured, a good pair of cowboy boots. This has also proven true for the reputation of the 1978 movie adaptation of The Wiz.
Doubtless a major factor in the improved regard for the film is the phenomenal rise to super-stardom of Michael Jackson from humble, aphorism-spouting Scarecrow to King of Pop, a title given him by screen legend Elizabeth Taylor. His career as a solo artist began the year after The Wiz with his album Off the Wall, then skyrocketed with the 1982 release Thriller. That was the golden age of the music video, so Jackson’s fans not only got to enjoy listening to him, but watching him act and especially dance. To this day, Thriller remains the top-selling album in music history.
Jackson’s legion of fans, wanting to get whatever they could of his work, eagerly tuned in to the first television broadcast of The Wiz in 1984. So too did people who had not seen the movie in theaters, but whose curiosity was enough that when it appeared T.V., they tuned in. Many found themselves enjoying it, and five years later, they and people who had seen it on the big screen bought the videotape. More continue to buy the film, now on DVD since 1999.
As the years have gone by, The Wiz has joined the ranks of what have been labeled cult favorites, and its fans number in the millions. Nostalgia has of course played a major part; as the 1970’s recede further into the past, the features of the period have come under the nostalgia’s golden light. In the areas of its music and its film techniques, that decade is well represented by The Wiz.
Many people with whom this Examiner has spoken about the film say that while it may not be quite as bright and cheerful as MGM’s The Wizard of Oz, that may be a point in its favor. It is a quieter, more contemplative take on Dorothy’s first trip to Oz, and many of its fans say that the relationships she forms with the Scarecrow, the Tinman, and the Lion are closer and more solid than in that earlier work. Diana Ross’s close friendship with Jackson lent to this, and the devotion they had for each other certainly shows in their scenes together.
And of course, given that so many of the movie’s stars have passed on– Diana Ross is the only one of the major performers still with us– much added poignancy has strengthened the film’s emotional power. After quoting other great thinkers throughout the adventure, the Scarecrow devises wise words of his own towards the end of the story:
‘Success, fame, fortune: they’re all illusions. All there is that is real is the friendship that two can share.”
Heartrending words, considering the later path of Jackson’s life.