It’s All In Your Perspective

I’m guessing that most of us have loved The Wizard Of Oz since we were kids. Like the Cowardly Lion, we might have been scared by the flying monkeys and the evil Wicked Witch of the West or the loud Wizard of Oz face and flames and smoke and sound effects, but we enjoyed the innocent story of Dorothy and her faithful dog who were transported by a cyclone to a magical land — and then brought back home just because she wished it.

But what if you took an alternative perspective of the story, as the writer did above? Suddenly The Wizard Of Oz goes from being a delightful children’s film to a dark movie in the film noir genre. And the best thing about the alternative description posted above is that it is factually accurate in every detail. It just goes to show you that perspective is everything — and if you look at things from a different perspective you might see a different side, even of something as familiar as The Wizard Of Oz.

I’m late to the game on this; the description of The Wizard Of Oz above was written for the TCM channel by a writer named Rick Polito in 1998, was noted by people at that time, and then “went viral” again in 2012 or so. Being out of it, I missed it both times, but I got a good laugh out of it when I saw it recently — and a good laugh in 2020 is definitely something to share.

The Last Munchkin

The death of Jerry Maren was announced yesterday.  Maren, 98, was the last surviving “Munchkin” from the film The Wizard of Oz.

lollipopguild1In the movie, Dorothy’s house is lifted into the sky by a raging Kansas twister, flies over the rainbow, and then drops to the ground in Oz, in Munchkinland.  To the delight of the Munchkins, the house crushes the evil Wicked Witch of the East, who had been tormenting the Munchkins for years.  The grateful Munchkins treat Dorothy and Toto as heroes — “this is a day of independence, for all of the Munchkins and their descendants!” one of them declares — and hold a hastily arranged ceremony to express their appreciation and welcome Dorothy and Toto to Munchkinland.  After the saccharine-sweet, high-pitched Lullaby League ballerinas go en pointe to thank Dorothy, the three tough-guy members of the Lollipop Guild, singing with a sneering Brooklyn accent, do a tap-dancing jig up to Dorothy and hand her a giant lollipop.  It’s one of the memorable moments of the film, and Maren played the twitchy leader of the Lollipop Guild.

Maren was a pituitary dwarf, which meant his body was proportionately correct, only smaller than the normal human body.  MGM specifically searched for pituitary dwarves to play the Munchkin characters, and they comprised the vast majority of Munchkins in the movie.  After The Wizard of Oz, Maren became a leader of the group, helped to found the organization Little People of America, and went on to have a long acting career and became a successful real estate investor.  But when he died in late May, he was most remembered for his role in The Wizard of Oz.

The Wizard of Oz is one of my all-time favorite movies, and the scene with Dorothy, Toto and the Lollipop Guild is one of scenes I love best.  Thanks to Jerry Maren and the other little people who helped to make that movie so special and put it in the pantheon of all-time Hollywood classics.

“Courage”

The political conventions start this week.  Many speeches will be given, and we’ll have to see whether any of them stack up with the greatest speeches ever delivered.  Like Shakespeare’s speech about St. Crispin’s Day in Henry V.  Or Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. Or Winston Churchill’s “we shall fight on the beaches” stemwinder during the dark days of World War II.

But as we look forward to the gatherings of our gutsy political leaders, right and left, in this our nation’s hour of need, my thoughts turn to another famous oration — the Cowardly Lion’s remarks on “courage” prior to his first encounter with the Wizard of Oz: 

Courage!

What makes a King out of a slave? Courage!

What makes the flag on the mast to wave? Courage!

What makes the elephant charge his tusk in the misty mist, or the dusky dusk? What makes the muskrat guard his musk? Courage!

What makes the Sphinx the Seventh Wonder? Courage! What makes the dawn come up like thunder? Courage!

What makes the Hottentot so hot? What puts the ape in ape-ricot? What have they got that I ain’t got? (Courage)

You can say that again!

Seems particularly apt these days, doesn’t it?

Mr. Jingeling On The Brain

The human brain is strange.  Why is it that I sometimes struggle to remember the names of people at my office but can recall — with sharp, striking clarity — every word to the stupid theme song of Mr. Jingeling?

If you lived in northeastern Ohio during the early 1960s, you knew Mr. Jingeling as a guy who appeared on TV around Christmas.  He was Santa’s top assistant, and he had a prissy hairstyle like that of the guard who answered when Dorothy and friends knocked on the door to the Emerald City in The Wizard of Oz.  He carried a large key ring at all times, for reasons his song explained:

Mr. Jingeling, how you ting-a-ling,

Keeper of the Keys!

On Halle’s seventh floor, we’ll be looking for

You to turn the Keys!

Keeping track of Santa’s pack

And Treasure House of toys,

Wind-up things that Santa brings

To all the good little girls and boys

Mr. Jingeling, how you ting-a-ling,

Keeper of the Keys!

On Halle’s Seventh floor we’ll be looking for

You to turn the Keys!

It is mildly disturbing to realize that, indelibly imprinted deep within the crevices and synapses of my brain, is a theme song about a fictional Christmas TV character on a show that has been off the air for decades, sponsored by a long defunct Cleveland department store.  What the hell else is buried in there — that is, aside from the theme song to The Beverly Hillbillies?

Weird Robots And The Japanese Soul

What is it with the Japanese and robots, anyway?  They not only seem to be obsessed by them, they act on their obsessions in very weird ways.

Consider the Youtube clip below.  It shows a “female” Japanese robot known as HRP-4C, pictured at left, singing an annoying song as several young Japanese women frolic around her doing dances from the ’60s.  The robot herself looks like the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz from the waist down, like a high-end blow-up doll from the neck up, is wearing what appears to be a yellow shower curtain, and has enormous “man hands” a la Seinfeld.  The robot looks like she could palm a medicine ball or crush an elephant’s skull with those mitts!  To top it off, the robot has a whiny voice and is about as fluid in her dance moves as the robot from Lost in SpaceDanger, Will Robinson!

Somewhere, in some dark, kinky corner of the Japanese soul, there may be an explanation for why a Japanese company would apparently spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to develop a half-Tin Man, half-humanoid robot with grossly oversized hands and then program it to sing a crappy pop song involving choreography that is a few cuts below Glee — and for that matter an explanation for why a Japanese audience would sit and watch the resulting production.  Let’s just hope we never actually figure out what that explanation is.

Sequel Fatigue

Last night Kish and I went to see Toy Story 3 in 3D at the Easton movie theatres.  It was well done, I suppose, but I found myself thinking about how little true creativity we see in popular culture anymore.  As nice as it was to see Woody and Buzz Lightyear in a new adventure, I would rather see the team that made Toy Story 3 devote their considerable talents to creating something totally new and different.

It seems like 75% of the movies showing at any given time are movie versions of TV shows or comic books, or sequels of prior successful movies, or remakes of old movies, or even remakes of sequels.  Everybody seems to be searching for a “franchise” that they can ride for a few sequels until diminishing quality and declining audience interest have irreparably damaged the memory of the excellent original movie.

Contrast the current approach with the golden age of Hollywood, during the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s.  The most popular movie ever, Gone With The Wind, ended with a cliffhanger if there ever was one, but the studio resisted the temptation to crank out a sequel.  There was no sequel to The Wizard Of Oz, High Noon, or Rear Window, or It’s A Wonderful Life.   After Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was a big hit, Walt Disney made Pinocchio, not Snow White 2:  Grumpy’s Revenge.

I sometimes wonder whether the focus on sequels has caused writers, directors, actors, and animators who are at the peak of their abilities to take the path of least resistance, rather than breaking new ground and creating new characters, story lines, and techniques.  What potential masterpieces have gone unmade as a result of the emphasis on producing sure-fire sequels?