Close Encounters of the Celebrity Kind...
All roads, yellow brick or not, are leading to 'Oz'
9-18-09 Chicago Tribune Story*
by Richard Knight, Jr.
TCM Host Robert Osborne on Oz at 70, contents of the Ultimate Collector's Edition, Judy Garland's blemishes are revealed
L. Frank Baum's children's book classic "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" has inspired so many other authors and artists that the
characters and elements of the story he created entered our consciousness long ago. Likewise for MGM's movie adaptation, the
standard bearer for fantasy films, which turns 70 this year.
To celebrate, Warner Home Video, Turner Classic Movies and Fathom Events jointly present "The Wizard of Oz 70th
Anniversary Hi-Def Event" in movie theaters for one night only Wednesday. The screening will begin with a behind-the-scenes
making-of featurette introduced by Turner Classic Movies host Robert Osborne. Osborne said of the "Oz" milestone: "The miracle of
the movie is that not only does it still appeal to kids but it's also just as invigorating and as fascinating to adults -- maybe more so
-- who get all the wit and underlying things about it."
The film has been remastered from each of the three original Technicolor camera negatives, revealing new details. The ruby slippers
will glitter more brightly, the Wicked Witch's green tinge will be more pronounced and blemishes will be noticeable on teenage star
Judy Garland's face, adding an immediacy to her performance, according to George Feltenstein, senior vice president of theatrical
catalog marketing for Warner Home Video, who has overseen the restoration. "Audiences will see a breathtaking difference," he said.
"Munchkinland is like 3-D without the glasses. There are things you're supposed to see -- the rivet between the Tin Man's eyes, for
example -- we just never had the ability to create such a crisp, multidimensional image before."
Feltenstein notes that "none of this clarity does anything to destroy the illusion that the filmmakers worked so hard to create."
The theater screening anticipates the Warner Home Video Sept. 29 release of a two- or four-disc "Ultimate Collector's Edition" of
"Oz" on Blu-ray and DVD. "We would not have gone to the extraordinary expense of doing this if it wasn't for Blu-ray," said
Feltenstein, whose team worked a solid year on the release. Though he admits that the standard version will only show a modest
visual improvement over the 2005 home release, "Oz" completists may want to snap up the limited edition, which comes with 16
hours of bonus footage, a 52-page hardcover book by "Oz" historian John Fricke, a watch and other goodies.
The same evening as the "Oz" DVD release, hometown girl Jennifer Hudson will headline a free concert in New York's Central Park
featuring songs from the movie, followed by an outdoor screening. For those who can't make it to theaters or buy the DVD, Netflix
will stream the movie online for free for 24 hours beginning at 8 a.m. Oct. 3.
All this Oz-mania is business as usual for the folks in Chesterton, Ind., which has been holding an annual "Wizard of Oz" Festival
since 1981. The 28th fest commences Friday and continues through Sunday. Shopkeeper Jean Nelson began the fest as a way to
promote business in Chesterton, which was experiencing an economic turndown. Ironically, when Nelson opened her store, called
Yellow Brick Road, she didn't have a single "Wizard of Oz" item. "I just liked the name," she said. But soon she was inundated with
requests for Oz memorabilia. "After a few years the entire store turned into 'Wizard of Oz.' "
Nelson vividly remembers the moment she got the idea for the fest. "A mother came into my store with two little kids and said, 'I
don't have money to be buying anything, I'm just looking for ways to entertain my children,' and I felt so terrible I thought, 'Let's do
something fun just one day.' " The one-day festival has grown into an annual three-day event, with activities that include an Oz Idol
contest, an Oz collectors exchange and auction, brunch with the Munchkins and, of course, a screening of the movie.
Though Nelson, who lives on Yellow Brick Road (renamed in her honor), has retired and closed her store, she will be on hand.
"It's really an American fairy tale and there are so few of them," she said.
Osborne summed up the power of the movie: "The Wizard of Oz" is like an old friend to me, as are 'North by Northwest,' 'Gone With
the Wind' or other classic movies. Whenever you see them you're instantly among old friends. Sometimes they're more constant
friends than you get to meet in real life -- and they don't ever grow old."
On the Web:
Tickets for "The Wizard of Oz 70th Anniversary Hi-Def Event": wizardofoz.fathomevents.com
Info on the Netflix streaming date and Central Park concert: netflix.com/wizardofoz
Wizard of Oz festival in Chesterton: ozfestivalchesterton.com
*For a more personal view of the impact of Oz on the LGBT community and KATM, click HERE