Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 September 2014

The Wizard of Oz returns - with a yellower brick road

The tin man wears blue eye shadow, Dorothy's heel-clicking red shoes sparkle with 4,600 sequins and the world's most-viewed brick road has a vibrancy not seen for almost 70 years.

The Wizard of Oz was re-released at cinemas yesterday, restored to the vivid Technicolor glory of the 1939 original. After eight months of restoration work, including 250 hours simply cleaning the dirt from the original negatives, the "magically fervid intensity" of the film - one of Hollywood's most lavish productions - has been restored.



Critics have been convinced that the film warrants watching on the big screen. Time Out described it as "celluloid alchemy of the highest order " and told readers to "see this luminous restoration, and rediscover the power of truly great storytelling to reveal us to ourselves" . The Times said it should be seen for its "Hollywood splendour".



Warner Brothers worked on the original negatives of the 98-minute film - which begins in the monochrome of Kansas and bursts into colour when Dorothy's house, uprooted by a tornado, lands in the surreal fairyland of Oz.



Restoring the first 19 minutes of the film, which were shot in black and white, took 91 hours. For the latter part of the film, three coloured strips of film sensitive to red, blue and green light were combined to give unrivalled - and at the time state-of-the-art - colour quality.



A spokesperson for Warner Brothers said: "It's rather like an old painting hanging in a gallery. Everybody loved it, but it was not how it originally looked. This restoration has painstakingly removed all the dirt, dust and scratches so that it's as good as the day it was released."



Margaret Deriaz, head of distribution for the British Film Institute (BFI), hopes that it will be popular this Christmas in cinemas across the country as one of the "greatest fantasy films of all time".



She said: "It is an amazing experience: a film so lavishly and spectacularly mounted really needs to be seen on the big screen. I hope that a new generation will be introduced. The fact that Warner Bros has produced a stunning new digital restoration gives the BFI the opportunity to bring this much-loved classic to the widest possible cinema audience.''

The release comes in the same week as the Cowardly Lion's costume was auctioned for £357,000. Judy Garland's gingham dress went for £140,000 last year.



Fans of the original include the film-makers Peter Jackson, George Lucas and John Waters. Salman Rushdie described it as illustrating "how the weakness of grown-ups forces children to take control of their own destinies, and so, ironically, grow up themselves" in his Wizard of Oz handbook.



The movie is firmly planted in the collective consciousness. The film distributorMGM estimates more than a billion people across the world have seen it. A stage version has just opened at the West Yorkshire Playhouse; the musical Wicked is playing in the West End and Irvine Welsh's stage play, Babylon Heights, is inspired by the imaginary stories of the people who played the Munchkins. The tunes have been remixed by 50 Cent and Aerosmith.



And now, with a yellower brick road and brighter rainbow, the original is back.



Behind the scenes

- Judy Garland's contract said her physical appearance could not change so she was given amphetamines to control her weight and barbiturates to sleep. In 1969, she died of a psychiatric drug overdose.

- Victor Fleming is credited as director, but Richard Thorpe, George Cukor and King Vidor also directed scenes.

- Buddy Ebsen was to play Scarecrow but Ray Bolger wanted it so badly he replaced him. Ebsen was then cast as Tin Man but became ill from breathing aluminium dust and Jack Daley replaced him.

- Studio executives initially wanted 'Over the Rainbow' cut out, thinking it unseemly for Garland to be singing in a farmyard.

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