Hollywood is so bankrupt of ideas that it seems all it can do is:
- “Remake” films from the past, altering and adapting them for dumbed-down audiences or what filmmakers assume are dumbed-down audiences, and make them politically correct (e.g., The Four Feathers, Clueless, the latter based on Jane Austen’s Emma, Cape Fear);
- Produce “prequels” and “sequels” to proven blockbusters (e.g., Star Wars, The Matrix, Alien);
- Appropriate characters from past films for “new” stories (e.g., any Bond film made after Sean Connery’s last one, including Connery’s last one, Never Say Never Again);
- Adapt literary classics or would-be classics or imaginary classics for children, morons, yuppies, and pubescent adults who get tingles up their legs from CGI effects (The Hunchback of Notre Dame,The Matrix, The Terminator, etc.), ensuring they are also politically correct.
- Make environmental disaster films, or nuclear threat films, or anti-business films.
- Make historical films that are politically correct, regardless of the era, mythology, legend or historical accuracy, (e.g., Shakespeare in Love, The Tudors).
What caused me to write this was the release of the newest Oz film (the last one, called The Wiz, was patronizingly adapted for “black” audiences), Oz the Great and Powerful. I won’t bother reviewing the sorry “prequel”; Ann Hornaday of the Washington Post skewers it to my satisfaction. L. Frank Baum is partly avenged.
Most films coming out today are said to be “based” or “loosely based” on something else. When a studio boasts that a film is “based” or “loosely based” on an original source, film or book, it means that a claque of rewriters and highly paid hacks have treated the material as their own creation and tweaked it beyond recognition.
For example, The Big Clock(1948), a fairly well-done suspense thriller, stars Ray Milland as a crime magazine editor who fools around with his boss’s mistress (Rita Johnson) and subsequently is enmeshed in a cover-up of her murder by his boss (Charles Laughton). It is based on Kenneth Fearing’s confusing, multi-first-person novel (1946) of the same name. The film is superior to the novel because its scriptwriters essentialized the plot elements in the novel and still told the same story. Otherwise, the novel would have been impossible, and, indeed, impractical, to project on the screen as a straight narrative.
The film was “remade” as a piece of Cold War intrigue in No Way Out in 1987, in which Soviet agents activate a sleeper agent in the person of Kevin Costner as a Naval officer who fools around with the Secretary of Defense’s mistress (Sean Young) and subsequently becomes enmeshed in the mistress’s murder by the Secretary (Gene Hackman). Apparently all this was planned by the infallible and omniscient Soviets (the Soviet Union would collapse two years later). The film made no sense, nor did it make sense for Harper Collins to republish Fearing’s novel with a picture of Kevin Costner and Sean Young canoodling on the front cover, when inside is Fearing’s novel with no references in it to Soviet sleeper moles or Naval officers, untouched by editor or screenwriter. A reader expecting torrid sex scenes between Costner and Young would be sorely disappointed, if not confused.
I perused the novel in a bookstore the same year it was republished as part of the remake’s promotion, and mentally noted that Kenneth Fearing, his name featured prominently at the bottom of the front cover, died when Hackman was an unpromising actor at the Pasadena Playhouse, and while Costner and Young presumably were in kindergarten having their diapers changed and their hands messy with finger paint. It was like having ordered a Gevalia coffee maker and opened the box to find an hourglass made in China. Deceptive packaging supreme.
But this column is not about citing Hollywood for lascivious solicitation on a public street. It is about the new Emerald City, Washington D.C., the metropolis of OZeroland. I herewith present a précis of my own “remake” of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.
In this version of Oz, Dorothy is anyone who believes that Emerald City is a magical place where every wish can be granted, every desire fulfilled, and where faucets run with milk and honey. Toto in a basket is an optional feature. I’ve left out the dog because any movie that features a cute dog is angling for the sympathy vote.
Dorothy arrives in a town in OZeroand with the odd name of Detroit because her house was swept up in the tornado of the subprime mortgage collapse, and deposited unceremoniously on the Wicked Witch of the Gay/Lesbian Fiscal Magicians Alliance, Barmy Cranks. Grateful Munchkins remove his ruby slippers and present them to Dorothy. The sparkling slippers have no magical powers; they are just nice-looking fashion accessories.
Dorothy is not sure she wants to remain in OZeroland, and asks the Munchkins how she can get home. She is told by the Munchkin spokesman, Karney the Geek, that she will need to ask the Wizard in the capitol, Emerald City. “Just follow the Paper Money Trail…I mean Paper Money Road,” says Carney the Geek as he adjusts his ill-fitting glasses on his nose, “and you can’t miss it.”
Dorothy, in this version, does not encounter The Cowardly Lion, the Scarecrow, and the Tin Man on her way to Emerald City. The Tin Man and the Scarecrow are already there and part of the political establishment. The Cowardly Lion is a rogue predator forbidden to enter the great metropolis. He will be introduced later.
The Wizard, of course, is Barack Obama, an ordinary man smitten with visions of sugar plums and cheeseburgers and fairies who flit about making dreams come true with flicks of their magic wands. The Wizard hides behind a giant fold-out changing screen where he uses an amplifier to sound like James Earl Jones, and changes between his swim trunks, golfing shorts, and suits. He also sneaks in a Marlboro behind the screen because nobody is allowed to look. The screen bears in flashing neon lights the Wizard’s famous “Two Steps Forward, Two Steps Back” emblem, a disc showing serrated rows of red poppies and a rising run.
The Wizard is an elective office. He has been voted Wizard repeatedly by his electorate of Munchkins, the chief residents of Emerald City. The Munchkins vote for him early and often every Election Day, because otherwise they will be rounded up by the Winkies to be carried off by the flying monkeys and dropped into the Tidewater and washed out to sea. The Munchkins know where their bread is buttered – what little bread and butter are covered by their ration cards – so they vote for the Wizard and hold mass Wizard Appreciation Days to show their undying loyalty. Many Munchkins have actually died of that loyalty, but there is a “gentlemunchkin’s agreement” to never discuss such things. It’s not good for morale.
The Scarecrow alternates between being head of the Felonious Reserve Bank system and Secretary of the Treasures Department, and wishes he had a brain, at least one that isn’t made of sawdust. The Tin Man, with whom he shares a sumptuous office, starts up Ma and Pa shops that receive felonious subsidies, or wishes they received felonious subsidies, or could benefit from laws that would protect them from competition so they couldn’t be accused of having accepted felonious subsidies after having failed anyway. The Tin Man regards himself as an entrepreneurial farmer, although an unlucky one, because all the “seed” money vanishes into the earth, coaxed there by nefarious Jinns and poltergeists, strange creatures over which even the Wizard has no power.
The Cowardly Lion wishes for nothing, because it isn’t tame, is an unrepentant meat-eater, and stalks Dorothy on the Paper Money Road on the way to Emerald City, waiting for the right moment to pounce. The Cowardly Lion has been asked by auto unions, the SEIU, the NEA, and the Honorable Society of Sloths to be their king because he can terrify Tea Partiers, gun-owners, wrong-headed patriots, and other recidivist enemies and creatures who roam the Forest of Poppies and despoil it. He will get around to that once he’s had Dorothy for lunch.
All the witches in Emerald City are wicked. The most important one, Mighty Joyoung, is the consort of the Wizard. She urges Munchkins to plant and subsist on organic gardens, although it is rumored among the Munchkins that she gorges herself during secret banquets paid for by the Munchkins, who receive in exchange, to keep them quiet, rations and food credits and extra bonus teaspoons of sugar and spice when the Wicked Consort is in a good mood. Emerald City’s nutrition policy is, “To each according to his appetite, to each according to his stomach size.”
The Wizard Consort often puts on competitions of strength for the amusement of the Munchkins. Once she hefted a three-hundred pound pumpkin and tossed it fifty feet. It landed with an indecorous plump on the person of Manuel Ramses, mayor of Emerald City. Ramses, an ambitious and respected Munchkin, felt offended and left Emerald City to become mayor of Rotgut Town, a metropolis in OZeroland terrorized by the Wicked Witch of Weathermen and the Warlock Ayers. The Munchkins were not so much impressed as made afraid by the Wizard Consort’s display of physical prowess.
There was once a good witch, Glinda, but she was trapped by the Wizard and sold into sex slavery to the King of the Musselmen Empire to the East, with whom OZeroland maintains an uneasy truce. She shares an ornate hall with a bevy of renewable virgins, and little word of her fate reaches the Munchkins, who miss her.
Other witches are at the beck and call of the Wizard. One wicked witch, the Wicked Witch Who Would Be Wizard, dislikes the Wizard and is always plotting to take over Emerald City. Her machinations occupy the pens and quills of the Royal Scriveners of Emerald City’s official newspaper, the Emerald City Blather. The Royal Scriveners, whose managing editor is Munchkin George Stepinfetchit, ceaselessly speculate on this Witch’s plans and intentions without ever reaching a conclusion.
There is the Wicked Witch, Sybil Alias, who oversees Health and Munchkin Services, and disallows all Munchkin ailments but death. She is constantly ringing a golden bell when a Munchkin dies, and to let the Munchkins know that another zinc penny has been saved for the greater good. Sybil Alias employs a panel of cheerleading Munchkins who jump up and down in Emerald City’s Silinsky Square at the sound of the bell, yelling, “Cost Savings! Cost Savings!,” performing extraordinary back-flips and thrilling pyramids.
Another is the Gatekeeper Witch, Jalerie Varlet, known for her nasty temper and sharp tongue. It is rumored that she, too, possesses enormous strength, and arm-wrestles the Wizard over what new policies and decrees he should make. Mantha Sunshine, the Be Happy While You Labor Witch, is the least popular among Munchkins, because even though she is responsible for the morale of her minions, she forces them to work under terrible conditions and at odd hours, even after the sun has gone down and the cows have come home. All the Munchkins smile when she conducts snap inspections because they know what will happen to them if they don’t.
The last most important Witch is Prancy the Ageless, known as the Wicked Witch of the Magic Gavel. She constantly patrols the streets of Emerald City, striking unsuspecting Munchkins on their heads to see what’s in them. She is always smiling because her bright, shiny face has been stretched backwards by her masseuse and pedicurist. In her sanctum is a color photograph of her idol, the Cheshire Cat, a creature from another fairy tale.
The Wizard also commands many Warlocks. A Warlock is a man who wears pants, a heavy Rolex watch, and usually barbered facial hair made stylishly smooth with snake oil, although often Munchkins cannot decide whether the Presence is of the male persuasion or a witch. The Tin Man and the Scarecrow hope to become full-fledged Warlocks and be bestowed with their own magical powers so that the actions they take actually work. There are almost as many Warlocks as there are Munchkins, but, for all the Wizard’s miraculous powers, nothing ever seems to come out right. Warlocks are always forming committees to study why very little works, and this necessary step is a constant distraction from their administrative duties.
The Munchkins would revolt against the Wizard and his unpopular reign, but refrain from even whispered dissension because they know that at the first sign of dissatisfaction, the Wizard would unleash on them his army of carnivorous flying monkeys and other indescribable monsters. Most feared of the Wizard’s forces are the be-goggled battalions of Winkies, formidable in their oyster shell armor plate uniforms and ruthless when ordered to restore order with their deadly black Munchkin swatters, even when there is no disorder.
The Winkies are commanded by the grossly overweight twins, Tweedledee and Tweedledum, foreigners on permanent loan from another fairy tale, who speak in echoes and often finish each other’s sentences in astounding feats of circular logic. At the suggestion of Tweedledee and Tweedledum, the Wizard ordered that Munchkins may not own swatters, because they claim that Munchkins are safer without them. The Munchkins protested, asking how they were to take care of flies and cockroaches. They were told that the Winkies will take care of them, but they never arrive in time.
It is an exploded urban legend in Emerald City that in the dead of night, Tweedledum and Tweedledee steal away Munchkin children to roast over fires and consume them with unseemly chortles and burps, washing down their meals with illegal poppy seed wine. The Warlock of Discredited Urban Legends, Snopes the Snoot, works tirelessly to keep Munchkin minds on the straight and very, very narrow. It was he who, after a great effort, finally convinced the Munchkins that the Winkies did not kidnap a renegade Munchkin in the dead of night because he made an illegal, slanderous movie called “The Innocence of the Wiz.” He proved that no such movie was ever made, thus breaking the rule, to the Munchkins’ universal approbation, that one cannot prove a negative, and that the dastardly Munchkin was hauled in for littering and eight unpaid parking tickets.
The Witches, Warlocks and Wizards do not reside in Emerald City, but in fabulous little towns on the outskirts of the metropolis. These are strange, un-Oz-like named towns called Fairfax, Alexandria, Arundel, Arlington, and Bethesda. The Emerald City Blather reported that these and other small hamlets are rich beyond the average Munchkin’s dreams, in fact, richer than any other town or city in OZeroland, because all the dedicated, selfless, magic-making Witches, Warlocks and Wizards and their staffs and servants, not to mention their friends and advisors, the tenacious Lobbyguiles, ride their swift zephyrs to Emerald City to govern and watch over the populace of Munchkins. Most of the taxes and fees and imposts collected from Munchkins in Emerald City are magically transferred to these legendary towns, allowing their residents to live in unimaginably ostentatious opulence.
Dorothy, still trekking down the Paper Money Road, knows nothing of this. Her sight is fixed on the gleaming, shimmering green towers of Emerald City, which somehow never grows closer no matter how quickly she walks. Should she ever reach Emerald City, she will be in for a jaw-dropping surprise. Her ruby slippers will be confiscated because she never made them. She will learn that the Munchkins there subsist on a diet of rice and old shoes, and that the standard clothing of Munchkins consists of sandwich boards or wooden barrels to preserve their modesty.
Dorothy will quickly discover that she will have a wardrobe problem, aside from the problem of gaining an audience with the fickle Wizard, who is often busy with affairs of state and bribing his caddy to “adjust” his score card. He cheats at golf, not for himself, but for the greater good of OZeroland, so that Munchkins can be proud of a Leader who is excellent in all things.
There’s my “remake” of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. I think it’s doable as a feature film. Don’t you? Perhaps one or two editing passes might be required. Casting should be a piece of cake. Financing, ditto, for a studio could always dip into that $450,000 tax break granted to Hollywood. Salaries and residuals might be a problem, but we could always turn to George Soros to cover cost overruns.