In honor of Michael Jackson today, a tour through the New York City of The Wiz.
Released in 1978, The Wiz presents a frightening, fantastic, post-apocalyptic vision of New York City. It was filmed in Astoria Studios and on location--but many of those locales have vanished.
From a cozy apartment in Harlem (where she's "never been south of 125th St."), Dorothy (Diana Ross) travels to Oz, landing at the New York State Pavilion in Queens' Flushing Meadows Park, where munchkins were turned into graffiti by the Wicked Witch of the East, aka the City Parks Commissioner.
New York Magazine
Traveling through a landscape of urban decay, she finds Michael Jackson as the Scarecrow in a junkyard garden. Wikipedia writes, "Michael Jackson's performance as the Scarecrow was one of the only positively reviewed elements of the film, with critics noting that Jackson possessed 'genuine acting talent' and 'provided the only genuinely memorable moments.' In 1980, Jackson stated that his time working on The Wiz was 'my greatest experience so far...I'll never forget that.'"
The Scarecrow in crucifixion pose
After Michael's song and dance number, they ease on down the road, past mountains of uncollected garbage, and along the tracks of Coney Island's Cyclone. The amusement park around it has gone "el foldo," closed down, says the Tin Man presciently. Next, they pick up the Cowardly Lion, who busts out of a stone lion at a replica Public Library built inside Astoria Studios.
The yellow-brick road takes them through a danger-filled Hoyt-Schermerhorn subway station and Times Square's 8th Ave., where Spandex-clad hookers drug them with poppy dust. Thus doped, they nod out on a tenement rooftop.
The Caprice and Eros I theaters, both vanished
Revived, our heroes glimpse the Emerald City of Lower Manhattan and ease on across the Brooklyn Bridge for a massive dance number in the courtyard of the World Trade Center.
There, the Wiz sends them off to kill the Wicked Witch of the West, who runs a sweatshop down in the sewer system. After the flying monkeys, a gang of bikers, chases them through Shea Stadium, they of course manage to melt the witch and save the day.
World Trade Center/Emerald City
As is well known, Michael Jackson was most happy in his fantasy lands--and the New York of The Wiz is pure fantasy. The city that inspired it is gone. Michael Jackson is gone. Roger Ebert wrote yesterday, on the occasion of Jackson's sudden death, "Oz was where he wanted to live. [Scarecrow] was his most truly autobiographical role. He could understand a character who felt stuffed with straw."
At the end of the film, Michael as the Scarecrow says, "Success, fame, fortune--they're all illusions." Nothing matters, he says, but the love you have in your life. As we saw last night in spontaneous gatherings all across the city, he was loved by many.
The Wiz cast