Friday, June 26, 2009

The Wiz

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.

Michael Jackson

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


EV Grieve said...

Excellent essay. I haven't seen the film since it was in the theaters. This makes me want to see it again.

Melanie said...

Very nice tribute--he was great-truly a legend.
RIP Michael.

Barbara L. Hanson said...

Et tu, Jeremiah?

Laura Goggin Photography said...

Thanks for this, Jeremiah.

I was walking up 1st Ave yesterday afternoon and heard the news being exclaimed on cell phones and in delis all the way up to 14th St. Surreal and sad.

lvv said...

beautiful, Jeremiah, thank you.

RIP Michael

Anonymous said...

Great piece. I'll have to check this movie out now. Maybe the sunshine will do one of those special midnight screenings.

Anonymous said...

Michael was the best thing in this movie. I watched it recently, and it is a horrible movie. Diana Ross was absolutely awful. It is nearly unwatchable.

Jeremiah Moss said...

thanks. my 12-year-old self, glitter glove and all, is grieving.

and, yes, the Wiz is quite awful. but interesting in how it shows a city that no longer exists--it is very "New York" of a certain time.

Mr. Minerva said...

Despite Dorothy being said to live in Harlem and having never been south of 125th St, when she first lands in Oz, she asks, "But where's my home? Where's Aunt Em? Where's New York?", then "433 Prospect Place". An address in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Interestingly, 433 Prospect Place is currently for sale.

dirtygirl said...

okay, as a tour of old NY, the wiz has something to it, but otherwise? not so much

and MJ - people are throwing themselves on the pyre like he was JFK or John Lennon. He was an entertainer. Not a peace maker or a saint. He was a pedophile and a threat to his own children's emotional stablity. Has everyone forgotten the dangling the baby off the balcony incident.

I'm not happy he's dead, but really, more than a few someone's gotta die every day. When it's your turn it's your turn. Let's save our grieving for someone who really had an effect on the world. Mother Teresa mayhaps? Or even a gentle soul like Mr. Rogers....

gena said...

Michael also filmed his Bad video at that same Hoyt station.

Libby said...

The Wiz is one of my all time favourite movies. I LOVE IT!!!! The soundtrack is soooo underated where I think Quincy outdid himself and this was all overlooked!! I'll miss MJ be4cause he healed us with his wonderful music and lyics. He was never convicted dirty girl so hold your mouth because there is a thing called innocent till proven guilty and that is it right there!

Anonymous said...

Comon, The Wiz, a bad movie? its a musical and Dianna Ross did a great job...I mean, she can actually, well...sing the actual songs. It told a story and without some billion dollar George Lucas budget, I thought it did it quite well. I get the whole opinion thing however I sure would love to know the details behind the previous posts indicating the Wiz was a bad movie. Back that one up with details please.