Frank L Baum’s Oz stories have been a perennial favourite ever since the publication of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz in 1900, and the popularity of Oz shows no sign of abating. Not only is Steven Schwartz’s revisionist musical adaptation Wicked still drawing huge numbers, but Spider-man director Sam Raimi is soon to unleash his own vision, Oz the Great and Powerful, which will hit IMAX cinemas in March.
While everyone might be familiar with the Judy Garland film, not all will be familiar with the plethora of other adaptations that have hit the big screen since the book’s publication. From 1-14 March, BFI Southbank will dedicate a season of programming to those lesser-known films based on Baum’s work. These include early adaptations The Patchwork Girl of Oz, which was produced by the Oz Film Manufacturing Company, one of the earliest film studios in Los Angeles and co-founded by Baum himself, and comedian Larry Sermon's pantomimic version starring a young Oliver Hardy as the Tin Woodman.
Of course, no Oz season would be complete without a screening of the classic 1939 musical, which will also be showing. It’s no surprise that with a story so beloved, the BFI will be devoting a considerable amount of programming to examining the its enduring appeal. This includes a discussion event, The Radical Land of Oz, and the BBC’s 1994 documentary, In Search of Oz, which features contributions from Salman Rushdie and Gore Vidal. On the other end of the spectrum is the riotous The Wiz, the 1978 musical starring Diana Ross as Dorothy and Michael Jackson as a fleet-footed Scarecrow. The only missing link here is Disney’s curio of a sequel, Return to Oz, but otherwise this is a comprehensive, fascinating look at the numerous adaptations over the years, and why they continue to resonate.
The Returning to Oz Season will run from 1-14 March at the BFI Southbank. Tickets cost between £6.75 and £10 and can be purchased from the official website.