Tuesday, 14 September 2010
The early silent film era (which I would classify as running from 1895-1914) is a grossly neglected era of filmmaking. As this blog has pointed out on a numerous occasions, not only were some of film’s most important technical advances made during these years, but many of the film’s are of outstanding quality and remain relevant to the modern audience. However, as with any era, there are bound to be some poorly made films.
The first surviving cinematic adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s 1900 novel is perhaps the weakest film that we have observed on the Film: Ab Initio list so far. Given the great strides that filmmaking has made in 1909 and 1910, with films shifting from novel ‘trick’ films to tackling more complex and ambitious stories, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz looks and feels as though the film is at least five years older. Even if a better print of this was available, it would still look slightly primitive.
In fact, one of the main set pieces of the film, the wizard’ court, looks quite similar to the astronomer’s room in Melies’ 1902 film La Voyage Dans La Lune. Rather than paying homage to the earlier film, this scene only highlights how outdated this film seems.
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1910)
La Voyage Dans La Lune (1902)
And although the film manages to incorporate a number of impressive sets, the overtly simple cinematography makes the film seem theatrical rather than cinematic. Given some of the brilliant camerawork that we have seen in films such as Afgrunden and La fée des grèves, the Wonderful Wizard of Oz cannot claim that such techniques were not possible in 1910.
Yet there does appear to be a significant gap between the quality of the films being produced in Europe and the U.S.A. in 1910. As was mentioned in a previous post, it is important to remember that up until 1914, France was the dominant force in global filmmaking.
The 1910 version of the Wonderful Wizard of Oz was loosely based on a popular 1903 stage musical adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s novel. This is why several sections of the film involved choreographed dancing; however, much of the dancing onscreen seems amateurish and unnecessarily acrobatic. As with the musical, a new character is added to the cast, Imogene the cow. In the musical Imogene replaces Toto, in the film though, they both make an appearance.
The one scene which stands out in this film is where the characters are not the focal point of a scene; it is when a cyclone hits Kansas and transports Dorothy to Oz. The rolling clouds steal the scene, and for a brief moment, the film’s set does not feel clustered or claustrophobic.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of this film is the speed with which it manages cover a great degree of the novel’s plotting. As with the earlier literary adaptations of Alice in Wonderland and Ben Hur, this film adopts an episodic approach to its source material in order to allow the film to focus on several key scenes from the text.
I have not mentioned the film’s plotting or any character in any detail, because neither stood out. The 1910 version of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is a messy piece of film making which seems out of place when compared to the other films we have looked at from the previous few years.