We need more directors willing to take risks with films like Get Out.
Magical tornadoes can strike down anywhere, I guess, and spin you off to the land of Oz. On that wonderfully logical premise, the classic “Wizard of Oz” was transformed into a Broadway musical named “The Wiz,” and then the most expensive movie musical ever made. Is the movie a match for the 1939 Judy Garland version? Well, no, it's not (what movie could be?) but as a new approach to the same material, it's slick and energetic and fun.
“The Wiz,” directed by Sidney Lumet, is set in present-day New York City, and finds its locations in fanciful sets suggesting Harlem, Coney Island, school playgrounds, the subway system, and a sweatshop. Our heroine, Dorothy, has been transformed from a Kansas teen-ager to a twenty-four-year-old black schoolteacher. And Diana Ross wears the same simple white frock for the entire film and projects a wide-eyed innocence that kind of grows on you.
Some churlish souls suggested, however, that “The Wiz” strains our credibility too much. That a twenty-four-year-old schoolteacher should be too sophisticated to consort with cowardly lions and scarecrows and men made out of tin. Pay no attention: Critics like that wouldn't know a yellow brick road if they saw one.
The Wiz asks for our suspension of disbelief and earns it (after a slow start) in that great shot of Dorothy and the Scarecrow dancing across a yellow brick bridge toward the towers of Manhattan. Up until then the going has been a little awkward. We don't really understand why Dorothy's such a mope at her aunt's dinner party, and, after she and her dog Toto are whirled away by a snowstorm, the scene in the playground really drags. Lots of graffiti people, drawn on the walls, come to life and dance about like a Broadway chorus line (which, of course, they are), and then Dorothy finally finds her first yellow brick.