20th Century Oz (Chris Löfvén, 1976, Australia)
Teenage groupie Dorothy (Joy Dunstan) is living in the land down under where she and her pal Jane (Paula Maxwell) spend Friday evenings at the local youth center catching unknown musical groups like Wally and the Falcons. Hitching a ride from the band, things go awry when their van goes in a ditch, sending Dorothy over the rainbow and into a dream realm inspired by L. Frank Baum. A play on the nickname for Australia, 20th Century Oz follows the blueprint laid out by the Victor Fleming film of 1939 with a few updates appropriate to Australia in the 1970s.
And, oh, what happens then. This is rich. Instead of traipsing down the Yellow Brick Road, Dorothy hitches a ride with a dull-witted surfer named Blondie (perennial Aussie star Bruce Spence) before meeting mechanic Greasie (Michael Carman) and cowardly motorcyclist Killer the Bikie (Garry Waddell). The trio of familiar faces (all members of The Falcons) helps Dorothy on her quest to see The Wizard (Graham Matters), an androgynous glam rocker who’s playing his farewell show that night. The group isn’t completely altruistic, however, as the heartless Greasie keeps trying to get in Dorothy’s pants.
Oz is only a musical in the sense that the soundtrack impedes on the action whenever there’s a driving scene. There are no “Over the Rainbow” ballads here. The main refrain is Ross Wilson’s “Livin’ in the Land of Oz,” a strange little ditty about the colonization of Australia which recounts the slaughter of Aborigines. The most toe-tapping song about genocide to be sure, but nothing that Mandy Patankin would ever want to cover.
There are quite a number of jokes and references that succeed in Löfvén’s film. Matters plays more than just The Wizard and Wally — like Frank Morgan, he also appears in several smaller roles including the doorman who denies Dorothy entry to see The Wizard. (He consents with the implied promise of some fellatio after the show). Meanwhile, the good witch Glinda finds new life as Glin (Robin Ramsay), a good “fairy” who shows up repeatedly to help Dorothy on her road trip. However, the film doesn’t go far enough in its transposition of Baum’s tale, its biggest fault being the lack of a compelling villain. Seen only for an instant as a bouncer yelling at Dorothy, in her dreamworld Truckie (Ned Kelly) just drives around in a lorry, menacingly of course. Still, 20th Century Oz remains an interesting, albeit flawed, experiment. — Mike White
[tags]20th Century Oz, Wizard of Oz, Glinda, Dorothy, Joy Dunstan[/tags]