Sunday, January 8, 2017

The Wizard of Oz, Alphabetized--Yes, Really

I just discovered something truly amazing. It’s a remix/scrambling of the classic 1939 film version of The Wizard of Oz, so that every single word of dialogue and song is arranged alphabetically. Yes, it sounds weird, and it is. But it’s also incredibly wonderful (one of the re-occurring words in the film). And beautiful. And utterly fascinating.

The project (entitled of Oz The Wizard—the title, alphabetized) was the brainchild and creation of Matt Bucy, probably best known as co-producer and cinematographer of the fan fiction series, Star Trek Continues. (You can read about Matt and his Oz project, as well as watch the amazing film, here.)

The other night, Robin, my sister Laura (who told us about the project), and I sat down after dinner to view the movie, thinking we’d check it out for ten or fifteen minutes, be somewhat amused, and then switch to Mozart in the Jungle. But no. We were mesmerized and ended up watching until the very end. (Oddly, we all thought the movie seemed shorter in this rearranged version, even though they are, of course, the exact same length.)

The most obvious effect of the alphabetization is to highlight the specific words used in the screenplay and lyrics. And, not surprisingly, the first one to appear—“a”—appears a whole lot. As do “the,” “you,” “of,” and any number of pronouns, articles, and prepositions. But these also flash by quickly, as they are throwaway words in the dialogue. It’s the other words, which the actors draw out and give emphasis to, that are more interesting.

As a writer, I was fascinated by the way this project showcases language and syntax—for instance, the frequency of certain words is made obvious by their being grouped together. Take the word “just.” Now, we writers are continually told to limit our use of this word, but as I watched of Oz The Wizard, it became clear that “just” occurs many, many times in the film. Yet it’s never jumped out at me when watching the movie in its original format. This is because that’s the way folks speak; we use the word all the time. So maybe it is okay not to get too stressed about using “just” in my own books (especially in dialogue).

In addition, certain colorful words that appear only once—generally spoken by either the Wizard or the Cowardly Lion—stand out ever so much more in this version of the film, isolated as they are, and made the three of us howl with glee. (The last word of the film, uttered by the Lion, was especially fun. But I won’t give it away here, other than to tell you it begins with a Z.)

And then there are the repeated words from the songs: “somewhere,” “wizard,” “Oz,” “follow,” “yellow,” “road,” “dead,” you get the idea. When spliced so they appear all together in quick succession, they end up creating their own new little songs, which are wonderfully melodic. (The “dead” song was particularly chipper, which we found amusing.)

Oh, and the way the editor, Bucy, groups the sounds (arf!, ahhh, sigh, ai!) is good fun, as well. (I love, love, the Toto scenes all strung together.)

In addition, watching the film cut up in this strange, new way, I found myself drawn to artistic and technical aspects of the film I’d never really noticed before: the beautifully rendered woods in the background during the snow scene; the shape and color of the walls and towers surrounding the City of Oz.

Finally, because you are seeing each different word chronologically each time it appears in the film, you are, in effect, watching mini versions of the entire story over and over again, especially with words that occur many times. Yet each mini version gives a slightly different narrative—kind of like a G-rated Rashomon in Technicolor.

I don’t believe this concept would have worked with any other movie. The Wizard of Oz is so ingrained in our collective consciousness that most Americans (of a certain age, at least) have the script virtually memorized. So, for example, when the frame of the Tin Man saying “heart” flashes by, we know immediately where it belongs in the whole and why it’s important.

It’s funny, but watching of Oz The Wizard in a way gave deeper meaning to the original film. By providing an entirely new way of seeing it, the project made me think about the movie in an entirely new way. But I guess that’s what good art is all about.

So thank you Matt Bucy, for this truly original and mind-opening project!