Preserving Oz — its legacy is great and powerful

Posted by on Mar 15 2013 | Motion Pictures

With Disney’s Oz the Great and Powerful taking the box-office lead upon opening last weekend, we have proof once again that the “Oz” legacy remains great and powerful.  From a story written in 1900, the words of author L. Frank Baum have leapt from the pages onto the stage, from small theaters to Broadway, and to the silver screen, including the MGM film of 1939 — which has been seen worldwide more than any other film ever made — and also the earliest surviving film version of the tale, dated 1910.

In the case of the two classic film versions, they are preserved at George Eastman House, and have been for decades — the only original print of the 1910 version and the original camera negatives from the Judy Garland fave, The Wizard of Oz.

Going down the yellow brick rick in the 1939 MGM classic The Wizard of Oz© Warner Bros.

Going down the yellow brick rick in the 1939 MGM classic The Wizard of Oz© Warner Bros.

The 13-minute early screen version was influenced by a stage musical directed by Baum himself and features young Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tinman, Lion, Toto, and a glamorous good witch and a scary bad witch … plus random characters like a costumed cow and dancing girls. The early film’s influence on the Technicolor classic created three decades later are detectable, from scary-faced trees to the Scarecrow’s costuming and mannerisms.

The cultural significance of the “Oz” films is obvious, but the importance of the preservation may not be so obvious. The 1910 silent film is the only existing copy in the world and its proper archiving and inspection has allowed for it to be stable enough to be digitized and shared — 103 years later — and also for the original film to be around for generations to come.

Young Bebe Daniels as Dorothy meets the Scarecrow for the first time in the 1910 silent film The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

Young Bebe Daniels as Dorothy meets the Scarecrow for the first time in the 1910 silent film The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

In the case of MGM’s The Wizard of Oz, the camera negatives at Eastman House have been the original source material for every print, every video, every DVD, and every Blu-ray copy ever made. To make the 70th anniversary Blu-ray in 2009, Warner Bros Studio borrowed the 1939 negatives to create high-res scan, because the original film material is still the best source from which to garner the highest quality imaging and sound.

The studio did not use, mind you, the previous digital copy made a few years back, but the well-preserved YCM negatives (separate reels for yellow, cyane, and magenta, as these colors were layered to create the color-separations for the Technicolor classic).
These negatives were the actual film in the camera when the movie was shot, just feet away from Judy Garland, as she declared “There’s no place like home.” And Eastman House is proud to be the home for her on-screen persona for many, many years to come. Click, Click.

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