February 19, 2015


Legendary Writer/Director screens Return to Oz

An evil queen who removes her head and keeps it in a cupboard. Minions with wheels for feet. An evil gnome king attempting to assume a physical form. A sassy talking rooster. These are the things that cult movies are made of. Return to Oz, the 1985 film depicting Dorothy Gale’s return to the land over the rainbow is one of the most beloved and bizarre film sequels in cinematic history and the USC School of Cinematic Arts hosted co-writer/director Walter Murch and producer Walter Maslansky on February 13th as part of the Movies We Love series.

Alex Ago, Walter Murch and Walter Maslansky

“The first book,Wizard of Oz, was a huge hit. It was the Harry Potter of its day,” said Murch. “It spawned a musical, a broadway play and dolls. It was a total surprise to the author. He had only written one other – very modest – book. A nerve was struck. There was a tsunami of people telling him to write a sequel. That was Ozma of Oz, which didn’t include Dorothy. He then wrote Land of Oz which is Dorothy coming back. We combined those for the film. [The film] was a hybrid of those things. We shuffled them together in a way that made sense.”

Movies We Love is a series of screenings held at the USC School of Cinematic Arts where filmmakers screen films that were formative to their development as filmmakers and followed by question and answer sessions with USC students.

Walter Murch worked on films including THX-1138, The Conversation, The Godfather (I, II, III), Julia, Apocalypse Now, The English Patient, Cold Mountain and Jarhead, as well as writing and directing Return to Oz.

Maslansky produced the first Italo-Soviet co-production, Mikhail Kalatozov The Red Tent (1971), and the first joint US-USSR film venture, George Cukor's The Blue Bird (1976). Having produced 35 films, audiences are probably most aware of his extremely successful Police Academy franchise which has spawned six sequels and two TV versions. 

Murch responded to questions about the bizarre sequence at the beginning of Return to Oz which shows Dorothy Gale going through electro-shock therapy, which was not featured in either book.

“The [Electro-therapy] machine was a real machine. That kind of therapy isn’t electro-shock in the way we think about it,” said Murch “It runs a slightly higher voltage than the body has. In a sense, it combs out the nerves. The strange thing  is that, last week, in Scientific American, the old electro therapy theory is coming back. It was to plant the real story in the real Kansas in the real time period. What would happen after a nine year old Dorothy when their house is destroyed by a tornado? She would probably be sent for electro therapy. That’s what we were going for.”

The question and answer session delved into the hardships of making a dark film intended for a children’s audience, the difficulties of working with a studio during a regime change (Eisner entering Disney) and the difficulty of changing the overall presentation of iconic figures such as the Tin Woodsman and the Cowardly Lion.

The Q and A was moderated by Director of Programming Alex Ago in Norris Cinema Theatre.