Oz

  • aka Oz A Rock 'n' Roll Road Movie (video)
  • aka 20th Century Oz (USA)

Oz (aka a 'rock 'n roll movie) uses the same narrative structure as The Wizard of Oz, derived from L. Frank Baum's novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, but has its own distinct Australian elements, including Australian slang, Australian pop music, and a road movie view of 1970s Australiana. 

In this down under version, Dorothy (Joy Dunstan) is a sixteen year old groupie riding along with a rock band, Wally and the Falcons (Graham Matters is Wally), when the van is in a road accident, she hits her head, and wakes up in a fantasy world, dreaming that she hitchhikes to the city ...

Though she's pursued by a truckie with evil intent (Ned Kelly), she's helped by a gay clothier called the Good Fairy (Robin Ramsay), who gives her a pair of red shoes so she can catch the last concert of androgynous rock performer The Wizard (also Graham Matters doing a riff on David Bowie).

Along the way she meets a Straw Man aka Blondie (Bruce Spence), this time turned into a dumb, vague and gentle surfer; a Tin Man aka Greaseball (Michael Carman), who turns out to be a country car mechanic, and a Lion aka Killer (Gary Waddell), a timid and self-pitying bikie dressed in dangerous-looking black leather gear …

At the end of the movie, Dorothy clicks her heels three times and chants "Fame and fortune fuck you up, fame and fortune fuck you up …"  though not in the TV safe version ...


Writers:
Exec producers:
DOPs:
Production Designers:
Art Directors:
Composers:
Editors:

Production Details

Production company: Count Features Inc.

Budget: A$150,000, joint investment by Australian Film Commission and Greater Union. According to producer/director Löfvén, the AFC - which had taken over from the AFDC - agreed to put up 60% of the budget, and Greater Union/BEF came in with most of the rest of the money around Christmas 1975. The AFC gave the film-makers a personal loan of $25,000 to complete the budget. This was a relatively low budget relative to the film's ambitions - it was about the same as John Duigan's The Trespassers, a much more talky piece about personal relationships, rather than a musical road movie.

Locations: rural Victoria, Melbourne and suburbs, Myer Music Bowl, St. Kilda Palais, etc

Filmed: early 1976 (pre -January, shoot February-March, high summer), five week schedule. There was a week's rehearsals. The shoot was organised basically to follow script order.

Australian distributor: Greater Union

Australian release:   world premiere, 29th July, theatrical release Friday 30th July 1976, Chelsea Cinema Melbourne

Rating: M

35mm     Eastmancolor

Running time: 103 mins (Oxford Australian Film)

DVD time: 1'40"06 (including 1'50" end music overhang)

Box office: poor. Having been made in Victoria, the producers decided on a Melbourne premiere, but it foreshadowed a poor result in other markets: the film ran for a six week season, and then toured Victorian country and drive-in theatres, delivering "unspectacular" figures (Oxford Australian Film). ("a modest release" - Chris Löfvén - "we had no power").

Releasing the LP and 45 after the film also guaranteed there'd be no spin-off box office benefit from the music. 

The producer claimed a five figure sale to a US distributor, Interplanetary Pictures, but despite a recut, the show failed to break wide in the United States.

"It did quite modest business in the States" - Chris Löfvén - and a catastrophic snow storm also upset plans for the New York release, which was cancelled. Löfvén does however claim that the film got on the late night cult circuit in the USA, often being booked with The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

The film is not listed in the Film Victoria's report on Australian Box Office.

According to composer Ross Wilson, the poor timing of the various releases also affected the music. The LP sold "reasonably well", and the single, Living in the Land of Oz, got on the charts, but wasn't really big - nor was the other single Beating Around the Bush, performed by Jo Jo Zep.

 

Opinion

Awards

Oz was nominated in six categories in the 1977 Australian AFI Awards, but left empty handed:

Nominated, Best Achievement in Directing sponsored by Village Theatres (Chris Löfvén) (Bruce Beresford won for Don's Party)

Nominated, Best Achievement in Editing (Les Luxford) (William Anderson won for Don's Party)

Nominated, Best Achievement in Sound Editing (Les Luxford) (William Anderson won for Don's Party)

Nominated, Best Original Music Score (Ross Wilson) (Peter Best won for The Picture Show Man)

Nominated, Best Achievement in Art Direction (Robbie Perkins) (David Copping won for The Picture Show Man)

Nominated, Best Achievement in Costume Design (Robbie Perkins) (Judith Dorsman won for The Picture Show Man)

 

 

Availability

The film has been released on DVD in region four by Umbrella, with a handy set of extras, including:

  • an introduction to the feature by director Chris Löfvén;
  • a 2004 'making of' by Mark 'Not Quite Hollywood' Hartley running 24'50" and titled "Follow the Yellow Rock Road"Interview Featurette;
  • an alternate opening credit sequence for the United States version;
  • three radio spots - two for Australia, one for the United States;
  • the theatrical trailer, worth a look;
  • a stills and poster gallery;
  • and a couple of director Löfvén's period evocative arty shorts (part one 806 Chris and Lynne and Friends, running 34'04" and part two: the beginning, running 9'45", featuring a nudie hippie Adam and Eve).

The extras also include Löfvén's pioneering music videos for  Daddy Cool's Eagle Rock and Spectrum's I'll Be Gone.

The ASO has three clips from the show here, but the determined Ozmovie cultist knows there's no point dilly dallying when a Dorothy hits the road down under, especially when it's still possible to ferret out the Umbrella release. While it doesn't seem to be in the current catalogue, it can still be found in the second hand market.

It's a good package celebrating a long neglected film, an interesting part of the 1970s revival in that it addressed a youth audience via pop music and a referential plot which documents the Oz musical scene and the then rapidly changing youth landscape.

The film has its flaws, but it has many balancing charms for anyone interested in a tour through the land of flares down under, where Kombis run off the road, and rock 'n roll thunders ... and the fashions blunder ...

1. Source:

The film used the same storyline, updated to the Australian rock musical scene, as The Wizard of Oz, based on The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, published in May 1900 by the George M. Hill Company - though in the DVD commentary Löfvén is careful to avoid any suggestion that his own re-imagining might involve rights issues.

(Below: the source text for the idea)

Chris Löfvén received some script advice from writer David Williamson (there is a 'thank you' to Williamson in the credits).

Williamson had married Löfvén's sister, Kristin. According to Löfvén, it happened this way:

… Lyne and I went to London in 1971 hoping to break into feature films. At that time, things were slowly happening for filmmakers in Australia but things were getting worse for film-makers in Britain. We stayed in London for three and a half years and I worked as an assistant editor for some time. I also did a lot of freelance editing for BBC Television, with Lyne as assistant.

We produced a 36 minute film about youth in London, but it wasn't the picture we had hoped to make and our chances looked slim. Then, Kris and David Williamson stayed with us while The Removalists was playing in London and they pointed out that we would have a much better chance of getting a feature off the ground in Australia. However, I didn't want to go back without a script, or at least a basic idea. I decided that it must be a rock and roll movie and that it must be relevant to Australia. David Bowie was big in London at this time and I thought it would be interesting to have a Bowie-like central figure. I wanted to use Graham Matters as that rock star because I'd been aware of his talent ever since we played together in a rock band.

There was a theory floating around that all the best movie stories had been done and that everything was merely an old story told in a different way. My favourite old movie was The Wizard of Oz, so I thought that might make a good basis for an Australian rock and roll movie.

We returned to Australia and went bush where I wrote the script. The first draft was submitted to the Film, Radio and Television Board but was rejected. I wrote a second draft and submitted it to the Australian Film Development Corporation and eventually received some script development money to develop the final draft. That was around about March of last year. (Cinema Papers interview, June-July 1976).

Director Löfvén had been a prolific prize-winning teenage film-maker in the nineteen sixties. His shorts, a 34'04" version of Part One 806 (a free flowing set of images, a 'diary' of life and friends in Melbourne) and its follow up Part 2: The Beginning  (9'45") are included on the DVD release, as are a couple of his pioneering music videos. 

2. Production:

When Löfvén  returned from England, he continued his close involvement in rock music - he had been a bass player in a Melbourne band for some time - as well as filming music videos for well known Australian bands, such as Daddy Cool.

Löfvén worked with Ross Wilson (then post Daddy Cool, and by the time of the film's release, producer of The Skyhooks' records) to prepare the pop and rock laden soundtrack, with the aim of appealing to the 16-25 demographic, which Löfvén thought had been neglected by the period films then doing the rounds.

Joy Dunstan was working at the Flying Trapeze Cafe doing a musical comedy act when director Löfvén approached to her star in the film.

We usually had people come up after the show and say they were from advertising agencies and how they could do great things for us. So when Chris approached me and said, "I want to put you in the movies", I said "Oh yeah". It was kind of a new approach, though …

Dunstan had only worked on the music for John Duigan's The Firm Man and done some acting at La Mama, an experimental Carlton, Melbourne theatre. Her main aim had been to become a singer.

There was talk of her appearing in another Löfvén vehicle, but it never happened, and so Dunstan became a one hit wonder in terms of being a lead actress in a feature film.

Gary Waddell was another Australian Performing Group/La Mama graduate, which led to Bert Deling's Pure Shit, and Löfvén withdrew an offer to another actor to give Waddell the role. 

It was the first time Löfvén had directed actors:

With my other films, which I also photographed and edited, I wasn't really conscious of the actors' performances. Nor was I used to having someone else doing these jobs. This was hard to get accustomed to, though I am obviously still controlling the film from the point of view of photography and editing.

I think the week of rehearsal was invaluable for me and the actors as it gave us a chance to talk and find out about each other.

… I look at films in terms of the overall film, but more than anything else from a visual point of view. I had a very strict conception of how Oz should be made and this didn't allow the actors very much freedom, which I think made the actors feel resentful at times. However, this is probably inevitable when you have got a film-maker making a film rather than, say, a director who is working from somebody else's script. You know exactly what you want and the actors have to become more or less your puppets, which, though it is not good for actors, is very rewarding from my point of view … (Cinema Papers interview, June-July 1976).

The actor who plays the truckie in pursuit of Dorothy is the nicely named Ned Kelly, who was at that time a road manager for AC/DC, and who shows the acting skills that might be expected of an outlaw.

The result is a film which for all its flaws as a drama, targets the zeitgeist of Australian rock and roll in the seventies. The climactic farewell concert for the Wizard was shot at the Myer Music Bowl, as part of an actual concert which featured assorted acts, including the unlikely pairing of AC/DC and The Little River Band.

Löfvén deliberately employed a young crew trained in television, commercials and video clips, and relied heavily on youth culture in the film, featuring groupies, surfies, motorbikes, Holdens, clothing boutiques, leather gear, eccentric clothing and make-up and all the other accoutrements associated with what became known as the Countdown era - though his portrait of the Good Fairy would now be considered dated, and unaware of trends then emerginging in the gay community. 

Löfvén employed Dan Burstall as DOP because it would be his first feature in that role, and he expected Burtsall would be more involved and make more suggestions:

I wanted the film to have a very naturalistic style and I talked to Dan Burstall about this. We didn't want the film to look like a movie, but rather like a natural experience. I was delighted by the effect that Dan got in his photography - nothing was over-lit, it was as low-key and natural as it could have possibly been.

I thought it was very important to use a young cameraman who hand't gone through the mill, one who hadn't done a picture but who really wanted to do one. He could then put a lot into it ... (Cinema Papers interview, June-July 1976).

Editor Lex Luxford, very experienced in television commercials, fine cut the show in the European style as the shoot progressed, and because of budgetary pressures cut it on an old-fashioned Moviola machine rather than a flat bed.

Larry Wyner of Wyner Opticals provided advice and assistance on the opticals used in the film, which - for the climactic musical number - was influenced by the new world of video clips, and which - for Australia at the time - were novel elements in a feature film.

3. Release:

The target demographic was 16 to 24 year olds, and as Löfvén noted, Every other film (in the revival) has catered for a much older or a much younger audience, and this is the first one in Australia to cater for this age group.

However mistakes were made. Löfvén was impressed by the work of Peter Ledger for the bikie movie Stone, but when he saw the art work for Oz, it was a fantasy, dream-like drug induced thing which he thought didn't really convey what the film was on about (Ledger only had stills to work with, and his artwork reflected more what he was into at the time than the movie itself). Löfvén thinks the US artwork was closer to the film's intent.

The film didn't perform well in its initial limited Australian release, and then disappeared from view for many years.

The film's release in the United States by Interplanetary Pictures under the title 20th Century Oz, was shortened by 15 minutes, and with the music re-mixed into four-track stereo sound, with a new "Indian" orientated version of the lyrics for Ross Wilson song Living in the Land of Oz. This release also had its difficulties, but the film did become something of a cult item.

4. Music:

The soundtrack features a variety of artists, including then trendy Melbourne act Jo Jo Zep and the Falcons.

A few political points were embedded in Ross Wilson's music, as he explained in an interview for Cinema Papers, June-July 1976:

The lyrics to the song Living in the Land of Oz, for example, are to do with bringing migrants into this country, yet only a few years ago we were killing all the blacks. If you want to be a migrant, you usually have to be a white - they took a lot of trouble killing off the blacks and they don't want to do that all over again. There is a part in the film where Dorothy is wandering around the city and there are migrants hanging out of their slum doors. Yet, here we are in the wonderful land of Oz.

So, the music is trying to point out a few things like that - it is not just pure fantasy.

The music wasn't scored to the visuals, so much as a lot of songs were composed and/or assembled (in the style of American Graffiti) and the relevant bits were cut up against the image. 

Wilson didn't conceive of himself as an underscore composer in the Bruce Smeaton style: I'm not that much of an accomplished musician, I'm just a song-writer come rock and roller. I know how to make rock records and that is what I'm doing here.

The Wizard's climactic performance was filmed at the Myer Music Bowl in-between acts of a concert featuring AC/DC and others, with an audience estimated by Ross Wilson to be around the 8,000 mark (according to Wilson, the Akker Dakker fans took a view about the Bowie-like Oz ponces who appeared on stage).

The actors on stage mimed to the music which was pumped through a P.A. to the audience.

Footage was shot of the audience clapping and holding up signs that they'd been given. The song Lovfen had wanted to use was Wild Thing, but the publishing rights were too expensive. According to Wilson: They were fucking around for so long that we never got a final price.

As a result, a song by the Missing Links, a mid-1960s Australian group, was chosen.

The album for the show was mixed in the United States, where Wilson was also working on the next Skyhooks album.

The lyrics for the song Living in the Land of Oz reflect the film's interest in issues then becoming fashionable. The lyrics below are as per the song running over the end credits and then over black until the song finishes, in the Australian cut (for more details regarding the music for the film, see the full music credits pdf):

Oh well, I'm living in the land of Oz

I'm living here because

My folks lived here, yeah they brung me up

And their folks lived here too.

Yes, and their folks and my folks know

They came from far away

They made a stand and they grabbed some land

And they settled down to stay

Now we're all living in the land of Oz

Living in the land of Oz

Out there we're living in the land of Oz

Uh huh, we got to change yeah

Because one hundred and fifty years ago

Black men lived in peace and the land was still

Now a city of millions covers the soil

The blacks have all been killed

Ah well, I don't know how it happened

But it happened just the same

Now the whites are rich and the blacks are dead

And nobody seems ashamed

And we're still, living in the land of Oz

Living in the land of Oz

Yeah, we're living in the land of Oz

Uh huh, you've gotta say I've dreamed it 

(guitar break)

Ah well, the government of this wonderful land

They sent men all around the world

To tell everybody about the perfect place

To raise their boys and girls

Well, if you're white you can come all right

But if you're black you'd better get back

Because they took a lot of trouble just to kill 'em all off

Don't wanna to have to do it again

Keep on hanging on, living in the land of Oz

Yeah, we're living in the land of Oz

Yeah, yeah, we're all living in the land of Oz

Yeah, we got to dig it up, change it 

Ah, living in the land of Oz

Ah, ah, living in the land of Oz

Yeah, yeah, we're living in the land of Oz

Ah, we got to change it up now

Living in the land of Oz

You and me, we're living in the land of Oz

Now make the best of it

Living in the land of Oz

Oh yeah, we've got to do right, do right 

We've got to shake it, shake it, shake it, shake it, people

We've got to shake it, shake it, shake it, shake it, people

We've got to shake it, shake it, shake it, shake it, people

We got to aaaaaaah ...

We got to fix it, fix it, fix it, fix it, people

We got to fix it, fix it, fix it, fix it, people  

We got to fix it up now, yes I know we can 

Aaaah … aaah ...

(Chorus sings living in the land of Oz, counter-pointing the last few lines, and then as several times as song fades out)