Soul of Cinema Movie Review is proud to dedicate the "Star of the Month" profile to Michael Jackson. We will always remember his role as the Scarecrow in the 1978 film, The Wiz. The Wiz was an urban adaptation of the classic story, The Wizard of Oz written by L. Frank Baum in 1900. The product of Berry Gordy's production company, Motown Productions, this film featured many talented African American greats during that time, such as, Diana Ross who played a real mature Dorothy, Nipsey Russel as the Tin Man, Ted Ross and the Lion, Mabel King as Evillene, Lena Horne and Glinda the Good and Richard Pryor as The Wiz. Quincey Jones was also the musical supervisor and music producer for the film. And although, I love Diana Ross, the song I could not get out of my young head was, (singing) "You can't win, chile...". I love that song and still sing it today.
Michael Jackson, with his brothers, had just left Motown and signed with Epic Records at the start of the the production. Michael Jackson worked very hard, as he always has, to prepare for this role. According to critics, Micheal's performance was the "only memorable performance" in the film and he possessed "genuine acting talent". However, his talent could not save Motown and Universal from taking a $10.4 million loss, making the film, at that time, the most expensive film musical ever made. And even though it did not take home any awards, the film was nominated for four Academy Awards, Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design, Best Original Music Score, and Best Cinematography.
Although I was too young to concern myself with Hollywood's stamp of approval, I did not care about what the critics thought. I loved me some Michael Jackson! After my experience with the dry saltine cracker song and dance of the 1939 version of the Wizard of Oz starring Judy Garland, I was happy to hear the soulful crooning of the scarecrow while he grooved on down the yellow brick road with Dorothy from New York (What up, yo!). And even though, the scary flying monkeys on the motorcycles creeped me out, ( oh, and that subway peddler was creepy too) I was twisting and turning my little six-year-old body along with the Red, Green and Gold people singing and dancing in front of Emerald City and just had to learn the words to "You Can't Win, You Can't Break Even". And in keeping with tradition I made sure that my girls watched the film and we would sing "You Can't Win" before they go to bed. Well, that's not the best song to leave in their heads to dream about, but, it was Michael Jackson, we just wanted to sing it like he did.
Despite, the criticisms of the film, I loved it. I loved the music, the dancing and the colors that played well on the screen. As with many films with an all Black cast, I was happy to see people who look like me tell a classic story they way I, a young black girl, could really relate to. A story that reflected my culture. This film was one of the influences that helped nurture my creative spirit. I would watch it again and again just so I could see Michael Jackson sing and spin down through out the movie. Even with those big, over-sized brown shoes, I could not help to wonder how he could dance without falling flat on his face!
We have all been influenced by Michael Jackson in one way or another, however, as far as film goes The Wiz will be the Alphaof his greatest film performances. People can dwell on the negative about this man's life, however, no one on this earth can judge him. As for me, I will always remember him as a man who gave the world his all. His music spoke to everyone and we all enjoyed it. His memory as well as his music will live on forever. We love you Michael!