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Wizard of Oz Top Five

To celebrate the release in Ireland today of Oz The Great and Powerful, here are my five favourite Wizard of Oz spin-offs of all time!

1. Wicked
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Adapted from Gregory Maguire’s decidedly political novel (which has spawned three sequels, Son of a WitchA Lion Among Men, and Out of Oz) the pop musicalWicked is a current global phenomenon, mixing the universal love of Oz with a music and lyrics Stephen Schwartz that hits all the right notes. It’s a prequel in which the Wicked Witch of the West is re-cast as a misunderstood protagonist, and the Good Witch of the North as her best friend, corrupted by glory. The movie version, directed by Stephen Daldry is set for release in 2014, but casting hasn’t been announced yet. Kristin Chenoweth and Idina Menzel, who played Galinda and Elphaba in the original stage production will not be reprising their roles, given that they are a bit long in the tooth now to be playing the teenage witches.

2. Return to Oz

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A Disney movie in which a 10 year-old little girl is given electroshock therapy in a psychiatric hospital? It can only be the 1985 version of Return to Oz, with Fairuza Balk as Dorothy and Piper Laurie as Aunt Em, who thinks her niece has lost her marbles when, six months after the tornado has hit Kansas, the little girl can’t stop talking about an imaginary place called Oz. The faulty shock treatment catapults Dorothy back to Oz for this altogether very dark film in which the plucky Kansas girl is on a quest to find the Scarecrow so she can rescue The Lion and the Tin Man who have been turned to stone by Mumby, the Wicked Witch’s cousin. Not all of it works, but director Walter Murck’s dizzying display of creativity makes for a very satisfying watch.

3. The Wiz

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If you’re watching season two of Smash, you’ll know that its bad-lad director, Derek Wills, is in talks to direct a Broadway revival of The Wiz, starring a startlingly slimmed-down Jennifer Hudson. When Jennifer belts out numbers like Home, you understand why this soul version of The Wizard of Oz with an all-black cast won eight Tony Awards in 1975, given that the 1978 movie version, with Diana Ross as Dorothy and Michael Jackson as The Scarecrow, was such an ordeal. One critic said the creators of The Wiz, Charlie Smalls and book by William F. Brown, “found a connection between Frank L. Baum’s Kansas fantasy and the pride of urban black Americans”. You’d wonder, given how times have changed if the Smash version ofThe Wiz would be a smash at all.

4. Tin Man

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When it was screened in 2007, this Sci Fi Channel three-part modernisation of Frank L. Baum’s original The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was critically panned. But like most things Oz it’s garnered a cult following. Zooey Deschanel as DG (Dorothy Gale, geddit?) led an impressive cast, which included Alan Cumming as the Scarecrow (named Glitch) and Richard Dreyfuss as a drug-addicted Wizard, and O.Z. is the Outer Zone, which bored diner waitress (in a blue gingham uniform), DG must save on discovering that she’s actually the sister of a wicked witch (well, bitch really) who owns some super-sinister flying monkeys. The effects (and much of the story) owe a lot to the Harry Potter franchise, and Beverly Hills 90210’sKathleen Robertson camps it up a storm as the wicked Azkadellia, but all in all, Tin Man is a little lacking in heart.

5. Journey Back to Oz

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This animated feature has to be mentioned, if only because Dorothy is voiced by Judy’s girl, Liza Minelli (who worked on it ten years before winning her Oscar forCabaret, but because of financial difficulties the cartoon wasn’t released until 1974), and Auntie Em is brought to life by Margaret Hamilton who played the Wicked Witch of the West in the 1939 film. Dorothy returns to Oz having been knocked senseless by a gatepost in another Kansas tornado, and finds herself locked in battle with the cousin of the Wicked Witches, Mombi (voiced by an over-the-top Ethel Merman), who is trying to conquer the Emerald City and become Queen of Oz. Loosely based on Baum’s second Oz novel, The Marvellous Land of Oz, it does its best, but there’s something missing, and its not only a pair of ruby slippers.

 

The Five Golden Rules of Romantic Comedy

If you want to write romantic comedy fiction or screenplays, here are five hard and fast rules you should stick to. If writings not your thing, but rom coms are, these rules will give you fun new way to look at them.

1. Different But The Same

You heard the term: opposites attract? This must always be true for the lead characters in a rom com. Yet at the same time both characters must be fundamentally the same as each other. This contradiction creates chemistry.

In When Harry Met Sally, Harry is an inveterate slob who thinks that a man and a woman can’t have a friendship without sex getting in the way. Sally, on the other hand, is a pernickety neat-freak who believes that men always make sex part of the male/female relationship because they think with their dicks. Yet despite Harry and Sally’s differences, they are both philosophers at heart. It is their shared love of talking about the fundamentals of relationships that constantly binds them together. So, while there is constant conflict, there is also the harmony of likeminded souls.

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2. Circumstances Will Tear Us Apart

Not only must your rom com leads be in conflict with each other, circumstances must conspire to keep them apart until three quarters of the way into the story. These circumstances can be anything. The guy is still in love with his ex wife (Silver Linings Playbook). The girl is a major Hollywood star and the constant subject of lies and gossip that undermine her relationships (Notting Hill). The girl and the guy live so far apart they have never get the chance to actually meet (Sleepless in Seattle). The girl’s career is taking off at the expense of the guy’s (The Five Year Engagement).

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3. He Wants, She Wants

In any book or movie the lead characters must desperately want something, and to create story their wants must be thwarted in escalating ways until the end. But in a rom com the characters’ wants generally follow a timeworn pattern. One half of the romantic pairing must desperately want the other, while the other half must want something different.

Confused? Here are some examples. In my book The Forced Redundancy Film Club, Katherine, having lost her job, desperately wants to get back on her feet again so she can keep the status quo. Martin, having also lost his job, desperately wants Katherine. In Pretty Woman, Vivian desperately wants to get out of a life of prostitution so she can earn self-respect. Edward desperately wants Vivian. In Bridget Jones Diary, Bridget desperately wants the selfish Daniel Cleaver. Mark Darcy desperately wants Bridget. In Breakfast at Tiffany’s Lula Mae desperately wants to forget her miserable, poverty-stricken past by reinventing herself as the sophisticated and invulnerable Holly Golightly. Paul desperately wants Holly.

The protagonist must desperately want something other than his or her romantic interest. The romantic interest must desperately want the protagonist.

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4. Turmoil At Three Quarters

Two thirds the way through a rom com novel or screenplay the leads must realise together that they are each other’s perfect soulmates. Then emotional turmoil must tear them apart again. Three quarters the way thorugh Pride and Prejudice Elizabeth and Mr Darcy have put their differences aside and fallen in love. Then they learn that Elizabeth’s sister has eloped with Mr Wickham, which will certainly lead to Elizabeth’s downfall in society, making it impossible for Darcy to marry her. On an emotional turmoil point, her pride is gone, and his prejudices have been confirmed. Three quarters the way through When Harry Met Sally, Harry and Sally discover they are in love and have sex. The next morning Harry freaks out and disappears, leading Sally to conclude that she was right about his inability to commit all along. She gives up on him. Elizabeth and Darcy, Sally and Harry – each couple must find a way to overcome this final separation before finally falling into each other’s arms. This encompasses the last act of the story, and by this point both characters want the same thing – each other.

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 5. The Learning Curve

By the time the leads in a rom com fall into each others arms at the very end, either one of both of them will have learned some fundamental truth about themselves and changed for the better to secure their own happiness. Meg Ryan’s characters often have to learn the same thing about themselves in her rom coms: idealistic expectations of perfection do not lead to true happiness. Sally learns this by accepting Harry as he is. In You’ve Got Mail, Kathleen learns this by overcoming her prejudices about Joe. In Silver Linings Playbook, Pat learns that clinging on to the past is killing his chances for happiness. In Pride and Prejudice both Elizabeth and Mr Darcy learn respectively that excessive pride does not lead to happiness, and neither does pointless prejudice. They learn to accept each other as they are, and in doing so to accept themselves.

In Breakfast At Tiffany’s Holly Golightly learns to accept the vulnerable, frightened part of herself she let go off when she took on a different identity. Only in learning to love Lula Mae can she find true happiness, and therefore true love.

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If you want to write romantic comedy, it’s a good exercise to sit down with a rom com novel or film and see how these golden rules always play out before setting out your own plot. Enjoy!

 

Can Men Write Chick Lit?

There’s a bit of difficulty in figuring out what genre to market my novels in, given that I’m a man writing books with principally female leads and a romantic underpinning. But the books are also told from the male character’s point of view, have multiple narrative strands, and so far they also have strong storylines that address LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) issues.

A brief from my editor to the cover designer for my next book, ‘Knowing Me, Knowing You’ says: “Genre: Hard to categorise strictly. In the main, contemporary women’s fiction (as the title suggests) but there are strong male characters, always a gay character, so it nods to crossover too.”

Chick Lit? Contemporary Women’s Fiction? Although I have no issues with either category, and greatly admire writers like Marion Keyes, Sheila O’Flanagan, Roisín Meaney, and Sophie Kinsella, I don’t see myself as a Chick Lit writer. I also believe that Chick Lit is a reductive term. There is a snobbery around it that dismisses ‘Chick Lit’ writers, and it puts certain readers off.

So, I’ve decided that I am not a Chick Lit writer. Nor am I a writer of Contemporary Women’s Fiction. I am a writer of Literary Rom Coms.

More than one interviewer during the publicity round for my last novel The Forced Redundancy Film Club, suggested that it would make a great movie. To my mind that’s not only because the book features lots of beloved classic movies, but also because I have a great love for rom com movies, particularly those written by Richard Curtis, who uses multiple narrative in Four Weddings and a Funeral, Love Actually and to a lesser extent in one of my favourite rom coms of all time, Notting Hill.

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The inspiration for the romance in The Forded Redundancy Film Club is my favourite rom com of all time, When Harry Met Sally (which features as one of the movies in the book too).  When writing the book I structured it like a screenplay, I used short scenes throughout the novel that had the function of moving the story along. The book also has an underlying soundtrack, with mentions of certain songs in almost every chapter to underpin the atmosphere.

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At the end my two main characters share this moment of dialogue:

“Do you know what I’d like to do?” said Katherine.

“Walk off into the sunset?” asked Martin.

A little bubble of joy exploded in Katherine’s belly. “Maybe later,” she said. “But right now I’d like to dance.”

So, can men write Chick Lit? They certainly can write rom coms, as the Richard Curtis films prove. So, yes, of course we can. But just don’t call it Chick Lit!

The “walk off into the sunset” line is a deliberate cinematic reference. At the end of every rom com, our heroes walk off into the sunset. We know at the beginning of the film that this will happen, but the joy of a good rom com is seeing how they get there, despite their differences.

 

The Cloud Atlas Connection

Formerly one half of the reclusive Wachowski Brothers, the writers and directors behind cult hits, The Matrix Trilogy and V For Vendetta, Lana Wachowski decided to come out to the world as transgender as she worked on the latest Wachowski movie, an adaptation of David Mitchell’s literary epic, Cloud Atlas. Her decision is intricately linked to the book’s underlying themes, says Brian Finnegan.

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During her sophomore year at High School, Lana Wachowski made a decision to commit suicide. One evening, after an extra-curricular drama class, she went to her local Burger King and wrote a suicide note. Then she walked to the station where she usually got the train home. She waited alone on the platform for the A Train, which she knew would not stop as it sped through the station.
Lana takes up the story: “I try not to think of anything but jumping as the train comes. Just as the platform starts to rumble suddenly I notice someone walking down the ramp. It is a skinny older man wearing overly large, 1970s, square-style glasses that remind me of the ones my grandma wears. He stares at me the way animals stare at each other. I don’t know why he looked away, all I know is because he didn’t I am still here.”
Lana told this story in a speech last October, when accepting a Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Visibility Award. The award was given to her for being the first Hollywood director to come out as transgender.

Lana was formerly known as Larry, one half of the Wachowski Brothers, who came to cult global prominence with the film The Matrix in 1999. Famously, as The Matrix Trilogy evolved into one of the biggest grossing box office franchises of all time, the Wachowski’s eschewed public appearances and media interviews, preferring to stay anonymous, not because of Larry’s gender identity, but because they both became “acutely aware of the preciousness of anonymity”, which allowed them access to an “egalitarian invisibility that neither of us was willing to give up”.

12 years down the line, in anticipation of their adaptation of David Mitchell’s sprawling literary bestseller, Cloud Atlas, the Wachowski’s reversed this decision and gave The New Yorker magazine an access all areas invitation, which resulted in Lana coming out on the global stage.

In her HRC speech, Lana referred to an epiphany she had during a meeting with her brother and their co-director on Cloud Atlas, Tom Tykwer, trying to figure out what to do when Tom Hanks became unavailable to shoot a promo for the film, in which he plays several different parts.

“I found myself repeating a line from a character [in the film] I was very attached to, who speaks about her own decision to kind of come out,” Lana said. “She says, ‘If I had remained invisible the truth would stay hidden and I couldn’t allow that’.”
In the moment, Lana says that her whole life flashed before her eyes. Lana, who had been out for ten years to her family, understood the time had come for her to tell the world. “We’re giving up anonymity for personal reasons, for the responsibility I feel to the LGBT community,” she subsequently said.

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David Mitchell’s original novel has a theme of personal responsibility at its heart. The character Lana was speaking about is Luisa Rey (played by Halle Berry in the film). She says her line in the knowledge that telling the truth will likely lead to her own death, and the message that underpins both Mitchell’s book and the Wachowski’s adaptation of it, is about the responsibilities human beings have towards one another.

It is perhaps no coincidence that Lana’s social conscience in terms of her gender identity began to emerge while working on Cloud Atlas. A quick look at the Wachowski’s output gives a trajectory towards her coming out. “It seems that you’ve been living two lives,” Agent Smith says to Orpheus in The Matrix. It’s a film about a man is searching for a way to fuse the world he lives in, which is entirely planted in his brain by machines, with the real world. Orpheus (Keanu Reeves) constantly finds himself in between, never part of one world or the other, in search of the oracle, which will reveal to him what his destiny is.
Similarly Lana told The New Yorker a story of finding herself in a new Catholic School as a child, where girls were divided from boys in two lines. She found herself between those lines, not belonging in either, and not understanding why.

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After The Matrix Trilogy, the Wachowski’s turned their attention to writing a script for and co-producing an adaptation of the Alan Moore graphic novel V For Vendetta. Another dystopian film, the original inspiration for Moore’s novel came from the introduction of Section 28, which banned the “promotion of homosexuality” by local councils in Margaret Thatcher’s Britian. It is about the oppression of diversity, with a specific reference to brutal discrimination against sexual minorities. Humanity triumphs in the Wachowski’s dark film adaptation of V For Vendetta, because its hero opens society’s eyes to the price to be paid for buying into homogeneity.

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“To deny our own impulses is to deny the very thing that makes us human,” the character Robert Frobisher (Ben Wishaw) says in the Wachowski’s version of Cloud Atlas. Mitchell’s original novel tells multiple stories, distributed over centuries and encompasses several genres. Each story has a central character who somehow links to the central characters from the other stories, and in the film version the same actors play several roles, providing extra underpinning to the linkage. Frobisher, is a feckless but talented, bisexual English composer of the Cloud Atlas Suite. In another story, set 30 years later, we meet his first love, Rufus Sixsmith (James D’Arcy). As theirs and other’s stories progress, the film becomes a treatise on humanity, on how a simple good deed can reverberate through history.

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The man in the 1970s glasses on the train station platform of Lana’s youth is part of the Cloud Atlas equation. “Every person you meet has the potential to have a major impact on the direction of your life,” Lana said in her HRC speech last October. With her decision, no only to to come out so publicly, but to address the complex politics of gender and her discomfort with a “binary gender narrative”, she wishes to have an impact on many lives.
“I am here… because there are some things you do for yourself but there are some things you do for others,” she added. “I am here because when I was young I wanted very badly to be a writer, I wanted to be a filmmaker, but I couldn’t find anyone like me in the world, and it felt that my dreams were foreclosed simply because my gender was less typical than others. If I can be that person for someone else, then the sacrifice of my private civic life may have value.”

 

 

Sirk and Haynes

About to watch Douglas Sirk’s All That Heaven Allows, with it’s gay undertones in a story about a woman in a scandalous relationship with a younger man, and then Todd Haynes’ Far From Heaven, which brings the gay undertones out of the closet, while still tackling the 1950s race issue that Sirk was so interested in, particularly in his film Imitation of Life.

I love the way Hayne’s updates the panoramic technicolor of Sirk’s style, plus the outbursts of melodrama amid stifling repression.

These are two films I highly recommend watching. Sirk’s style has been a huge influence on my writing.

Christmas Heaven

I’m a Christmas song-aholic. This one is my favourite. It features in the very last paragraph of The Forced Redundancy Film Club. Melancholic, nostalgic, heaven!