We’ve had some interesting films in the Cinema 1544 series, and we’ve had a few themes (though most of these revolve around directors), but this week’s double feature pretty much takes the cake in terms of alternative movie experiences, at least as far as Cinema 1544 has gone. With inspiration from Josh (who selected the first), we showed not one but TWO movies about wizards with the sound off and an alternate soundtrack playing. I bet you’ve never done that in one night!
The first experience (I hesitate to call the combo a “film” – it’s certainly not the way the director intended it) is called Wizard People, Dear Reader – set to Chris Columbus‘s first installation in the Harry Potter series (Sorcerer’s Stone), it’s comic book artist Brad Neely‘s retelling of the film.
In most respects, the retelling follows the storyline of the film, but it typically does it with a flair and a vocabulary that is unlikely to be found in the actual film:
Shredding through the stratus descends no other than Hagar the Horrible, a huge man that, if you didn’t know better, you may mistake him for a giant, hairy truck.
Pretty much every character (outside of Harry and Ron, who are nonetheless insinuated to be alcoholics), and that includes Hermione…erm, the Wretched Harmony…are portrayed with about as much scorn and disrespect as possible.
There’s the family full of pork nicknames that Harry grew up with, the Nearly-Dead Dumbledore, Professor Snake (who is consistently referred to as a woman), Mouth-Oil (he of the sunburnt hair), and of course Val-Mart, who is presented here as Harry’s real dad. And there’s my favorite…
Like, seriously, what is up with this lady’s face?
Finally the movie does get around to the famous cribbage match, where Harry sits around on his broom and basically does nothing while the two teams trade scoring until he decides he’s had enough and goes and gets the snitch to win the game, completely obviating everything else that happened in the match.
And this is my one disappointment with Wizard People, Dear Reader: For the most part, the zealous narrator does nothing to point out some of the most salient oddities of the movie. One is the ridiculous rules of
quidditch cribbage, which has a structure unlike any sport ever invented – there are two completely independent games going on simultaneously, but the game that most of the players are playing really only matters if the side game (that one player from each team is playing) ends in a tie. It’s like…it’s like a basketball game where the head coaches are armwrestling, and if one of the head coaches wins then the basketball game doesn’t count, but if neither coach wins at armwrestling during regulation then the winner of the basketball game takes it. This game could only have been thought up by someone with no understanding of professional sport. Seriously.
The other thing I wish the narrator had latched onto is how completely blatantly Rowling ripped off C.S. Lewis by having her wizards travel through the wall at the train station to get into a magical land. Prince Caspian wants his plot device back!
Oh, and also I never understood why Harry’s adoptive pork parents wouldn’t let him go off to Hogwart’s if they didn’t really want him around anyway. “We’ll take this nuisance off of your hands for free.” “No, no, he’s OUR nuisance!” “Well, technically, he’s not even your child.” “But if you take him away, who will Pork Jr. get to lord it over?” I don’t know, whatevs.
Anyway, Harry and Ronnie the Bear have some adventures and rescue the Wretched Harmony from a toilet troll, eventually resulting in my favorite exchange (expurgated for tender eyes):
Harmony feels small in their presence, so she decides to split hairs with the Bear.
‘Say, Ron, you look tired. Have you ever been tested for diseases?’
Ron replies, ‘At least I’m not a hideous ****er.’
She says, ‘Are you going home for Christmas? I’m going home. My family’s got money.’
He says, ‘No, we’re staying here. We’re going to find out who that ****ing Nick Flannel is, and rule the ****ing school. So run home and open your presents. I hope you get a new pillow to cry into.’
Then there are some more adventures culminating in the climax of the film, where Harry discovers…
And Harry vanquishes the dude with Val-Mart’s face on the back of his head and the movie ends with Dumbledore arbitrarily declaring Gryffindor the winner of some annual prize even though Slytherin had more points, simply on the basis of Harry Potter’s suck-up extra credit. And everybody goes home for the summer. The end.
Honestly, having not read the book, the movie only really made a modicum of sense when I watched it in the theater anyway, and if anything the alternate soundtrack doesn’t hurt it. Plus it’s freaking hilarious. And it’s available for free, right here: link! It’s probably the best way to watch the film. Though, to be honest, it’s probably a good thing that Neely didn’t try to do the whole series. Too much of a good thing, and all. I mean, even the MST3K guys could only carry it along so far.
Following the first overdubbed wizard movie, it only made sense to do another one – especially one so famous as to have its own Wikipedia entry under the name “The Dark Side Of The Rainbow“. Yes, it’s Victor Fleming‘s all-time classic The Wizard Of Oz set to none other than Pink Floyd’s album The Dark Side Of The Moon! Of course, Dark Side is quite a bit short so I did what I did when I first tried this out many years ago (and something I’ve never actually seen suggested) – I followed up Dark Side with Pink Floyd’s next album, Wish You Were Here. That still doesn’t make it to the end (well, it makes it to an end, as you’ll see) so I followed that up with “Dogs”, the second song on Pink Floyd’s subsequent album, Animals. (Yeah, I tried out Animals from the start, but I just felt that skipping the first song worked better. To be honest, the song I skipped — “Pigs On The Wing, Part 1” — is completely incongruous with the rest of the album and appears to have been split for mastering reasons and likely was originally intended to be the final song. So “Dogs” still follows logically.) And I’d say that in general, the matchup on the latter albums is better.
Contrary to popular thought, The Dark Side Of The Rainbow isn’t so much about coincidences of precise syncing. There are manuals on how to get the sound to match up just right, depending on how many milliseconds you are into the MGM lion’s roar when you start, but it’s really not about that sort of precision. Nobody lip-synchs the lyrics, nobody dances exactly in time to the music, and the tight temporal coincidences are few and far between (though sometimes notable!) It’s more about mood, and the fact that the musical cues seem to match up with what you might call “chapters” of the story.
A lot of the synchronicity is helped by a few factors. For one, The Wizard Of Oz is a freaking psychedelic film. I mean, you don’t necessarily realize it when you’re watching with the sound on, but with the sound off, it’s full of garish colors and freaky-ass characters dancing around in a bizarre, magical landscape. If you didn’t already know the story and watched it with the sound off, it would make no sense at all. But this is perfect for Pink Floyd, which is, for lack of a better word, psychedelic music at its best. The fact that The Wizard Of Oz is fundamentally a musical is very helpful, because characters are dancing all the time, and it’s easy to link that up with the rhythm of the music. And finally, Pink Floyd, though they write long songs, have fairly consistent musical cue changes – they introduce instruments, they introduce melodies, they keep changing things up on a regular basis. And for the most part (the sepiatone beginning excepted) The Wizard Of Oz doesn’t have a lot of slow spots. Cue change and something happens = coincidence! Obviously Pink Floyd didn’t do this on purpose. But it’s a heck of a lot of fun to watch anyway.
And, for your enjoyment, I’ll run through the coincidences I liked best in The Dark Side Of The Rainbow (though certainly not all of them), in chronological order.
Honestly, things start really slowly. There are a couple of cue changes that don’t quite match up with the scene changes, but most of the sepiatone opening is underwhelming. This is the part where the faithless give up. But even so, there are a few before things really kick in.
1. Dorothy is balancing on a rail during the lyrics “Balanced on the biggest wave”. I know, it’s kind of weak, but there’s not much to latch on to here.
2. The old man speech (“I’m not frightened of dying…”) happens while the ranch workers are escaping the tornado by going into the storm cellar. A bit of irony, I suppose.
3. “The Great Gig In The Sky”, an incredibly painful, confused, and lyricless song that may be Pink Floyd’s magnum opus, coincides almost perfectly with the appearance of the tornado and the house ride. While the house, like the great gig, is in the sky.
Then comes the moment that makes the entire thing work. Up to now, you’ve been watching this and thinking…ehhhh…I don’t really buy it. Then…
4. As “The Great Gig In The Sky” tapers to an end and the house lands, Dorothy walks cautiously, in the midst of track silence, to the door. She timidly opens the door, and as she does so, the cash-box lever sound accompanies the opening of the door and the colorized world of Oz appears to the coin clinks and jazzy opening notes of “Money”. This is worth the price of admission.
5.2 “and Blue…blue…blue…” (Though to be fair, Dorothy’s blue dress isn’t quite as visible in this shot.) Who does know which is witch, and who is who?
6. The song “Brain Damage” plays to the introduction of Scarecrow, who is missing just that. The lyric “The lunatic is on the grass” does happen when Scarecrow actually no longer on the grass, but “Got to keep the Loonies on the path” does happen when Dorothy and Scarecrow set off skipping down the yellow brick road.
7. As the album ends, with nothing but a muffled heartbeat to fade out, Dorothy and Scarecrow discover the Tin Man…who is missing his heart!
At this point, the Wish You Were Here album kicks in. In the old days, you had to pause the movie and try to start things up again, but now you just queue the whole soundtrack up in an iTunes playlist and everything just goes so smoothly! Technology has value!
8. After musical cues from the second album consistently seem to fit better, the lyrical portion of “Welcome To The Machine” matches very well with the appearance of the Emerald City.
9. The song “Have a Cigar” matches up almost exactly with the Cowardly Lion’s “If I Were King Of The Forest”.
10. There is a section early in “Shine On You Crazy Diamond Parts VI-IX” that is dominated by a wind sound. This corresponds almost exactly (in both onset and duration) with the storm that kicks up as the Wicked Witch of the West sends out the flying monkeys to capture Dorothy.
11. “Nobody knows where you are, how near or how far” is sung as the three others and Toto set off to find Dorothy in the WWotW’s castle. (The image here comes a bit later than the lyric, but how can I not put this image in?)
12. The fade out to the album happens exactly as the WWotW melts to death, and the opening strains of “Dogs” coincide with the monkeys accepting Dorothy as their new leader.
13. “Moving in silently, downwind and out of sight, you’ve got to strike when the moment is right without thinking”, lyrics from “DOGS”, are sung just as Toto sneaks off to reveal the “Wizard” behind his curtain. The lyrics “You’ve got to be trusted by the people that you lie to” also seem apropos.
14. “You’ve got to keep one eye looking over your shoulder” I shit you not, this is the exact screen capture.
15. The “dog barking” sound in “Dogs” seems to just draw you attention to Toto, right as he’s about to be a major plot point for the second time, making Dorothy bail out of the balloon just before it takes off.
16. “And when you lose control, you’ll reap the harvest you have sown” is sung just as the balloon, which the Wizard will lose control of, appears on screen. “And it’s too late to lose the weight you used to need to throw around” just makes me think of sandbags. Too late, Wizard, you’re already going up.
17. “I’ve got to admit, I’m a little bit confused” is sung when Dorothy opens her eyes again in Kansas. And, she is in fact, confused.
Well, that’s about all I’ve got to give you there. Obviously if you watch it you’ll find more fun stuff, but these are the bits that were most memorable to me.