Bibliophiles, Cinephiles Alike Will Appreciate ‘AmEx: American Oz’ Despite Its Pacing

Courtesy: PBS/PBS Distribution/WGBH

It goes without saying that author L. Frank Baum’s timeless novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and its 1939 cinematic adaptation are among the most iconic presentations in their respective arenas.  There is some variance between the original fairy tale and its big screen adaptation, but that aside, the two tales have remained beloved by generations of audiences since their releases.  Early this spring, PBS offered a deep look into how each came about in a new episode of its series American Experience titled American Oz.  Audiences did not have to wait long for the nearly two-hour-long program to come to DVD, either, as it was released just last month on DVD.  While this episode of American Experience is an interesting presentation – thanks in large part to its story – it is not a perfect work.  It does suffer from one notable problem, that being its pacing.  Luckily, as much as the pacing does to detract from the program’s presentation, it is not enough to make the episode a failure.  The transitions throughout work with the story to make for even more reason to watch.  Keeping all of this in mind, the episode might not be as magical as The Wonderful Wizard of Oz or even The Wizard of Oz, but is still an interesting presentation in its own right.

PBS and PBS Distribution’s home presentation of American Experience: American Oz is an interesting new episode of American Experience.  It is so interesting in part because of its story. Instead of just examining Baum’s book and related topics, the story instead takes a look at author L. Frank Baum and how his own experiences played into the creation of his now timeless fairy tale The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and its equally timeless cinematic adaptation (from MGM), The Wizard of Oz (and the novel’s sequels).  So really, this episode is one part biography of Baum and one part examination of how his life and career played into his rise to fame.  Additionally, it examines the role of the novel and movie in America’s own culture.  Audiences will be interested to learn of Baum’s determination to be successful and how his time living in South Dakota likely played into the very setting for the story’s opening.  Additionally, the discussion about Baum’s disenfranchisement with certain things in the country played into the original story of Oz’s Emerald City makes for its own interest.  Even more noteworthy is the duality in Baum himself.  On one hand, he was clearly ahead of his time in his support for women’s rights.  That social and political leaning is believed to have played into the story of Oz.  On another hand, according to the information provided in this profile, he was also seemingly somewhat racist.  The allegations are supported through a show of the characters that he presented in his books and even comments he made about Native Americans in some newspaper editorials that he wrote early in his professional life.  That apparent duality in Baum’s personality is eye-opening.  Between everything noted here and so much more presented over the episode’s one hour, 52-minute run time, audiences get a rich, in-depth examination of Baum, his work and their place in society today.  It is reason enough for audiences to watch this episode of American Experience.  For all that the story does to make this episode of AmEx engaging and entertaining, that appeal is countered to a point by the story’s pacing.

The pacing proves problematic because it feels like it moves so slowly throughout all of the information provided throughout the story.  On one hand, that could be because of the way in which the story is presented.  On the other though, narrators Kent Drummond and Susan Aronstein feels so bland throughout, too.  Their delivery just does not do much to call on audiences’ attention.  Considering how important Baum’s own life experiences and views were one would have thought that the pair would have given more life to their narration.  Instead, it was the interviewees who helped tell the story that did that.  Meanwhile, Drummond and Aronstein instead make audiences feel as though they are listening to a lecture in a college class in a bad way.  Bringing things full circle here, the result is that even despite the best efforts of the interviewees, the pacing is just too slow.  As a result, it is easy to grow bored.  Thankfully though, the story is still interesting enough thanks to the efforts of the noted interviewees that audiences will just be able to keep themselves engaged.

Keeping in mind the duality in American Oz’s pacing, the episode is still worth watching occasionally.  Considering this, there is still one more item to examine.  That item is the collective transitions within the story.  The transitions are solid and keep the story moving fluidly.  This is important to consider because of all of the twists and turns that Baum’s life apparently took.  From his various businesses – raising chickens, running newspapers, running a store, being an author – to his career choices – working in theater, writing – to dealing with other matters, a lot happened to Baum and Baum did a lot.  Even despite the pacing issues in that story of all that Baum did and had happen, the story’s transitions still manage to make clear each chapter of his life.  This and the efforts by the interviewees to keep the story’s pacing moving, work together to make for even more encouragement to keep viewers engaged and entertained.  Keeping all of this in mind, this episode of American Experience is maybe not as magical as The Wonderful Wizard of Oz or its cinematic adaptation, but is still engaging and entertaining.

American Experience: American Oz is a presentation that cinephiles and bibliophiles alike will find relatively interesting.  That is due in large part to its story.  The story featured in this episode of AmEx examines the life and work of legendary author Frank Baum.  The story examines ho Baum’s life and work influenced his novel, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and its cinematic adaptation, The Wizard of Oz, and the place of those two works in America’s culture and history.  It is a rich, in-depth examination of all things noted.  While the story itself gives audiences plenty of reason to watch this episode of AmEx, the story’s pacing proves problematic.  That is due in large part to the narration.  The narration comes across as a lecture in a college classroom.  It is just that flat.  Thankfully, the commentary from the interviewees featured throughout the story just do make up enough for the problems posed by the narration.  The transitions work with the interviewees’ commentary to add even more appeal to the program.  That is because they keep the story moving fluidly, even despite the problems posed by the narration and pacing.  Each item examined here is important in its own way to the whole of the episode’s presentation.  All things considered, they make the episode engaging and entertaining even though it is imperfect.

American Experience: American Oz is available now. More information on this and other episodes of American Experience is available online at:




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