Friday, July 1, 2016

Golden Ticket to Ride

This summer we celebrate forty-five years since the release of Mel Stuart's "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory."  It was of course based on the classic book "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" by Roald Dahl.   There are many films we may call "favorites"--you watch them yearly, find new and different things, etc.  But then some films stay with you all your life--the music and characters and design become the fabric of who you are--and you don't realize it for, oh a couple of decades.  Thus Wonka.

Mom dropped me off at the Broadway Theater (now a bank) and, if my memory, serves me correctly, the theater was half-full.  Sure there was a promotional push via actual Wonka Bars--I got them and looked for a golden ticket--played like an everlasting gobstocker!  There were Reese's Pieces type sweets as well with Willy's logo.  But since Disney had the lock on family films, this one still was flying under the radar--at the time.  I don't need to drone on about the lasting effects of this film, undermining my initial assessment.

Not long after that I bought the white covered LP.  Had the songs memorized in a year (my standard operating procedure with Disney soundtracks).  The Bricusse-Newley
compositions were different...sort of off Gene Wilder's incredibly mercurial performance.
A Clockwork Orange

  The cover of the LP had little photos of the Kids in each of their "predicaments"...the most disturbing to me was Violet's burgeoning waistline.  It was a scary damn film for this kid.  Disney was always pretty benign, sitcommy in their approach to fantastical materials in live action movies.  This was different.  I didn't realize until later in life how subversive this film was.
My first cinema wtf? moment

True Love
Sadly, my childhood infatuation with the now infamous Veruca Salt cemented my unrequited loves through high school as a pursuit of nasty, mean-spirited sprites with a propensity for sneering.

I won't regale you with all the interesting factoids I discovered in this book about the Wonka movie, "Pure Imagination.".  What I will tell you is that Mel Stuart, the director, was not a "kid's movie" director.
By Mel Stuart
He directed a documentary about Wattstax and many adult comedies.  The production was international in scope, not pandering to American tastes and therefore commercial limitations were not in play here.  And that's the strength of this classic.

Much like Wes Anderson's world, the setting was somewhere not here.  Shot in West Germany, the diversity of the cast's backgrounds (unfortunately color was not represented) lent an ambivalent feel to this village?  city?  burg?  The script was media-savvy and cautionary --Oompa Loompa songs being the Greek chorus to bad parenting skills.

As a kid, I always escaped the dusty beer-soaked milieu of South Texas with images of a glistening, glossy big city:  New York--"Family Affair" and the Macy's Parade.  But this urban paradise morphed into something more grimy and gritty.  Urban decay was not unheard of here. "All in the Family" premiered that year, bringing sitcom life to a crime-ridden Queens; big screen New York-set films were more French Connection and Lumet and less World of Henry Orient.  And subconsciously I was drawn to this film because it did veer into a more lifelike visual reality (outside of the factory of course).  Media of the sixties was pretty sanitized what with all the spies, hillbillies,  spacemen and goofy dads.  Save a few go go dancers and LSD-inspired graphics, my memories of that decade were pretty sanitized.  But in 1971, with Manson still on the collective minds of America, Watergate to come and the continuing saga of Vietnam--the brownish hues of the times bled through the psychedelic swirling sixties palette.

And "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" was the golden ride.

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