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Thursday, February 16, 2017

WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY (1971)

Unlike the 2005 remix, CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, big grosses/little ongoing interest (a real ‘jump the shark’ moment for team Tim Burton/ Johnny Depp), this earlier musical version had its negligible gross reversed by an ever-expanding post-theatrical fan-base. Easy to see why it initially flopped (it’s a dreadful film); easy to see how it grew an afterlife (childhood fantasy both bracingly chilly & illogical). It’s now ubiquitous author, Roald Dahl, was then an acquired taste, and he apparently loathed the film. (Was it the tweaking by uncredited scripter David Seltzer, or the low-rent WIZARD OF OZ production from David Wolper & director Mel Stuart, each stronger at documentary. (Often, Stuart’s staging is near self-sabotage.) The look of the film is alarmingly unattractive, and Arthur Ibettson, runt in the line of pioneering British colour cinematographers, doesn’t shy away from the hideous sets & costumes. (A chocolate waterfall spews something flushable. The overall lighting as savage as Dahl’s take on childhood.) And those songs. Yikes! Yet it starts to work in spite of itself around midpoint when Gene Wilder sidles in as the titular chocolatier who’s allowed five kids (in different shades of awful) to visit his secret workplace . Who is this fellow? What side is he on? Is he friendly or dangerous? Wilder’s acting choices are precise, like his carefully voiced singing. (He certainly gets the best song.) And if the film never gets too far beyond technical incompetence, it’s so distinctively odd it’s almost a match for the prickly Mr. Dahl. Whether he knew it or not.

DOUBLE-BILL: Dahl came fully to life in Nicolas Roeg’s exceptional adaptation of THE WITCHES/’90.

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