Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
by H. Becker
This is a great movie. See it....
I hate kids. I hate kids' TV shows. I especially hate ones hosted by saltating purple
dinosaurs and titless nitwits like Linda Ellerbee. I truly hate adults who act like kids,
seem to wish they still were a kid though they have become people of size. I really, really
hate anyone who uses the term "for the children" in that sacch'rinely effusive way. My idea
is that children ought to be tapped with sticks until they approximate small adults.
Children are not the repositories of wisdom Hollywood pretends, but perpetual motion
machines that run on snot and tears. Their annoying high-volume yapping crowds out thought.
(Schopenhauer used to bemoan the various brilliant thought trains he had derailed by the
muleteers cracking their whips in the streets.)
That said, one of my favorite movies is Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, based on
the book by Roald Dahl. Dahl is famous for his children's stories (Wonka books and James
and the Giant Peach) which are excellent. But many people don't know that he also wrote
stuff for adults -- Switch Bitch and other volumes of excellent short stories. Very
funny, nasty, creative stuff. I highly recommend them. I guess Dahl in person
(a half-Brit half-Norwegian) was an asshole-leftist politically, but that doesn't detract
from his works. Do yourself a favor and go down to the library and look him up on the
computer and read his stuff.
CCF is, as i say, a great movie. Part of what makes it great is that it depicts kids
as what they are -- quart-sized creeps: greedy, selfish, stupid all-consuming egomanaical
tyrants who will drive adults crazy if they they let them. Like Veruka Salt sings, shortly
before her demise: Don't care how -- I want it now! Her sense of desert reminds me
of Al Gore.
There are two or three scenes in this movie that are among my favorites. The best scene
comes at the end. It is my favorite scene in any movie. I'm assuming you know what the
story is about -- five kids find golden tickets to get tours of Willie Wonka's chocolate
factory, for which he is trying to find an heir (although the kids don't know this). Over
the course of the movie they all but Charlie sin and lose their way, due to their character
flaws and -- as significantly -- their indulgent parents' refusal to restrain them. Even
Charlie -- the one basically good kid in the lot -- commits his sin, stealing (with Grandpa)
some sips of fizzy-lifting drinks. So at the end, after the other four have been brought low
by their selfish, impetuous crimes, Charlie alone remains. Wonka rather abruptly abandons
him: show's over, got plenty of work to do, mail to answer. Grandpa and Charlie look at
each other. Grampa follows Wonka into his private office to find out what's up -- does
Charlie get the lifetime supply of chocolate or not? Then Gene Wilder, playing Wonka,
performs the best scene of righteous indignation ever filmed. It literally makes me stand
up cheering and shaking my fist. He perorates with: He gets NOTHING! Good DAY, sir! . . . It's
awesome! If you hate the bend-the-rules mentality as much as I do, you've just got to cheer
this incredible performance in service of integrity. He doesn't say, well, you're right,
Charlie's basically a good kid. So he made one little slipup; hey, we're all human. Where
should we ship that supply? No. He says, You and Charlie broke section 37b, he touched
the ceiling, which will now have to be washed and sanitized. He gets NOTHING! (with a
cutting arm gesture, real painy venom in his eyes).
Then finally Charlie exhibits the first moment of awareness any one of the kids or parents
has shown. He finally gets the lesson of all the funny songs and the tour incidents that
there is more to the world than your own potty little self. He walks up to Wonka and
silently returns the everlasting gobstopper. An adult token of recognition that he has
sinned, and failed, and is undeserving. And in that act he redeems himself. "So shines a
good deed in a weary world," says Wonka, softly. Charlie has shown himself the rightful
heir by test of character. It's kind of Christian, come to think of it, although I don't
think Dahl specifically intended it that way. Just say no to self-esteem. Just say yes to
self-flogging. No one cares about you. There is nothing inside you so remarkable it needs
to be expressed. Nothing more remarkable than that flushable stuff you're already
producing. You don't know enough to have an opinion. Eighty percent of the people don't
care about your problems, and the other 20% are glad you have 'em. Just good things to
keep in mind in our age of self-flattery and self-importance.
CCF isn't a kid's movie at all, although the story concerns them. I can't think of
another movie where kids and their larger versions are better revealed as the disgusting
bunch we generally are.
Wilder is simply fantastic. I hope in better moments to capture the spirit he exhibits
throughout where you're never totally sure where he's headed next. Great scene: the whole
town's waiting breathless outside the factory gates for the great and mysterious Wonka to
appear to greet the kids and start the tour. He finally walks out slowly, stately,
purpl'y 'n' jaunty -- and does a pratfall that makes 'em gasp. There's no way to capture
how glorious it is. Wilder was the perfect choice. His eyes have the right quality. Like
he believes in you just as far as you believe in yourself (as someone put it in a different
context). Infinitely sympathetic, yet totally free of illusion. His tandem physical
agility and ultralite coy/fey irony perfectly counterpoint the bovine gross unmannerliness --
the dimness -- of the unappetizing parents and their grasping fry. He's ostensibly
conducting a tour of a magical candy factory, displaying confectionary creativity at its
apogee, but really he is Dante guiding us through the hell of human character.
"A little madness now and then is relished by the wisest men." If you sing this to
yourself softly, as Wonka does to one of the parents, you can keep your equilibrium.
Then there's a brief interaction that is unforgettable to anyone who has tried to create
something and had a visionless idiot shoot it down. Wonka introduces the crowd to his
fruity lick-and-taste wallpaper. He invites them to try the bananas and strawberries and
snozzberries. "Snozzberries?! There's no such thing as snozzberries!" exclaims Veruka.
Wonka catches her mouth betwixt thumb and forefinger, perfectly preserving the nasty,
sneering, belittling myopia of the ravening little maw. Ever the creature of light and
magic in a world of cows, Wonka says: "We are the music-makers, and we are the dreamers of
dreams." It's....ah, ya gotta see it!
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