Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Tale of Two Willies

I've seen the commercial and the trailer for Tim Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and read some discussion here and here. Ann Althouse considers the 1971 movie Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory "rather crappy" and says that it always struck her as being intended for the "pothead/acidhead audience of the day."

I first saw Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory on network TV when I was a college student, although my drug of choice was acting. I had a big crush on Gene Wilder and thought he was a comic genius. I told everyone I wanted to be a "serious comic actor" because Wilder had been described that way in an interview. This was back in the days when really serious actors used "actor" as a gender-neutral word.

When I saw Wilder a couple of years ago on "Inside the Actors Studio" and learned that Gene himself had created Willy Wonka's entrance in the movie, I knew that my adulation, while somewhat over the top, had not been misplaced.

But that entrance doesn't come until halfway through the movie, and in the days before VCRs, the first part of the movie was the time for me to channel-surf, eat, make phone calls, shower, and otherwise occupy myself, making sure I timed all those activities to end right after Jack Albertson and Peter Ostrum sang "I've Got A Golden Ticket." In other words, even though I thought Wilder was great, I was never married to the movie as a whole.

I agree with Althouse that it's inaccurate to say that the new movie is a remake. Tim Burton is not remaking the movie Willy Wonka; he's doing a new version of the book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Many books have had more than one movie version.

When I was doing comedy improvisation, there was a game we would do called "Movie" where the audience would assign four performers a different style or director. Then we'd tell a familiar story like The Three Little Pigs in the style we'd been assigned.

So with the two Willies, two different styles were assigned, and two generations of talented offbeat icons have rendered their interpretations. I look forward to seeing the new version. Heck, I'll even sit through the whole thing and shower later.

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