Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory [1971)

Now we come to a crucial crossroads.

30,665 deaths so far in the United States from COVID-19.

Over a month ago, on or about March 12th, my girlfriend broke up with me.

But she didn’t do it in any sort of clearcut way.

I committed a transgression.

I wrote a very unflattering song about her.

Musically speaking, it was a very good song.

And so, out of blind pride, I posted it on my SoundCloud page.

It was written out of frustration.

I did not feel that I could discuss anything of substance with my girlfriend.

But I must qualify that statement.

I was unable to give her criticism…at all…ever.

No matter how tactfully I phrased it, she was not open to critique.

And she was always this way.

I will let the psychiatrists in the room now give their opinions as to the reason why.

[             ]

Thank you, good sirs.

You see, my girlfriend used to be my fiancée.

And before that she was my girlfriend.

My beginning is my end.

Understand that I waited 41 years to propose to a girl.

And propose I did.

And she accepted.

It was a joyful day.

I wore my best (only) suit.

I brought flowers (as I did every time I saw her).

We were happy.

I thought that giving her the reassurance of engagement would improve her attitude.

While I was never allowed to give her criticism (without a resulting emotional explosion from her), she was allowed to give me criticism.

And she did.

From the moment I met her.

Her very first words to me when we first met in person were a CORRECTION of my faux pas.

I didn’t stand when she entered the room and approached my table.

I admit that I was in error.

But I was enraptured by her beauty.

And that was the first of many, MANY criticisms I would receive from her over the ensuing four months until our engagement.

Perhaps my optimism was misguided.

After a brief “honeymoon period”, the criticisms came back.

But I must give some “back story” to fill in her character profile.

She had lost a child mid-pregnancy just two years prior.

And less than one year before meeting me, she had lost her husband in a tragic traffic collision.

I was very compassionate to the special needs of this truly unique child of God.

My fiancée.

I wanted to help.

I overlooked many of her character flaws…attributing them to her PTSD and depression.

But every anniversary was like an eruption.

The date when her child died.

The date when her child was supposed to have been born.

The date when her husband died.

Her and her late-husband’s wedding anniversary.

Amidst all this struggle, she wanted to have another child.

Her one child had been lost.

Before ever really entering the world.

I obliged.

I loved her.

I was scared.

“What kind of father material am I?,” I thought.

But I pressed on.

I always acquiesced to her demands.

We did things HER WAY.

ALWAYS.

And it was stressful.

“Let’s go to a fertility clinic.”

Yadayadayada.

All while I am working to make ends meet.

“I will soon be too old to have children.”

A frantic pace.

Interspersed with bouts of her extreme depression.

Lovely stuff, I assure you.

It drove me back to tobacco.

And it drove me nuts.

Everything snapped for me.

One day I woke up and realized I couldn’t go to work.

I was done.

And so for 9 months, I had to be reborn.

I had to detox.

To her credit, she stuck by me (more or less).

And then tragedy struck again.

Her mother died.

I frantically tried to get my old job back (though I was not quite fully healed).

And I did.

I wanted to help her save her apartment which she loved.

But she got sick.

And sicker.

And sicker.

I kept the job.

But the apartment was lost.

And now she lives with her dad.

Just as I live with my parents (a situation she gave me grief about many times).

“Many who are first shall be last, and the last shall be first.”

Jesus spoke of karma.

And I’m sure I have a lifetime of wrecked karma ready to crash down on ME at any moment.

But sometimes the irony is too dripping.

There was the hospitalization.

Six days she was there.

I came every night (five nights).

After working until midnight sometimes.

But it was not enough.

She wasn’t satisfied.

After the hospital, she got worse (in many ways).

Finally, I was asked by her family not to contact her anymore.

Not to cause her “grief”.

And like that, our engagement vanished into thin air.

For 17 days I lived in a darkness.

And so did she.

She was very sick.

I heard nothing from her.

And then she slipped back into my life.

Slowly.

But it was so confusing.

She didn’t want to be engaged anymore (she said).

She wanted to take a (big) step backwards.

I wasn’t too happy about this, but I accepted.

And so we made it several months.

A nice Valentine’s Day.

But something was worse than before.

There was absolutely no reciprocation.

If I complimented her (which I did often), she would not compliment me.

If I did something nice for her (which I often did), it was very soon forgotten (and certainly not answered with a loving action from her).

I wanted to say something, but I couldn’t.

She was still too sick, she said.

And so things dragged on thusly.

And then I wrote that song which changed my life.

That song of frustration.

I am not proud of it.

Though it be musically a good composition, it caused her sadness.

When she happened to find it.

You see, I would write songs for this girl of mine.

I recorded 183 songs for her over the course of two years.

Some covers.

Some original instrumentals.

Some original songs.

Many of these gifts barely got a word of thanks in return.

Same for the thousands of dollars of flowers I bought for her over the same time period.

There’s even one song that she appears to have never bothered even listening to.

And it’s a good one.

After six months, it shows that it has zero listens.

Well, no one is perfect.

There were probably (almost certainly) other songs she never heard.

It just wasn’t what she needed at the time.

I can attest.

She was very, very sick.

183 songs.

Some she never got around to listening to.

In my frustration, I sang to the world.

I wrote…and put it in a bottle.

Like putting a leaf in a flowing stream.

To get rid of that care.

But of course, she found that particular leaf.

She interrogated me about it.

“No,” I said (trying to be tactful), “it’s not about you.”

But my conscience got to me.

And so the next day I came clean.

Yes, the song is about you.

I apologized sincerely.

I made no excuses whatsoever.

I didn’t plead my case.

She didn’t ask (never has) how I came to a place of such frustration.

But that was the last I heard from her.

For 10 days.

The first 10 days of this coronavirus pandemic in the United States.

I went through it alone.

I sent texts.

I sent emails.

All went unanswered for 10 days.

And when we came out, she was less than my girlfriend.

I told her I loved her…and got no response.

That was five weeks ago.

And so we have been winding things down.

We still talk.

But she is incapable of discussing our former relationship.

It stresses her out to much.

And she never even bothered breaking up with me.

So we are “just friends” now.

And I have tried to be there for her during this coronavirus crisis.

Which brings us to Willy Wonka.

This was one of the most formative movies of my life.

Perhaps THE most formative.

In elementary school, when the teachers were too lazy to teach, they’d put this film on.

And I would sit enraptured.

No matter how many times they showed it.

And they showed it to us MANY times.

It must have been one of the few VHS tapes which was approved for them to screen.

So what does this all mean?

Coronavirus, a wrecked romantic relationship, Willy Wonka…

Here is a partial answer:

a film reviewer should be cognizant of what is going on in their life and how that affects their “reading” of a certain film.

I rewatched this film tonight (for the umpteenth time) and saw stuff I had never seen before.

New details noticed.

But I was watching it with the sadness of romantic loss.

And with the stress of total societal isolation.

I have worked on the front lines of the service industry all throughout this crisis.

Precisely for the mental health BENEFIT it gave me.

Exercise.

Ersatz social interaction (with coworkers and customers).

But now, my store has been hit with a close encounter.

And so our hours have been shaved.

No more midnight.

Midnight shifted to 10 p.m.

And now, abruptly, 10 p.m has shifted to 2 p.m.

Can you imagine a coffee shop closing at 2 p.m.?

Well, that’s us right now.

And I am fairly certain I have delayed sleep phase disorder.

My “availability” starts at 4 p.m. each day.

So I have AT LEAST the next eight days off.

And I have had the past two off as well.

But five of my coworkers are home self-isolating…because they had potential second-hand exposure to COVID-19.

I miss them.  I’m making them music playlists.  I’m buying them groceries.  I’m sending them texts and emojis.

What a horrible situation to be in.

I myself was homebound today because of my asthma.

And that is our world.

Every sniffle.

Every sneeze.

Every sore throat.

As the mold floats on the breeze.

And the oaks bloom.

As particle pollution undulates.

Along with ozone.

Is it ‘rona?

If I need to take a Tylenol, is it ‘rona?

If I were to get coronavirus, it would be very bad indeed.

I live with my two elderly parents.

I have asthma.

I have high blood pressure.

And I have a whole bevy of mental problems.

But I chose to work.

I ran towards the sound of gunfire.

Whether it was stupid or brave, that is for others to decide.

And so now, here I sit with this masterpiece:

Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.

Mel Stuart may be an auteur whose time is yet to come.

But the secret weapon is Walter Scharf.

Did he write the music?

No.

But he orchestrated it.

And such gossamer orchestration it is!

We start poor.

Shaggy dog.

Charlie Bucket.

A peasant’s name if there ever was one.

Crazy man plants the seeds of conspiracy.

About the factory.

*Charlie lives with his parents (as most young boys do).

But he also lives with all four of his grandparents.

And his father is deceased.

Willy Wonka is certainly a film about espionage.

Economic espionage.

Business espionage.

With overtones of state espionage.

International espionage.

Remnants of war.  England.  Germany.

Wonka’s factory is like Area 51.

But this film is unique in that it delineates a search.

A search by a man.

Or an organization.

Or agency.

Or entity.

A search for that one special person.

[decades before The Matrix]

God tested Abraham.

“…kill me a son/Abe said, ‘Man, you must be puttin’ me on!’/

God said, ‘No.’/Abe said, ‘What?’/God said, ‘You can do what you want Abe, but…uh/

next time you see me comin’ you better run.’/Abe said, ‘Where you want this killin’ done?’/  God said, ‘Out on Highway 61.'”

God, of course, STOPPED Abraham from killing his son.

But only AFTER Abraham had committed fully…knife in hand…to slit his son’s throat.

Great reading, that.

The Bible.

And this is a very biblical tale, Willy Wonka.

The eccentric Jesus.

God the Father…in the Heavens…with his Inventing Room.

The chocolate factory is heaven.

And only those who become like a child can enter…and stay.

Only those who are born again (made pure like a child) can inherit this chocolate factory.

God wants to pass on his greatest creation.

Heaven.

And God tests us.

But there is grace.

Charlie and Grandpa Joe mess up.

They drink the fizzy lifting drink.

They hang suspended like Icarus and Daedalus.

Their wings don’t melt.

They have the opposite problem.

They are on a collision course with the edge of ether.

Until they learn how to burp.

Stephen Dedalus…

Cicada 3301.

GCHQ recruiting.

Puzzles.

QAnon.

NSA.

Kryptos.

Who can solve the final part?

Right there at Langley.

Some might say I was engaged to Veruca Salt.

Wonka running counterespionage.

Counterintelligence.

Slugworth in Switzerland.

For Your Eyes Only.

Octagonal.

And hope.

Get out of bed.

Go back to work.

Warning strictly against “frippery”.

Again with Roger Moore in A View to a Kill.

Sideways fan.

Spoiled brat.

Always got what she wanted.

Cautionary tale of poor parenting.

God is merciful.

All is dream.

But God cannot be mocked.

His word is eternal.

Jesus was the Word made flesh.

Superseding the Ten Commandments.

There is freedom in Christ, but we are not to go on sinning.

We will mess up.

But it is by grace that we are saved.

So that no man may boast.

It is not by good works.

But the heart must be contrite.

And, above all, pure.

Made pure by the Holy Spirit.

When one invites God into ones life.

A little bit of divinity in each of us.

And quite a bit of divinity in this film.

By this logic, Satan (created by God) may be a Slugworth to be unmasked in the end times.

Lucifer…with that scar on his face.

The mark of Cain.

The murderer.

Finally, this is Gene Wilder’s best work.

He channels something here which is otherworldly.

Wilder became immortal with this film.

And he lives on.

As long as there is goodness in this world, we have a chance.

I want to thank my friend, the great writer Chris Lindsay, for encouraging me to write onwards during these dark times.

Thank you, Chris.

 

-PD

Homeless to Harvard: The Liz Murray Story [2003)

Happy Birthday to Thora Birch, my favorite actress of all time!

Yes, I know…I know.

A film critic whose favorite actress is a young 35-year-old whipper snapper???

Yes.

That’s alright.

Laugh at me.

If the question was, “Who was your favorite classic Hollywood actress?,” then I would answer, “Lauren Bacall”.

But I said favorite actress of all time.

You can search my “Thora” category here on my site for why exactly this actress is my favorite.

Because otherwise, we’re going to be here all day.

And I have a movie to review!

One of my favorites:  Homeless to Harvard.

It is, indeed …The Liz Murray Story, but I will be using the shortened title hereafter for brevity’s sake.

It is my contention (and I have made the point elsewhere…probably on this very site of mine) that Thora Birch produced a trilogy of acting performances which are more-or-less analogous to Bob Dylan’s classic trilogy.

Let’s start with Dylan.

The three (at unity from a similarity of intense expression):

Bringing It All Back Home

Highway 61 Revisited 

and

Blonde on Blonde

And now the Thora films which correspond in my mind:

American Beauty

Ghost World

and

Homeless to Harvard

Sure…Birch didn’t direct these films.

But her acting is so strong, she might as well have.

By this point she was no longer a prodigy.

She was a mature actress.  A master of her craft.

And the story here is one to really sink teeth in.

[In which.]

We recently touched on homelessness here in the review of Alicia Vikander’s stellar turn as Katarina from Till det som är vackert.

Pure.

But the esthetics of Homeless to Harvard are different.

This isn’t European arthouse.  It’s a Lifetime made-for-TV film.

But don’t go running anywhere!!!

This is as gritty as any Lou Reed tale.

And it’s all real.

Too pure.

Heroin addict parents.

Mother schizophrenic.

Blindness.

Genetic.

Mother with HIV.

Father with AIDS.

Vice versa ice Ursa.

Father in homeless shelter.

Mother wielding knife.  Vomiting.

Alcoholism.

Really appealing, eh?

But you gotta stick with it.

This isn’t Darren Aronofsky mise-en-scène.

It’t not, “Let’s win an award at Sundance.”  Or, “Let’s sweep at Cannes.”

It’s more like one of Aesop’s fables.

It’s the message, man!

And so first, let’s honor the director.

Peter Levin.

Who knew a television film could be so artful?

Well, when you combine the history of Histoire(s) du cinéma with the precedent of Twin Peaks, you should know by now that television can produce good stuff.

Hell…

Your TV can even WATCH YOU! (as per WikiLeaks Vault7).

But I digress…

The weeper (no masonry) sob story…had me crying in my Junior Mints…we must attribute to the excellent writing of Ronni Kern.

Who the hell is Ronni Kern?!?

Male?  Female?

I’ve had less trouble finding the gender of completely unknown foreign movie people.

But Kern is pretty invisible on the Internet.

And maybe there’s a point here.

  1.  It doesn’t fucking matter.
  2. You should judge someone on their work, not their gender.

Hopefully Ms. Birch will appreciate this flash of liberalism should she read this review.

[I’m not holding my breath]

But we have just celebrated International Women’s Day.

And the fact that Birch’s character here is a “feminist” is a running pseudo-joke.

Which brings us to the performances.

Michael Riley is stellar, stellar (I know…) as Liz’s father Peter.

Kudos to the styling department.

That beard.  And that hair!

Crazy, man, crazy!!

But Riley’s performance is really special.

It touched my heart.

Long ago.

When I first saw this film.

And dare I say, this movie made me appreciate my own family.

It made me miss my folks.

And so I salute Peter Riley and Lifetime and all involved for that effect on my heart.

Jennifer Pisana is really fabulous as the young Liz Murray here.

It’s an unenviable task.

To precede Thora Birch’s entrance.

But Pisana is indispensable to this little masterpiece.

Those sweaters.

And the full pronunciations…”Mommy”…”Daddy”…

Ms. Pisana affects the necessary naïveté to be juxtaposed against the sad schizophrenia of Kelly Lynch (who plays Liz’s mom).

And Lynch is great.

Think Cries and Whispers.

[cris et chuchotements…(( (( ((…et chuchotements]

Robert Bockstael does a fine job as Liz’s teacher David.

Very convincing.  Excellent craftsmanship.

Makyla Smith is piquant in her depiction of Liz’s best friend Chris.

[God…the Magic Marker…and the pine box…fuuuuuuck]

Yes, friends…this is Lifetime Television.

So the brisure (bonjour, monsieur Derrida) is “crap”.

“Crap happens.”

Whoa…watch thy mouth, Kelly Lynch!

So again…Peter Levin does a fantastic job shoehorning a true X-file into PG territory.

We see a syringe here and there.  A tourniquet.

Riley cleaning a spoon.

But the real heartbreak is Wheat Chex with tap water.

Yeah…

Hello Gummo.

Ellen Page has a small role here.

And she’s good.

Fine actress.

But we’ve been waiting to roll out the big gun.

Thora Birch.

On this, her birthday, I am only just now getting towards a handful of reviews honoring her unique thespian gift.

What to say?

That every look is magic?

That every glance is gold?

That she has crafted her microexpressions in solitude…and wielded them like an Arthurian sword for the duration of this flick?

Yes, yes, and yes.

[and an Oxford comma]

Because kids take it for granted.

Rich kids.

Harvard.

Penn.

Princeton.

Maybe…

But even more so the lesser ivied walls.

I won’t name names.

But the spoiled kids.

Not turning in homework.

Bragging about shortcuts.

Those, ultimately, will be life’s losers.

But Liz Murray worked her butt off to get into Harvard.

From sleeping on the B Train.

Four years of high school in two.

And Thora Birch has worked her butt off too.

She hasn’t gotten the roles her talent deserves.

But the roles she has gotten, she has largely smashed out of the park.

Like the Babe Ruth of leading ladies.

And so there are other actresses I admire.

But Thora Birch was the first.

The first to give me that magical feeling which only Neil Young has adequately described:

“I fell in love with the actress/She was playin’ a part that I could understand”.

Happy Birthday, Thora Birch!

And may all your days and films be filled with the joy which you have put into the world through your cinematic brilliance.

-PD