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

Kingpin [1996)

The concept of the “family” movie has changed since The Sound of Music in 1965.

Wikipedia, that grand arbiter of officiality, does not primarily recognize “family” as a genre.

They opt for “children’s film”.

Nonetheless, the Wiki article lists “family film” as an alternative name for this nebulous genre.

In 1965, The Beatles were still releasing albums like Rubber Soul.

1966 saw these same alchemists get a bit edgier with Revolver.

By 1967, the whole world was tripping balls to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

It’s important to document this sea change in pop culture by way of the personages pictured on the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s:

-Aleister Crowley

-Lenny Bruce

-William S. Burroughs

-Karl Marx

-and many others.

Just these four personalities alone made for a shocking collection on the cover of what was sonically a hippy-dippy platter.

But maketh thou no mistake:  The Beatles were self-consciously out to SHOCK!

1971.

By then, The Beatles were no more.

1968 had come and gone (violently).  And The Beatles had reached their zenith (or nadir) of angst with songs like “Helter Skelter” (from “The White Album“).

There were no new Beatles albums in 1971.

Indeed, there was never again a “new” Beatles album

But 1971 gave us Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.

And so, about four years late, Hollywood managed to weave the psychedelia of Sgt. Pepper’s into a bona fide family classic.

It took a while longer before Hollywood had another idea with legs (other than just borrowing from the great minds in rock music).

Aliens!

It is worth noting that the three original Star Wars films (1977, 1980, and 1983) were interpolated in 1982 by a cute alien named E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.

Sure, there were classic superheroes (like Superman in 1978), but the next real wave was another coup of futuristic thinking.

Time machines.

The Back to the Future franchise raked in whopping revenue of nearly a billion dollars at the box office over the release years of 1985, 1989, and 1990.

But still, no major taboos had been broken in this fragile genre.

There was no auteur conversant in James Monaco’s theories on “exploding genres”.

Yet, two films from this same period stick out as family-proto (not proto-family).

1988:  Who Framed Roger Rabbit?  [ooh la la…stretching the genre like Jessica Rabbit stretched her red sequin gown]

-1989:  National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation [a real benchmark or signpost…perhaps not as racy a National Lampoon’s Vacation, but still edgy enough to elicit laughter during “the decline of the West” (as Oswald Spengler put it)]

Which almost brings us to the unlikely masterpiece that is Kingpin.

Randy Quaid had been counted on by the National Lampoon franchise for his peerless role of Cousin Eddie.

By 1996, he would become a priceless asset for the makers of Kingpin.

It is hard to chart how we went from The Sound of Music to Kingpin…even with the help of the inestimable Beatles.

If we are to really reach our goal (an explanation), we must follow the followers–the children of The Beatles.

-1970:  Syd Barrett was still bloody mad (and brilliant) on The Madcap Laughs [especially the song “No Good Trying”]

-The Mothers of Invention released albums titled Burnt Weeny Sandwich and Weasels Ripped My Flesh [pretty odd, edgy stuff]

-and international artists like Amon Düül II (from Germany) gave the world a whole new organic, electro-bombastic sound to attempt to decode

-1971:  The Krautrock invasion continued with CAN’s Tago Mago

-Tribal hippies Comus found the perfect sound with First Utterance

-1972:  Hawkwind released their cosmic, perpetual-motion masterpiece Doremi Fasol Latido

-1973:  Pink Floyd changed the cultural landscape with Dark Side of the Moon (perhaps presaging the space/aliens films which would preoccupy family film makers in the coming years)

-Brian Eno melted many minds with his masterpiece Here Come the Warm Jets (complete with the balding artist on the cover in drag)

But we missed something significant:

Led Zeppelin.

If the 1970s belonged to any one band, it was this one.

-their first two albums were released in 1969

-by the time of Led Zeppelin III (1970), they were competing against overt (though clownish) occultists like Black Sabbath [Jimmy Page of Zeppelin being a more covert, zealous admirer of Aleister Crowley]

Led Zeppelin IV was released in 1971

Houses of the Holy saw the light of day in 1973

Physical Graffiti dropped in 1975

But as Led Zeppelin began to peter out, another group picked up the slack and streamlined the music.  Their message was as tough as their humor was bawdy.

AC/DC slapped the world with High Voltage (1976), Let There Be Rock (1977), and other masterpieces which made for a loud world.

But music was just getting started in asserting its agenda for Hollywood.

Iggy Pop dropped two masterpieces in 1977.  One light and tough (Lust for Life), and the other a much darker affair (The Idiot).

But the real earthquake…the real force which rent the curtain in the temple was Nevermind the Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols.

From this album in 1977, nothing was ever the same again.

And so the film under consideration, Kingpin, was born from many decades of broken taboos.

Some would call this “progressive” (and then proceed to solicit a donation).

Oswald Spengler might rightly have called it The Decline of the West.

But in the case of Kingpin, I can only call it funny.

I can’t pass judgement on film since 1965.

As to whether it is fit for families to view together.

But I can pass judgement on this film insofar as its most important merit.

It’s damned funny!

I was Munsoned by Cinema Paradiso.  Long ago.

I thought I had a chance.  But I was Amish.  I just didn’t know it yet.

But let’s first start by talking about the dirtbags who frame this film.

#1 is Woody Harrelson (though he starts as just a protégé).

Woody has had an interesting life.

When I was growing up in San Antonio, one of our family shows to watch after the 10 p.m. news was Cheers.  This gave us great comfort.  Great laughs.  And Woody played the character Woody Boyd.  One of the bright spots of a great television cast.

But Woody Harrelson’s dad was a hitman (in real life).  And he killed (in 1979) U.S. federal judge John H. Wood Jr. right here in my hometown:  San Antonio.

It was a drug hit.  Harrelson’s father hired for $250,000 to shoot and kill this judge outside of his home.  The drug dealer who hired Harrelson got 30 years.  Harrelson got life in jail.

Harrelson denied in court that he killed Judge Wood.  He claimed he just took credit for it so he could collect the money.

Well, all of this backstory fits quite nicely into the dirtbag saint Woody Harrelson plays in Kingpin.

#2 is Bill Murray.  Bill is an old hand (no pun intended).  Bill’s character teaches Woody a lot, but Bill’s a real bastard in this film.  Of course, this is a comedy.  So his ostentatious cruelty is worth a few snickers here and there.

At this point it is worth mentioning the twisted (gifted) minds which brought us this film: the Farrelly brothers.

Peter Farrelly (whose birthday is two day away) and his slightly-younger brother Bobby Farrelly.

You might know them from their work such as Dumb and Dumber and the Jonathan-Richman-chalked There’s Something About Mary.

[N.B.  Richman makes a great cameo in Kingpin.  We may not have Lou Reed anymore, but thank God for Jonathan!]

The action of our film shifts from Ocelot, Iowa (“Instead of a dentured ocelot on a leash…”) to hard-scrabble Scranton, Pennsylvania.

[home of “Creepy” Joe Biden]

Randy Quaid (#MAGA) is fantastic as an Amish rube with a promising set of bowling skills.

Somewhere along the way, the opportunistic Harrelson becomes Quaid’s manager.

I got great joy out of seeing this.

Because there are few more difficult things than managing “personalities”.

I’ve done it.

Now I have an advanced degree in management.

And still, I know…it’s hard!

But back to family films.

This IS a family film.

But it is also an example of what the family film has become.

In general, this picture would not be suitable for young children to view.

That’s just my opinion.

But perhaps it’s a subgenre of family film.

It’s something which parents with high-school-aged kids MIGHT be able to enjoy with their children.

But I leave that discretion up to the parents.

Because the Farrelly brothers like to SHOCK!

It’s funny.  They’re good at it.  It has a point.  But it might be too lewd for some families.

Speaking of which, it is a quite interesting device with which the Farrellys chose to frame their film:  the Amish.

It borders on surreal, but this bawdy comedy always has the temperate presence of the Amish throughout.

In a certain way, I think it does great honor to the Amish.

From an entertainment perspective, it’s genius.

But this is also a road movie.

And we know strange things happen on the road.

I was just so impressed by Woody Harrelson’s acting.  It’s effortless.  Flawless.

And I was equally impressed by Randy Quaid’s naïveté.  Truly an acting coup!

But the film gets REALLY interesting when Vanessa Angel hops on the bandwagon!!

Remember her from Spies Like Us, emerging from that snow-covered tent in her underwear?

Yeah, that’s her.

And it turns out that she’s a very good actress!

Ah, but thank God for condoms!!!

At the end, you will feel proud of your efforts.

To walk out the door everyday into a corrupt world.

We are all sinners.

But music saves us.

“Bad Reputation” by Freedy Johnston is a revelation.

And makes me wistfully recall my last days as a professional musician.

“I Want Candy” is such a tough beat!  The Strangeloves!!!

“I Saw the Light” by Todd Rundgren is magical music at a magical moment in this film.

“Showdown” by Electric Light Orchestra is the perfect tune to pit Murray against Harrelson.

But the real eyeopener was hearing “Something in the Air” by Thunderclap Newman.

Such a magical song!

Great movie.  Great acting.  Comes from a place of reality.

-PD