Monthly Archives: September 2005

A Difficult Man

As a very belated postscript to my Willy Wonka / Charlie review, I thought it was worth expanding on my comments about the tantalising collaborations that almost happened throughout Roald Dahl’s life. Dahl was a very difficult and in some ways a very solitary man. It’s probably telling that the only really protracted creative collaboration he had while alive was with the illustrator Quentin Blake. That was a partnership founded on a lack of direct interaction: while Dahl and Blake were a perfect fit for each other, they didn’t really work together. Dahl would turn over his writing, and Blake would illustrate it.

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Interview: Jonathan Nossiter, Mondovino

When you consider the passion, seriousness, and self-importance with which many indulge their passion for wine, the controversy surrounding Jonathan Nossiter’s documentary Mondovino is perhaps not surprising. The film is a survey of the international wine industry that suggests that as the industry is being globalised, wine culture is being homogenised. It points to the disproportionate influence wielded by certain figures (notably American wine critic Robert Parker) who serve as literal tastemakers, leading to the development of a global wine style at the expense of localised wine cultures.

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War on Terroir

Mondovino (Jonathan Nossiter, 2004)

Whenever a controversial documentary rolls around, we discover just how naïve the attitude of many commentators to documentary is. As part of the process of rebuttal of any politically challenging film, critics from the right tend to peddle a false view of what documentaries are about (and this is just about always done from the right, for despite the prevailing political tendencies of the day, the widely distributed political documentaries are still generally from the left). Documentaries have to be objective, they argue: they have to put both sides of the story. I lost count of the number of times I saw people seriously argue the absurd proposition that Fahrenheit 9/11 wasn’t even properly considered a documentary because it was so focussed on arguing a particular point of view. Which is, of course, rubbish. Documentary makers have every right to argue a particular proposition, rather than somehow presenting an all-encompassing “balanced” or “objective” overview. Indeed, if we argue that they don’t have such a right, we strip documentaries of much of their point. This doesn’t mean that we have to just accept a poorly justified argument without complaint, or that we can’t engage with and criticise the argument that a documentary puts. I’m just saying that we need to move straight into that discussion, rather than attacking documentaries as propaganda simply because the filmmaker argues a single point of view. Does every film really need to be its own rebuttal?

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The Opposite of Cursed

Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (Nick Park & Steve Box, 2005)

There are all sorts of things that can cue you in to the fact that you’re about to see a wonderful film, but here’s a new one: fingerprints.

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Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Tim Burton, 2005) and

Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (Mel Stuart, 1971)

“If we’d had Milligan or Sellers romping through it and a hundred children playing the Oompa-Loompas, we’d have had a fantasy like The Wizard of Oz. But they ruined it.” – Roald Dahl, on Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory (1971)

One of the interesting side effects of the release of Tim Burton’s new take on Roald Dahl’s novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is that suddenly Mel Stuart’s 1971 adaptation is routinely being described as a “classic.” Since when? Although a staple of childhood viewing for three decades, I had never really thought of the film as particularly well regarded. It’s well remembered, certainly: its sheer garishness, and elements of creepy kitsch (such as the orange-skinned, green-haired Oompa-Loompas) mean it’s a film that sticks in the mind. Yet I always considered it deeply flawed, and welcomed the idea of an artist as talented as Tim Burton taking on a new version. As I wrote some time ago (here) Burton is a filmmaker whose sensibilities are ideally suited to combining the fantastic and macabre elements of Dahl’s material into a satisfying whole, as opposed to Stuart’s often-uncomfortable juxtaposition of jarring elements. What’s more, he had all the mistakes of the first version to learn from, and the benefits of modern technology. So it’s an immense surprise to find not only that Burton’s version is something of a disappointment, but also that on revisiting Stuart’s, it holds up better than I had remembered.

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