wayfarers all

children's literature, childhood and culture (and anything else that strikes my fancy).

My Photo
Location: pittsburgh, U.S. Outlying Islands

carbon-based life form: thinking, reading and gardening. New College alum; current grad student writing a dissertation. I specialize in children's literature, media, and culture, and queer/gender studies, with a strong interest in 19th century British literature and culture. I like history, a lot.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

me & sybill trelawney - HP6

Big Fat Spoilers Here! So stay away if you don't want to know. Here is a nice daylily to admire before getting to the spoilerpost.

My prediction was right! So far, anyway. My sister and I have often kicked around various predictions and ideas for how the series will end, including what will become of harry's love life. And I have suggested more than once that he will become a Loner-Hero, removed from those around him, pursuing his work in a self-imposed isolation. and his "breakup" scene with Ginny in HP6 proves me right!
although to be fair, I don't reckon Ginny is the kind of girl to take that very well. Ginny as I read her will Be There for Harry no matter what, and will likely save his ass on at least one occasion, thus proving herself worthy of partnership. Ginny's tough, and doesn't seem too keen to have boys tell her what to do - I like that about her.
Someone on my listserv has pointed out similarities between Ginny and Harry's mother, Lily - I'm assuming physical (the long red hair). This is creepy. I sincerely hope this wasn't intentional but I fear it might have been. the "becoming his father" plot is also a bit tiresome to me, although it doesn't detract from my overall enjoyment of the books.
anyway, I like it when I make predictions and they, at least temporarily, come true.
When does Book Seven come out??

Saturday, July 16, 2005

HP6 - first responses (no spoilers)

I stayed up all night reading Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince - until about 6:30am, anyway (and then couldn't fall asleep for two more hours, but that's another story).

I'll have to read it again before I can do my really sharp, insightful literary analysis, but as of right now, my first impression is very positive. I have a feeling that a lot of the book could have been cut down - it's backstory, information-providing scenes that could have been written differently and more efficiently - but this doesn't really detract from the novel. The best and most surprising bit for me is how Rowling's writing (or her editors' editing) has improved, especially in casual dialogue. HP6 is funny - at times, though of course humor is not the prevailing tone. But the interactions between the kids - Harry, Ron & co - rang much more true to me - they joke, they're sarcastic. Harry doesn't waffle around with adults - he's gotten pretty defiant but comfortably so. His insistence on following his own dictates doesn't come off as it has in the past, as a kind of immature, childish contrariness; in HP6, he seems like a real human with a conscience and well-developed sense of right and wrong, a knowledge of what is the right thing for him to do, and an absolute (and admirable) unwillingness to deviate from that knowledge. He is not longer petulant, which is a huge relief, and finally Ron's been given some good lines (!).

My big disappointment is not very much Luna Lovegood, with whom I was absolutely delighted in HP5. She makes appearance here, of course, but not in the sustained way I was hoping for. But I can live with this.

There's a typo or misspelling within the first few pages which made me groan ("site" instead of "sight") but otherwise I think this was well-edited. A bit of a lack of continuity - some things felt a bit as if they were coming out of nowhere, and for the obsessive re-reader, Harry's sudden ability to swim rings false (remember in Goblet of Fire how he worried about the second task because he couldn't swim well??? evidently, Rowling and her editors didn't).

This was definitely not the book I expected, but at the same was precisely what I expected. A few of my personal predictions came true, which is always nice. I'm curious to see how the series will wind up - of course, I'll be waiting a jolly good long time for this to be revealed. In the meantime, I'll re-read HP6 and think it through more carefully, and there's a universe full of other (more?) brilliant books awaiting my attention.

Summary: HP6 a pleasant surprise. sharper, cleverer, smarter than i'd expected. flawed, certainly. but a hugely satisfactory read.

Friday, July 15, 2005

harry potter

need i say more? i'm heading out soon to get my copy of the new Harry Potter book (hereafter referred to as HP6), and i'm psyched. i've been rereading HP5 and had forgotten about my new favorite character, Luna Lovegood. I'm eager to see what's happened with her.

i'll be blogging here about it probably once i'm done, or if anything strikes me as unusual or crappy or especially compelling. but i'll stick HP6 or spoiler or something in the post title if anyone wants to avoid spoilers.

what a weekend! charlie & the chocolate factory AND a new harry potter! and the new diana wynne jones book (Conrad's Fate) has been shipped to me from amazon.com!


Thursday, July 14, 2005

wonkamania is sweeping my brain!

i can't stop thinking about this movie...!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
new brainstorm, from a conversation with someone else today (theatre manager/programmer who asked me to lead discussion post-screening this coming monday):

what if the ending is tongue-in-cheek? a poke at, say, the 1971 treacly ooky moralizing ending?

my wish right now: to sit down with tim burton, john august and johnny depp and find out what THEY think is going on in this movie.

then johnny depp would explain to me everything i want to know about Pirates of the Caribbean.

then perhaps he'd decided to leave his partner for me and we'd live happily ever after in france.

or not. i'd settle for writing a couple of really smart articles using my insider quotes from depp, burton & august.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

late-night brainstorm: willy wonka edition

Late last night, right before I fell asleep, I had a sudden revelation about the characterization of Willy Wonka in the new film version. It is this: Wonka here is utterly selfish and self-absorbed, which is, I think, quite a departure from the novel.

For example: upon meeting the five children, Depp's Wonka doesn't ask their names, and when the children introduce themselves, he reacts with revulsion, drawing back from them physically, and disinterest - after one of the girls says "I'm Violet Beauregard," Wonka looks down at her and says "I don't care."

The film hints as well that the demise of the four "bad" kids is premeditated - the children themselves wonder about the Oompa-Loompas' song-and-dance number after Augustus goes up the pipe, suggesting that it all seemed kind of rehearsed or planned. Wonka of course denies this, but in the squirrel room scene, Wonka is clearly scheming for the removal of both Veruca and her father. It's an oddly malicious side - Dahl's Wonka is clearly more concerned for his chocolate than for his guests, and isn't overly distressed at their mishaps, but he also never appears to have plotted out the various events.

The invention of the Wonka childhood backstory also gives the appearance of self-absorption - Wonka, lost in childhood flashbacks, is temporarily mentally absent from the tours. His reaction to Charlie's family and their poverty (he peeks into their bare cupboards) is to strip the family from Charlie, if Charlie wants the factory. In the novel, Wonka responds generously and sympathetically to Charlie and Grandpa Joe's obvious hunger and poverty - the scene where he gives them mugs of chocolate from the river saying "you look like you could use it" is preserved in the Burton film. But Depp's Wonka is not at all moved by the family's plight when directly confronted with it - he must first resolve his own "inner-child" issues.

This is reminiscent of James Kincaid's criticism at the end of his 1998 book Erotic Innocence, where he reprimands adult culture for taking care of itself and its own "inner child" better than it does actual children.

I'm thinking now that the vaguely sinister tone of the film, and focus on industrialization and mechanization, along with this kind of selfishness, really establishes Charlie again as the film's hero while casting Wonka as the corporate mastermind of a chocolate empire (in contrast to the 1971 film, where Wonka clearly takes center stage - the renaming of that film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory says it all).

I'll need to think this through more thoroughly, and I definitely need to see the film again, but there may be more smart stuff - really radically different than Dahl's novel or what one expects from a Chocolate Factory film - than I originally suspected.

greetings from mr willy wonka!

I've been collecting my thoughts about Charlie & the Chocolate Factory for the last couple of hours. I thoroughly enjoyed watching it - time flew in the theatre. I laughed a lot, the audience laughed a lot, there was solid applause at the film's conclusion.

Johnny Depp is brilliant, truly brilliant. My not-too-thorough internet research suggests that Depp based the "look" of Wonka on Vogue editor Anna Wintour, but there seems to be some kind of critical agreement that there's an awful lot of Michael Jackson in his character. As someone who spent nearly two years working on Jackson (and JM Barrie), I have to say I see Jackson in this Wonka - the pale, pale skin and the high pitched voice are dead giveaways, but Wonka's skewed perception of what's "weird," and his vexed relationship with his father signalled Jackson as much as anything else.
But this is not necessarily a bad thing - I imagined Jackson giving tours of Neverland Ranch while Wonka tours the kids around his factory, and I think this is a reasonable and inoffensive parallel.

Freddie Highmore as Charlie was genius casting - allegedly Depp pulled for him after working with him in Finding Neverland. Highmore's Charlie has the right mix of winsomeness and eagerness that I see in the book's Charlie.

My essential take on this film: a great movie, but not faithful to Dahl's novel. The 1971 Wilder film isn't faithful to the book either, though Tim Burton's film is certainly edgier and less treacly, both films fall victim to an annoying need for sentimentality and moral resolution.

Burton's film ends with Charlie refusing the factory when Wonka tells him he can't bring his family. A new backstory for Wonka adds in childhood flashbacks, to his dentist father forbidding him candy. After Charlie's rejection of the factory in favor of staying with his family, Wonka's sales and imagination slip; he seeks out Charlie, who leads the way to reconciliation between the Wonka father and son. Parents, it seems, forbid children things because they're trying to protect them out of love. The film ends with a happy scene of the childlike Willy Wonka successfully incorporated into the Bucket household (now a house of plenty) as a kind of additional child: Mrs Bucket scolds Willy and Charlie with "no talking business at the table, boys."
The camera pulls back, and we see the Bucket shack transplanted to the fields of the Chocolate Room, where our narrator tells us everyone lived happily ever after - that Charlie has won the factory, but Wonka has won a better prize: a loving family.

This slushiness is unnecessary and strangely out of place in a Tim Burton film (although the father-son bit is a kind of wink at Burton's 2003 film Big Fish), and certainly shares nothing with Dahl's original.

That said, the rest of the film is brilliant. Ignoring the Wonka backstory, the film is remarkably consistent with Dahl's novel, though Wonka is played down - he is far less wildly manic and hyper than in the book. But Depp gets Wonka's weirdness across quite effectively, and his disdain for the four revolting children is conveyed in fantastically executed brief facial expressions. The looks of disgust and revulsion Depp conjures up are truly stunning.

The non-narrative elements of the film - namely the sets and effects - are marvellously consistent with and evocative of the mad creativity of Dahl's novel. The Oompa-Loompas, restored to their (offensive) original brown, tiny selves, replicate the touchy worker-employer relations Dahl's novel has been criticised for. In this respect, I think Burton and the scriptwriter, John August, made a wise decision though probably a controversial one. The Oompa-Loompas here appear as some sort of African tribe of cocoa-bean-worshiping semi-savages before being brought to England and turned into factory workers. The Oompa-Loompas bow in response to Wonka's instructions, another oddly servile touch.

But the Oompas also get some of the film's funniest moments - the song and dance production numbers following the demise of each child. These are truly inspired - music by Danny Elfman, using Dahl's original lyrics - each song taking its cue from a particular era of music (80s metal, 70s disco, etc). The Gloop song is perhaps funniest - here, the Oompa-Loompas appear as Busby Berkeley style synchronized swimmers and chorus-line dancers.

The film's opening sequence really strikes a sinister note, in my mind. it's a highly mechanized, industrial image of the chocolate factory at work - bars of chocolate being produced and wrapped by machines. The clanging, repetive music and the images of shiny metal and high-tech machinery reinforces the mechanized, industrial nature of Wonka's corporation. The factory appears, to me, like the semi-chilling images in Van Allsburg's Polar Express, with the industrial North Pole dominated by a single controlling boss. The factory and Wonka are not benign philanthropists - Wonka's a businessman, a moneymaker - and one gets the sense, partly through the film's score - that the whole enterprise is a kind of mechanized behemoth, rolling on unstoppably. The inserted backstory that Grandpa Joe once worked for Wonka, but was then laid off at the factory's closing gives an implied criticism that Wonka's decision led to, or at least accelerated, the family's dire poverty.

There are some moments of utter brilliant referentiality - an Edward Scissorhands reference early on, an extended homage to 2001: A Space Odyssey -and one that my mom picked out after I described it: viewed from the elevator, fluffy pink sheep being sheared for their wool. Wonka mutters: "I don't want to talk about that one." My mom brilliantly suggested Ed Wood, the director Depp portrayed in another Burton film - Wood, the director of terrible sci-fi movies and cross-dresser favoring fluffy angora sweaters.

It's clear as well that the film nods to the 1971 film, directed by Mel Stuart - the tiny entrance to the Chocolate Room, the set of that same room are both wildly similar to the '71 film. But this is NOT a remake of that movie; this is a new adaptation of Dahl's novel. I want to stress this because Wilder has evidently criticized Burton's "remake" of what Wilder and many others perceive to be a classic film. Burton and August and this cast have done something quite different - funnier, edgier and I would argue darker or more sinister - than the '71 film (which is quite good in its own right).

Overall, this is a really good film. For purists of the novel - and Dahl's work in general - the conclusion and added backstories are a big letdown. But the sheer entertainment value of the rest of the movie - and the unbelievably fine acting from Depp and Freddie Highmore - are a sufficient counterweight to the needlessly sentimental conclusion. The children are so over-the-top appalling, as are their parents - and Charlie and the Buckets so clearly normal and decent (but not chokingly angelic) - and Wonka is so flat-out odd and entertaining that I think the film succeeds smashingly.

Though I do wonder at both film versions' need to include some kind of affirming, positive, sentimental conclusion, that is a topic for another day. There are many more things I could say about the film - small snippets of humor or cleverness or oddness - and many I probably missed, but I think this is one film where I will leave it at a strong recommendation to see the film. If nothing else, it's food for thought on the Dahl adaptation front; at best, it's a wildly peculiar and intensely funny smart and clever film.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

the chocolate factory opens....

so a bit of luck came my way - i've been asked to participate in a post-screening discussion (facilitate it, i suppose) of the new Charlie & the Chocolate Factory film on monday 18 july at the oaks theatre in oakmont, pa (near pittsburgh). since i agreed to do it - nervously but excitedly - i get a ticket to tonight's sneak preview screening of the film at the waterfront theatres.

tonight, 7:30 - me, johnny depp and the Chocolate Factory!

I am extremely excited about seeing the film and participating in the discussion next week (great opportunity to expand my cv, i guess). I've worked a fair amount on Dahl's novel, and this spring wrote a paper for a film adaptation class on the '71 gene wilder film. i would hardly call myself expert, but i've definitely read pretty extensively on both novel and film, and i know those texts inside-out. and i've gotten more and more interested in the possibilities of film and children's literature; i don't know if it's the direction i'll head in for things like my dissertation, but the fact that i'm considering it at all surprises me (and is strangely exciting because it's such a new direction for me, a person who otherwise is in love with victorian/edwardian era literature and culture, especially children's lit).

i will post about the film sometime tonight - i don't know how spoilers work with such a wellknown source text, but i'll try not to give away the best parts (i'm sure there will be some). i don't know if i'll love the film but i'm terribly curious to see how the novel has been adapted.

more after the film!

Free Counter
Free Hit Counter