Reading to Reels: Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

838488For Gene Wilder (RIP). Thank you so much Mr. Wilder for being a wonderful memory and an icon of my pop culture loving childhood. You will be missed.

Can you believe the much beloved movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is now over 40 years old? It seems just yesterday my sister and I were sitting in front of the television, transported to a world of candy, Oompa Loompas, bratty kids who get their just desserts and of course, the mysterious Willy Wonka. My sister and I loved this movie and we watched every broadcast.

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is based on the classic Roald Dahl book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Played by Gene Wilder in the film, Willy Wonka is the reclusive proprietor of a world-famous chocolate factory. In the beginning, Willy Wonka makes a huge announcement. He is granting five lucky people a chance to tour his factory, learn some of his tricks of the candy trade and win a lifetime of free chocolate. The catch? You must first purchase a chocolate Wonka bar, and if one of those bars has a golden ticket, you are a winner. The world loses its collective shit and the media goes wild for the story (and this is the pre-Internet days). Who will win the golden ticket?

One person who would love to win a golden ticket is Charlie Bucket (Peter Ostrum). Charlie is good hearted but his family is broke. Even buying a simple candy bar could put a dent in the Bucket family budget. But somehow Charlie gets the money, and he purchases a Wonka bar. Charlie rips open the chocolate bar with anticipation, and low and behold, there lies a shining golden ticket!

However, before Charlie arrives at Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, he is offered a proposal by the devious Arthur Slugworth, the owner of a rival chocolate factory. Slugworth wants Charlie to steal Wonka’s secret recipes, most ideally, Wonka’s recipe for his latest creation the everlasting gobstopper. Will Charlie succumb to Slugworth’s shady plea, or will he stand by his convictions and not steal the recipe?

Being a minor, Charlie has to bring along a chaperone to tour Wonka’s chocolate factory. Charlie brings along his beloved Grandpa Joe played by the irascible Jack Albertson (yep, the “man” from Chico and the Man). Along for the tour are four other rather vile children, and their equally vile parents. First there is the gluttonous Augustus Gloop who doesn’t say much but sure loves to stuff his face. Violet Beauregard talks a mile a minute and is always chomping on a piece of gum. Mike TeeVee is obsessed with television and pop culture (wait, this is a bad thing?). But most odious of all is Veruca Salt, a spoiled, entitled brat. Hmm, if Veruca existed today she’d probably have her own reality show on Bravo.

Willy Wonka meets the winners and their adult chaperones at his factory’s elaborate gates. After freaking everyone out by pretending to be feeble, falling, and then finishing his “fall” with the perfect somersault, Wonka invites Charlie and the gang into the factory. Before anyone can go further they must read and sign a very elaborate contract, which pretty much looks like the contract you had to sign when you got your credit card. Now it’s on to the tour of the magical Wonka factory.

The first room the winners visit is a totally edible garden with flowers, mushrooms and a chocolate river. The winners also meet the Oompa Loompas, Wonka’s vertically-challenged, green-haired, orange-skinned helpers. Veruca Salt tells her daddy, “I want an Oompa Loompa right now” because she’s a snotty bitch, and you pretty much realize she is going to work your last nerve. However, it is Augustus Gloop who is the first to be eliminated from the tour when he falls into the chocolate river and gets sucked up in a large tube.

Still, the tour goes on. The winners and their chaperones visit magical room after magical room. They even go on a crazy boat road right out of a bad acid trip (it was the 1970s). Throughout the tour, the kids misbehave and are punished. Even Charlie gets up to some mischief. He and Grandpa Joe sneak into a room to try some Fizzy Lifting drinks, and start floating up towards a menacing whirling fan on the ceiling. Will they be beheaded? Fortunately, Charlie and Grandpa Joe find out belching will help them get their feet back on the ground, and they join the others on the tour.

At the end of the tour, only Charlie is left. However, Wonka finds out about the Fizzy Lifting drink fiasco, and he is pissed! He denies Charlie the ultimate prize because he defied the contract’s rules. Charlie turns to leave dejected, but not before he hands Wonka the Ultimate Gopstopper he swiped to give to Slugworth.

But all is not lost! Wonka turns to Charlie and tells him, “You won!” It turns out Slugworth is not rival and a spy; he’s actually one of Wonka’s employees and his name is Wilkinson. The Everlasting Gobstopper predicament was actually a test, and Charlie passed!

As the movie ends, Wonka leads Charlie and Grandpa Joe to the “Wonka-vator.” The Wonka-vator is an elevator that goes up, down and in all other directions. The Wonka-vator blasts through the factory’s ceiling and flies over the city below. It is at this time Wonka tells Charlie that the factory is his once Wonka retires.

I loved Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory as a kid, but I saw it again as an adult and I loved it even more. There is something so subversive about it, but at the end the good kid wins out. Sure, Charlie isn’t perfect but his heart is in the right place. And the bad kids are punished which totally fills me with schadenfreude. Jeff Gordinier even covers this in his book X Saves the World: How Generation X Got the Shaft but Can Still Keep from Everything Sucking.

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory was later remade in 2005 and starred Johnny Depp; but to me, Gene Wilder owns the role of Willy Wonka.

And while doing research for this piece I found out some interesting trivia. Julie Dawn Cole (Veruca Salt) and Denise Nickerson (Violet Beauregard) totally crushed on Peter Ostrum. I can’t say I blame them. He was adorable. And speaking of Peter Ostrum, Charlie Bucket was his first and last film role. He’s now a veterinarian.

What else? The flower-shaped cup Willy Wonka drinks from in an early scene was made from wax (ew). However, many of the props found on the set like the giant mushrooms were edible. Jean Stapleton was slated to play Mike TeeVee’s mom but had to back out due to another acting role. You probably know her best as Edith Bunker from the 1970s classic TV show All in the Family. And Julie Dawn Cole admits to hating chocolate!

I don’t have kids, but I do have a niece and nephew. And I’d love to share Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory with them. And I bet there are a lot of Gen X parents and aunties and uncles who have done just that.

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Reading to Reels: Desk Set (Special Libraries Week Post)

Librarians of all kinds aren’t just found in public libraries; they are also found in schools, universities, corporations and other organizations. This post is in honor of reference librarians-the human versions of Google. Enjoy!

Human beings being replaced by high tech is something many American workers worry about, and it’s not a recent phenomenon as Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn show us in the 1957 comedy Desk Set.

Desk Set takes place at the Federal Broadcasting Company, a fictional television network. Katharine Hepburn plays Bunny Watson, the head of FBC’s huge reference library. Bunny can recite facts faster than you can say, “Google it!” She and her brainy staff, played by Joan Blondell, Dina Merrill and Sue Randall, are kept quite busy with staffers calling up looking for the 411 on a multitude of topics, both the mundane and the serious.

However, there seems to be trouble on the horizon. The network is in talks to merge with another company, but at the moment it seems to be on the down low. FBC brings in an efficiency expert named Richard Sumner played by Spencer Tracy. Richard has also invented a computer system called EMERAC, an “electronic brain” that is supposed to help the workers with the merger. However, many of the workers think these computers will replace them, and they wonder when they’ll get fired.

Richard and Bunny soon meet when he comes into her department taking measurements for the computers. Richard begins to question Bunny, wondering if she can answer as quickly as a computer. One smart cookie, Bunny has no problem answering the questions and proves to quite the foil to Richard’s efficiency expertise.

Instead of being turned off by Bunny’s brains, Richard is actually quite charmed. And despite her hesitation, Bunny can’t help but be drawn towards Richard. She’s been with her boyfriend, Mike (Gig Young), for seven years with no promise of marriage in sight. Hey, Bunny isn’t getting any younger. Bunny and Richard spar and flirt the way only Hepburn and Tracy can.

Towards the end of the film, a giant computer is placed in Bunny’s department to help everyone field questions more efficiently. However, despite the “advanced” technology, the computer is no match for Bunny and her fearless staff. The computer has a near “meltdown” but Bunny and her crew proves to be up to the task. And another computer messes up and mistakenly fires everyone via pink slips placed in their paychecks.

Desk Set is the eighth film Hepburn and Tracy did together (their final film was Who’s Coming to Dinner?), and it’s effortlessly charming. Based on William Marchant’s play with a script by Phoebe and Harry Ephron (yep, the late Nora’s parents), Desk Set is directed with a light touch by Walter Lang. Sure, there are parts that look dated. I had to laugh when I saw the huge computer that took up half of Bunny’s department, and how the answers were spit out on old-school perforated paper.

But despite being made in 1957, Desk Set’s premise looks quite modern.These days, everyone seems to be addicted their tablets, smart phones Googling, Tweeting and updating their Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram pages. But there is truly no replacing our human brains and our need to connect with one another without the use of technology. Desk Set shows this in a fun and entertaining way.

Reading to Reels: Iron Jawed Angels (Women’s Suffrage)

Iron_Jawed_AngelsToday is Wisconsin’s day to vote in the Presidential primary. I voted early this morning and realized I wouldn’t have this right if countless women didn’t take it to the streets and fight for my right to cast a ballot for my chosen candidates. I owe a debt of gratitude to these brave ladies (and some gents).

There are countless books on women’s suffrage and other women’s rights issues, so I’m providing a link to Google Images on all the great books about these topics, books aimed at both adults and children. I’m sure most of these books are amazing reads.

I also have to share a review of a really great film on the topic of women’s suffrage, Iron Jawed Angels. Enjoy, and even more so, VOTE!!!!!

“Well-behaved women seldom make history” – Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

On August 26, 1920 the women of the United States got the right to vote. This did not come to be without the tireless efforts of many women, some of them known, some of them nameless. I am very grateful for the women who literally put their lives on the line to give me the right to vote, so I highly recommend the movie Iron Jawed Angels.

Iron Jawed Angels tells the story of two very brave women, suffragettes Alice Paul (Hilary Swank) and Lucy Burns (Frances O’Connor). In the beginning of the film, the two have returned to the United States after spending time in England where they’ve been very involved with women’s suffrage. They soon join forces with Carrie Chapman Catt (Angelica Huston) and other seasoned activists in the National American Women Suffrage Association (NAWSA) to help American women get the right to vote.

However, NAWSA finds Paul and Burns much too frivolous and rebellious. Paul and Burns are seen as way too radical for Catt and her cohorts when it comes to gaining women’s suffrage. Both young suffragists want a constitutional amendment for American women to have the right to vote. The older suffragists want to use a more conservative state-by-state approach.

Before long Paul and Burns break away from NAWSA and start their own organization, which they call the National Women’s Party (NWP). One of NWP’s goals is to oppose any candidate who is against a constitutional amendment giving women the right to vote.

After disrupting President Woodrow Wilson’s speech to Congress after he refused to meet with the suffragettes to discuss the issue, Paul and Burns go on a country-wide speaking tour to drum up support for their cause. They join forces with influential people like labor lawyer Inez Mulholland (Julia Ormond) and political cartoonist Ben Weissman. There is even a strong attraction between Paul and Weissman, but she holds off on romance because she wants to devote her time to the cause.

While in San Francisco, Mulholland passes away. Paul is devastated. She feels guilty because she convinced Mulholland to go on tour with them even though she was seriously ill. Very depressed, Paul goes back to her family’s home. But soon Burns convinces her that she is desperately needed. Both ladies go back to Washington DC to further the cause.

The country is now involved in World War I. The idea of women getting the right to vote is seen as silly during war time, and public opinion is not favorable towards the suffragettes. While picketing on the sidewalk in DC, the suffragettes are arrested for the trumped-up charge of “obstructing traffic.” The suffragettes refuse to pay the fine and are sentenced to sixty days in a women’s prison.

While imprisoned, Paul goes on a hunger strike after being put in solitary confinement and denied any legal representation. The other suffragettes join Paul in the hunger strike, and later they are violently force-fed by the warden.

Paul starts writing about their experiences after a guard smuggles her a pen and some paper. One of the suffragette’s husbands, a prominent senator, is so horrified by the conditions the suffragettes are living in that he gets the word out. Formerly despised, the suffragettes are now supported by the American public who calls them “iron jawed angels.”

Despite her misgivings about Burns and Paul, Catt is impressed by all the work they have done in name of women’s right to vote. She convinces President Wilson to support women’s suffrage and soon the suffragettes are released from prison. After getting the appropriate amount of states to support the Susan B. Anthony amendment, American women were given the right to vote on August 26, 1920.

Iron Jawed Angels is wonderfully acted and truly riveting. The story of these brave women is not very well-known but so important. And despite covering a very serious topic, Iron Jawed Angels has its lighter moments. In one scene, a young suffragette sees the cutest hat a store window and just has to have it proving one can be a feminist and a fashionista at the same time.

Iron Jawed Angels should be shown in American history classes. Every young woman and young man in America needs to learn this story. After watching this movie, you will never take the right to vote for granted again.

 

 

 

Guest Review: Ball Don’t Live by Matt de la Pena review by CoBalt Stargazer

Ball Don't LieBall Don’t Lie was Matt de la Pena’s first book, published in 2005, and it was developed into a movie of the same title starring Chris “Ludacris” Bridges and Rosanna Arquette. de la Pena is a California native, with an MFA in creative writing from San Diego State University. He currently resides in Brooklyn, teaches creative writing and visits high schools across the country.

de la Pena has written ten books, and whatever your opinion of Young Adult books is, Ball Don’t Lie is one of the better examples of the genre. The author won the Newberry Medal earlier this year for Last Stop On Market Street, and I am gradually working my way through the rest of his novels. I recommend trying to locate his work at your local library, or perhaps online at Amazon.

The story opens at a place called Lincoln Rec, which is a local hangout for professional amateur basketball players. Dreadlock Man, with his fierce fists and suspect jump shot, sets his stuff ($1.45 sandals, key to bike lock, extra T-shirt) on the bleachers and holds his hands out for the ball.  Most of the characters go by nicknames, which they were given when they first started playing at the rec center. The exception is Sticky, the book’s protagonist. Sticky is seventeen years old, and he’s been in and out of foster care since he was a kid, due to either behavioral problems or adults who don’t really want the responsibility of taking care of him because he isn’t what they had in mind. At the time the book opens, he’s on his third or fourth set of foster parents.

Sticky has a fairly severe case of a likely un-diagnosed OCD, which affects him even when he’s on the court. He often becomes fixated on sounds, the tone of things, repeating actions over and over again until he’s satisfied with the “PING!” or the “PONG!” Despite the fact that he’s white, this is no story of privilege. While basketball is our hero’s passion, he feels as if that’s the only thing he has going for him. That is until he meets Anh-thu, a pretty Vietnamese girl who works in a clothing store. That he meets her while trying to shoplift from the store where she works is mostly beside the point, although his penchant for theft comes into play later.

The overall point of the book is, Sticky can ball, and the book is full of urban slang on that note. Ball, baller, daps, hoops, etc, but it never comes off as patronizing or condescending. Sticky and his friends, who are mostly older, live the game in between their days at school and at work; but the kid isn’t sure there’s life beyond the court. Skin color aside, society has an impression of him and kids like him; and while he wants to be the “Eminem of hoops” he needs to rise above the self-defeating belief that he can never be anything other than a semi-thug on a basketball court. When Anh-thu enters his life, he becomes almost immediately smitten, even if he isn’t always capable of expressing it.

As the book progresses, his episodes of OCD continue, and as his girlfriend’s birthday approaches he decides to buy a fairly inexpensive stuffed bear, but steal a more costly bracelet as gifts. But although he changes his mind about the bracelet, he ends up using the knife he found to hold up an older man. He finds himself in possession of a little over four hundred dollars, more money than he’s ever seen in one place at one time. He counts it out once, slowly and deliberately….and then his condition kicks in. He’s locked in place, fixated on the bills in his hands, the compulsion to count them out a second and a third time holding him there until someone else comes along and steals it from him, shooting him through the hand in the process because he tries to resist.

Sticky wakes up in the hospital with Anh-thu asleep in the chair beside his bed. The reader gets a potent flashback into his childhood and how he decided his name was always going to be Sticky. His mother, who is only referred to as ‘Baby’, was an off and on drug user with a history of bringing boyfriends home. The reason he ended up in foster care is that she committed suicide while he was the only one in the house. Only he was locked in an episode then as well, concentrating on splitting out of a window while trying to hit the fender of a truck parked outside.  The sound of his mother shouting his name, “STICKY! STICKY! STICKY!” got stuck in his head on a loop. After that his given name, Travis, fell by the wayside because that’s the last memory he has of her.

But the upside is, the memory triggers a breakthrough, and as cliché as it sounds, Sticky and Travis merge for a brief time, and he begins to cry, likely for the first time in years. He loses his cool, the hard shell between himself and the world around him, finding catharsis.

The book ends with Sticky returning to the rec center after spending three weeks at a summer basketball camp, playing up and down the West Coast in front of college coaches and scouts. The scar on his hand resembles a purple spider, but he can still ball. More than that, he’s discovered that he isn’t nothing without the sport; he has friends and family and love. A future, which he didn’t know was possible until he let go of the preconceptions of not only society, but his own preconceptions.

In the end, Ball Don’t Lie isn’t a perfect book, but it’s such a triumphant story that the flaws it contains make it even more worthy of a read. Sticky is every boy with aspirations, finally bringing those aspirations within reach. Give it a look. You won’t regret it.

Tribute-Harper Lee

Harper Lee quote posterAs many of you know, we lost a true literary great yesterday—Harper Lee—author of the iconic novel To Kill a Mockingbird died at the age of 89.

Born Nelle Harper Lee on April 28, 1926 in Monroeville, Alabama, Miss Lee later worked as an airlines reservations clerk while pursuing a writing career. It was at this time she wrote and later published To Kill a Mockingbird, a novel about a small-town lawyer named Atticus Finch defending an innocent black man accused of raping a white woman. To Kill a Mockingbird was not told from Atticus’s point of view, but of his tomboyish daughter, Jean Louise, better known as Scout.

To Kill a Mockingbird was published in 1960 and won the Pulitzer Prize the following year and was both a critical rave and successful bestseller. In 1962 the film adaption of To Kill a Mockingbird, starring Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch and Mary Badham as Scout was released. Like the novel, the film was both a critical and commercial triumph.

Harper Lee TKAM

However, Miss Lee did not take to celebrity. She was a quiet and very private person who found fame quite off-putting giving her a bit of a Greta Garbo mystique, which is quite refreshing in our age of table-turning “real” housewives and people with the last name Kardashian.

Lovers of To Kill a Mockingbird pined for Miss Lee to write another novel and for decades this wish seemed like a pipe dream. But in February of last year, the world was shocked when the publishing giant Harper Collins imprint Harper’s announced they were going to publish a manuscript of Miss Lee’s that she had written in 1957. This novel, called Go Set a Watchman also became a best-seller.

But it is To Kill a Mockingbird that will truly be Harper Lee’s legacy. It has been translated into countless languages, has been called the best novel of the 20th Century by Library Journal, read and discussed in most high schools and has countless fans, both famous and unknown. To Kill a Mockingbird has also inspired many related books, stage plays and documentaries.

It’s no secret to my readers To Kill a Mockingbird and Harper Lee are close to my heart, inspiring both a Retro Reads and a Reading to Reels post. There are no words I can find at this time to express my love and appreciation for Miss Lee’s talent and her iconic novel other than a mawkish paraphrased quote from To Kill a Mockingbird, “Stand up, people. Miss Harper Lee has passed.”

Reading to Reels: Bonjour Tristesse

bonjour tristesse poster
Based on the then scandalous novel of the same name by Françoise Sagan, Bonjour Tristesse (Goodbye Sadness in English) tells the tale of Cécile played by Jean Seberg, a young French girl vacationing along the French Rivieria with her bon vivant father, Raymond (David Niven). Cécile is only 17, and like a lot of jeune filles, thinks she knows everything. She is indulged and indolent, and has left school after doing poorly on her exams. She fills her days with swimming and tanning, and her nights dancing at decadent clubs often with a dashing older man by the name of Phillipe.

Cécile is very close to her dashing father, some might same disturbingly close. And she tolerates his flighty young girlfriend, Elsa (Mylène Demongeot) who at the time is nursing a bad sunburn. Cécile pretty much wants her father all to herself.

Shortly, arrives Anne Larsen (Deborah Kerr), a friend of Raymond’s late wife. Anne is a fashion designer and quite cultured and well-bred. Cécile is not happy with Anne’s arrival. She thinks Anne’s stay will be the end of her care-free summer amusement. Cécile inklings aren’t exactly off the mark. Anne thinks Cécile needs to cut back on some of her fun and frolic, and buckle down and study so she can improve her marks at school and do better on her exams. Granted, Anne has a point; school should be taken very seriously. And speaking of getting serious, Phillipe wants the summer fling he is currently enjoying with Cécile to become a bit more permanent. Not surprisingly, Cécile won’t have any of that. She just wants to have her bit of amorous fun with Phillipe.

It isn’t long before Cécile’s father, Raymond, roving eyes turn towards the more sophisticated Anne. And Elsa is cast aside. But instead another knotch in Raymond’s bedpost, Anne becomes a much more. Cécile is not happy about this. And she vows to break them apart.

With a screenplay written by Arthur Laurents Bonjour Tristesse is directed and produced by Otto Preminger who directed such film classics as The Man With the Golden Arm, Laura and Carmen Jones. Bonjour Tristesse is filmed in both black and white and in color. To me, the color conveyed the blithe of Cécile’s summer on the French Rivieria whereas the black and white speaks of the tragedy yet to come. I did find it odd that other than the supporting cast, the two adult leads, Raymond and Anne, were played by two Brits and Cécile e was portrayed by the very-American Jean Seberg. I must also say I was delighted to see French chanteuse, Juliette Gréco playing herself at a nightclub frequented by Cécile. All actors are quite convincing in their parts, and in the final scene Miss Seberg says more with a look on her face than a page of dialogue could ever do.

Reading to Reels: Handmade Nation

handmade-nation-dvd-lgSeveral years ago, my friend Kristine and I got to see the documentary of Handmade Nation at the Milwaukee Art Museum. I wrote a review of the book of the same name, now I have a review of the movie. Enjoy!

Handmade Nation is the brainchild of Faythe Levine, a local indie crafter, musician, entrepreneur and film maker. Levine, who has been involved in the DIY art, craft and design scene for years, wanted to find others who shared her passion. She traveled throughout the United States to interview talented, passionate, creative and inspiring men and women who shun the homogenized mass-produced for something handmade and personal.

Handmade Nation grabs you from the opening credits where stop-motion animation shows the creation of handmade embroidered graphics. And throughout the just over an hour-long film, we visit crafters in places like Austin, Chicago, New York, and yes, my hometown, Milwaukee. We meet them at their personal work places and at craft fairs. We meet them in galleries and in garages. Some of them make a living doing their crafts, and others work bread and butter jobs while selling their wares on places like Etsy.com.

But one thing binds them, passion, and it is this passion that makes Handmade Nation so absorbing. In the film we meet a young woman who is setting up her wares the Renegade Craft Fair in Chicago. We meet the guys behind Buy Olympia, a one-stop shopping website for independently made products. One crafter designs erotic hook rug patterns, and another creates embroidered pictures of objects like sushi and celebrities like Loretta Lynn. Seeing one crafter create glass beads and another create intricately cut paper cut-outs was riveting. I really admire both their artistry and devotion to their craft. I was thrilled to see JW and Melissa Buchanan from Little Friends of Printmaking. As Imentioned in my book review of Handmade Nation, the three of us toiled together at Discovery World. And Levine pulls a major coup in getting an interview with one of my she-roes, Debbie Stoller, the founder and editor-in-chief of Bust and the goddess behind the Stitch and Bitch books.

These crafters got into their work for a multitude of reasons. Many of them were put off by the mass-produced stuff they found at places like Wal-Mart. Some of them wanted to make a living out of something they loved to do. Many of them expressed interest in supporting fellow crafters and artisans. But so many of them do it because it’s so much fun. They can look at their work and say, “I created this. This is mine.” Crafting very empowering. For me personally, making my own soap is more about making something that will keep me clean. It’s about experimenting with scents and colors and making something uniquely my own. And when I cut my soap into smaller bars, and none of the sizes are perfectly uniform, it’s okay. Imperfection is part of the charm of crafting.

When Handmade Nation was over, Kristine and I could not stop talking about how inspiring it was. Every once in a while Kristine and I have “crafternoons” where we drink wine, watch a DVD, and yes, make crafts.

But I don’t think you have to be a crafter to get something out of Handmade Nation. I think anyone who appreciates artistry and creativity will like this charming documentary.