Tuesday, September 24, 2013


Our Kids Matinees tribute to beloved children's author Roald Dahl features a screening of Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971) this Saturday, September 28 at 11:00 am. Kerri Grogan shares some sweet facts about the making of the candy-filled fantasy.

I've Got a Golden Ticket: Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory
By Kerri Grogan, BMFI Staff Assistant

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was written by Roald Dahl and published in 1964. As with many of his novels, Dahl drew inspiration from his experiences as a schoolboy in the 1920s, a time when chocolate companies were competing fiercely with each other for young customers. 

But what inspired the film? Director Mel Stuart said that he was approached by his daughter, who was ten at the time and had just finished reading the novel. It delighted her so much that she told her father that he should make a film out of it!

Turning this sweet novel into a delightful film was fairly challenging, especially when many of the actors were children without a lot of acting experience. Stuart had a simple way of capturing some genuine expressions from the actors, though: by making sure they really were surprised. For instance, the kids' reactions to the chocolate room are very real—it was their first time viewing the set! Also, even though the Wonkitania was being pulled down the chocolate river on a track, the actor portraying the Oompa Loompa at the helm thought he was the one steering. Stuart decided not to tell him the truth, to keep it more believable.

Director Mel Stuart surprised the young cast of Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory with Willy Wonka's Chocolate Room. Until they shot the scene, the young actors had never seen the set.
Gene Wilder, who played the iconic Willy Wonka, was particularly convincing. Julie Dawn Cole (Veruca Salt) said in the 30th Anniversary DVD commentary that she was completely fooled by his fake limp during filming. She assumed he had really injured himself and that production would be delayed! When he went from limping straight into a somersault, she was just as surprised as the audience. While they were floating down the chocolate river by boat, his acting was so convincing that it frightened some of the actors: they thought he really was going mad! He was even instructed not to tell Peter Ostrum, who played Charlie, that he was going to yell at him during a scene late in the movie. The pair had formed a close friendship by then, so Ostrum's shock at being yelled at was completely real. Yikes!

There were some similar mishaps behind the scenes, too. In Wonka's office, Stuart decided to have all objects in the room cut in half to give the room a more whimsical, less ordinary look. While one of the prop men was working on the set, he accidentally started sawing into a real coffee pot that someone had left in the work area! He only realized his mistake when it was too late: coffee was already leaking out.

"You're turning violet, Violet!" The makeup that turned Violet Beauregarde purple in the film seemed to have a negative side effect on actress Denise Nickerson. When she returned to school after wrapping up the film, a classmate leaned over and told her she was changing color. The makeup had seeped into her pores and was turning her violet all over again!

Kerri Grogan is BMFI’s Staff Assistant. She studied animation at the Maryland Institute College of Art, and moonlights as a dice-rolling, video gaming geek, blogger, and comic artist.

Click here to view BMFI's full schedule of upcoming Kids Matinees.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Juliet Goodfriend: Toronto International Film Festival 2013

By Juliet Goodfriend, BMFI President

This year I had only four days at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) and each one was packed with four to six full-length movies and a handful of twenty-minute samplings in some rare free moments. I had trouble with Twitter, so abandoned it. Below are my faux tweets.

Themes this year a bit harder to discern, but one theme I noticed was passion, in its many forms: alive, dead, dying, gone bad. These films are indicated below with a (P) at the end of the film blurb. There were at least four films on “Words”, of which I saw three, indicated with a (W). “No crime goes unpunished” or Aquinas’ “the ends never justify the means” was the final theme of the last two films I viewed, indicated with an (E) for “ends”.

Going to TIFF is work. I am in search of movies to show at BMFI and I look at all films through that filter. “Yes” means we would show it, “No” means we would not show it, and “Maybe” means just that.

Labor Day (d. Jason Reitman) – USA
Would we like to show this? –Yes
Kate Winslet is again wonderful in this absorbing “hostage-romance” film. Tension maintained with rewarding results. (P)

Tim’s Vermeer (d. Teller) – USA
Would we like to show this? – Yes
Wealth enables this obsessive inventor to work out the technology behind Vermeer’s art. Very interesting doc, though a bit too self-indulgent.

Le Week-end (d. Roger Michell) – UK
Would we like to show this? – Yes
If only the wife in this 30-year marriage weren’t so sadistic and mean… but that’s part of the uniqueness of this aging couple rom-com. Scenes of Paris sweeten the taste and soften some of the truthfulness of their conflicts. Must now watch Le Weekend of Goddard to appreciate its references.

I Am Yours (d. Iram Haq) – NOR
Would we like to show this? – No
While this exposes the multicultural picture of Norway to some extent, it is narratively weak.

Prisoners (d. Denis Villeneuve) – USA
Would we like to show this? – Yes
A great director and wonderful cast, but a few loose ends in this remarkably tense and a bit too gruesome story mar its polish. (P)

This is Sanlitun (d. Róbert I. Douglas) – CHN/ISR/IRL
Would we like to show this? – No
Not a funny enough spoof on ex-pats in this stylish neighborhood of Beijing. The idea is there, but the execution did not have me laughing—and it was supposed to, I think. What does come through is the arrogance and naivete of westerners trying to make it in China. (W)

12 Years a Slave (d. Steve McQueen) – USA
Would we like to show this? – Yes
A remarkable true story that we all wish were fiction, expertly executed with a superb cast. Should we wonder why an Englishman was the one to bring it to our attention on the screen? It is far better than the trailer, and will be a “must see” for everyone. (E)

Bad Words (d. Jason Bateman) – USA
Would we like to show this? – Yes
Light and funny, at last, this spelling-B farce is a good night’s entertainment! (W)

Love is the Perfect Crime (d. Arnaud Larrieu) – FRA/SUI
Would we like to show this? – Maybe
I am a sucker for Mathieu Amalric, architecture, and the alps in winter, but the peculiarities of this thriller don’t quite live up to the setting and the cinematography. (E/P)

Gravity (d. Alfonso Cuarón) – USA/UK
Would we like to show this? – Yes, but not without 3-D
Finally, a film that rationalizes 3-D. Neither the two characters nor the appreciative audience (will) have much to talk about. Here a picture wins out over words (see below movie of similar title). Total immersion in CGI and exhausting.

Enough Said (d. Nicole Holofcener) – USA
Would we like to show this? – Yes
Charming and poignant, given the recent death of the male star, James Gandolfini. The naturalness of the characters enrich this sweet, but not saccharine, romance.

Words and Pictures (d. Fred Schepisi) – USA
Would we like to show this? – Yes
Why is the part of the eccentric American English teacher given to Brit Clive Owen, who cannot quite hide his accent? Any number of great male actors could have done it. At least Juliette Binoche is playing an artist whose unexplained French accent may make a bit more sense. Am I picky? Yes. This film deals with a wonderful subject, yet it is a bit too predictable and fey. Can’t the battle between words and pictures, fought by newly energized students in a prep school, be enough in itself without throwing in the 12 Step program to save the drunken English teacher? (W)

Walesa. Man of Hope (d. Andrzej Wajda) – POL
Would we like to show this? – Maybe
Poland’s greatest filmmaker combines reenactment and archival footage to explore the motivation and methods of this simple man who did so much to change the world in the 1980s. Worth seeing to remember him and learn what happened (probably) behind the scenes.

When Jews Were Funny (d. Alan Zweig) – CAN
Would we like to show this? – Yes
I can’t believe it, but I got a bit tired of the question, “Are Jews funnier than others?” However, there are enough laughs to satisfy most Jewish audiences, even if the filmmaker can’t quite focus on what his real questions are. Did you hear the one about the thirsty guy…? (W)

Fading Gigolo (d. John Turturro) – USA
Would we like to show this? – Yes
Of course we all will go to a movie written, directed, and co-starring John Turturro and Woody Allen (who MUST have had a hand in the directing and writing, don’t you think?) Turturro is a believable novice prostitute. Woody as pimp is funny and slightly embarrassing. His living with a black family and supporting a Hasidic widow are both confusing plot features that may be his idea of a perfect NY story. Sure you’ll go see it.

Wonders (d. Avi Nesher) – ISR
Would we like to show this? – Maybe
Alice in Jerusalem might be its subtitle, and that city is as much the star of this film as the humans who are caught up in a religio-criminal-fraud tangle that provokes giggles if not laughs.

American Dreams in China (d. Peter Ho-sun Chan) – HKG/CHN
Would we like to show this? – Yes
China’s economic success is powered by creative entrepreneurs who, in the case of this movie, are funny and inventive. Their goal is an English language school to prepare millions of young Chinese with better TOFL scores for entry into US colleges. Their friendship survives partnership travails. The choppiness of the narrative is challenging, but the heart of this film is solid. And Christopher Doyle’s camerawork is as remarkable, as usual.

Enemy (d. Denis Villeneuve) – CAN/ESP
Would we like to show this? – No
A great director entirely off his mark. This is a slow moving doppleganger story that looks like a psychological thriller but one leaves without an inkling as to what is going on in the psychology of the character. The entire audience was in the dark, I sensed.

Night Moves (d. Kelly Reichardt) – USA
Would we like to show this? – Yes
A very good tale that proves, as St. Thomas Aquinas argues, the ends do not justify the means. No matter that the environment (water, in this case) may be improved, be wary of your means. What’s wrong is wrong. OK, got the point. This movie brings it to life quietly and with some terrific acting and directing. (E)

Therese (d. Charlie Stratton) – USA
Would we like to show this? – Yes
Another case where the crime cannot be justified and the sinners get their just deserts. This is a close adaptation of Zola’s novella and beautiful and poignantly set. Jessica Lange is the strong centerpiece of this cast. It is a costume piece with finely carved characters, great atmosphere, and good pace. (E)