dir. Orson Welles
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
dir. Mel Stuart
Sat Dec 30 at the Admiral.
OCCASIONALLY it takes a coincidence to reveal something you've known all along. I've enjoyed Citizen Kane and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory since childhood and never once thought of them as having anything to do with one another. But having occasion to see their titles together in print for the first time, it occurs to me otherwise. This New Year's Eve weekend, the Admiral Theater (a space as cavernous as either Kane's Xanadu or Wonka's factory, though barren and industrial, unlike the cluttered mayhem both moguls use to imprint their own personality--to constantly remind them of themselves) is offering you a choice between the two. Since they're two of the better films playing in town, you should go to at least one, but I've no recommendation which to attend. Really, you'll get the same story either way.
It's not just the withdrawal from the world, or that Wonka secludes himself behind an iron gate as imposing and iconographic as Kane's. There is also the imperial posturing, the snippy, condescending superiority you find just beneath the smiling surface of noblesse oblige (Kane to Susan Alexander: "What are you laughing at, young lady?" Wonka to Mike TeeVee: "I told you not to, silly boy."); the brash conviction that they can do anything (after wiring Wheeler with "You provide the prose poems, I'll provide the war," Kane should have hummed along with Wonka, "If you want to change the world, there's nothing to it."); and the sad, crippling realization that they are ultimately alone. Though they control everything to the extent that Kane would have people think "what I tell them to think!" and Wonka must find a child to run his factory because an adult would want to do it "his own way," both seem to have gone a little mad from the strain of isolation and fortune. "Don't forget what happened to the man who suddenly got everything he always wanted," as Wonka tells young Charlie. Welles famously called film the best train set a boy could have; Kane and Wonka are two monsters made glowingly tragic when seen through the wondrous eyes of children.