August 29, 2016
Heartache: Gene Wilder dies, aged 83
Until the NYT obit comes in, some nice tweets rounded up at the Hollywood Reporter.
Gene Wilder was one of those famous people that impressionists never did impersonations of, which always, well, impressed me when I was a kid, because “inimitable” was such a big compliment.
When they shot that biopic about Gilda Radner, I couldn’t believe they found an actor who convincingly managed to portray Wilder, especially that habit he had of pronouncing pretty much every syllable, vowel and consonant.
From my archives:
In a career spanning over 70 years, Brooks has made three—count them—slightly above average movies, and all three had one thing in common: Gene Wilder.
Wilder got a deserved Oscar nomination for The Producers, should’ve received another for Blazing Saddles—which I’ve complained about at some length here before—and was perfect in Young Frankenstein. Wilder—the Nicolas Cage of American comedy—tempered Brooks’ otherwise coarse films with his eccentric yet strangely sensitive turns. (Note for instance that all three of his collaborations with Brooks feature weirdly touching portrayals of male friendship beneath all the fart jokes.)
Devoid of Wilder’s inimitable manic gentleness, Brooks’ other films range from the mercifully forgotten (The Twelve Chairs, Life Stinks, Dracula: Dead and Loving It) to the unwatchable (Silent Movie, High Anxiety)…
2013: “Nope: Gene Wilder is the one who walks away with the movie. People have won Oscars for less. Even a movie like Blazing Saddles needs a heart, and he’s it.”
When I was growing up, Willy Wonka… was the children’s movie most loved by the “weird” kids, like me. If you were pretty much predestined to grow up to be a punk or a goth or your average, generic “crazed loner”, you liked this movie way better than some fluffy, sucky Disney cartoon.
Like the guy who hosts this trailer, and pretty much everyone else, I think this is one of Gene Wilder’s best performances, and I say that as someone who has been a (literal) lifelong fan. (I was seven when this movie came out, and have probably seen every film he’s ever been in, however obscure.)
In his (a bit too intimate) autobiography (I listened to the ebook because he read it himself), Wilder says that he only agreed to do the film if the director would let him do that freaky limp/somersault in his first scene. Wilder felt, rightly, that that bit of business would set the tone for the whole film, leaving viewers a bit on edge about what was to come.
Now that “dark” films are everywhere, thanks to the so totally “over” Tim Burton and his many imitators, it is easy to forget how sinister and twisted Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory was when it first came out. The uneasy blend of that trippy late sixties colour palette with the movie’s cruelty and “Edward Gorey” sensibility left many confused and turned off.
Unless you were a weird kid, like me.
And, related, from Reason magazine 2005: “Who Mourns for Gene Wilder?”