Audio Commentary Commentation: Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
*With the rise of DVD’s in the late 1990’s, one feature many promised with the addition of Special Features, were audio commentaries. These would often contain dialogue from the film’s crew, or even film historians. In this category, I’ll discuss some of the audio commentary tracks that I feel are rather compelling, and end up being entertaining, in regards to the information provided, and what is being said.*
One item that quickly caught my attention with the rise of the DVD, were audio commentaries. However, while some studios went straight to the behind-the-scenes personnel like film directors and writers, someone at Warner Brothers actually had a really great idea when it came to repackaging some of their more ‘classic’ feature films.
One film that had grown to be a classic in their library, was Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, based on the book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl.
For special features on the film’s DVD, a new documentary had been made, along with pulling together several other items from the archives…but when it came to audio commentary, the studio went the extra mile.
Though unable to secure Gene Wilder (Willy Wonka) or director Mel Stuart, they were able to get the actors who had played the five main kids in the film.
They were Peter Ostrum (Charlie Bucket), Michael Bollner (Augustus Gloop), Julie Dawn Cole (Veruca Salt), Denise Nickerson (Violet Beauregarde), and Paris Themmen (Mike TeeVee).
Plus, since the making of the film, it had been 30 years since they had all been in one place together!
The commentary rarely ever gets boring, and there’s a constant exchange of words and memories throughout. I thought I’d share a few of them here, for the film’s 45th anniversary.
What’s funny as the commentary goes on, is hearing that both Denise Nickerson and Julie Dawn Cole, seemed a bit boy-crazy in their early teen days.
Very quickly, it’s mentioned how they had a crush on Peter Ostrum, oftentimes taking turns on who ‘got’ Peter during various days.
Other times, there was talk of how the runner-up would end up with the assistant director’s son, Bobby Rowe.
One fun bit is where the girls try to draw Peter into the conversation about their pre-teen infatuation with him:
Denise Nickerson: Peter, does this just make you blush just thinking that two women were just fighting over you? But we did it so politely, and so civilly, didn’t we?
Julie Dawn Cole: Yeah, we did.
Denise Nickerson: Yeah, we understood, one day was mine, one day was yours (aka Julie’s), it was a good fight.
Peter: Moving right along…
In several portions of the commentary, the actors discuss how the film’s director, Mel Stuart, could often be so exacting, that he would keep pushing and pushing on an actor until the scene was perfect.
Paris Themmen makes note of this in Mike Teevee’s introductory scene, in which he tells the news reporters that his Dad is going to get him a real six-shooter one day.
When Mike’s father proudly replies, “not til’ you’re twelve, son,” Paris shares a behind-the-scenes fact:
Paris Themmen: Ok, great line, one of the big laughs, I’ve seen it in theatres and everybody laughs at that line…it took us at least 45 takes to get him to say that line right.
Denise Nickerson: Oh, my-
Paris Themmen: I’m sorry, I don’t know where the actor is now, I apologize, but, it was a combination of his read and things going wrong with the set and so forth, and, that was the take that just took a lot of takes.
Not quite a type of wart…
For playing such a brat on-screen, Julie Dawn Cole was nothing like her character…in some respects. Though she wasn’t a stuck-up loud-mouth, she somehow managed to keep her everlasting gobstopper, as well as one of the film’s golden eggs (which were not meant to be taken!).
Of course, Julie also had her own ‘trial by fire,’ when it came to Veruca’s golden tresses:
Julie Dawn Cole: It was in the day, 30 years ago, when the main obsession was about split-ends, and every single shampoo product was about curing the split-ends. And we had a German makeup lady, who was obsessed with split-ends. And she used to twist my hair like into a tight rope, and then run a candle down it, and burn the split-ends off. And if you look during the movie, my hair shrinks, because it caught fire, several times!
A fun game is to see if one can see how short Julie’s hair is in certain scenes. The scene where she enters the factory, was her first day of shooting, and the day that it was at its longest.
The Dangers of Chewing Gum
When it came to gum-chewing as Violet Beauregarde, Denise Nickerson was often seen on camera chewing away, before she eventually swelled up into a blueberry for her big scene.
During the commentary, a question arose regarding all that chewing:
Paris Themmen: Did your jaw ever get tired?
Denise Nickerson: I spent two months in the dentist’s chair when I got back.
Paris Themmen: Really?
Denise Nickerson: This was before sugar-less gum, so yes, I did spend a lot of time at the dentist.
Of course, a reminder of her role seeped back into the real world with Denise, when she returned to the US after filming:
Denise Nickerson: So, I’m sitting in my math class two days later in New York City, I went to Rhodes School, I’m on the fifth floor of a brownstone in New York City, and all the kids start looking at me, and pointing at me and snickering you know, and I’m like: “What? What?”
And my girlfriend looked at me and she says, “you’re turning blue!”
Well the makeup had started resurfacing through my pores, and only my neck, my face, and my hands were blue. Ladies room was on the second floor so needless to say that I flew down there, never got asked for a date in that school but uh, what can you do?
Over the years, some child actors are often plucked out of obscurity, bask in the limelight for a bit, and then return to ‘the real world.’ That was the case with Peter Ostrum, who played Charlie Bucket. Though he was offered a multi-picture deal following the film, Peter’s family declined the offer.
Though the other four kids do get in trouble, Charlie was not as innocent as he was in Dahl’s book. Charlie does transgress into being a semi-bad kid when Grandpa Joe (played by Jack Albertson) convinces him they should try the fizzy-lifting drinks, and while he doesn’t meet a horrid demise, Ostrum does tell that the scene was anything-but-pleasant:
Peter Ostrum: Jack (Albertson) and I thought this was going to be great fun-
Julie Dawn Cole: And?
Peter Ostrum: and it wasn’t. We wore these leather, “girdles” is the only way I can describe them and, all your weight, is hanging, right on your crotch. Jack made reference that the music that should be played to this, should be from “The Nutcracker Suite.”
Peter shares quite a few other stories about Jack Albertson, who also showed them some of his old vaudeville routines during the production.
Much like The Wizard of Oz, the film was not a hit upon its release, but through re-releases, television, and home video, the film quickly became a staple in the viewing diets of many young persons.
I wasn’t raised on live-action musicals as a child, though I did see it when I was 4, and then 6 years later when in 4th grade, when most of the class voted to see it as our pre-Christmas movie.
Much like Julie Dawn Cole had to work through her dislike of chocolate (true story!), I slowly came around to the film over the years, though still don’t hold it in quite as high regard as most people out there.
Even so, it isn’t without its charm, and its behind-the-scenes stories about how it was created, still entertain me to this day.