In Memoriam: Gene Wilder

Gene Wilder 1933-2016

Earlier in the year, I wrote an ‘In Memoriam’ post to honour the memories of David Bowie and Alan Rickman. Sadly, recently we lost another genius actor who left his mark on the subculture of several movies, the fantastic Gene Wilder.

Now, I want to make it clear that I am not claiming to be an expert fan of Gene Wilder’s work. In fact, of his famous and notable roles, I have only seen one, that being his portrayal of Willy Wonka in the classic film Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. Despite knowing of his roles in films such as Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, The Producers and See No Evil, Hear No Evil, I have never seen them, although I do intend to watch them.

However, the image of Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka was a big part of my childhood. I don’t know how many times I have watched that film over the years, but I know that I was incredibly young when I first saw it. Equally, I know that key images from the film have stayed with me. Images of the boat ride that the guests take, Slugworth and the songs of the Oompa Loompa’s are things that, for some reason, I still know to this day. Yet nothing in that film do I have more memories of than of the portrayal of Wilder playing the part of Wonka.

From his first appearance hobbling out of the factory, to his last lines of the film, Wilder was a captivating actor. To find out that many parts of his performance were ad-libbed, including his odd outbursts, quotations and poetry reciting, only made his performance more captivating as I aged. This film has always held a place in my heart as a part of my childhood. I will always remember the fake concern Wilder showed as the children met their fates in his factory, as well as his singing of ‘World of Pure Imagination’. However, nothing will ever hold us much joy for me, as watching Wilder stagger out of his factory, leave his walking stick behind, and then both concern and shock the audience by falling into a roll forward to cheers from the assembled crowd. I don’t doubt that this film will go on to be enjoyed by generations even younger than myself, and I really hope that the appeal of Wilder’s performances will live on.

Wonka’s entrance, credit Paramount Pictures

He most certainly was a music maker, and was clearly a dreamer of dreams. RIP Gene Wilder

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