2016 is becoming the year that magic leaves the world, for me at least.
Gene Wilder was hilarious. His delivery was a thing of beauty that he could make even the mundane of lines sing, even if it was literally a single word. Mel Brooks is no doubt a genius but it cannot be denied that without Wilder, his many early films would not have been as fantastic and iconic as we view them now, if not for the screen presence of Gene Wilder. The Producers, Blazing Saddles, and Young Frankenstein all classics that I can watch at a moments notice. Which of course leads us to his movies with Richard Pryor. As a comedy duo the two were solid and Wilder played an excellent straight man with that ever present hint of sarcasm. If you haven’t seen Silver Streak, do so now.
I could go on and tell you how underrated Haunted Honeymoon is or how he’s the only real good part of The Woman in Red, but I’m sure you know that. Instead I want to talk about the roll that will always live with me in my heart.
I was a child when I first saw Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, maybe only 5 years old. I can remember my mom always telling me stories of when she first saw it with her aunt and cousins, it all seemed to magical and wonderful to me. When we did finally rent it I absolutely loved it and a new favorite movie was born. Willy Wonka and the Wizard of Oz would be the two movies that sparked my obsession and passion for the whimsical and charming, something I always try to incorporate in my art and life in general. I have enjoyed everything I’ve seen the man in, but Wonka holds a special place for me – “So shines a good deed in a weary wolrd” was almost my senior quote. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is a movie where Gene Wilder told me and many other “weird” kids, that imagination was a great a wondrous thing. Sure, other child icons said that sort of cliche “you can do anything and imagination is good” spiel, but Willy Wonka actually showed you what imagination could accomplish. Gene Wilder was able to do this without coming across as pandering or insincere. His character was still kind of a jerk at times and even a little insane, yet behind all that was warmth that continues to live on.
It makes me incredibly sad that Gene Wilder is no longer with us, but that’s life. I know he wasn’t Willy Wonka in his everyday living or in all his rolls. What he was, was a man who could make people laugh and do it with an ease of breathing. He might not have made as many movies as we liked, but he left one hell of a mark.
Hold your breath. Make a wish. Count to three…
Rest in Peace Gene Wilder and thank you for everything.
– Aaron A. Alvarez