Mel Stuart goes to the great chocolate shop in the sky.
August 10, 2012 8:31 AM   Subscribe

RIP Mel Stuart, 1928-2012. Best known for directing Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory — essentially an elaborate product-placement for Quaker Oats, which funded the whole thing to promote a new chocolate bar — the versatile Stuart was also a committed documentarian whose films for producer David L. Wolper included 1964's Four Days in November and 1973's Wattstax.
posted by Joey Bagels (27 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
* <- everlasting gobstopper of silence
posted by Aznable at 8:38 AM on August 10, 2012 [11 favorites]


If that movie was a product placement, it was the creepiest product placement I remember wish I could forget.
posted by "But who are the Chefs?" at 8:41 AM on August 10, 2012

That movie/musical can be a product-placement for whatever the heck it likes; if you do something that well, then I don't care all that much about your motives. It's a great example of a movie that did not need to be remade (and sarcastic-kudos to Tim Burton for spending a ton of money to make a worse version). Maybe one of the movie channels will acknowledge Stuart's passing with a marathon showing the movie again and again and again, on a loop. Great film.

Also, if you had asked me in 1971, I never would have guessed the amount of money we as a society spend today on developing cosmetics or advertising hair-replacement systems while still having utterly failed as a society to produce a candy that replicates tomato soup, roast beef, and blueberry pie. We are a bunch of (dam) slackers.
posted by cribcage at 8:44 AM on August 10, 2012 [7 favorites]

I just watched Wattstax a couple of weeks ago at a special screening with former Stax president Al Bell. It's not just a great concert documentary, but it's a great portrait of a certain time and place. And it has some amazing footage of a very young Richard Pryor telling it like it is.
posted by vibrotronica at 8:48 AM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

I chatted with Mel at a film festival and got him to autograph a 16mm print of "China - Roots of Madness". He was a very pleasant guy who was concerned about his film legacy deteriorating..

His film on Man Ray is a must see..
posted by avgeeks at 8:54 AM on August 10, 2012

I worked for Mel a zillion years ago. Great guy, and he had a wonderful memoribilia collection. But why the snark in the FPP?
posted by Ideefixe at 9:14 AM on August 10, 2012

Between Mel and Gene, they came up with maybe the best entrance in all movies.

Thanks, Mr. Stuart.
posted by Capt. Renault at 9:17 AM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

posted by brundlefly at 9:25 AM on August 10, 2012

If that movie was a giant commercial for Quaker Oats, it wasn't a very good one. I've seen it umpteen times and couldn't tell you where oatmeal even features in. The only food association I have beyond the obvious candy stuff (I want snozzberry flavored wallpaper!) is the ubiquitous mention of Cabbage Soup in the first act.

Also, any product-placey propaganda subliminal whatever has nothing to do with Stuart. That's not really something directors do.

But that trippy boat-in-the-tunnel sequence? THAT shit is all Mel Stuart, right there.

Thank you sir.

posted by Sara C. at 9:58 AM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, ha, I just discovered that what we mean by all this Quaker Oats nonsense is that it was financed in order to pave the way for Quaker Oats' foray into the candy industry with the Wonka brand.


Still a great movie.
posted by Sara C. at 10:09 AM on August 10, 2012

The recent Tim Burton crapfest remake just made it more obvious how great the original was. I stood in line at the Jersey Theater to see it when it came out, back when you could send a couple of seven year olds off by themselves to the movie theater.
posted by octothorpe at 10:12 AM on August 10, 2012

Wow. How many times did my brother and I watch that movie? Six-hundred? Seven? Enough so that we could quote it, word for word, alternating lines, in the back of the Grand Marquis all the way from south Georgia to Atlanta. How did our parents keep from just screaming?

Thank you, sir, for a major contribution to my childhood. "A thing of beauty is a joy forever."
posted by robstercraw at 10:19 AM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't care what the motives of the filmmakers were in this particular case, because it's a wonderful film.

Post would have been better without the in-line sneer.
posted by DWRoelands at 10:20 AM on August 10, 2012

I wonder what he thought of Sarcastic Wonka.

posted by tilde at 10:27 AM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Like many other posters, I've seen Willy Wonka more times than I can count. Lines from that movie are so firmly ingrained in my mind I'll just spout them out without even thinking about it. People probably think I'm nuts sometimes.

"Button, Button. Who's got the button?"

"You've got to move forward to go back. Best press on."

"So much time and so little to do."

And of course I've irritated countless people by screaming "You LOSE! Good DAY, sir!" at inappropriate times.

So really what I'm saying here is thanks, Mel. So shines a good deed in a weary world.
posted by Aznable at 10:32 AM on August 10, 2012 [7 favorites]

cribcage: "It's a great example of a movie that did not need to be remade (and sarcastic-kudos to Tim Burton for spending a ton of money to make a worse version)."

To be fair, Burton's film was less a remake and more another adaptation of the book.

To be less fair, it's a piece of shit.
posted by brundlefly at 10:46 AM on August 10, 2012 [5 favorites]

posted by cavalier at 11:14 AM on August 10, 2012

My current favorite thing in Willy Wonka is that the musical lock is the recognizable bit from Mozart's Marriage of Figaro and Mrs. TeeVee smugly says 'Rachmaninoff' and Stuart apparently expected that to be a huge laugh line-- everyone knows Marriage of Figaro!-- and was shocked when screening audiences just went 'Oh gee I guess Mrs. TeeVee knows her stuff.'
posted by shakespeherian at 11:21 AM on August 10, 2012 [10 favorites]

posted by LobsterMitten at 11:37 AM on August 10, 2012

Wow... this is one of the creepy-highlights of my childhood. Sad.

I hope that he's enjoying the surrealism of what he's up to now; there are very few people who I think might actually be equipped to handle existence after death with wacky aplomb.
posted by SMPA at 11:43 AM on August 10, 2012

Hmm. Bad day for cinema. Carlo Rambaldi has died at 86.
posted by brundlefly at 12:20 PM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

When the picture was released, the candy was released at the same time. However, the candy had a problem and had to be withdrawn.

"The candy had a problem"
posted by mr_roboto at 12:42 PM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

There's no earthly way of knowing
Which direction they are going...
There's no knowing where they're rowing...
Or which way the river's flowing...
Is it raining, is it snowing?
Is a hurricane a-blowing?
Not a speck of light is showing
So the danger must be growing...
Are the fires of Hell a-glowing?
Is the grisly Reaper mowing?
Yes! The danger must be growing
'Cause the rowers keep on rowing
And they're certainly not showing
Any sign that they are slowing!

posted by Artw at 12:49 PM on August 10, 2012 [6 favorites]

posted by Minus215Cee at 2:30 PM on August 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

posted by Mezentian at 4:34 PM on August 10, 2012

If only more movies could be made today that were giant product placement schemes like this one, with heart and soul and memorable scenes and melodies and joy and terror and one of the most amazing character creations of all time and be forever a family treasure...

...than a lot of the movies today, which are giant marketing juggernauts which have spin-off products and co-branding schemes baked into them nearly from before the scripts are written, which become entirely inescapable for 3 months before they are released, ultimately everyone has been given the chance to (or has been unable to avoid) buy some piece of plastic or metal or paper which ties back into the movie, all aiming at a giant opening weekend after which who gives a fuck whether the movie is ever remembered or not beyond that until the home media edition comes out...

Seriously, the ONLY cross-marketing campaign I've seen in recent years which I thought was worth anything was when 7-11 remade itself (and a lot of its products) in connection with the Simpsons movie. And even then, that was only because... hey! Duff Beer! In real life!

If I had kids and grandkids, I'd be sharing that old Willy Wonka movie with them again and again because it's awesome for all ages. Not too many other movies I can say that about, actually. Thanks Mel Stuart.

posted by hippybear at 7:16 PM on August 10, 2012 [3 favorites]

In tribute, I plan to hum "Pure Imagination" for the rest of today, and what a pleasure that will be. What a song, what a film.
posted by greenish at 3:34 AM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

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