Guest Post: Three Faces of Willy Wonka

As you folks know I’m pretty discerning when it comes to guest posts, but the slowness of new content and my undying love of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory came together to convince me that this was one worth posting. Please welcome David Gerrard on behalf of TheatrePeople.com, with his look at differing interpretations of a timeless character, as we look forward to the premiere of the stage version in May. Speaking of which, if anyone does go to see it, let me know…I’d love to host a review.

For the past 50 years, Roald Dahl’s 1964 novel Charlie and The Chocolate Factory has been a regular and beloved fixture on both our bookshelves and cinema screens. With two film adaptations under its belt, every recent generation has experienced the eccentric joys of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory and the highs and lows of Charlie’s peculiar moral journey.

Wonka himself has been depicted by the likes of Gene Wilder and Johnny Depp with varying levels of intensity and the character has, at times, greatly deviated from Dahl’s original portrayal. As we prepare for the release of a forthcoming musical, it will be interesting to see how the next incarnation of the idiosyncratic chocolatier unfolds and how the production as a whole is viewed in light of the source material.

Released in 1971 and directed by prolific documentary filmmaker Mel Stuart, the original film screenplay was actually penned by Roald Dahl himself but tweaks from The Omen writer David Seltzer left Dahl with a bitter taste in his mouth. Unimpressed by the finished product Dahl felt that it focused too much on Willy Wonka and gave Charlie a backseat, a fact reflected in the modified title which replaced Charlie’s name with Wonka’s.

Furthermore Dahl was not happy with the studio’s choice of Gene Wilder as Wonka, instead stating that he would have preferred comedian Spike Milligan.

Despite Dahl’s reaction, Wilder’s performance is often hailed as brilliant, and his droll eccentricity coupled with a suspicious edge is perfectly pitched. Possibly the definitive Wonka for many of us, he is most famous for the entrance where he hobbles in with the assistance of a cane which he drops and then feigns falling forward before launching himself into a forward roll. Wilder decided on the inclusion of this particular sequence so that he could instil a feeling of uncertainty in the audience. No-one would know whether he was lying or telling the truth, emphasising the slightly off-kilter nature of Wonka’s character.

The critical reception of the film was quite positive — although this praise was not reflected in the box office figures, where it took a mere $4m. During the 1980s however it picked up momentum on television as a Christmas holiday staple and has enjoyed considerable success in home video and DVD sales ever since. The current IMDB rating of the film stands at a respectable 7.8 out of 10, while the critics rate it 89% fresh at Rotten Tomatoes.

After Stuart’s effort, Dahl repeatedly blocked further attempts to make another film. Following his death in 1990 however, Felicity Dahl became the protector of his literary legacy and in 1996 she began plans for a new adaptation. Various directors, screenwriters and actors were linked with the project including Adam Sandler and Jim Carrey but it ultimately emerged that Tim Burton would direct the project and Johnny Depp would be on board as Willy Wonka. Given their joint cinematic history and distinctive style, they seemed like an ideal choice.

Endowed with a $150m budget, 50 times larger than the 1971 version, $17.5m was handed to Depp for the lead role which left Burton with over $130m to create his vision of the chocolate factory. His intention was to make a darker film than the 1971 version, more in line with the original novel. He also took on board Dahl’s complaints about Willy Wonka being the centre of the story in Stuart’s version, making sure that Charlie didn’t blend into the background. He recruited John August, the screenwriter behind Big Fish, imploring him to “go to the roots of the book” and add “a little bit of psychological foundation, so that Willy Wonka’s not just ‘this guy,’” as he later recounted in Burton on Burton.

Received with more consumer enthusiasm than the first adaptation, it took an impressive $475m at the box office placing it just out of the top 100 highest grossing films of all-time. Although the critical response was largely positive some reviewers criticised Depp’s performance, with Matt Doedon in his book Johnny Depp: Hollywood Rebel dubbing it not “kooky, funny, eccentric or even mildly interesting.” Noel Brown in The Hollywood Family Film described it as “uncomfortable, almost distastefully weird.”

Many cited an uncanny resemblance to Michael Jackson in both appearance and manner, cementing the portrayal as less eccentric and enigmatic than Wilder’s characterisation and situating it in an altogether creepier and more suspicious camp. It could however be argued that this is much more in line with the source material which, despite being hailed as children’s classic, is sometimes derided as insensitive and inappropriate. The Oompa Loompas in the novel were, for example, originally black pygmies, a detail modified in later editions.

The latest instalment in the saga is Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: The Musical due to open for previews at the London Palladium in May next year. Directed by Academy Award winner Sam Mendes of American Beauty and recent Skyfall fame, and featuring songs from Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, the duo behind Hairspray The Musical, Smash and Catch Me If You Can, it’s got a lot of talent behind it.

Following in the footsteps of Depp and Wilder is Tony and Olivier award-winning actor Douglas Hodges. The focus on Hodges as Willy Wonka and the lack of announcements regarding the remainder of the cast, particularly Charlie, is an indication that the musical will have a focal point similar to the first film. Of the forthcoming role Hodges told The Daily Telegraph that his take on Wonka would take the form of “a cross between Charlie Chaplin and Dali,” which conjures images of flawed genius colliding with a streak of the wildly surreal.

Additionally, unlike Depp in the run up to his own performance, Hodges does not seem to consider the influence of previous adaptations, instead seeing the part as fresh and untouched within his own genre. “Part of the thrill for me is that it’s brand new,” he explains. “No one’s ever heard the songs before. Shows like Guys and Dolls are brilliant, but you’re doing stuff that’s already been done. So to have something that’s a clean slate is great.” Stage is obviously an entirely different medium to film and Hodges will surely add his own genius to the role, but how his own interpretation of Wonka fares in comparison to those of Depp and Wilder remains to be seen.

Not the first Dahl novel to make it to the stage, Matilda the Musical has been hugely successful, The Witches was adapted for the stage and Fantastic Mr. Fox was also adapted as an opera. Dahl’s weird and wonderful tales have consistently made for engaging on-stage experiences.

Of course, we can only guess what Dahl would have thought of the musical but considering his sweeping hatred of the first adaptation and the indication that it may take a similar focus, it’s fair to assume he would have not taken to it with a particularly warm demeanour.

He did have a tendency to be quite hostile to most adaptations, once calling Nicolas Roeg’s The Witches “utterly appalling”. Despite this, with stage heavyweights like Mendes, Shaiman, Wittman and Hodges behind it, there’s little doubt that it will be both a visual spectacle and musical triumph. How they decide to construct Willy Wonka’s infamous chocolate river will be worth the ticket price alone.

Armistice Day

When I was a boy, and when Dwayne Hoover was a boy, all the people of all the nations which had fought in the First World War were silent during the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of Armistice Day, which was the eleventh day of the eleventh month.

It was during that minute in nineteen hundred and eighteen, that millions upon millions of human beings stopped butchering one another. I have talked to old men who were on battlefields during that minute. They have told me in one way or another that the sudden silence was the Voice of God. So we still have among us some men who can remember when God spoke clearly to mankind.

Armistice Day has become Veterans’ Day. Armistice Day was sacred. Veterans’ Day is not.

So I will throw Veterans’ Day over my shoulder. Armistice Day I will keep. I don’t want to throw away any sacred things.

–Kurt Vonnegut, Breakfast of Champions

Journey Through the Past: The 1990s

Friend of the website Dave is hosting a 1990s blogfest today. He’s managed to rope quite a few great bloggers into this (complete list and his own choices here), and we’re also now selling cosmetics door to door on his behalf. The idea is to choose one thing — one anything — as your favorite thing from each year from 1990 – 1999, and write a short bit about it. He also did one for the 2000s, which was pre-Noiseless Chatter I think, but since everything released in that time period was garbage you missed nothing. (And, honestly, I’ll probably end up doing a 2000 – 2010 one just for the heck of it.) Anyway, enjoy…thanks to Dave for hosting this, and let me know what some of your own choices might have been in the comments below. Or tell me I’m wrong in a profane way…I always like that!

1990 – Vineland

I feel more than a little intellectually guilty for only including one novel in my year-by-year rundown, but I’d have to say that the 1990s weren’t particularly well served in a literary sense. Fortunately, though, the decade opens with perhaps the warmest, most welcoming book my favorite author ever wrote. Vineland takes place in 1984, but is very much a love letter to the 1960s. It introduces us to Zoyd Wheeler, a cultural isolate from that lost decade of love, sex and freedom, who’s been reduced to throwing himself through windows to keep up a stream of mental disability checks. It’s an innately comic setup, but the backward, twisting path through time, loss and inevitability is perfectly heartbreaking. Zoyd’s reliable antics, after all, began as an act of genuine desperation when his wife left him, and it’s only been the steady march of time that’s diluted them to meaningless repetitions of what once meant so much. That’s the angle Pynchon takes as he explores the effect aging has had on this world, and ours. It’s Zoyd’s daughter who pulls the narrative along — or backward — as she uncovers, thread by thread, who her mother was. And who her mother became. And, if she learns enough from what she finds, how to avoid a similar fate for herself. Pynchon’s narratives hurdle unfailingly toward doom, but Vineland is the one that reminds you that life is always worth living…regardless of where you might actually end up.

1991 – A Link to the Past

It’s a fact: the Super Nintendo is the single greatest video game console of all time. Consequently, the early to mid 1990s were a veritable goldmine for gamers. While the NES introduced us to massive numbers of endearing and enduring characters, the SNES took everything at least one step further, and managed to refine and build upon game mechanics without overcomplicating them, or losing sight of what made them work. Super Mario World, Super Metroid and Super Castlevania IV (among so many others) all represented a realization of promise, a step deeper into fantastic and complex universes that we always knew existed just below the surface. But it’s A Link to the Past that really stands out. Taking absolutely everything that worked about the first Zelda game and disposing of everything that didn’t, A Link to the Past laid the precise groundwork for every game in the series that followed, regardless of console. And while certain later entries, such as Majora’s Mask or Wind Waker, attempted to pull the series in other directions, it’s A Link to the Past that rightfully gets the credit for building the solid foundation and framework that gave those later installments the room to expand. The graphics are gorgeous, the music is great, and even if the challenge is somewhat lacking, every new secret you find on the map feels earned and satisfying. I love A Link to the Past. It’s one of perhaps two or three games in the history of the universe that does literally nothing wrong, and it’s a perfect example of what made the SNES so great.

1992 – Glengarry Glen Ross

For a movie with no action, Glengarry Glen Ross is riveting. For a movie with two locations, Glengarry Glen Ross feels enormous. And for a movie with so little at stake, Glengarry Glen Ross feels profound. It’s a story about selling real estate, and how difficult a racket that can be, but it’s also a story about despair, about self-preservation, about pride, about confidence, and about what it means to be a man. It’s all of these things, and it’s more, and the same answer is never given to the same question twice. When a nameless emissary drops by the sales office to address unsatisfactory work, he motivates the sales force by setting them at each other’s throats: the two most successful salesmen will be rewarded to varying degrees, and the other two will lose their jobs. What follows is a single, seemingly-unbroken narrative that spans the rest of that night and the next morning. To say any more than that would likely both give away too much and artificially enhance the importance of anything that happens. The magic — and the story — is all in the dialogue. Glengarry Glen Ross began as a stage play, and it shows. Its big screen adaptation does not seek to overwhelm, astonish, or impress; it seeks to focus. It seeks make you notice every shift of the eye, twitch of the finger, and speck of spittle that accompanies a profane explosion, making it feel like an even smaller and more intimate experience than the play could have ever been. It’s a film that’s terrifying, and it’s terrifying mainly because there’s nothing here to be afraid of. After all, these are just people. Highly and eternally recommended.

1993 – Mega Man X

I deliberately avoided mentioning Mega Man X when I basked in the glory of the SNES library above, simply so I could single it out here. Mega Man is unquestionably one of my favorite game series ever, and Mega Man X deviates from the classic formula just enough to justify it as a spinoff. With an increased focus on item collection, upgrades and lingering effects of defeated bosses, Mega Man X brought additional levels of non-linearity to an already legendarily non-linear experience. While the series may have gone off the rails after another four or five games (it’s debatable), the original is a stone-cold classic, with great bosses, impressive stages, and gameplay so versatile that fans, almost 20 years later, are still discovering new ways to play it. Mega Man was never about deep plot or engrossing storylines; these were action games through and through. Mega Man X wisely didn’t try to separate itself from the originals by way of an epic storyline…it simply enhanced the action, layered on new and impressive complications, and married it to a stellar soundtrack. Mega Man X is just fantastic.

1994 – Monster

So nobody likes Monster. I know that. I also know that that’s their loss. R.E.M.’s hardest rocking album might be so much of a departure from their usual sound that it’s hard to consider it a legitimate installment in their discography…but so what? It’s fantastic. When I listen to Monster — which I do for weeks at a time whenever I stumble across it again — I hear some of the best straight-up rock and roll to come out of the decade. And it’s not entirely devoid of R.E.M.’s signature songwriting, either…you just have to listen through some thrashing guitars to find it. Songs like “Strange Currencies,” “Tongue,” and “Crush With Eyeliner” are all pulled off with the band’s usual sideways insight into the human condition, with all of the disappointment and humane absurdity that implies. The band just happened to couch that insight in some brilliantly distracting, raw, unpolished instrumentation, and that brings with it a charm of its own…a little taste of R.E.M. as the up-and-coming garage band they never were. Some fans are all too eager to dismiss this brief experiment. For me it’s top shelf material, beaten only by Automatic For the People and Lifes Rich Pageant. If you’ve written it off before, it may be worth a reappraisal.

1995 – “Knowing Me Knowing Yule With Alan Partridge”

I love Alan Partridge. He ranks easily among my five favorite comic creations throughout all of human history, and that’s due in large part to the way that Steve Coogan slips — seemingly effortlessly — into Alan’s skin and becomes him. Though he started behind a sports desk and then moved into the chat-show format, there was always something more to him. He was never a “type,” and the humor was not situational; Alan was a human being, free to be himself wherever — and with whomever — he was. He was a person, a person with insecurities, interests, and a uniquely slanted perspective. “Knowing Me Knowing Yule” is a one-off special that bridges the gap between Knowing Me Knowing You With Alan Partridge and I’m Alan Partridge…two very different, but perfectly complementary, insights into this fascinating man. It’s presented as a needlessly expensive and woefully inessential yuletide installment of Alan’s chat show, and it’s what seals the casket on his broadcasting career forever. Considering that the last proper episode of Alan’s chat show saw him shooting a guest through the heart live on air, that gives you an idea of just how poorly this festive outing manages to go. It’s a great and always welcome entry into the Christmas special canon, and worth a watch at least once per year. Alan getting threatened by a transvestite, failing to properly lip-synch “The 12 Days of Christmas” and struggling desperately to halt an in-process bit of product placement never gets old. Watch it during a family gathering. Believe me, it will make you feel better about everyone you’re related to.

1996 – “22 Short Films About Springfield”

Coming at a time when The Simpsons could genuinely do no wrong, “22 Short Films About Springfield” reads like a time-capsule today. It’s a relic — and a loving, fascinating, and clever one — of a time when Springfield was more than just a sea of caricatures and types; it was a place, fully functional in and of itself. One operating under its own logic and impossible to mistake for the real world, but real in its own way all the same. It’s a half hour without plot, without intention, and without a moral…just a simple, and undoubtedly well-earned, chance to take a deep breath and survey the incredible playground the show had built up for itself by that point. The characters were so well established and the dynamics between them so fruitful that all you needed to do was let Apu take some time off, bring Reverend Lovejoy and his dog to Flanders’ front lawn, or give a stranger the chance to turn the tables on Nelson, and comedy would flow. Effortless, wonderful, eternal comedy. “22 Short Films About Springfield” floats by like a whisper, as it should. While any other show on television could work harder and harder every week to make even a fraction of the impact on the cultural landscape that The Simpsons made, The Simpsons itself didn’t seem to need to work at all. It could just step back and see what the characters were doing…and, here, that’s what it did. The Skinner / Chalmers segment will go down in history as an all-time best sequence no matter how long the show runs, but even if that clear highlight were to be somehow excised from the episode, “22 Short Films About Springfield” would still be a perfect gem. With so many forgettable seasons behind us now, the episode is almost like footage of a great civilization long gone: those of us that were there will always have this souvenir, and those who missed it will be eternally grateful for this brief — and brilliant — window into the past.

1997 – Time Out of Mind

I’ve talked a bit about Dylan’s lost years here, but I didn’t say much about what brought him back to life. Time Out of Mind is what brought him back to life. For me, it was released at the perfect time; just as I started to explore Dylan myself, this came out. Suddenly the warnings to avoid “the recent stuff” went quiet…and I do mean suddenly. Time Out of Mind is a bullet of an album…a shot through the brain that lingers and haunts and does not let go, and critics and fans alike flocked to it immediately. Time Out of Mind doesn’t feel like a comeback album…it feels like he never left. Though his youthful, nasal prophesying is replaced here by a gravelly howl, it’s Dylan to the core, providing one of his best love songs (“Make You Feel My Love”), some chillingly vague danger (“Cold Irons Bound”), and a classic meandering tale of introspection, playing Neil Young at high volumes, and ordering hard-boiled eggs at a restaurant (“Highlands”)…it’s a gloriously meandering shaggy-dog story that caps off an aimless-by-design rediscovery of who Dylan is. It would be quicker to list the things I don’t like about this album, because there really aren’t any. Songs like “Tryin’ to Get to Heaven” and the bluntly desolate “Not Dark Yet” triggered suspicions that this was Dylan’s final statement…that the man had pulled it together one last time, to end his career on a high note. He’s released four more albums of new material since then. Dylan’s going out on a high note alright…he’s just making sure to sustain it this time. On his next album, Dylan would sing “You can always come back, but you can’t come back all the way.” That would have made more sense before Time Out of Mind, which disproves it conclusively.

1998 – Rushmore

There may not be much more I can say about Rushmore than what I’ve already said here, but that by no means dampens my excitement for talking about it yet again. Rushmore is, by many accounts, Wes Anderson’s best film. Anyone who says that to you, however, is lying. What it is, however, is Wes Anderson’s mission statement, and it’s a solid, fantastic, indelible one. Coming off of Bottle Rocket, Rushmore represents an almost unprecedented stylistic and qualitative step forward. It’s not a film in which Anderson finds his voice…it’s a film in which we find Anderson’s voice. The soundtrack, the costumes, the visual design, the character dynamics, the relentless attention to detail…everything here established what it meant to be “classic Anderson,” and it both defined a career and forever cemented a fanbase. It also introduced the world to Jason Schwartzman, and reintroduced the world to a penitent Bill Murray…a gift to humanity that Anderson should always be praised for. It’s one of those movies packed so densely that no two viewings have to feel the same, and there’s literally always something new to notice, tucked away in the corner of a quick shot, or hiding in plain sight while the camera dwells and your eyes wander. Rushmore is a great film, and while I enjoy it most for what it allowed Anderson to do down the line, I can never watch this one without coming away impressed all over again. And crying when Max introduces Mr. Blume to his father. Because that part’s fucking gold.

1999 – “Space Pilot 3000”

When Futurama debuted, it seemed like it was just going to be the less-deserving little brother of The Simpsons. But arriving, as it did, just at the time the elder show was losing steam, it established itself immediately as a more than worthy successor. While The Simpsons took a few seasons to establish a flow and sustainable gag-rate for itself, Futurama burgled some writers and hijacked that momentum, allowing it to fire on all cylinders right from the get-go. The result is an almost impossibly strong first season, kicked off by one of the most confident and well-handled pilots I’ve ever seen. Space Pilot 3000 has barely aged at all. While the voice actors may have still been getting a handle on things, the writing is sharp and solid, and the groundwork for countless fantastic episodes of smart science-fiction, piercing comedy and genuine emotion is laid here. There’s a long love letter to Futurama that I’d like to write, but as the years go by it keeps getting longer…eventually I’d just end up with too much to say. After all, what can I say to a show that gave me “Jurassic Bark,” “Time Keeps On Slipping,” “The Luck of the Fryrish,” “Godfellas,” “Lethal Inspection,” and so many others I love beyond words? Futurama is by no means a perfect show, but for some silly cartoon knockoff of another silly cartoon, it sure managed to exceed expectations quickly. It brought an end to the 90s, but ushered in a whole new expanse of grand adventures and brainy plotwork. Philip J Fry inadvertently froze himself, and woke up in a far stronger television landscape. Welcome to the world of tomorrow.

The Transit of Venus

“Oh. And what happen’d to those Transits of Venus?”

“There we have acted more as philosophical Frigates, Ma’am, each detach’d upon his Commission,— whilst the ev’ryday work of the Observatories goes on as always, for the task at Greenwich, as at Paris, is to know every celestial motion so perfectly, that Sailors at last may trust their lives to this Knowledge.”

“Here,” the Col° beams, “more fame attaches to the Transits,— Observers station’d all ’round the world, even in Massachusetts,— Treasuries of all lands pouring forth gold,— ev’ry Astronomer suddenly employ’d,— and all to find a true value for the ‘Earth’s Parallax.’ Why, most of us here in Virginia wouldn’t know a Parallax from a Pinwheel if it came on up and said how-d’ye do.”

“Yet, what a Rage it was! the Transit-of-Venus Wig, that several women were seen wearing upon Broad Street, Husband, do ye remember it? a dark little round Knot against a great white powder’d sphere,—”

“And that Transit-of-Venus Pudding? Same thing, a single black Currant upon a Circular Field of White,—
– and the Sailors, with that miserable song,—

‘Tis time to set sail, [sings the Col°] Farewell, Portsmouth Ale,
Ta-ta to the gay can-tinas, For we’re off, my Girl, to the end of the world
To be there, ere the Tran-sit of Venus.
— She’s the something something,—”
“Goddess of Love,” Martha in a pleasant tho’ impatient soprano,
“— Shining above,
Without a bit of Meanness,
Tho’ we’ll have no more fun till she’s cross’d o’er the Sun,
‘Tis ho, for the Transit of Venus!
[Col° Washington joining her for the Bridge]
Out where the trade winds blow,
Further than Sailors go,
If it’s not Ice and Snow,
‘Twill be hotter than Hell, we know,
So!
Wave to your Dear, stow all your gear, and
Show a bit of Keenness,
Bid Molly adieu,
She isn’t for you,—
For you’re for the Transit of Venus!”

By the last four Bars, they are facing and gazing at one another with an Affection having to do not so much with the Lyric, as with keeping the Harmony, and finishing together.

[p284, Mason & Dixon by Thomas Pynchon. Enjoy today the Transit of Venus…an event that won’t be repeated until 2117, and which — long, long ago — heralded mankind’s alleged entry into the Age of Reason.]

Four Great Ongoing Critiques

As they say, everybody’s a critic. As they should say immediately afterward, “Not everybody’s good at it, but there you go.”

Criticism is difficult to perform intelligently. I should know; I’m a particularly shitty critic myself. But every so often some anonymous stranger on the internet says something that — against all odds — turns out to be extremely insightful. From there, a great series of ongoing criticism can be born, and I wanted to take some time to share with you four of my absolute favorites.

This is not just a list of links…these are sincerely fantastic critical explorations that I endorse wholeheartedly.

1) Fred Clark’s Dissections of the Left Behind series.

For the past nine years (incredible but true) Fred Clark of Slacktivist has been analyzing page by agonizing page the entirety of the Left Behind series. For those who are unfamiliar with the series, here it is in a nutshell: God loves me, but not you. Fred, being a religious man himself, is appalled by the many levels of spiritual, literary and humanitarian stupidity on display in these pages, and he pulls them apart gorgeously. It’s a discussion about bad writing, yes, but it’s also a learning experience. I challenge any writer to come away from this series without being significantly more aware of the mistakes he or she is already making. You can check out his archive starting here, but many of the posts have annoyingly gone missing thanks to a change in URL. Regardless, he’s only recently begun the third book in the series, Nicolae, Rise of the Antichrist, and you can read these posts as they go up…which is the best way to enjoy them. First post here.

2) Dead Homer Society’s Discussions of Modern Simpsons.
We can argue all day about when The Simpsons officially became a shadow of its former self, but there’s really no arguing against the fact that it is a shadow of its former self. Dead Homer Society offers a shockingly sharp look at the current state of the show, with every new episode handled over at least four posts: a preview, a next-day recap, a feature that compares and contrasts it with an episode from the show’s golden years, and a transcript of a live chat discussing all aspects of the episode. It’s a surprisingly respectful way of conversing about a show that so clearly disappoints them in every way, and it makes for fascinating reading. Or, at least, it did. Yes, for Season 24 Dead Homer Society will be scaling back coverage, which is disappointing…but they will still be in operation, and — likely — just as worthy of your and my time. They’ve also released a fantastic new ebook called Zombie Simpsons: How the Best Show Ever Became the Broadcasting Undead that you can buy from Amazon or read for free here.

3) ProtonJon’s “Let’s Play Superman 64.”
The Let’s Play is a strange beast. I’ve recorded some myself, but even so I can’t say that I’m sure why people want to watch as somebody else plays video games for them. ProtonJon’s brilliantly exhaustive trek through Superman 64, however, is a glorious exception to a tedious norm. Two years into the project and with only 6 stages under his belt, it’s clear that ProtonJon has a lot to say. He spotlights glitches from the games, discusses characters both inside and outside of their roles in this adventure, and generally goes out of his way to provide fascinating — and sometimes exclusive — information along the way. Superman 64 is widely reviled as one of the worst video games of all time…and rightly so. ProtonJon can’t — and won’t — defend the game on its merits…but he sure does have a lot of fun pulling it apart to learn everything he can about the many, many ways in which it went wrong. From interviewing the developers to playing it alongside other Superman games to comparing it to unreleased beta footage, ProtonJon has taken an effortless YouTube staple and elevated it to the status of genuine — and remarkable — documentary. Tune in.

4) The Annotated Sonichu.
From the moment I started this site, I wanted to do a Noiseless Chatter Spotlight on Sonichu, the addictively weird creation of Christian Weston Chandler…also known as Chris-Chan. Sonichu himself is an unabashed hybrid of Pikachu and Sonic the Hedgehog, and Chandler’s comic is meant to follow him along on his exciting adventures. Instead, though, the comic sidelines Sonichu in favor of Chandler himself, who appears on the page — as he does in real life — as a man searching for love, and unable to grasp why he hasn’t found it already. Its childish art style and bizarre narrative flow make for an easy mockery, but The Annotated Sonichu takes its source material seriously, and discusses page by page the many direct carryovers from Chandler’s personal life that shape and enrich CWCville, the town in which Sonichu takes place. Family members, friends, his dead dog and strangers online who pretend to be females interested in him all make their way into the comic at some point, where Chandler uses his narrative authority to cope with them in the only way he knows how: with Crayola markers. Truly fascinating, and an unexpectedly respectful deconstruction.

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