Why Gene Wilder will always be my favourite meme star
It’s a sad day, at the age of 83, Gene Wilder has sadly hung up his velvet jacket and ruffled shirt for the last time. I’m not one to be overly gushing when a celebrity dies but this loss in particular reminds me of so many memories from my childhood, watching his movies and captured by his skill. I don’t know what he was like outside of celluloid but I know these memories will stay with me forever.
My love affair with the original Charlie and The Chocolate Factory movie started as a toddler. I remember the bright colours and the never ending saccharine props and backdrops that littered the 89 minutes of heaven. However, the one thing I was most fascinated with was Willy Wonka himself. I can’t put my finger on it but his incredibly eerie vocals over the top of killer tunes along with his terrifying glances to his audience kept me captivated and going back to the VHS again and again and again and again.
In 2005 I fell and broke my arm quite badly, all kinds of bones all over the show. I end up in casualty with insane concussion (I hit my head on the way down to the floor) but of all the things to be found doing, I was singing songs from Wonka in the waiting room. Needless to say I was seen quickly to get me to shut up but even during injury his portrayal of Wonka remained the screensaver to my brain. That’s how powerful the film was and how ingrained it was in my memory.
The VHS box was clear, and it was a double video set with The Witches. I remember it was tricky to open and quite heavy and that I didn’t really care for the other film in the set. My memories of this are vivid, I can almost feel the case in my hand and the artwork behind the matt finished cover. I just wanted to watch Gene’s performance again and again.
Charlie & The Chocolate Factory was the first proper book I ever read and seeing this character come to life on screen was a dream come true. From those opening shots of chocolate production (this was shot in the Tobler factory by the way) through to the famous ‘you lose’ quote towards the end it grips me even now as a 34 year old. It’s not the Roald Dahl story that I love, it’s Wilder in his full on eccentric factory owner guise. I want to be him, I want that hat and I want his life.
He made this world come alive on my screen single handedly, I escaped whatever was happening at home or school by simply hitting play. He was spooky, creepy and almost possessed in places but that added to the charm.
A matter of years later in my early teens I spent an evening at my Grandad’s place. He was a hard nosed, straight talking Yorkshire man but told me we should watch this film starring the guy who played Wonka. That film was See No Evil, Hear No Evil. I hadn’t really seen an adult comedy before and this blew my mind and I had never laughed so hard in my life. I remember struggling to breath with tears rolling down my cheeks.
This was a huge moment for me again, it was a rite of passage watching that movie and I can still recite lines from it today. I have such fond memories of watching that movie with my family and that scene with Wilder and Pryor where they first meet which still sounds fresh to me today, 27 years after it came out.
Throughout my life I’ve found nostalgia to be key when it comes to creating an emotional reaction whether it be dropping a really specific record when dj’ing or working in digital marketing. This nostalgia that Wilder delivers in his performances lived on for decades and then became the go to meme source when social media hit the sweet spot. Why did he cut through as that meme moment we refer to again and again?
Because he was fucking amazing.
Sleep well Gene