July 18th, 2005

[REVIEW] Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Having seen the new Tim Burton-directed Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Saturday night with of_evangeline and blue_hearts, among others, I can attest to the essential truth of David Edelstein's glowing Slate review. This film works very nicely indeed by returning to Roald Dahl's vision. Dahl, like all good children's fiction authors, realized that the gory and moralistic imaginations of children require satisfaction. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory provides this satisfaction, ensuring that the four flawed children who accompany Charlie Bucket into Wonka's factory receive the individualized punishments that each deserved while Charlie--ordinary, average Charlie--profits enormously. While I think that I enjoyed 1971's Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory back in the day (elementary school, to be precise), from the perspective of an adult fan of children's literature the film was too soft, too marked by Gene Wilder's benevolent and knowing smile. It needed edge.

The audience got that in spades, with Johnny Depp's Willy Wonka. Unlike our third-quarter 20th-century counterparts, we early 21st-century types know that adults who seclude themselves on their own private estates in order to devote themselves entirely to their creative and personal visions suffer serious problems. Michael Jackson is a perfect example of this. It's perhaps not a coincidence--though Depp says it is--that Depp's Wonka reminded me of Jackson, with a traumatic personal history (a candy-hating dentist father) coupling with justified paranoid fears of betrayal to produce a man at odds with others. Wilder's Wonka was kind and caring; Depp's Wonka is abrupt and often malevolent, commenting without sympathy on the children's failngs and not getting others' reactions. This worked wonderfully.

I did have some issues with the film. While Deep Roy did a superb job of playing the Oompa-Loompas, the whole theme of a jungle tribe transplanted to an industrial world so as to serve as labourers did grate a bit. The characters surrounding Wonka--Charlie, his family, the other children, their parents--were all portrayed well, Helena Bonham Carter's Mrs. Bucket coming particularly to mind, but all were marginalized by Depp. As Edelstein notes in his review, the fusion of early 21st century Britain and Victorian British literary topos doesn't quite gel. For all these flaws, I enjoyed the film. May Burton, and Depp, make many more like it.


CFTAG took place at one o'clock at the usual place in the Starbucks at Yonge and Wellesley, with me, schizmatic and pauldrye in attendance. A variety of worthwhile subjects were discussed.

  • The new Harry Potter was discussed, of course.

  • schizmatic raised the importance of social networks in relation to medieval history, going into more detail here.

  • Ethnic stereotypes--the Texan, the Arab, the Japanese, the Swede--were raised and dissected.

  • pauldrye raised an interesting book, a sociolinguistic history of the word that examined language change over time and made interesting predictions about the future.

  • Spain, we agreed, is a country that did quite well for itself in the 16th and 17th centuries. It, and its Western Hemisphere offshoots, seem set to do well in the 21st century. As well? Wait and see.

  • Cape Breton, and all Canada, could have been Portuguese.

  • The possibilities of the Portuguese and French colonial empires to be transformed into functioning transnational communities were discussed. For Portugal, successful integration with its colonies in continental Africa would have precluded inclusion in political Europe. A broader French community would do likewise for Europe; a successful French Community might only come about if, for instance, the Soviet Union advances to the Rhine and precludes any sort of political Europe organized around a Franco-West German alliance. A more restricted French community, including (say) a pied-noir-heavy Algeria and oil-rich Gabon, might still work within Europe.

[URBAN NOTE] Heading East

I met up with finfin in East Chinatown, by Broadview and Gerrard after 4 o'clock on Sunday afternoon. This neighbourhood, small and beleaguered, is smaller than Chinatown on Spadina, but that doesn't take away from its appeal. The Rose Cafe alone, a Vietnamese restaurant at 327 Broadview that makes excellent banh mi, is worth the trip.

We later headed down south on Broadview onto Queen Street East, and thence to The Beaches. I'd never been to this part of southeastern Toronto before, and certainly not to the Toronto mainland's only beaches. Brief departure to the Boardwalk BBQ Pub for a beer each and some nachos, and then a walk east along the crowded grey-sanded beaches by the bizarre fresh water sea that is Lake Ontario.

Before getting onto the Queen Street streetcar at its eastern terminus, finfin asked me what I thought about Toronto. After due thought, I said it's not the same, both internally diverse and rather different from Prince Edward Island.
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[BRIEF NOTE] The Failure of Portuguese Cape Breton

It's a little-known fact that there seems to have been a Portuguese colony in the area of Cape Breton.

Some scholars think that the Portuguese followed up these voyages with an attempt to found a colony, a theory which is associated with the name of João Alvares Fagundes. A native of the town of Viana, Portugal, Fagundes probably explored the south coast of Newfoundland in 1520, and may have entered the Gulf of St. Lawrence - though some scholars do not think he went so far west. He received a captaincy to the lands which he had found and then, some think, began to implement plans for a Portuguese colony in the New World.

The story is that, finding Newfoundland too cold, the settlers found another location further to the west. Samuel Eliot Morison (1978) thought that the colony was established at Ingonish, Cape Breton, and other locations have been suggested. - Robert McGhee (1991), for instance, has suggested Mira Bay, between Glace Bay and Louisbourg. It is thought that the colony failed because of the hostility of local Natives. Whether this story is true cannot be established, given the evidence currently available.

Harald E. L. Prins' 1996 ethnography of the Mi'kMaq, The Mi'kmaq: Resistance, Accomodation, and Cultural Survival, goes into greater, confirmatory, detail.

In 1525, navigator Joao Alvarez Fagundes and some entrepreneurs from the port city of Viana, Portugal, formed an expedition to found a colony on Cape Breton Island -- at the edge of Mi'kmaq country. Commissioned by Portugal's kind, their "large ship and a caravel" sailed to the Azores Islands just west of Portugal (where ten families of settlers came on board) then crossed the Atlantic to the Bahamas, and coasted north until reaching Cape Breton. It seems they established their settlement somewhere on the island's north side, at Glace Bay or St. Anne Bay, "where there are many people and goods of much value and many nuts ... whereby it is clear the soil is rich" (Souza 1570, in Biggar 1911: 195-97)." (45)

Prins goes on to explain that in 1525, a Portuguese mariner named Estevan Gomez went to Cape Breton in search of the Northwest Passage. When he failed to find it, he captured a few dozen Mi'kMaq and took them back to Portugal as slaves. The Mi'kMaq were freed upon arriving in Lisbon, as free people unjustly taken into custody by trickery, though Prins notes that no one made provisions for their return to their homeland. Much later, Samuel de Champlain said that "rigour of the season and the cold made [the Portuguese] abandon their settlement." Perhaps a more important factor in explaining the collapse of the Portuguese effort was the understandable outrage of the Mi'kMaq remaining at the enslavement of their relatives and friends, and their successful sacking of the Portuguese settlement.

The enslavement of the Mi'kMaq strikes me, as it should strike other people, as a completely gratuitous crime. If Gomez hadn't decided to abduct dozens of locals to sell as slaves, the region of Canada might well be Lusophone to this day. More pitiful still is the fate of the Mi'kMaq stranded in Portugal. While I'd like to believe that they prospered in their new homeland, I fear that the extent of the culture shock and--more importantly--their weak immune systems may have doomed them. What would it have been like? I can hardly imagine.
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