Tag Archives: classic

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang: still truly scrumptious all these years later 


Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is the greatest musical ever made. Fight me. In all seriousness though it stands as a nostalgic beacon of my childhood in a genre that I just never took to, save for a few others in the same boat (The Sound Of Music is class, but that’s a another story). I grew up with Chitty, watched it from a very young age when I was still impressionable, and since then I’ve probably seen the thing over a hundred times as the years passed, with new eyes each time I revisited it at a later age. It’s a miraculous marvel of visual storytelling, a film that truly employs the sentiment “they don’t make em’ like they used to.” They really don’t though, films with this much hands-on imagination, passion for storytelling and ear for music just aren’t a common thing in our newfound age of computer dominated franchise giants. This is a film that is fuelled by wonder and whimsy, a monumental undertaking when you consider it’s length and scope, a pure oasis of childlike escapism, and a thoroughbred bona fide classic. Based on a short, slight storybook by Ian “James Bond 007” Fleming, this is one of the extremely rare occurrences in which a film adaptation surpasses it’s literary source material in every way. How does it achieve this you ask? Two words: Roald Dahl. Dahl, a beloved novelist himself, concocted a scrumdiddlyumptious screenplay that let what was conserved and clipped in the book run positively wild for the film, not to mention dreamed up some achingly beautiful, endlessly catchy songs that have since become timeless. The titular machine is a souped up jalopy that has a few gizmos under it’s hood including the ability to fly and float on water, lovingly built up by master inventor and father of the year for the next ten centuries, Characticus Potts, played by Dick Van Dyke in the performance I’ll always remember him for. After a sincerely charming opening act set in rural England, it’s off to fairytale land as he, his two darling children Jeremy and Jemima (Heather Ridley and Adrian Hall) and lovely Truly Scrumptious (Sally Ann Howes) embark on a dazzling adventure to Germanic country ‘Vulgaria’ to rescue eccentric Grandpa Potts (Lionel Jeffries) and get into all sorts of mischief. Vulgaria is ruled by buffoonish tyrant Baron Bomburst (Gert ‘Goldfinger’ Frobe) and his leggy wife (Anna Quayle), but the real threat is the single scariest villain in cinematic history (don’t even dare argue with me on this one), Robert Helpmann’s Childcatcher, a demonic willy wonka who is pure unbridled nightmare fuel whenever he shows up. The mind boggles at the sheer ambition on display in terms of set pieces here, from the Pott’s gorgeously rickety, unfathomably cozy windmill castle of a home to the Baron’s ornate palace and everything in between, it’s a visual triumph in every way. Better still are the songs, which, excluding one dud from Howes, are all instant classics. Me ol’ bamboo, Toot Sweet, The Roses Of Success, the titular tune that heralds Chitty herself, and particularly a demented little number called Posh sung by Grandpa as his peculiar outhouse of a man-cave dangles on a tow rope below Bomburst’s mini Hindenburg, they’re all fuckin beauties that I’ve been singing along to since I was a wee lad. Added is the giddy presence of people like James Robertson Justice, Desmond ‘Q’ Llewelyn and Benny Hill (as a German, no less) to gild the lining of an already nutty good cast. This film is immortal for me, a jewel in my DVD collection, a nostalgic gift wrapped delicacy to come back to time and time. No matter where I am in my life, the Potts will always be hurtling through the English countryside and soaring over those white cliffs of Dover singing to high heavens about their phantasmagorical machine, and I can sit down and rejoin them any time I like, which I will do over and again as long as time permits. 

-Nate Hill

O Brother Where Art Thou? -A Review by Nate Hill

The Coen Brother’s O Brother Where Art Thou is just a rush of pure originality, musical genius and inspired storytelling, situated outside the box of used conventions, and rooted deeply in a whimsical realm of absurd, charming characters on an epic odyssey across the American south during arguably the most eccentric time period, the 1930s Great Depression. It’s the Coen’s second best for me (it’s hard to top the Lebowski, dude), and a film that I watched so many time growing up that it’s almost now a piece of my soul. It’s loosely based on Homer’s The Odyssey. Three bumbling convicts escape from a dusty chain gang in a delightful opening romp set to Harry McClintock’s The Big Rock Candy Mountain. Ulysses Everett McGill (George Clooney) is their silver tongued, troublemaking leader, on his way to reunite with his estranged wife (Holly Hunter, reliably stubborn and sassy) and little daughters. Along with him is short tempered Pete (Coen regular John Turturro in top form) and sweet, dimwitted Delmar (Tim Blake Nelson). Together they get in just about every kind of trouble that you can imagine three hapless convicts on the run in depression era south getting into. They briefly share paths with musician Tommy (Chris Thomas King), cross the radar of a boisterous bible salesman (John Goodman, stealing scenes as usual with his effortless, booming charm), become involved with duelling governor candidates Homer Stokes and Pappy O Daniels (Wayne Duvall and Charles Durning), and have run ins with sexy sirens led by Musetta Vander, the KKK, notorious mobster George Babyface Nelson (Michael Badalucco has to be seen to be believed as the lively, likely bi polar suffering wise guy) and more, all the while pursued by mysterious Sheriff Cooley (Daniel Von Bargen, RIP). It’s quite al lot of goings on for one film, but the Coens are masters of telling zany, eclectic stories that deviate into all sorts of unexpected subplots without ever derailing and losing us. This one flows along wondrously, a wild, funny and haunting fable that almost feels like a dust bowl Dante’s Inferno at times, albeit of much lighter subject matter. Roger Deakins spins poetry with his lens, capturing every chaff of wheat, every ray of southern sun and brown hued set design with painstaking expertise. What really holds it together though, is the absolute knockout soundtrack. There’s so many moments of now iconic musical storytelling that we feel we’re watching a strange bluegrass lullaby that just happens to take place in cinematic vision. The Coens have always known their music, but they transcend to another level of intuition here, gathering an incredibly evocative group of songs and artists together that stir the collective ancestral memory of historical Americana. Off the top of my head there’s You Are My Sunshine, Keep On The Sunny Side, I’ll Fly Away beautifully warbled by the Kossoy Sisters, Didn’t Leave Nobody But The Babe sung by the slinky sirens, In The Highways by the adorable Peasall sisters, Jimmie Rodgers’s In The Jailhouse Now, Lonesome Valley, Ralph Stanley’s two eerie pieces O Death, and Angel Band, also by the Peasall Gals, and the classic Down To The River To Pray, which sneaks up on you and leaves you in rapture from its inescapable grip. My favourite by far though is I Am A Man Of Constant Sorrow, an endlessly catchy hobo tune of jangling melancholy and highway humour, sung by John Hartford but cheekily lip synced by Clooney and team, an original piece made up on the fly by the three characters that goes on to make them ridiculously famous under the pseudonym the ‘Soggy Bottom Boys’. It’s all an intoxicating wonder to take in, the period authentic screenplay and production a feast for the senses. The Coens seem to be adept at whatever they try; sly satire, period piece, stinging violence, dark humour, and even touching drama when they put their minds to it. This is a career high for them, a totally unique piece of art that demands multiple viewings and a spot in any avid movie collectors pantheon.