Wednesday, November 18, 2009

up from the ashes grow the roses of success

Alas, Beaker, we hardly knew ye.

[17:13] Hring Swansong: "Little Suzy from Boston Mass
[17:13] Hring Swansong: "Stood in the ocean up to her knees."
[17:13] Hring Swansong: It don't rhyme, now, but it will when the tide rises.

There are times I positively adore the Poetry Slams in Winterfell at der Hut.

How to float awkward questions at that job interview.

In the list of steampunk films, and steampunk-influenced movies--why does no one bring up Chitty Chitty Bang Bang?

(The first sight of the restored car.)

Filmed in 1968, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was based on a children's book written in 1964 by none other than Ian Fleming, the writer behind nearly every Bond film ever made. It was actually based on two high-performance (for the time) racing cars nicknamed "Chitty Chitty Bang" by their designer, Count Louis Zborowski.

(Chitty Chitty Bang Bang takes flight.)

Roald Dahl, of all people, was half of the screenwriting team for the screenplay as it transited from high-spirited children's book into the musical extravaganza it became. It starred Dick Van Dyke as Caractacus Potts, mad inventor, and Sally Ann Howes as Truly Scrumptious, the daughter of the candymaker who falls for Van Dyke's eccentric ways. (The daughter, not the candymaker. That would have made an entirely different film.)

(Potts testing rocket propulsion.)

The film wasn't so greatly enjoyed by adults, but children ate it up like cream, worldwide. To the point that, for one of the first times in existing movie history (remember, this was 1968), movie tie-ins were generated--lunchboxes, Truly Scrumptious dolls, car models, dress patterns for Jemima's dress (all of which are still highly-sought-after collectibles to this day, as the film remains popular) and many other possible "Chitty Chitty" based things.

(Truly confronting Potts in his laboratory garage.)

In fact, for a while this film--though again, not being as popular with adult audiences--spawned a brief Renaissance, so to speak, for Edwardian-era fashions remade for the time, simply because Truly Scrumptious was so breathtaking in her pastel parade of costumes.

(Potts and Truly face down the owner of Scrumptious Sweets with a confectionary invention.)

The film was simple enough, if slightly bizarre--the eccentric creator (who has lost his wife through tragedy, one assumes) is raising two children (played in the movie by Heather Ripley and Adrian Hall) in a highly unconventional manner. They fall in love--as children are wont to do--with an old car, noted for winning the Gran Prix one year, but having now fallen into disrepair after an engine fire. Their father finds the funds to buy the car, and they take off to the seaside for an adventure.

(Flying to Vulgaria to rescue Grandpa, kidnapped by Baron Bomburst.)

While there are many side plots and diversions--the invasion by dogs of the Scrumptious Sweets factory being one, the introductory back-story on where Chitty Chitty comes from, and Truly Scrumptious' slightly stalker-worthy song on how to get Potts as a husband (matched only by the childrens' song to Truly exclaiming ultimate frenzied devotion after knowing her for two days), the real 'meat' of the story unfolds in the form of a tale told to the children before their nap.

(Marital bliss in Vulgaria--the Baron won't be happy until the Baroness dies.)

As the story goes--and everyone seems quite swept up in it, adults and sleepy children alike--a ship was sighted, coming for Caractacus Potts, the inventor that Vulgarian despot, Baron Bomburst, desired above all things, for he, too, wished for a flying car.

(Grandpa Potts in the Vulgarian labs with the very very old scientific team.)

How'ver, they slightly got their wires crossed, and ended up kidnapping Grandpa (played by Lionel Jeffries, which was made even more amusing by the fact that he was six months younger than Dick Van Dyke at the time) and carting him in his 'laboratory' off via zeppelin to Vulgaria--leaving the hapless family, and Truly, to chase after them using Chitty Chitty's wing propulsion system.

(Potts and Truly playing birthday party toys.)

As it turns out, the Baroness of Vulgaria is deathly afraid of children. She has ordered that all of them be declared illegal, and has even set aside funds for a Childcatcher permanently on staff, a beak-nosed, thinly vile man who is very, very good at his job (portrayed in the film by Robert Helpmann, whose carriage went out of control during filming, and nearly saw him slain before his time--thankfully, his long career of dance and acrobatics came to his aid, and he was able to leap free and land on his feet). He steals Jemima and Jeremy, and nothing for it but that Truly and Caractacus must get involved to save them, save Grandpa, and liberate all the children of Vulgaria!

(The Childcatcher caught.)

And therein follows several fun songs, the Baroness in a corset dancing through several attempts at murder by her husband, a revelation on where the children of Vulgaria live, and a surprise appearance by Benny Hill (yes, that Benny Hill) as the Toymaker to the royal house. In the end the day is saved, the Vulgarians have normal families again (one assumes), and Chitty Chitty flies off home to England. Yay?

(Chitty Chitty Bang Bang saves the day!)

So why is this relevant, you might be asking. Which is where my confusion comes in in the first place--why aren't you already convinced? The mad inventor, the trappings of Victorian times, the pulling-up-from-your-bootstraps mentality, the Rube Goldberg Breakfast device in the kitchen, the Vulgarian zeppelin--I mean, it's all there! Follow the Steampunk 101 list and really, it's almost textbook. All it lacks is something powered by steam alone, and something made from cavorite floating to the sky!

It's perfect. Hells, it even lines up to Edward Pearse's claim that there's a brighter steampunk world, to balance all the rust and shadow! Edward, this is your film! A brighter, happier steampunk vision was never recorded. Hells, even the hints of danger and child endangerment sound fun.

So why isn't this listed with so-called "traditional" steampunk fare? Go 'head, hit me with your answers, I'm curious.

(All pictures are screen captures from Netflix; all rights reserved to Netflix and to the production's copyright holders. For anyone who has a Netflix account, btw, "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" can now be seen at any time, or sent to your home on disc. How cool is that?)


Rhianon Jameson said...

How about not one, but two answers (for the same low, low price)?

I do see C-C-B-B occasionally mentioned in lists of Steampunk films. Sheer laziness prevents me from providing a link or two.

But while the movie has a number of Steampunk elements, it's not clear it is a Steampunk movie, at least not in the sense that the genre involves a loose reinterpretation of the Victorian era. (There seems to be a similar issue involving books such as The Diamond Age and Perdido Street Station, wherein the purists will point out that these books are not Victorian - one set in the future and one set on another planet - while the inclusionists will point to the Steampunk elements and do some hand-waving about how Steampunk is a feeling, not a place, or some such.

For what it's worth, I'm with the inclusionists on this one, mainly because I can't stand the idea of having to remember a huge number of made-up genres simply to satisfy the purists. That would just be an additional huge number of names I could not recall at the most embarrassing possible time.

Emilly Orr said...

Miss Jameson,

I did a bit of digging after reading your reply (like you, not much, I'm still woolgathering currently), and didn't find it on any casual lists, but found Full Metal Alchemist and Six String Samurai listed on one.

I may have to cover both films at some future point, simply because it hurts my brain, deeply, that both are considered steampunk.

The Full Metal Alchemist movie is based on the anime, and the manga before that, of the same name, and concerns a teenage boy gifted in alchemical processes, who lives in an alternate 1930s "future" world where alchemy is the prevailing science, there are strange German parallels, and a lead character is called Fuehrer King.


Six String Samurai is a marvelously bad movie, about a ronin guitarist going to Las Vegas to be the next Elvis, facing challenges along the way of biker gangs, cannibal families, and nuclear mutants through the post-apocalyptic landscape. film, but...steampunk??

Edward Pearse, Duke of Argylle said...

Partially agreeing with Miss Jameson in that it has steampunk elements but as a whole is not a steampunk movie.

On top of that it's a musical. Most of the songs annoy the hell out of me especially the "POSH" one mainly because it reinforces the incorrect etymology of the word.

I don't know really. I like shiny but CCBB is fluffier that Fairy Floss made by Schnuffel. It works as a movie but its hero is not overly heroic and Baron Bombast lives up to his name, all talk and not scary at all. The Child catcher sequence is really the most villainous, but is too brief to be a serious villain. Benny Hill in one of his two "straight" movie roles deserves mention but as a combination of elements it just doesn't quite make the steampunk ranking.

And for the record The Diamond Age is not steampunk :-)

Emilly Orr said...


No, even though "steampunk" and "Diamond Age" are bandied about nigh incessantly in some circles, and there is talk of that series...

But essentially, what you're saying is the light touch (the extraordinarily light touch) of science, paired with the absolute treacle-sweetness of the plot, and the fact that it's a musical, means it's not steampunk?

I'll buy the first two, okay--though I think there's room in the world for a steampunk children's piece, and that has been demonstrated, I think--but simply being a musical invalidates it?

Pff. There needs to be a steampunk musical now. :p

Edward Pearse, Duke of Argylle said...

Not that that invalidates it as a steampunk movie, but that as a possible reason why it doesn't get used as an example of a steampunk movie.

As a comparison: Wild, Wild West and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen both sucked as movies and both took their original source material and butchered it BUT WWW did so less than LoEG. That and WWW probably didn't have a bunch of fans ready to lynch the filmakers after.

This is my understanding of why WWW gets put up as an example of a steampunk movie far more often than LoEG.

And so to CCBB. Your question was not whether it was a steampunk movie but why it rarely used in lists or put forward as an example.

*I* think that being a musical *does* contribute to it mostly because musicals have not endeared themselves to modern audiences (sad wackos with Sound of Music fetishes excluded).

Combination of being a children's film (and more Disney than Burton in it's approach to children's film) a saccharin plot, and possibly the signing pushes it out of many people's radar.

That's why I don't think it gets mentioned as often as it should.

Emilly Orr said...

I still see no direct impediment between childrens' movie (Steamboy, Iron Giant, Howl's Castle, for instance) and steampunk film, but then, I have weirdly appropriate categories, I guess.

And why would a musical be automatically off the list? (But then, I do have a musical fetish--I adored Wicked, Reefer Madness and REPO!, and have several songs from the tv show Glee on my player as we speak.)

Saccharin plot? Truly Scrumptious as a serious character name? A song devoted to how yummy she is? Now those I could all see as reasons to push it far far away. :)