This week continues to show more evidence that 2016 is actually being written by George R.R Martin. It was announced on the 29th August that Gene Wilder had passed away due to complications from Alzheimer’s disease. The general reaction to this from people on social media seemed to be simply;
Almost everybody has a film he’s in in one of their favourites. He was truly a comedy icon, being nominated for an Academy Award in 1968 for his role in The Producers. Which is amazing for two reasons:
- 1) it’s very hard for comedies and comedic roles to be nominated for Academy Awards, in the history of the awards only six have won Best Picture (Annie Hall, It Happened One Night, Tom Jones, You Can’t Take It With You, Going My Way, The Sting).
- Because it just made me realise that that film is nearly 50 years old.
He actually had a remarkably high success rate; six of the films he was in are bonafide classics, which considering he was only in 22 films is remarkable to think about. But that’s not the only way that people loved him as much as they did, it wasn’t just the roles he was in, it was the way he approached those roles.
Everyone remembers the scene in Willy Wonka where we’re introduced to him, frail, walking with the aid of a stick, before tumbling forward and springing to his feet. That was his idea, his reasoning for it “because then the audience will never know what I’m telling the truth about”, in that one decision he completely set up that character. That decision is representative of why people love him; he took comedy seriously. He saw it as an artform that you needed to work hard at, something you needed to put a lot of work into. That “it’s just a comedy” isn’t an excuse for complacency and laziness. Just look at the boat scene in Willy Wonka, he was so convincing there that the adult actors were convinced he’d genuinely lost his mind. Later on, in the scene where he yelled at Charlie the director didn’t tell the child actor what was going to happen as he wanted his reaction to be real. Gene Wilder stated this this scene almost broke him, he and the actor who played Charlie had become quite close on set and it made him feel really guilty about yelling at him, all he wanted to do was take him aside before the scene and warn him that he was just acting and he still loved him.
Despite what this post may indicate so far, it’s not just that film that he was brilliant in. There’s also the aforementioned Producers, Young Frankenstein and his movies with Richard Pryor. One film which he was almost in was Trading Places, which was set to reunite him with Richard Pryor. But when Pryor was replaced with Eddie Murphy, Murphy requested that Wilder be removed from the film. His reasoning for this was so that he didn’t come off as a poor mans Richard Pryor. It makes sense I guess but I still wish that Wilder was in, purely out of intrigue to see what it would have been like. But I guess I can’t be annoyed, he gave us enough and to ask for more would just be selfish. But a part of me still wishes we were still given a little bit more of him. Rest In Peace, you sure as hell earned it.