Veruca in the Nut House, Sydney Hermant, essay from exhibition brochure, 2003
Encourage me a little and I will part waters
- Dirk Bogarde
Great music falls short of our desire
Like many children's books, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, written in 1964 by Roald Dahl, is a tale of morality. In a clever fictional marketing campaign Willy Wonka, lord and law of the chocolate factory, holds a contest in which golden tickets have been sealed into five of his famously popular Wonka Chocolate Bars. After a period of dormancy at the hands of the paranoid recluse genius Wonka, the factory smokestacks unleash tantalizing odours that waft through the streets once more, reeking impenetrability. Only a golden ticket will allow access into his magical world. Entry does not disappoint. It is a scene of unbridled creativity and a site of perfection as Wonka insists to the successful few and their chaperones, "And my lovely [chocolate] bushes? Don't you think they look pretty? I told you I hated ugliness!"(1)
Of the five winners, four embody different morally unbecoming traits: indelicacy, distraction, gluttony, and greed. Each are punished accordingly as they "disobey Mr. Wonka's orders". (2) Veruca Salt is decribed as "a spoiled little rich girl who screamed until she was brought her heart's latest delight".(3) In the chapter of her demise, entitled "Veruca in the Nut Room", she tries to grab a forbidden walnutting squirrel (4) and is punished by the remaining ninety-nine squirrels who quickly pounce on her, figuring her head for a bad nut -- "her head must have sounded quite hollow" (5) -- and down the bad nut chute she goes.
To the incinerator.
In the film the squirrels become geese who lay golden eggs. When Wonka, played by Gene Wilder, refuses to let Veruca have a goose she has a tantrum, the "eggdicator" judges her a bad egg and down she goes. Before her plans go awry, she defiantly sings,
I want the world
I want the whole world
I want to lock it
All up in my pocket
It's my bar of chocolate
Give it to me now
Don't care how, I want it now
Don't care how, I want it now (6)
The oompa-loompas, the chocolate factory slaves, provide the chorus to her punishment, "And this is the price she has to pay for going so very far astray". (7)
Women of substantial character in early literature, when given voices at all, were depicted as masculinized, Amazonian, thus proving their value as anomalies. (8) Sixteenth-century epic novelist Madeleine de Scudery decided that Amazonian force was not to be encouraged, recognizing "that women would be required to exercise power not through action the battlements, but indirectly through conversation". (9) Scudery established herself as mistress of the verbal portrait and double-entendre with works such as The Story of Sappho and the acclaimed Clelie which is best recognized for its map of the Pays de Tendre, (Realm of Tender Feelings) that metaphorically maps the functions of the human heart. This map serves as analogy not only to her platonic ideal of human relations but to the relationship of a woman to her craft. The Situationist International adopted a similar use of metaphorical mapping for their group dérives which emulated Baudelaire's flâneur, the wanderer of the urban field. Their slogans ranged from "Never Work" graffitied on walls to a quote by Saint-Juste "The War for Freedom must be Waged Angrily" printed on a poster accompanied by a photo of the signed, all male Situationists walking along a Parisian street in suits. (10)
First of all you have to know and understand intellectually what you want to do. Then you have to sleepwalk a little to reach it
- Clea (11)
Kathy Slade's projected video, Please Please Please, depicts the point of view of the artist as she strolls through the city streets of Vancouver, accompanying herself in song. The repetitive dream-like eeriness of the song and the wander of the film suggest a hint of Djuna Barnes' "Somnabule" from Nightwood. The somnabule embodies a Stevensonian conjuring and conflict of drives, a walk directed by an unconscious desire that guides along a specific terrain. Slade creates a web of stand-ins for her sung portrait. Instead of the assertive and campy Queen song as implied by the title of the exhibition, she covers the master of melancholy, Morrissey. This Smiths classic encompassing of pining, Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want, was first released as a b-side to William, It Was Really Nothing, a 1984 European release 7" which came out only a month before the stunning November UK release Hatful of Hollow. The American debut of Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want features Ducky sitting on a mattress on the floor of his lonely teenage bedroom carelessly tossing playing cards into his upturned hat and feeling the hurt of his unrequited love for Molly Ringwald at the directorial imaginings of John Hughes' 1986 Pretty in Pink. Hughes used it again in Ferris Bueller's Day Off later that year with an instrumental cover by Dream Academy. It provided a soundtrack for the three truants as they approach the Art Museum of Chicago and browse the work inside. They pause before Gauguins, Matisses, Picassos, Moores and lastly Seurat's Un dimanche après-midi à l'Ile de la Grande Jatte as undecided and depressed Cameron ("I feel like complete shit Ferris, I can't go anywhere") trips out on the pointillism, beyond it to the actual weave of the canvas ("you're not dying Cameron, you just can't think of anything good to do").
The voice Slade chooses is that of a professed uber-fan. It is said that Morrissey would wait all night in the hotel lobby for T-Rex to come down for breakfast. Slade as a "bedroom fan" strikes an ambivalent pose. Her request for ALL/NOW is marked by ambition and action with embedded foiling mechanisms. In what serves as the soundtrack for the journey from her studio to the Or Gallery, the site of the projection, there is a refusal to remain a teenager. The difference is poignant. This is a map with particular authority. It knows where it's going.
"It is only by virtue of the imitation that the popular classes have the illusion of having it all." (12) Out of the bedroom, with a trail of ephemera-crumbs, the walked map remains a topological trope, a Benjaminian spatializing of melancholy -- a psychic landscape. (13) Slade dares to ask in a sweet, unconfrontational impersonation (complete with out of tune piano), Please Please Please. Falling strategically short of the tantrums of Veruca Salt the melody wonders whether being a woman making art means terminal pubescence. At what point does the self-referentiality of the medium have to stop becoming the self-referentiality of a chora? Veruca in fact has become a relic. Her tantrum is depicted by Slade as a series of drawings embroidered in red onto black cotton, her lips are literally sewn open. Slade has identified her as a martyr.
Who's dragging who? Slade drags Morrissey dragging Veruca dragging Queen. Melancholic Morrissey, Insatiable Veruca, Lost-out Ducky, Depressed Cameron, which mask will best serve the having it ALL/NOW? The All/Now both frustrates and resolves the loss of an ideal. The golden ticket and then some lays to waste the waiting for the thump of the glass ceiling, the nut chute/eggdicator or any other such limitations while also reflecting its untenable status. It is Charlie who shoots high up into the sky in a Great Glass Elevator at the end of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It is Charlie, Danny, James, and Fantastic Mr Fox, who go on Dahl's fabulous adventures.
Kathy Slade reminds us of how it can be to listen to the Smiths after melancholy, how Morrissey's shameless pleading becomes the necessary foiling device in a mechanism that is already foiled; careful what you wish for.
After all, there is joy in being barred from the Chocolate Factory.
1. Roald Dahl. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. New York :Alfred A Knopf, Revised Edition 1973, page 70.
2. Dahl, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, inside flap.
3. Dahl, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, inside flap.
4. These special squirrels employed by Wonka are capable of removing the entire walnut from its shell unbroken.
5. Dahl, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, page 123.
6. Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley. "I Want It Now" in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (David L. Wolper and Stan Margulies, Producers; Mel Stuart, Director; Warner Brothers, 1971).
7. Dahl, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, page 119.
8 Margaret L King and Albert Rabil Jr, "The Other Voice in early Modern Europe: Introduction to the Series", preface to Madeleine de Scudery's The Story of Sappho. (The University of Chicago Press, 2003) page xxviii.
9. Karen Newman, introduction to The Story of Sappho, page 6, referencing Joan Dejean, Tender Geographies: Women and the Origins of the Novel in France, (New York: Columbia University Press, 1991).
10. Libero Andreotti, "Play Tactics of the Internationale Situationiste", October 91, Winter 2000, pages 40, 42.
11. Lawrence Durrell. Clea. (Faber Books, 19??) page 93.
12. Susan Stewart. On Longing. (Duke University Press, 1993) page 169.
13. Judith Butler. The Psychic Life of Power. (Stanford University Press, 1997) page 170.