Sunday, 7 August 2016

Roald Dahl and the Movies

Roald Dahl has long been a favourite writer of mine, mostly for the grown up stories rather than the children's books — although those, too: I love The Fantastic Mr Fox. And while I've never read The BFG (stands for Big Friendly Giant), it's so much a part of the culture I almost feel I have.

Spielberg's movie of The BFG is the reason for my thoughts turning to Roald Dahl and his film incarnations. I'll post about the movie itself next week. But in the meantime here's a brief overview of the writer's work on screen.

Dahl was cantankerous, to say the least, and he had a long and fractious relationship with the movie industry, dating back to World War 2 when one of his very first stories The Gremlins almost became a Walt Disney picture. Disney spent several years developing it, but in the end it never happened. Here's a terrific radio documentary about it by cartoonist Gerald Scarfe.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was, perhaps surprisingly, a Roald Dahl screenplay — he expanded considerably on Ian Fleming's flimsy kid's book — but Dahl was very unhappy with what the director (Ken Hughes) did with it. 

And he was very pissed off with what Hollywood made of his book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, for a start changing the title to Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory with an accompanying shift of emphasis.

He was also very vocal about his disapproval of a burp gag which appeared in the movie. Although years later he'd recycle the idea, converted — in a very Dahl way — into a fart joke in The BFG.

In fact, the only movie of his work which he really liked was the Bond blockbuster You Only Live Twice which, again, surprisingly, featured a Roald Dahl script adapting an Ian Fleming book.

Roald Dahl was on good terms with Ian Fleming, indeed in the early 1950s Fleming suggested an idea to Dahl which became one of Dahl's truly classic, twisted short stories, 'Lamb to the Slaughter'. It's a favourite of mine and was memorably adapted for Alfred Hitchcock's TV series in 1958, in one of the episodes directed by Hitchcock himself.

But, as I say, Dahl was generally unhappy with screen versions of his work — he didn't like Nic Roeg's version of The Witches, either; Roeg had monkeyed with the ending. 

So, in later life, when he was more than comfortably off (read: hugely wealthy) from his book sales, Dahl turned down offers from the movies.

With his demise, the floodgates opened and we got, among many others, a neat stop-motion version of The Fantastic Mr Fox, an excellent animated James and the Giant Peach (with music by Randy Newman), a new improved Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, title intact, from Tim Burton...

And now The BFG, to be discussed next week... But if you can't wait until then I suggest you pick up one of Dahl's masterful collections of short stories, like Kiss Kiss or Someone Like You.

(Image credits: The posters for You Only Live Twice, Willie Wonka, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, The Witches, The Fantastic Mr Fox and Charlie are all from the wonderful Imp Awards.)

1 comment:

  1. I once tried to sell a collection of Roal Dahl stories on eBay. The volume wad Switch Bitch. eBay kept deleting it because of the title!