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Willy Wonka in Smellovision

Scent of the Times
By CHRIS FARAONE  |  September 9, 2009


If you'll imagine the New England Confectionary Company in Revere to be Willy Wonka's magical estate, then Union Square — where the Somerville Arts Council hosted an outdoor presentation of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory in Smellovision this past Friday — would be the analogous working-class outskirt from where Charlie Bucket hails. The event, complete with communal candy and strong wafts of sweet fragrances, was just one of nine Somerville Arts Council events planned for Union Square this year to bring attention to the neighborhood's budding creative community.

Smellovision, a concept that was developed in the 1930s and revisited to varying degrees since (John Waters released an "Odorama" version of his Polyester in 1981), was probably a great idea — until the first movie in which someone took a dump. Luckily, this film has no scenes in which the audience is exposed to Wonka's willy, which makes it the perfect candidate for a sensual adaptation resembling a Gwar concert, Comic-Con, and a 1986 Gallagher show. After all, if the good Lord had intended us to watch Willy Wonka without toothsome tangs dazzling our sinuses, he wouldn't have invented Smellovision.

Though Somerville saw a similar aromatic presentation of the classic Gene Wilder film in 2007, this year the Arts Council stunk up more scenes and odor-dosed on effects, in the process attracting hundreds of animated locals, from programmers and painters to village clowns and wild grade-school kids.

With help from Roxbury's arts-minded, nonprofit Berwick Research Institute and other groups linked through the Massachusetts Cultural Council, the crew squeezed bottles of scene-specific scents into oscillating fans on the perimeter, while characters (including a dead-on Veruca Salt and a hilarious female Wonka) danced up and down the aisles. (Just one suggestion: for more authentic-looking Oompa Loompas, the producers should recruit Boston University girls whose rotting skin has turned puke-orange from marathon tanning sessions.)

Next Saturday, the Arts Council will host its annual Urban County Fair; on September 26, the group presents What the Fluff? (not that fluff, you sicko — it's a tribute to invention in Union Square, where the spreadable marshmallow treat was developed in 1919). Should Somerville artisans continue showing off at this rate, it won't be long before developers and culturally apathetic yuppies fully colonize the semi-bohemian enclave.

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  Topics: Features , Boston University, John Waters, Massachusetts Cultural Council,  More more >
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