Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and the Creative Life

For the duration of this post, I’m going to assume that you saw a LOT of Disney movies when you were a kid, as I did. Like me, you had little else to choose from, as you were born before the Internet smiled upon the world and content streams proliferated like bunnies in the bushes. I understand that I am older than some, and younger than others–if this movie is totally unfamiliar, suffice it to say, it’s a relic of a very particular moment. In away, I think it’s a meditation on the country’s grief following the death of Martin Luther King, Jr..

In this story, The Creative lives with his two children–elder daughter, maybe 9, and younger brother, maybe 6–in a tower on a randomly gorgeous hill in merry turn o’ the century England. Parasols, secret corsets, Gibson Girl hair, and giant butt bustles abound. Down the hill, in the newly industrialized city, our antagonist runs a candy factory with an iron English fist with which he takes a handful of stolen confection inventions and churns out pleasure for the masses–and capital, for himself. This decadent way of life is definitely not for our hero, Dick Van Dyke as Caractacus Potts , an inventor/artist/singularity and all around happy-go-lucky guy, who is happy puttering along with his Flazdoodlers and Phapjizzerits. That is, until fate puts the industrialist’s daughter in his path. Dick/Caractacus is smitten, Truly Scrumptious (what a babe!) is coy and kind to the kids, and Disney has a skeleton for its plot.

From then on, it’s welcome to the wonderful, nonsensical, and downright trippy world of Creativity, where alcoholic uncles are also flying poets (the Travelin’ Loife fer Me! POSH!!! ), and fat old tenors are actually also major swingers (OMG Choochee Face!). In Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, being a Creative means there’s an awful lot of horns fart-honking at random moments, steam getting shot into visitor’s faces, bubbling flasks, funny hats. An awful lot of messy half-starts and lack of personal hygiene. But hey, you end up with a delightfully slow boat/car that knows exactly when to break down so as to cause maximum freakout and maximum plot movement. Also your car can fly, and cause your children to follow you happily down dark, visionary paths as if they were a larky dance number at a massive candy factory in Oz.

It’s not clear to me if Chitty was intended as propaganda for the creative life, or as pablum for an audience cynically seen as decidedly non-creative. To young Andrew, it seemed as plain as day that it was intended as a huge life lesson for young Creatives. Join up! It said. It’ll be fun! It said. You’ll get to thumb your nose at the stupid bourgeois factory owner not only by seducing his daughter with your kooky steam farts and very creative housekeeping, but by living successfully outside of his giant, sterile Metropolis dystopia. It’ll all work out, it said. Relaaaaax. Have a hit of this and see if you can keep up with the song:

“shittyshittybangbang shittyshittybangbang weloveyou”

A part of me still thrills to the sheer joyous wackiness of the inventions concocted for this film by Frederick Roland Emett. A part of me finds it a tragically oversimplified idealization of the creative life, which has far darker corners than the story allows.

What do you think? What draws you to the creative life? What does your creative life look like? How do sheer inventiveness and the detritus of creativity work together in your lab?

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