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Scarecrow on Seattle: THE CHOCOLATE WAR

For the past few years, Scarecrow Video has been contributing reviews of movies made in the Pacific Northwest to the Seattle Office of Film + Music's e-newsletter. We're now proud to be able to share these reviews on our site as well.






The Chocolate War (1988)

Actor-turned-director Keith Gordon chose a mighty undertaking for his first feature film. Robert Cromier's The Chocolate War has long been a highly regarded (and frequently banned) young-adult novel that deals with adolescent rebellion and nonconformity in a Catholic school. Ilan Mitchell-Smith (who you may remember from Weird Science) stars as Jerry, the new kid at a strict Catholic private school. He encounters a gang of mean students called "The Vigils" and a sadistic power-mad headmaster (played by a scary John Glover). Jerry eventually rebels against his oppressors by refusing to participate in a fund-raising candy sale and tensions escalate within the walls of the school. The young director elicits fine performances from his cast and, while his treatment does monkey around with the book's finale, Gordon's screenplay captures the essence of Cromier's story.

One of the most fortuitous choices for the production was transferring the novel's New England setting to the Pacific Northwest. A recurring irony I've encountered while doing research for the Scarecrow on Seattle column is the number of filmmakers who choose to shoot in the area with the hopes that Western Washington will provide lots of gloomy overcast days and then encounter just the opposite. I am talking about "the bluest skies you've ever seen"-just like in the song! In this case Gordon did manage to capture that brooding, cloudy weather on celluloid, making for the perfect backdrop for this moody character study. Kenmore's Saint Edward Seminary stars as the school, fleshed out with several important incidents filmed around Bellevue's Sammamish High School football field and a couple of scenes shot inside Ingraham High School. The rest of the film moves is set in a relatively underused cinematic location: Everett. The Chocolate War makes a good case for more film crews to visit the city. Gordon uses images of a pulp mill on the waterfront as well as other residential neighborhoods to establish the town's look and vibe, fitting perfectly with the mood of the picture. When I first saw The Chocolate War back when it first came out on VHS, I had no idea it had been shot locally. I figured it was made somewhere like Pittsburgh or Detroit or some other downbeat eastern city. I think this reflects Gordon's ability to create a depressing and oppressive everytown that could exist just about anywhere.

-Spenser Hoyt


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