Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Wonderwall (1968)


Jack MacGowran, a consistently great actor, has one of his few leading roles here, playing the meek, absent-minded Professor Collins, besieged in his windowless apartment, haunted by the memory of his strict wheelchair-bound mother. One night he finds there's a hole in the wall of his apartment that gives him an eyeful of his gorgeous next-door neighbour, Penny Lane, played by Miss Je T'aime herself, Jane Birkin. What sounds like the set-up for a bad dirty-joke movie is actually a comic-psychedelic fantasia, as Collins obsessively studies Penny's joyously colorful existence with her photographer boyfriend (Ian Quarrier), withdrawing from work and life - not that he has much of a life to withdraw from - to watch theirs and fantasise about becoming Penny's gentleman saviour, battling with Quarrier in absurd duels with giant cigarettes and lipsticks, saving her from poverty and despondency, and finally marrying her. But not everything is so swinging in paradise and the Professor finally has to live out some of his fantasies for real. The film is loaded with Polanski acolytes, being a story written by Gerard Brach, and Wonderwall bears many similarities to Brach's scripts for Polanski, as the voyeur hero seals himself in his apartment and ceases to discern reality from fantasy. The differences are marked, in that Wonderwall is primarily one of those late '60s works of mobile pop art, inflating a small, interior film that might have made a wonderful subject for Polanski into an often immobile spectacle of trippy effects that aren't staged with enough verve to make them dizzying, as in Richard Lester's films, or with enough intimacy to make it truly dream-like. Director Joe Massot, who later made The Song Remains the Same an arch-masturbatory spectacle for Led Zeppelin fans, provides some indelible images beautifully photographed by Harry Waxman, but the film cries for a lightness of touch that's missing, and would probably have made a better short. Massot's mod-at-all-costs approach can't set up the necessary tension between a glum outside world and the Eden Collins seeks and Birkin and Quarrier seem to have. This film may be chiefly remembered as the inspiration for that Oasis song, and its George Harrison music score. Neither of which represent the best reasons to watch it, though Harrison's inventive score is excellent and innovative. Mostly a static would-be head film, it is still, an intermittently charming, wry, and touching work.

1 comment:

Jeff downing said...

I am watching it now and your review seems like very reasonable and accurate assessment to me! While visually interesting it is also a bit typical, and perhaps not fully realized as to be really engrossing. But it certainly is a worthwhile watch as a slice of psychedelic London and fantastic looking high psych fashion ladies! George Harrison's music is Eastern and exotic and yet it's spiritual qualities seem to expose the somewhat surfacy quality of the film. It's literally eye candy and little more. But eye candy is ok sometimes I say. Anyway I'll look for more of your reviews! Thanks!