Skip to main content

The cycle of Pisces is coming to an end. Thanks for everything, professor. It was beautiful. So long.

Wonderwall
(1968)

(SPOILERS) I somehow doubt that Liam Gallagher ever sat through Wonderwall. Most likely he’d have put his foot through the telly ten minutes in. Even “intellect” of the family Noel would probably have struggled with it. But then, their song was inspired by George Harrison’s album of music – no way would Theodor Adorno want credit for that one – rather than Joe Massiot’s oddball hippy dream/nightmare project (his only fiction feature, unless you count an 80s Barry Sheen escapade). It’s perhaps a shame Massiot didn’t make more movies, as while Wonderwall is in no way a good one, it is definitely visually accomplished.

Professor Collins: No, I don’t like songs. Music is just organised noise. And noise is poison to the mind. That’s what’s the matter with her. Too much noise.

Guillermo Cabrera Infante later wrote counter-culture classic Vanishing Point, but aside from a certain era sensibility (Vanishing Point is more jaundiced, but also more genuine to the human spirit), there’s little to compare the two. Wonderwall is wafer thin in premise – I suppose as is Vanishing Point – so enabling Massot to render a succession of almost pop promo vignettes. Professor Collins (Jack MacGowran, also playing eccentrics during that period in The Fearless Vampire Killers and The Avengers’ “Ee-Urp!” Professor Poole) works for the water board analysing microbiotics. He’s your archetypal dotty, absent-minded professor, mixing up the names of his staff (including the inimitable Richard Wattis) and requiring instructions to remove his socks before placing his feet in a soothing foot bath. Essentially, he’s a painfully self-consciously eccentric, which means there’s little wit to the character.

Collins is first alerted to goings-on next door when some irksomely experimental Indian music pipes up every time he looks into his microscope. There is soon a further manifestation, as the silhouette of a cavorting nude appears in his room. She has been projected on his wall, he deduces, via the process of camera obscura. The cavorter is none other than fab 60s icon Jane Birkin at her most winsomely objectified. She – no typecasting at all – is a model, in a relationship with the Liverpudlian twanged Iain Quarrier (who also appeared in Vampire Killers; this was his last film performance, and his subsequent life proved far from lustrous). The professor is duly transfixed by the kaleidoscope of exotic delights unfolding on the other side his flat’s wall; he is, effectively, a less than sleeping beauty awoken (Tennyson’s The Daydream rather unsubtly adorns his domicile).

Professor Collins: To eat or not to eat. Both are ephemeral distractions.

Rather than a pervy sex pest, I assumed we’re supposed to find his behaviour endearing: innocent, Brazil-esque flights of fantasy as his imagination is finally unleashed. And it’s true that quite a few of the older generation were to be found in “free love” movement movies of the period. Not so many appeared in such overt masturbation fantasies, however. Collins is soon all but tearing down the wall to get to the object of his lust. When he’s not away with the fairies, indulging dream sequences of duels and over-sized product placement (most obviously a packet of Player’s No.6), he’s seeing mermaids in his microbes. Finally, Collins can contain himself no longer, taking to the roof and gaining access to Penny’s apartment. Luckily for both, she’s unable to accuse him of trespass or would-be assault or worse as she has just overdosed.

One might read the voyeurism angle in several respects: the “wonderwall” represents a TV set enabling the mad professor to indulge some vicarious jollies. In that sense, he is the excluded average normie, aroused but bewildered by a movement that doesn’t want him for a member and which seems explicitly engineered – because it is – to throw off the shackles of previous eras, on the pretext of inviting a bright new dawn. If the movie moralises that this is just a façade, as much as the science Collins is examining in his petri dishes (well, it doesn’t say as much), it does so rather vacantly, and the moral is a rather empty one; after all, if the prof hadn’t been such a perv, he wouldn’t have saved the girl to resulting acclaim (there’s almost a Taxi Driver thing going on there). Penny has had too much of the empty model scene – the one that embodied so much of the era’s grooviness – “It’s driving her crazy”.

Professor Collins: This is a new microbe. Highly contagious. You are not even allowed to talk to me.

From a current perspective, it’s certainly curious to see these two allied or vying societal impetuses together, both as fabricated as the other. The counter-culture movement, designed to break down taboos, to an ultimately transhumanist end, and the square one, serving up the petri dishes of entirely suspect mainstream science; after all, one only needs the credentials to talk guff, and its entirely believed by the masses (per the quote above, in which the professor, intent on more peeping, turns Wattis’ Perkins away from his door by claiming he has a new kind of measles. Perhaps not the Double-German strain cited in Séance on a Wet Afternoon). In connection with such juxtapositions, at Penny is seen in an oxygen mask during one of her photoshoots.

Other elements of note: Irene Handl is on hand to complain about the washing up and have her hoovering interrupted, and she and Wattis are both very welcome. There’s an odd shot of a policeman giving CPR made to look like an extended smooch. The score is alternately insufferably experimental and actually quite good. Well, it is George Harrison MBE (as the titles inform us), isn’t it? Whatever you do, avoid his experimental electronica. At one point, Collins’ butterfly collection turns into animated Disney specimens. Indeed, there’s a wealth of visual inventiveness here, but it isn’t enough. Perhaps if you’re in a purple haze, Wonderwall might do the trick. Even then, I’m doubtful.

All that said, Massot’s use of the frame is precise, clear and defined. He knows what he wants in each shot and he and cinematographer Harry Waxman (Brighton Rock, The Day the Earth Caught Fire, The Wicker Man), in tandem with Assheton Gordon’s production design, know precisely how to make Wonderwall's images pop. After the borderline ham-fisted execution of Duffy, that’s a blessed relief.



Comments

Popular posts from this blog

He’s probably paranoid, high-strung, doesn’t like daylight. You know, has a lot of crumbs in his beard, if he has a beard.

Godzilla vs. Kong (2021) (SPOILERS) I’d like to report I had a blast with Godzilla vs. Kong . It’s lighter on its oversized, city-stomping feet than its slog of a MonsterVerse predecessor, Godzilla: King of the Monsters , and there are flashes of visual inspiration along with several engaging core ideas (which, to be fair, the series had already laid the seeds for). But this sequel still stumbles in its chief task: assembling an engaging, lively story that successfully integrates both tiny humans and towering titans.

It's Dark Age, by Jupiter!

The Dig (2021) (SPOILERS) An account of the greatest archaeological find Britain would know until Professor Horner opened the barrow at Devil’s End. And should you scoff at such “ fiction ”, that’s nothing on this adaptation of John Preston’s 2007 novel concerning the Sutton Hoo excavations of the late 1930s. The Dig , as is the onus of any compelling fictional account, takes liberties with the source material, but the erring from the straight and narrow in this case is less an issue than the shift in focus from characters and elements successfully established during the first hour.

You stink, my friend.

Mulan (2020) (SPOILERS) Let that be a lesson to Disney. It’s a fool’s errand to try and beat the Chinese at their own game, no matter how painstakingly respectful – or rather, pandering – you are. Indeed, Mulan ’s abysmal $40m box office take in the country – where it did get a proper release, so no plandemic excuses can be cited – feels like a direct rebuke; don’t try and tell us how to suck eggs. There’s an additional explanation too, of course. That Mulan sucks.

Roswell was a smokescreen, we've had a half a dozen better salvage operations.

The X-Files 1.24: The Erlenmeyer Flask The Erlenmeyer Flask makes for a fast-paced, tense and eventful ride, but does it make any sense? That less than mattered at the time, but revisiting the mythology arc (for probably the fourth or fifth time) reveals increasingly tenuous internal coherence as the various conspiracy elements begin to pile up and the situations become ever-more convoluted. This will become the Chris Carter’s signature: don’t examine the details too closely, go with the flow. Trust Chris implicitly.

UFO IN MOSSINGHAM?

A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon (2020) (SPOILERS) One might reasonably suggest the recourse of the ailing or desperate franchise is to resort, seemingly out of nowhere, to space aliens. Even Police Academy didn’t go that far (to Moscow, yes, but not to space). Perhaps animators think kids have no skills of discernment and will swallow any old sugar-coated crap. Perhaps they don’t, and they will. Ice Age had been enjoying absurd success until Collision Course sent Scrat spinning into the cosmos and grosses tumbled. Shaun the Sheep has been around for a quarter of a century, but this is only his second movie outing and already he’s pulling an E.T. on us. Of course, this may all be part of the grand scheme, and Nick Park is simply doing his bit to familiarise the tots in time for Project Blue Beam.

Our "Bullshit!" team has unearthed spectacular new evidence, which suggests, that Jack the Ripper was, in fact, the Loch Ness Monster.

Amazon Women on the Moon (1987) Cheeseburger Film Sandwich . Apparently, that’s what the French call Amazon Women on the Moon . Except that it probably sounds a little more elegant, since they’d be saying it in French (I hope so, anyway). Given the title, it should be no surprise that it is regarded as a sequel to Kentucky Fried Movie . Which, in some respects, it is. John Landis originally planned to direct the whole of Amazon Women himself, but brought in other directors due to scheduling issues. The finished film is as much of a mess as Kentucky Fried Movie , arrayed with more miss sketches than hit ones, although it’s decidedly less crude and haphazard than the earlier picture. Some have attempted to reclaim Amazon Women as a dazzling satire on TV’s takeover of our lives, but that’s stretching it. There is a fair bit of satire in there, but the filmmakers were just trying to be funny; there’s no polemic or express commentary. But even on such moderate t

Careful how much boat you’re eating.

Onward (2020) (SPOILERS) Pixar’s Bright , or thereabouts. The interesting thing – perhaps the only interesting thing – about Onward is that it’s almost indiscernible from a DreamWorks Animation effort, where once they cocked a snook at such cheap-seats fare, seeing themselves as better class of animation house altogether. Just about everything in Onward is shamelessly derivative, from the Harry Potter /fantasy genre cash-in to the use of the standard Pixar formula whereby any scenario remotely eccentric or exotic is buried beneath the banal signifiers of modern society: because anything you can imagine must be dragged down to tangible everyday reference points or kids won’t be able to assimilate it. And then there’s the choice of lead voices, in-Disney star-slaves Chris Pratt and Tom Holland.

Wow. Asteroids are made of farts. Okay. I got it.

Greenland (2020) (SPOILERS) Global terror porn for overpopulation adherents as Gerard Butler and his family do their darnedest to reach the safety of a bunker in the titular country in the face of an imminent comet impact. Basically, what if 2012 were played straight? These things come to test cinemas in cycles, of course. Sean Connery struggled with a duff rug and a stack of mud in Meteor , while Deep Impact plumbed for another dread comet and Armageddon an asteroid. The former, owing to the combined forces of Bruce Joel Rubin and Michael Tolkin, was a – relatively – more meditative fare. The latter was directed by Michael Bay. And then there’s Roland Emmerich, who having hoisted a big freeze on us in The Day After Tomorrow then wreaked a relatively original source of devastation in the form of 2012 ’s overheating Earth’s core. Greenland , meanwhile, is pretty much what you’d expect from the director of Angel Has Fallen .

By heaven, I’d thrash the life out of you… if I didn’t have to read the Nine O’Clock News.

The Green Man (1956) (SPOILERS) The Green movie from Launder and Gilliat starring Alastair Sim that isn’t Green for Danger. Which is to say, The Green Man can’t quite scale the heady heights of that decade-earlier murder mystery triumph, but neither is it any slouch. Sim is the antagonist this time – albeit a very affable, Sim-ish one – and his sometime protégée, a young George Cole, the hero. If the plot is entirely absurd, Robert Day’s movie wastes no time probing such insufficiencies, ensuring it is very funny, lively and beautifully performed.

Well, I’ll be damned. It’s the gentleman guppy.

Waterworld (1995) (SPOILERS) The production and budgetary woes of “ Kevin’s Gate ” will forever overshadow the movie’s content (and while it may have been the most expensive movie ever to that point – adjusted for inflation, it seems only Cleopatra came close – it has since turned a profit). However, should you somehow manage to avoid the distraction of those legendary problems, the real qualitative concerns are sure to come sailing over the cognitive horizon eventually; Waterworld is just so damned derivative. It’s a seafaring Mad Max. Peter Rader, who first came up with the idea in 1986, admitted as much. David Twohy, who later came aboard, also cited Mad Max 2 ; that kind of rip-off aspect – Jaws birthing Piranha – makes it unsurprising Waterworld was once under consideration by Roger Corman (he couldn’t cost it cheaply enough). Ultimately, there’s never a sufficient sense the movie has managed to become its own thing. Which is a bummer, because it’s frequently quite good fun.