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.



Popular posts from this blog

I’m smarter than a beaver.

Prey (2022) (SPOILERS) If nothing else, I have to respect Dan Trachtenberg’s cynical pragmatism. How do I not only get a project off the ground, but fast-tracked as well? I know, a woke Predator movie! Woke Disney won’t be able to resist! And so, it comes to pass. Luckily for Prey , it gets to bypass cinemas and so the same sorry fate of Lightyear . Less fortunately, it’s a patience-testing snook cocking at historicity (or at least, assumed historicity), in which a young, pint-sized Comanche girl who wishes to hunt and fish – and doubtless shoot to boot – with the big boys gets to take on a Predator and make mincemeat of him. Well, of course , she does. She’s a girl, innit?

If you ride like lightning, you're going to crash like thunder.

The Place Beyond the Pines (2012) (SPOILERS) There’s something daringly perverse about the attempt to weave a serious-minded, generation-spanning saga from the hare-brained premise of The Place Beyond the Pines . When he learns he is a daddy, a fairground stunt biker turns bank robber in order to provide for his family. It’s the kind of “only-in-Hollywood” fantasy premise you might expect from a system that unleashed Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man and Point Break on the world. But this is an indie-minded movie from the director of the acclaimed Blue Valentine ; it demands respect and earnest appraisal. Unfortunately it never recovers from the abject silliness of the set-up. The picture is littered with piecemeal characters and scenarios. There’s a hope that maybe the big themes will even out the rocky terrain but in the end it’s because of this overreaching ambition that the film ends up so undernourished. The inspiration for the movie

Everyone creates the thing they dread.

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) (SPOILERS) Avengers: Age of Ultron ’s problem isn’t one of lack. It benefits from a solid central plot. It features a host of standout scenes and set pieces. It hands (most of) its characters strong defining moments. It doesn’t even suffer now the “wow” factor of seeing the team together for the first time has subsided. Its problem is that it’s too encumbered. Maybe its asking to much of a director to effectively martial the many different elements required by an ensemble superhero movie such as this, yet Joss Whedon’s predecessor feels positively lean in comparison. Part of this is simply down to the demands of the vaster Marvel franchise machine. Seeds are laid for Captain America: Civil War , Infinity Wars I & II , Black Panther and Thor: Ragnarok . It feels like several spinning plates too many. Such activity occasionally became over-intrusive on previous occasions ( Iron Man II ), but there are points in Age of Ultron whe

I think it’s pretty clear whose side the Lord’s on, Barrington.

Monte Carlo or Bust aka  Those Daring Young Men in Their Jaunty Jalopies (1969) (SPOILERS) Ken Annakin’s semi-sequel to Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines tends to be rather maligned, usually compared negatively to its more famous predecessor. Which makes me rather wonder if those expressing said opinion have ever taken the time to scrutinise them side by side. Or watch them back to back (which would be more sensible). Because Monte Carlo or Bust is by far the superior movie. Indeed, for all its imperfections and foibles (not least a performance from Tony Curtis requiring a taste for comic ham), I adore it. It’s probably the best wacky race movie there is, simply because each set of competitors, shamelessly exemplifying a different national stereotype (albeit there are two pairs of Brits, and a damsel in distress), are vibrant and cartoonish in the best sense. Albeit, it has to be admitted that, as far as said stereotypes go, Annakin’s home side win

Death to Bill and Ted!

Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991) (SPOILERS) The game of how few sequels are actually better than the original is so well worn, it was old when Scream 2 made a major meta thing out of it (and it wasn’t). Bill & Ted Go to Hell , as Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey was originally called, is one such, not that Excellent Adventure is anything to be sneezed at, but this one’s more confident, even more playful, more assured and more smartly stupid. And in Peter Hewitt it has a director with a much more overt and fittingly cartoonish style than the amiably pedestrian Stephen Herrick. Evil Bill : First, we totally kill Bill and Ted. Evil Ted : Then we take over their lives. My recollection of the picture’s general consensus was that it surpassed the sleeper hit original, but Rotten Tomatoes’ review aggregator suggests a less universal response. And, while it didn’t rock any oceans at the box office, Bogus Journey and Point Break did quite nicely for Keanu Reev

This entire edifice you see around you, built on jute.

Jeeves and Wooster 3.3: Cyril and the Broadway Musical  (aka Introduction on Broadway) Well, that’s a relief. After a couple of middling episodes, the third season bounces right back, and that's despite Bertie continuing his transatlantic trip. Clive Exton once again plunders  Carry On, Jeeves  but this time blends it with a tale from  The Inimitable Jeeves  for the brightest spots, as Cyril Basington-Basington (a sublimely drippy Nicholas Hewetson) pursues his stage career against Aunt Agatha's wishes.

I’m the famous comedian, Arnold Braunschweiger.

Last Action Hero (1993) (SPOILERS) Make no mistake, Last Action Hero is a mess. But even as a mess, it might be more interesting than any other movie Arnie made during that decade, perhaps even in his entire career. Hellzapoppin’ (after the 1941 picture, itself based on a Broadway revue) has virtually become an adjective to describe films that comment upon their own artifice, break the fourth wall, and generally disrespect the convention of suspending disbelief in the fictions we see parading across the screen. It was fairly audacious, some would say foolish, of Arnie to attempt something of that nature at this point in his career, which was at its peak, rather than playing it safe. That he stumbled profoundly, emphatically so since he went up against the behemoth that is Jurassic Park (slotted in after the fact to open first), should not blind one to the considerable merits of his ultimate, and final, really, attempt to experiment with the limits of his screen persona.

Another case of the screaming oopizootics.

Doctor Who Season 14 – Worst to Best The best Doctor Who season? In terms of general recognition and unadulterated celebration, there’s certainly a strong case to be made for Fourteen. The zenith of Robert Holmes and Philip Hinchcliffe’s plans for the series finds it relinquishing the cosy rapport of the Doctor and Sarah in favour of the less-trodden terrain of a solo adventure and underlying conflict with new companion Leela. More especially, it finds the production team finally stretching themselves conceptually after thoroughly exploring their “gothic horror” template over the course of the previous two seasons (well, mostly the previous one).

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) (SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek , but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan . That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.

Haven’t you ever heard of the healing power of laughter?

Batman (1989) (SPOILERS) There’s Jaws , there’s Star Wars , and then there’s Batman in terms of defining the modern blockbuster. Jaws ’ success was so profound, it changed the way movies were made and marketed. Batman’s marketing was so profound, it changed the way tentpoles would be perceived: as cash cows. Disney tried to reproduce the effect the following year with Dick Tracy , to markedly less enthusiastic response. None of this places Batman in the company of Jaws as a classic movie sold well, far from it. It just so happened to hit the spot. As Tim Burton put it, it was “ more of a cultural phenomenon than a great movie ”. It’s difficult to disagree with his verdict that the finished product (for that is what it is) is “ mainly boring ”. Now, of course, the Burton bat has been usurped by the Nolan incarnation (and soon the Snyder). They have some things in common. Both take the character seriously and favour a sombre tone, which was much more of shock to the