Wonderwall (1968) **

While psychedelic forays were all the rage in the late 1960s it’s hard to see how that excuses a movie that appears to exalt a peeping tom. Or at the very least appear to give him a free pass because he’s a barmy scentist and, more likely, because he saves the object of his spying from suicide. And you have to wonder what prompted George Harrison (at the time still a Beatle) to volunteer to provide the soundtrack.

Of course, the title has been popularised by the catchy Oasis song and star Jane Birkin achieved notoriety also on the musical front when her single “Je T’Aime” was banned by the BBC the following year (censorship having the opposite effect and sending it to the top of the charts, as any good marketing analyst could have predicted).

But there’s not much going on here that purports to be narrative and the psychedelics and fantasy sequences fail to remove discomfort over the context.

Professor Collins ( a wild-haired Jack MacGowran) spends his days glued to a microscope studying amoebas and perhaps in a nod to other less than savoury literary characters (Lolita, 1962 and The Collector, 1965, in case you haven’t guessed) collects butterflies and spends the evening in a chaotic apartment stacked high with old magazines (their content, given his later behavior, not what you might expect).

Disturbed by the noise of a party upstairs, he throws something at the wall, knocks something loose and finds a hole-sized light streaming into the darkness of his apartment. With nothing else to keep himself occupied, he peers through and is entranced by the long legs of model Penny Lane (Jane Birkin). Soon, he is checking out a photo shoot, a party, Penny making love to boyfriend (Iain Quarrier), the model rejecting her lover’s suggestions of a threesome with another equally lithe model (Anita Pallenberg), and later discovering she is pregnant.

In between, Collins has various fantasies about challenging the boyfriend to a duel. Initially, this is in the formal manner, with duelling pistols or rapiers, but soon takes the form of giant fountain pens or giant cigarettes. Occasionally, there’s a butterfly motif. Once, he imagines Penny as a mermaid swimming among the amoebas. His dead mother appears in a puff of smoke to tell him off.

And he didn’t get to being a professor without showing some initiative. So when he realises that a tiny hole limits his viewing pleasure, he starts to knock the wall down and watch the woman in widescreen, though somehow the wall is made of glass, thus preventing him intruding, and equally somehow the neighbors never seem to notice.

Of course, you could take it all as fantasy, that a lonely old man just wants to befriend a young woman, as if there was anything less creepy about that.

Naturally, if you’re inclined to ignore the creepiness, you might be tempted to start to praise the psychedelic, but I’m not sure that’s a very good starting point. If you’re into sitar music or George Harrison you will probably enjoy the score.

Jack MacGowran (Age of Consent, 1969) didn’t seem to feel he needed to do any more with the character than dress him as an eccentric. There’s certainly no sense of shame. If anything, thanks to the ending, he is afforded redemption. Jane Birkin (Blow-Up, 1966) isn’t called upon to do anything except appear soulful, and, of course, from time to time, nude. British character actors like Irene Handl and Richard Wattis appear in stock roles.

Joe Massot (The Song Remains the Same, 1976) directed and Gerard Brach (Repulsion, 1965) and Guillermo Cain (Vanishing Point, 1971) wrote the screenplay. But while Massot was a debutant, Brach’s involvement would have indicated something perhaps creepier still but with a more relevant outcome. A case study on how this got the green light in the first place would be most appreciated.

Author: Brian Hannan

I am a published author of books about film - over a dozen to my name, the latest being "When Women Ruled Hollywood." As the title of the blog suggests, this is a site devoted to movies of the 1960s but since I go to the movies twice a week - an old-fashioned double-bill of my own choosing - I might occasionally slip in a review of a contemporary picture.

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