Wonderwall: Collector’s Edition (Shout! Factory, NR)

wonderwall collectThe “wonderwall” of the title is the wall he’s peeking through to see the wonders of those often-naked young ladies.

 

 

I tend to remember Jack McGowran for his role as the ill-fated director Burke Jennings in the film-within-a-film in The Exorcist (a worthy but decidedly minor part), but in fact he had quite a distinguished career on both stage and screen. Born in Dublin, McGowran acted with the Abbey Players and the Royal Shakespeare Company, and was particularly noted for performing the works of Samuel Beckett and Sean O’Casey. He also had an extensive film career, some of it as a comedian, something I never would have guessed from his performance in William Friedkin’s 1973 film.

The recent release of the Wonderwall: Collector’s Edition gives you a chance to enjoy McGowran in a leading role, that of the comically repressed Professor Oscar Collins, who studies life under the microscope but has limited experience with its up-close-and-personal aspects. In case you haven’t heard of it before, Wonderwall, directed by Joe Massot (whose only other notable work is the 1976 Led Zeppelin concert film The Song Remains the Same), is a trippy psychedelic film with music written by George Harrison and performed by an ensemble including Harrison and Eric Clapton.

Professor Collins lives in a rented room stuffed to the gills with stacks of papers, stuffed birds, butterflies under glass, and other symbols of his removal from the mainstream of life (although, interestingly enough, colorful murals and fragments of what seems to be pre-Raphaelite verse are partially visible beneath the clutter). His work-obsessed life is interrupted by the goings-on in a neighboring apartment, where the luscious Penny Lane (Jane Birkin) does nude modeling for a hippie photographer and designer (Iain Quarrier and Brian Walsh, respectively). Other models also frequent the flat, including two who engage in some not-very-tantalizing lesbian scenes, and an array of male and female models in a variety of ever-so-mod costumes.

Collins first becomes aware of the presence of the photography studio when light leaks in through a hole in his wall. Soon he’s making more holes so he can watch the action, Norman Bates style, but carries the process to comical extremes, until the room is practically dismantled (the “wonderwall” of the title is the wall he’s peeking through to see the wonders of those often-naked young ladies). All this voyeurism leads to bizarre dreams involving capes and top hats and gigantic fountain pens (and because counterculture films have to be obvious about their phallic symbols, a sword blade that disappears when it is most needed) and neglect of scientific duties, upsetting the delicate balance of the professor’s world.

Wonderwall should be required viewing for anyone interested in popular culture of the 1960s, and, even if you don’t have a specific interest in that period, it’s well worth a look. The restoration by the Pinewood Studios Film Restoration Team looks and sounds great, with the colors fairly popping off the screen. Although Harrison had never written for film before, the music is a good fit for the story, and it is very much from his Indian-influenced phase. The visual storytelling is a particularly strong point in this film—when the characters speak to each other, which doesn’t happen all that often, it feels like an interruption of the much stronger visual aspects of the film. And, if nothing else, as a pure product of its time, Wonderwall will remind you just how sexist the swinging sixties really were.

Both the studio release (93 min.) and the director’s cut (75 min.) are included on the disk, as are a grab bag of extra features, including advertising materials, biographies of the principal actors, several short films, and 32-page illustrated booklet by Massot. | Sarah Boslaugh

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