Directed by Joe Massot (who would later make The Song Remains The Same) in 1968, Wonderwall is noteworthy for being the first movie that George Harrison did the music for. The storyline, such as it is, follows a strange fifty-something man named Professor Oscar Collins (Jack MacGowran) who lives all alone in his apartment. His life changes when a beautiful, and much younger, model named Penny Lane (Jane Birkin) moves into the apartment next door. Somewhat understandably, Collins quickly finds himself drawn to his gorgeous new neighbor, but this quickly seems to turn from admiration to obsession as he starts drilling holes in the walls that connect their abodes so that he can spy on her.
The more he indulges in this, the more he seems to drift from reality into a trippy dreamscape. When he stops showing up at work to spend as much time peering through the wall as he can, his colleague, Perkins (Richard Wattis) starts to wonder if he'll ever return. Meanwhile, Penny is suffering from depression brought about her relationship with her boyfriend (Iain Quarrier),
Wonderwall (and yes, that is where Oasis got the name for their song) shares some interesting similarities with Polanski's Repulsion and given that both movies were written by Gerard Brach, it's probably not a coincidence. This film takes a far stranger and much lighter approach to the idea, however, with most of the comedy (not all of which is that effective) stemming from MacGowran's enthusiastic portrayal of the eccentric and absentminded Collins. Here is a man who very obviously lacks focus, who writes down the things that he has to do each day and seems to have trouble remembering some of his co-workers' names. Yet when Penny moves in next door, his focus is singular and precise. Her arrival, at first an annoyance to him when he hears her music coming through the walls, creates a massive shift in her character and it's once this shift occurs that the movie delves head first into acid-inspired hallucinatory where inanimate butterflies erupt into animated life and where an older man like Collins can battle Penny's younger, stronger boyfriend with the aid of exaggerated prop weapons like a giant pen or a massive cigarette (the boyfriend sporting a Superman outfit with an ‘L' and a ‘D' on the left and right side of the trademark ‘S' respectively).
Harrison's soundtrack work for the picture is heavy on sitar music so how much you get out of what is obviously the film's main draw (for most people… some of us are more interested in this for the presence of Birkin!) will depend on your personal appreciation for that particular instrument but the compositions are interesting. Also worth noting is the film's use of color, which is heavy on psychedelic swirls and strange contrasts, particularly in the scenes that take place in Collins' apartment rather than Penny's (possibly in an attempt to point out that the life of a fashion model is not as interesting as some might expect it to be).
The performances are decent here. MacGowran brings an eclectic tone to his work in the picture and makes out of Collins an eccentric and socially awkward character that is, if nothing else, interesting to watch. Birkin's work is very much the opposite of his. She has nothing to say, her character goes about her business and we see this ravishing beauty in mundane situations that then morph into Collins' fantasies. Given that she doesn't have a whole lot of dialogue it's to her credit that she's as mesmerizing to watch here as she is. Birkin was always beautiful, here she's beyond that and quite captivating. The movie might be fairly plotless and decidedly weird simply for the sake of being weird, but it is not without its merits or its curiosity value.
Note: This Blu-ray release of Wonderwall includes both the original theatrical cut of the movie and the director's cut of the film. Going against the grain, the director's cut is actually seventeen minutes shorter than the theatrical cut. As to which version is better? It all comes down to personal preference, really. The theatrical cut is more unusual and at times more surreal while the pacing on the director's cut is improved. Having both versions presented as they are here is the ideal solution. Massot's director's cut does include a Harrison song called ‘In The First Place' that didn't make its way into the theatrical cut.
Wonderwall arrives on Blu-ray in an AVC encoded 1.66.1 1080p high definition transfer that generally looks really nice. Colors are reproduced very vibrantly here without ever looking artificially boosted while black levels stay pretty solid throughout. Some shots show heavier grain than others but there isn't much in the way of actual print damage to complain about. Detail looks quite impressive most of the time, though some shots look to have been done with some softness in mind, while skin tones appear lifelike and natural throughout. There aren't any problems with heavy noise reduction or edge enhancement and shadow detail looks pretty good here as well. If you squint and look for it you might pick up on some minor crush in a few of the darker scenes but otherwise, this is a very good transfer.
The only audio option on the disc is an English language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track, the original mix is not included. For the most part this is a front heavy mix that doesn't have a whole lot of channel separation going on outside of some periodic activity in the surround that comes courtesy of the score. Dialogue is clean enough and easy to follow and the levels are properly balanced. There are a few spots that sound a bit flat and a few spots where some really minor distortion comes into the mix but odds are pretty good that if you're not listening specifically for this, you won't notice. All in all the audio quality is fine.
The extras are pretty decent on this release, starting with a two minute piece called The Comic Art Of Jack MacGowran which is a brief look at the man who played Collins in the film. More substantial is the twelve minute Reflections On Love. It's a short movie made by Joe Massot that eventually turned into the movie that would become Wonderwall. Beatles fans will appreciate this as it's got some footage of them leaving the UK for their first American TV appearance in there. It's an interesting artifacts and a nice addition to the disc.
A few other minor bits and pieces found here are The Art Of Marijke which spends ninety seconds examining some of the paintings used in the movie, a thirty second clip called Eric Clapton: Skiing, a John Lennon Poem, a three and a half minute long The Remo Four Music Video segment that was unveiled when the feature was restored version of the film and a single Outtake containing the original opening for the movie that runs just under three minutes in length.
Bringing things to a close are a theatrical trailer, a still gallery of posters and publicity materials, some publicity booklet information and some text bios for the key players. Menus and chapter stops are also included. A booklet of liner notes included inside the Blu-ray case includes some essays on the movie by Joe Massot and members of The Remo Four as well as some nice artwork and images from the feature. These are quite worthwhile if you're interested in the film as they offer up some welcome background information on how this odd movie came to be and why.
Wonderwall is both a product of its time and an obvious exercise in style over substance more interested in creating mood and atmosphere than telling a traditional narrative tale. Fans of The Beatles and George Harrison will likely find more to appreciate than others, but given that the beautiful Jane Birkin gets to play the female lead, well, the movie definitely has that going for it too. Ultimately it's a trippy and bizarrely surreal film worth seeing for fans of oddball experimental sixties cinema. The Blu-ray release from Shout! Factory looks and sounds quite good and offers up a nice smattering of supplements as well. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.