|Jane Birkin is Penny Lane...|
So it is that what I first heard of as an experimental soundtrack from George Harrison that inspired, in name only, a song (Noel Gallagher hadn’t even seen it… he just liked the title…), turned out to be a genuinely interesting movie…
Wonderwall is good – not great – and most of the substance comes from an excellent performance from Jack MacGowran along with the striking contemporary mis-en-scene from set designers The Fool and cinematography of Harry Waxman, ably marshalled by first time director Joe Massot.
|Jack MacGowran and Irene Handl|
The story is a slight one and truly this is more of a mood piece than great drama.
MacGowran does his best Einstein impersonation (shades of The Fearless Vampire Killers…) as a professorial type so absorbed in his work that he needs to read notes to work out the steps from shutting up his lab to soaking his feet at home… He’s absent minded and he’s a professor…
|Beginning to see the light...|
As he sits back in his chair, a light is projected through onto the far wall and this reveals the silhouette of a dancing girl… he follows the light to its source and peers through to spy a lithe female figure posing in the room beyond. Transfixed, he stares at this beautiful vision and is shaken from his dull routine, instantly in love with what he sees.
|Jane Birkin ...well red|
And Birkin is perfectly suited to being that object of desire. Incredibly pretty, she has an obtuse alertness that is a match for the naive longings from the room next door.
The Professor is disturbed by his cleaner, Irene Handl, his mother and his work mates but he is onto something here and he knows he won’t find the answer in his books or anything he has known.
|Iain Quarrier arrives in style...|
The professor watches Penny and her man cavorting and makes more and more holes in his wall, ripping down the tapestry and setting up a ledge from which to watch events more clearly.
|Penny models the orange shades and blue lipstick look|
Penny begins to invade his dreams and he sees himself duelling with her beau with pen versus sword, lipstick versus cigarettes… it’s amusingly well-crafted if superficially deep. British psychedelia was always more prone to whimsy than its US counter-part but none-the-less creative. That said, you could find Haight-Ashbury in Notting Hill and Camden even if not so much in Carnaby Street and Kings Road.
There’s a party and the Professor gets a visit from Penny’s guy who wants to borrow some ice… the two talk and the young man starts to reveal his dissatisfaction with being tied down… The party is wild and quite shocking for the professor who sees Penny’s growing sadness and her man’s incipient cruelty.
|"Heigh ho! Who is there? ...Please come say, how do?"|
The closing scene sees him return to work basking in the glow of his heroism, a new man infused with confidence. Newspaper headlines reveal that Penny, having been given a second chance, Is intent on starting afresh – it’s a re-birth for both.
|Penny Lane saved by Scientist... Mrs Harrison meets Dr Doolittle...|
Clearly any interpretation will do. Wonderwall is more about the potential and possibility of life change than a prescriptive description of cause and affect… It’s a wake up call to…simply wake up and do what you should be doing for the best.
|Mermaid in Notting Hill|
Throughout George Harrison’s music underpins the action in suitably psychedelic style and features a good deal of Indian noodling as well as electronic sounds. The “love theme” for Penny is one of the more fully realised songs and works well. Not as good as Macca’s efforts on The Family Way perhaps but still interesting and, for this type of film at this particular time, you could do far worse than get a soundtrack from a Beatle!
Wonderwall is available on DVD from a variety of sources. The German edition from 2011 promises the best quality and for such a richly visual film it’s worth getting the best you can.