Some films just have to be seen to be understood - and although that makes this review pretty redundant, it's very much the case with Wonderwall. It really is a product of its time - swinging London and psychedelia - and as you might expect, it's a visual treat, even 40 years on. But its merits as a film? Well, that's a tough one to call.
The storyline is simple. A stuffy old scientist (Oscar Collins - played by Jack MacGowran) lives a regimented life both at work and and at play. Indeed, it's hard to see the difference - once his carefully organised day ends, he goes home to his grey London flat (decorated in a strange Pre-Raphaelite style) to indulge in much the same. His only company is a pet praying mantis and his cleaner (played by the ever-dependable Irene Handl). But all that carefully organised monotony is about to change, thanks to a small hole in the wall.
That hole projects an image of the next door flat onto his plain wall - an image of his neighbour, model Penny Lane (Jane Birkin). Oscar is transfixed by the image and his view into the model's life. When the hole is blocked, he creates many more holes in his 'Wonderwall', so he can become part of the model's life and world. It's an obsession that takes over his whole life - he refuses to go to work, he spends all waking hours looking through the holes (even dressing for the part when the model throws a party) and when he sleeps, he dreams only of the model and her life.
But all is not well in her life. Through a chance meeting, he gets to know Penny's boyfriend - who confides in the professor of his boredom with the relationship. Through the wall he also discovers Penny is pregnant - and he sees her partner write a 'goodbye' note, pushing Penny over the edge. Oscar might be an unwelcome voyeur - but he could be the only one to save her.
As I said earlier, Wonderwall is visually stunning, a screen full of psychedelic imagery (created by Dutch art collective The Fool), screaming the era in look, fashion and attitude. And as you'll probably already know, it has a soundtrack of weird and wonderful background music from the mind of George Harrison - assisted by the Remo Four and Eric Clapton. Strange, but annoyingly catchy at the same time. And perfect for the film.
But the movie has to live and die by its plot and direction - and for me, it does the former. The story itself is pretty simplistic - and could easily have been a movie short. But director Joe Massot drags the viewer into the professor's strange, almost subterranean world and his altogether more colourful dream-like world, as well as that of the swinging set, living out a more hedonistic life on the other side of that brick wall. Ok, he's effectively just a peeping tom, but you never feel that - you always know that he's infatuated and he's got the interest of the girl at heart. For me, all that is a positive - but you might find those dream scenes and symbolic imagery just plain self-indulgent. As I said, it's a film that just has to be seen.
It's a shame the British viewer can only see it as a rough and ready budget DVD then really (and even that is out of print). The picture quality is variable at best, sound could be better and the extras are almost non-existent. Compare that to the special edition released by Rhino in the US and you'll realise how hard done to we really are. Let's hope this is sorted out sooner rather than later.
For anyone with an interest in the psychedelic 60s, Wonderwall is a film to pick up. You might love it, you might hate it - but you'll never forget it.