Something there is, as Robert Frost once acknowledged, that doesn’t love a wall. Archly camp and dreamily surreal, Joe Massot’s ineffable whatsit Wonderwall retools Shakespeare’s story of Pyramus and Thisbe for the psychedelic set. Addle-pated Professor Collins (Jack MacGowran) tosses his time machine (read: alarm clock) against the wall after hearing the exotic wail of Indian music wafting through from next door. The hole disclosed by the prof’s tantrum reveals the sinuous silhouette of a dancing girl, immediately capturing his attention. (“Aha, camera obscura!” he quips.) The partially obscured object of his voyeuristic desires is none other than wannabe model Penny Lane (a radiant, if largely speechless, Jane Birkin). Her young man, a fashion photographer (Iain Quarrier) who shall remain nameless, arrives on the scene in a lime-green coupe, all gussied up in period attire for the everlasting costume party-cum-happening taking place in Penny’s flat.
Wonderwall is, if nothing else, a conversation piece whose importance, aside from the strictly audiovisual delectations to be garnered from its soundtrack and set design, can be found in the nexus of film-historical connections in which it’s enmeshed. The presence of MacGowran and Quarrier, recently teamed in Roman Polanski’s The Fearless Vampire Killers, points to the involvement of regular Polanski scribe Gerard Brach in the original scenario. Wonderwall also stands as the middle term in a series of films that celebrate (even as they simultaneously deflate) the countercultural pretensions of mod London, serving as the connective tissue between Antonioni’s Blowup and Nicolas Roeg’s Performance. The former features Birkin in a bit part, and receives some gentle ribbing in Wonderwall during the first dream sequence when one of the boyfriend’s fellow shutterbugs bounces around the green sward where he and the professor are about to duel. The latter features Anita Pallenberg, who turns up here, albeit uncredited, in a party scene where she swaps saliva with Birkin.
For all its indulgence in DayGlo décor and altered states of consciousness, the underlying point of the film’s admittedly slender-to-the-edge-of-nonexistent narrative can best be described as either hopelessly square or, if you’re being a bit more philosophically charitable, touchingly humane: that we have to burst the bubble of our private fantasies concerning the lives of other people if we ever hope to lend them a helping hand. In the end, Professor Collins manages to project his dreams into the microscopic realms of his scientific research. For him, as much as for Penny, this unexpected second chance allows Collins to put into action Rainer Maria Rilke’s existential adage: “You must change your life.”
This extensive restoration of Wonderwall ultimately yields uneven results: Color saturation, which is key to the film’s visual impact, gets a considerable boost, and the representation of fine detail, particularly information in the background that informs foreground action, is greatly improved. But the restoration has clearly spliced in footage from inferior elements, noticeable especially in the darker indoor scenes, which reveal instances of pretty harsh black crush as well as elevated levels of graininess. The repurposed surround sound mix spreads George Harrison’s psychedelic sitar-and-sarod score around the peripheral tracks; dialogue, what little there is, stays front and center, betraying on occasion a slightly muddled quality. Luckily, English SDH subtitles have been provided.
The list of assembled bonus features certainly looks impressive, yet most of what’s here are actually quite brief EPK-style doodads featuring clips from the film or a handful of outtakes. The real standout is Reflections on Love, an early short from director Joe Massot that combines a city-symphony montage of swinging-London street scenes with a wafer-thin story about a young couple finding love and matrimony in the midst of all those trendy fashions and groovy, groovy music. (The Fab Four put in a properly zeitgeist-y cameo, waving to roaring throngs of ecstatic teenyboppers on the eve of their departure for America and The Ed Sullivan Show.) The booklet, laden with lovely photos and replete with extensive liner notes from Massot, makes for fascinating reading as Massot traces out the trajectory of his career from shooting revolutionary documentaries in the Cuban mountains, meeting Polanski through screenwriter Gerard Brach, and making the scene in mod London. As a final incentive, Shout! Factory includes both the theatrical cut of the film as well as the shorter, tighter director’s cut (the preferred version for most day trippers, I would imagine).
Wonderwall is a heady trip best taken for the sensory provocation of its eye-popping set designs and the spaced-out world music ambience of its soundtrack. Barring a few minor caveats, Shout! Factory’s Blu-ray transfer renders that prospect more stimulating than it’s ever been.