Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Salvation, USA: A Not-Thrilling Thriller

Written by Bernie Van De Yacht and directed by Yacht and Brett Donowho, Salvation, USA is a thriller, sort of. It reminded me a lot of a Lifetime movie with a little sex and swearing. Until the finale, which gets all sorts of batshit violent and bloody. Ah, but advertising, eh? If you watch this movie after having seen the poster, you’ll end up wondering when the hell you’re going to see some violence, as violence is most clearly implied by the thing. And if you haven’t seen the poster, you’ll watch Salvation, USA and suddenly get weirded out when a pretty basic drama gets really freakin’ bloody by the end.

The movie concerns Vinnie (Ryan Donowho), a guy who seems passionate about fixing old stoves, restoring them to their former pristine states. But it’s all a ruse. Fixing the stoves is his launchpad for a long con. Donowho is a very charming actor, and so it’s not hard for the audience to be pretty damn hypnotized by his performance. We want to believe there’s good inside the guy. And there very well might be, but it’s well hidden. The other main characters include Marlena (Giovanna Zacarias), one of Vinnie’s victims, and a couple making a fresh start in the same small Kansas town where Vinnie seeks his own sanctuary.  David Helms (Brett Donowho) is a preacher with a dark past whose marriage to Carla (Angel McCord), is troubled on several levels, not the least of which is his literalist interpretation of the Bible and the macho misogyny that comes with it.

A good enough premise, but the execution is lackluster as hell. The only character of any note is Vinnie, who barely counts as well rounded. Still, Ryan Donowho’s passion for bringing his character to life is evident and it makes for a very watchable character study, if nothing else.

The story is as predictable as it is silly. A slow reveal that the preacher is just as bad, if not worse than the con-artist and is in fact a type of con-artist himself? Yeah, we’ve seen that a few times, eh? The whole revenge scenario at the end of the movie hinges on David’s fragile masculinity and fear of being cuckolded. There’s an interesting movie somewhere in this mess that explores the alt-right’s fragile masculinity and the anger that pours out as a result of their perceived loss of control and power, and Salvation, USA dances pretty close to this idea, but in an unconvincing manner. I think the idea was to make David’s change from a nice guy to a revenge-seeking bloodthirsty maniac a bit more subtle, but what kind of intelligent person doesn’t get that the Christian right is a dangerous, violent, repressed bunch of brutes by now? Every thinking person gets this.

By the time we get to the bloody and actually pretty shocking ending, we do get a pretty interesting twist on the fascist revenge fantasy trope so popular in the 70’s and 80’s: the lone vigilante violently carving up the criminal in the name of “justice.” But the movie is so uninspired that by that point it has lost its audience and the message is lost.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

G Rated Horror: The Legend of Boggy Creek

The Legend of Boggy Creek was written by Earl E. Smith, but the whole thing represents the vision of director Charles B. Pierce. The story was pieced together from the tales of local residents from Fouke, Arkansas, some of whom appeared in Boggy Creek as themselves. The so-called Fouke Monster, basically a sasquatch, was a folk legend that residents claimed was real. Reports began to surface in newspaper articles around Arkansas in the early 70’s and they seized Smith’s imagination. He knew he had found the subject of his first feature film.

Pierce is an interesting character. A self-motivated guy with a ton of ambition, he worked as a weatherman and a children’s show host named Mayor Chuckles before starting his own advertising firm. He made commercials for all sorts of companies throughout Arkansas. The owner of a trucking company client loaned Pierce $100,000 to get started on shooting Boggy Creek. The film was an almost instant success in cheap movie theaters and drive-ins and it put Pierce on the map. He went on to direct several more features before his death in 2010, one of which was the 1976 cult classic The Town that Dreaded Sundown.

Boggy Creek was a big influence on the filmmakers behind The Blair Witch Project, which, of course, kicked off the “found footage” horror subgenre that’s kept hanging on deep into the early 21st Century. Boggy Creek isn’t found footage because it was never lost. Instead, it’s supposed to be a straight documentary with re-enactments. Further complicating things, some of the locals who had experienced the monster appear on camera as themselves, telling their own stories. Truly, this is a case where reality and fantasy intersect. There’s some clearly fictional elements, including the frame story, but some of the movie is just the plain ol’ facts.

The movie begins with grainy 16mm footage of some swampy Arkansas woods. This is the kind of thing where the atmosphere alone would have scared the shit out of me as a child. Kind of like when I watched the first two Friday the 13th movies back-to-back when I lived in a small house on a hill across from some dairy farm cornfields in the middle of nowhere in a tiny Upstate New York town. Boggy Creek would certainly have been some sort of revelation if I had watched it back then, rented on a VHS tape from the local video store. Even better, of course, would have been to have watched the film in a drive-in during the 70’s.

Boggy Creek has a PBS nature documentary feel about it. It also feels like a precursor to Unsolved Mysteries. It has a lackadaisical, slow pace at times, kind of like the film’s subjects. There are parts of the movie that are supposed to be re-enactments of some of the incidents. At first I scoffed at the more cinematic nature of the shots and editing during the re-enactment scenes, but soon enough I let it go and settled into the strange world of the movie. Last House on the Left, released the same year, had a similar handmade aesthetic, though with much more grim results. It’s hard to believe now that a horror film from the early 70’s could be G-rated but Boggy Creek really was. There’s no gore, only a creature that we barely see.

In fact, our first glimpses of the beast are very grainy and reminded me of the Patterson-Gimlin film, that 1967 home movie that supposedly captures a real life sasquatch in the woods of the Pacific Northwest. Pierce said in interviews that he kept the creature obscured because he wanted to preserve a sense of mystery, and while it’s true that mystery is an essential element of a lot of successful horror films, he clearly also showed as little of the creature as possible so that we wouldn’t see a dude in a cheap gorilla suit trying to scare bad actors. Anyway, it doesn’t matter why Pierce decided to emphasize the mysterious. It works. Our fears lie in the shadows.

There’s no tight narrative holding the thing together. Only a series of interconnected vignettes featuring characters that are more or less forgotten about after their segment is over. The only extended sequence comes near the end of the movie, with fifteen minutes or so dedicated to a single story, a tale of out of two out-of-town families who have come to Fouke for work who end up having to fend off the angry beast by shooting the shit out of it with shotguns from the front porch of their rented cabin. This is where we finally get a real glimpse of the beast, and, well, it’s a doozy. It’s pretty silly when we see a Cookie Monster-looking arm with black fur emerge from the side of the camera frame and angrily wave itself around. This is, as you might imagine, the least scary part of the film.

For a bunch of amateur actors and real-life folks just telling their stories, the acting sometimes, once in awhile, isn’t too bad. The real-life folks are allowed to go on tangents and, really, talk as much as they want. It reminds me of the front-porch Southern storytelling that I would get a small glimpse of when my mom would take myself and my brothers down to Alabama to visit our extended family down there. One of the most interesting “characters” is Herb Jones, a hermit type who literally lives in a shack by the river. I could watch this guy roll cigarettes and tell stories forever.

Really, though, Boggy Creek isn’t serious fare at all. Unintentional or not, it’s just too campy to take seriously. But you can still have a lot of fun with the flick as long as you keep your tongue firmly planted in your cheek, sit back, and enjoy the weird ride.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Holy Terror: Terribly Mundane

Holy Terror, a horror flick released on digital platforms like Amazon Video this month, proves that it’s pretty damn hard to write and direct an original exorcism movie. Not only is this film’s story muddled, but every idea is recycled from another, better movie.

The first two minutes or so are actually quite interesting. Cool visuals, with everything a pea-green or vibrant black color. A priest named Jacob (Scott Butler), a nun (Kristine DeBell), and another priest are performing an exorcism on some poor young girl when it goes wrong and she croaks. Jacob is so flustered by the experience that he questions his faith and leaves the church. Cool story, but it’s time to forget about Jacob for about thirty minutes while we get to know a not-at-all pleasant couple, Molly (Kelly Lynn Reiter) and Tom (Jesse Hlubik), who’ve just lost their kid partially because of Molly’s neglect. Weird stuff is going on at their house and, who knows, maybe their dead kid is coming back in the form of a ghost. For some reason. But it’s all a ruse, anyway. A demon is being a wily trickster, pretending to be the kid so that he can invite himself into the body of Molly’s sister Billie (Nicole Olson), who’s also not a very nice person, and a junkie to boot. Yes, quite a rambling plot for something that lasts less than 90 minutes. Holy Terror certainly won’t be added to the pantheon of great possession movies. The Amityville Horror and, of course, The Exorcist (and maybe The Exorcism of Emily Rose) aren’t giving up the top position anytime soon.

After the pretty cool first two minutes or so, we get a mundane suburban setup. We watch vague characters who do vague things and go to their vague jobs and speak as though they’ve never heard an actual human talk before. The acting isn’t very great, but it’s not so bad that it can go full circle and become “so good it’s bad.” God, the worst part has to be the overacting. You see, people, a woman in mourning does not always get hysterical and scream all the time. Sometimes she’s quiet and sad and doesn’t freak out and become an emotional wreck. It’s okay to tone things down a notch, even in horror movies. Also, if Billie is a broke junkie, why is she snorting cocaine? Give her something like crack. Something cheaper than cocaine. If she can afford cocaine, whether through legal means or not, she can afford a place to stay. Well, one would assume.

Another big problem is that Tom is just such an overwhelming asshole. I get that he’s skeptical about the whole “son coming back from the dead” thing, but maybe cut your poor grieving wife some slack? At least pretend to believe some of this stuff. And, look, I’m a skeptic myself, but you kinda have to be an idiot not to believe your ears and eyes when the evidence presents itself as obviously as it does here. I mean, the weird voices, the fact that Billie can slam slam doors with her mind...that has to count for something, right? I don’t know, maybe Tom is a complete sociopath. When Billie, fully possessed by the demon now, busts a huge gash in her head open, Tom doesn’t immediately call an ambulance. This is a weird family.

To be fair about the acting, it isn’t all bad. Scott Butler puts in a great effort as Jacob, the priest who loses his faith.  Lisa London, a veteran B-movie actress is rather charming as Aunt Janice, the mildly psychic hippie who accidentally conjures a demon in one of the funnies seance scenes I’ve ever seen, though I’m positive it wasn’t intended to be. Aunt Janice actually uses an old rotary phone to contact what she thinks is the spirit of the dead son, but is actually a mean ol’ demon pretending to be the kid. Ooops!
We get our exorcism by the end of the movie. Reluctant priest Jacob finally agrees to do it, a plot twist my cat could have seen coming. Oh yeah, and boneheaded Tom finally gets his comeuppance during this scene, and I think writer / director Rich Mallery intended for his audience to feel bad for the guy who finally, after the evidence was too overwhelming to deny, believes his wife’s story. But, yeah, he was a jerk. I’m not sure anyone is going to be sad to see the guy meet the ol’ Grim Reaper.

The bad thing about all of this is that there was a very good story buried underneath this weird plot could have been told effectively, even with the subpar acting. A dead boy who comes back for whatever reason while his parents work out their unresolved issues? That’s a movie, right there. But, as it stands, that’s not what we got.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Don't Look in the Basement (There's a Plot Point Hiding)

The 1973 low budget grindhouse horror flick Don’t Look in the Basement is a prime example of movie logic concerning insane people. You take a character’s quirky defining trait, turn it up to eleven and viola, insanity! So here we have a soldier who thinks he’s still in Vietnam, a judge who only speaks in legal jargon and a nympho who only...well...you can see where this is going.

The insane are housed (literally, this is a farmhouse out in the county) alongside the doctors and nurses in an experimental treatment facility. There’s no locks on the doors and the staff refer to the patients as family. Not the best idea. Doctor R.D. Laing actually tried this in the 70’s in London and the patients ran amok and destroyed the buildings he’d rented. I have no idea whether director S.F. Brownrigg had ever heard of Laing, but I doubt it. He was a humble Texas exploitation filmmaker. The concept is used more as a way to make the “twist” ending work, although most people will see it coming from a few hundred miles away.

Don’t Look in the Basement is actually quite good. The acting ranges from not bad to serviceable, and none of it is too embarrassing. Brownrigg at least cared marginally about the product he put out. Unlike, say, Hershell Gordon Lewis, there’s a modicum of thought put into the craft of filmmaking. Lots of skewed POV shots and weird reaction shots, but that’s to be expected with this kind of thing. There’s definitely a lot of silly choices, but most of them have to do with the plot. A woman cuts her tongue out and the nurse on duty doesn’t call an ambulance? Sure, why not! A guy from the phone company drives an hour out of his way to fix the asylum’s phones and his company never calls the cops when he doesn’t return? We must be watching a grindhouse movie!

The movie takes itself oddly seriously. I mean, you have all these cartoony characters running around, but there’s not a laugh to be had, at least not one that’s intentional. Still, this being an exploitation movie from the 70’s, there’s a few things you can expect. There’s gore, sure, but most of it is saved for the final few scenes. The finale is great, by the way. When all hell breaks loose, an unlikely killer takes almost everyone out at once with his axe and then enjoys a popsicle. There’s plenty of (female) nudity, which I’m assuming was the reason the nympho character was written. Good stuff, and it never gets boring. It’s not as smart as it wants to be, not by a longshot. But that’s okay.

Don’t Look in the Basement was written by Tim Pope, who never wrote anything else afterward, though he went on to be a prolific music video director for bands like The Cure, Ministry, and Iggy Pop. Probably a good move, certainly in a financial sense.

The movie was directed by S.F. Brownrigg, who only made five features, including Don’t Look in the Basement. As you probably won’t be shocked to learn, he had trouble getting funding for his movies. Don’t Look in the Basement is his first and most recognizable film, having developed a cult following over the years. His son Tony directed a sequel to the film in 2015. Doyle Wolfgang von Frankenstein is going to star in a remake that shoots soon. Called Death Ward 13, it will be set in 1973, the same year Don’t Look in the Basement was released into drive-ins as a double feature with Last House on the Left. Ah, to have been alive back then to have seen that!

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Doing the Genre Mash: Silent Retreat

I hadn’t heard of the 2013 horror flick Silent Retreat until a DVD copy came with my Horror Block subscription. I love the surprises you find inside these weird mystery boxes. Silent Retreat was a neat surprise.

A low budget horror film written by Corey Brown and directed by Tricia Lee, it was the first feature film for both creators, and for some of the actors as well. However, Brown and Lee had collaborated on shorts together since the early 2000’s, so they definitely had a good amount of narrative and technical experience going into it. The movie never quite recovers from some script issues, but it’s a fun ride with plenty of talent and heart. It’s just that the first hour and final half hour feel like different movies. The first part is a neat character study about a camp for troubled girls which is actually a front for an organization that brainwashes the teenagers into being subservient housewives, and the second part is a gory creature-feature.

There are some interesting ideas in this film. The camp, run by a creepy guy in his fifties and his two sons is, as the title suggests, a totally silent experience. Obviously this is a comment on patriarchal societies in the West, especially the more religiously conservative elements. The girls are literally being brainwashed into being the Christian right’s idea of a perfect wife: someone who submits completely to their husband’s will. Actually, in the DVD commentary, Lee mentions that the movie was inspired by her experience at a silent meditation retreat where, she says, people were “walking around like zombies.” This does not sound like a great time, and I got the impression that Lee wasn’t very happy with her trip and perhaps that’s where the idea of a meditation retreat as a front for a cult came from.

The movie, thankfully, doesn’t beat you over the head with these ideas, instead focusing on character and story. It never becomes preachy. And Silent Retreat is very self-aware. Even the dangers of filmmaking are explored when we see it used as a brainwashing tool, as a delivery system for subliminal messages. It’s interesting, though, that the technology used at the camp is at least a generation old. The brainwashing films are projected on 16mm, and the pre-recorded meditations for the girls are on cassette. The media are from a different time, just like the morals.

There’s also a monster afoot, but it’s pushed so far to the background during the first part of the film that it becomes an afterthought. And besides, monster or not, it’s hard to compete with the drama going on at the camp. At one point, it comes out that it’s a front for a weird sort of mail order bride service. After being brainwashed, the girls are paired with bachelors who have purchased the service. Very interesting story right there, and you don’t need a monster in the woods to tell it. As stands, though, when the monster appears and starts gobbling people up, the conspiracy angle is pretty much forgotten. I would have loved to see the machinery of this organization, some of the other players (the camp leader’s brother is the judge who chooses which girls are sent to the camp), and the inevitable rebellion of the girls after they’re pushed too far.

As for the second part, Silent Retreat makes for a damn fine creature feature / slasher / gore film. The biggest problem I had with the movie is that it felt like two good concepts that work well on their own were smashed together into something that didn’t really work as a whole. Either story would have been fine on its own. I realize that the idea was to save the creature reveal and the gore for the end so that its effect would be more of a surprise. And it is a surprise, but quite a jarring one, and the tonal shift was enough to take me out of the movie. Silent Retreat is a mix of psychological thriller and gory horror, but the elements don’t merge very fluidly. Which is really too bad, since there’s so much obvious talent involved. The plot might have some problems, but the script is well-written in terms of character and detail. Lee has a great talent for establishing a consistent melancholic tone and for guiding her actors to the restrained performances the film needs. Silent Retreat is wonderfully moody and the color palette is perfect, muted throughout. And, low budget film or not, the bat creature looked fucking fantastic.
The acting is pretty great all around, too. Robert Nolan, pretty much the only veteran actor on the set, was marvelously creepy as the camp leader. Chelsea Jenish is pretty amazing as Janey, the main character, especially since this was her first feature film. Restrained performances all around until the end, when the creature attacks and all hell breaks loose, which is appropriate, of course. Silent Retreat showed a lot of talent and promise.

Sunday, April 02, 2017

Boy Meets Chrome: Christine

Written by Bill Phillips from a novel by Stephen King and directed by John Carpenter, Christine, released in 1983, is a love story between a boy and his car. This time, however, the car is alive and quite possessive of her boy.

She’s an older lover, too. Christine, a red Plymouth Fury, is a disheveled twenty-one years old when eighteen year old Arnie (Keith Gordon) falls for her. She’s broken down, in a state of disrepair and decay. When his best friend Dennis (Dean Stockwell) drives Arnie home after their first day of school, Arnie sees her sitting in the yard of a house that’s just as dilapidated at the car. Arnie decides he’s going to fix her, make her run again.

This movie is all about sex, love, and obsession and the moral lines that get blurred when these things interact with each other. Christine begins as Arnie and Dennis drive around discussing sex. Dennis, a football player and quite an attractive young man, has clearly had plenty of it, while Arnie is still a virgin. Dennis mentions several girls at their school that Arnie might have a chance with, but Arnie’s not interested in any of them. He’s waiting for something, someone, but he doesn’t know what. And that something turns out to be Christine.

Christine falls in love with Arnie, too, but she’s a jealous lover. One of her first malicious acts comes when she tries to kill Arnie’s actual, in-the-flesh girlfriend, Leigh (Alexandra Paul) while she sits inside Christine at a drive-in. It’s clear after watching this scene that the real girl in Arnie’s life is Christine, and he values her far, far above any of the humans in his life. Their relationship is erotic. Artie touches Christine intimately, and they come together in speed and recklessness and eventually in killing. A very erotic “merging” is going on here. Toward the movie’s climax, Arnie, driving Christine much too fast for Dennis’s comfort says, “Love...eats everything.” And at the end of the movie, when Arnie is dying as he lays near Christine, bleeding out, he strokes her with his hand one last time, and we actually feel some amount of heartache for the guy. In a Blu-ray commentary that was transferred from an older special edition DVD, John Carpenter says to Gordon, “You basically get possessed by this car,” and that’s indeed true, but it’s not a demonic possession. Not really. It’s the kind of possession that an unhealthy, obsessive romantic relationship creates.

Coming off the disappointing box office of The Thing (which would eventually become a cult classic), John Carpenter took on Christine as a director-for-hire. He wasn’t very enthusiastic about the project at the time, but he really made it his own. It was a perfect Carpenter script, really. A lovingly-crafted genre film mixed with the kind of campiness that we would look back on, especially after the release of later movies like Big Trouble in Little China and They Live, as signature Carpenter. In the Christine: Ignition documentary included on the Blu-ray, Carpenter summed up his interest in the project by saying, “I needed a job. Why not.”

The opening assembly line scene in which Christine is being constructed is quite interesting because it establishes the car’s personality independent of Arnie and lets us know from the beginning that this movie is really the car’s story as much as anyone else’s. Even before Christine kills her first victim, an assembly line worker who gets cigar ash on her seat, Carpenter gives us a hint of what’s to come when he gets the camera close on Christine’s rearview mirror as work goes on behind her, indicating subtly, nicely, that Christine is watching everything going on around her. In the Blu-ray commentary, Carpenter says that he wanted to do the assembly line scene as a tribute to Hitchcock, who always wanted to film a car on an assembly line and a body falling out of it after the door opens. Hitchcock never got to film that scene, so Carpenter did it for him.

There’s lots of rock-n-roll music included in this flick, as well as the usual synth score from Carpenter himself. In Christine: Finish Line, a documentary included as a Blu-ray bonus, Carpenter says his role as a composer was to “score the film dramatically.” The rock-n-roll soundtrack set the mood during less dramatic moments. In the same documentary, screenwriter Bill Phillips said that he included music spots in the script itself, which is almost never done. But Phillips thought that the music would be such an integral part of the movie that he was compelled to include his choices, all of which made it to the final film. Christine was the first film to feature George Thorogood’s song “Bad to the Bone,” for which we can either thank or blame Phillips, depending on how you feel about the song. Myself, I hate the fucking thing.

It takes a while, well over an hour, before the car goes on a rampage (whether or not Arnie was actually driving her during some or all of her kills is debateable since Christine’s windows are tinted when she kills), but when it starts, the bodies are destroyed in quick succession. Terry Leonard, the stunt coordinator, drove one of several Christines during these scenes, which was the real, practical reason for the window tinting, since Carpenter didn’t want the audience to see the stunt man. Leonard seems downright crazy for doing some of these stunts, but I suppose that’s what makes a guy cut out to be a stuntman in the first place. In probably the most insane example, there’s a scene where a gas station explodes while Christine (and a couple of crispy people) are inside and suddenly the car peels out of the burning building and into the street while the fucking thing is completely on fire. Leonard actually drove the car out of the gas station at full speed. He couldn’t see anything in front of him because of the tinted windows. At one point, he even got stuck inside the car as the gas station was on fire because the car wouldn’t start. But then he just got back into the flaming car for another take, and the whole thing ended up looking very, very badass.

Goddamn, so why is it so much fun to watch a car destroy people, property, and other cars and then eventually get destroyed itself? There’s something very primal, very taboo, in watching something like that. Certainly, anyone who’s been bullied can get some pleasure out of watching a bunch of supposed tough guys get mowed down by an angry car. At one point in the commentary, Gordon says, “I don’t know if I’ve ever had so much fun on a movie.” And, indeed, there’s something very, very fun about this movie, even though, or especially since you sometimes find yourself rooting for the villain. Arnie is a bad guy, sure, but he’s also a tragic figure. He gets lost in his obsessions and madness.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Wonderwall: Weirdo Psychedelic Time Capsule

Written by Guillermo Cabrera Infante from a story by GĂ©rard Brach and directed by Joe Massot, the 1968 film Wonderwall is about as psychedelic as it gets. Released a year after the Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour film and using George Harrison as a composer, the movie wears its psychedelic credentials on its sleeve. A closeup of cells under a microscope in various Day-Glo colors sets the tone from the beginning. Soon after, we’re introduced to Jack MacGowran’s affable, bumbling scientist, the film’s protagonist.

You’d be forgiven if, like me, you roll your eyes at the choice of a scientist as a sort of avatar for the establishment, but, like me, you might be pleasantly surprised to learn that the objects of the scientist’s fascination, those people on the other side of his apartment that he can see through a hole in his wall, are actually drugged out dolts that really have no clue what they’re doing. But that revelation doesn’t come until we’re nearing the end and at first you might be screaming at the scientist through your TV that his curiosity is grossly misguided. “Expanding consciousness” is great, but the discoveries that come from science are much more important. Luckily, this is the message, but it’s a long time coming. First, the professor, that charming and affable sod is so unhip. He wants to be like the cool kids next door and pines over a beautiful, hip fashion model who seems to be the very embodiment of class and grace. MacGowran, a classically trained actor, deftly turns what was clearly written as a very one dimensional comic character into something resembling a real human being. He’s got a kind of rubbery quality about him, which made me wonder if his performance was perhaps an influence on Rowan Atkinson’s Mr. Bean character.

After the tone is set by footage of psychedelic cells underneath the scientist’s microscope, we go to his apartment, where, disturbed by the noise of music from the apartment next door, he throws a glass display of moth specimens at the wall. Not only does this create the hole in the wall from which the scientist first sees the naked model played by Jane Birkin that does strange things to his imagination, but the dead moths come to life, animated in colorful Disney-style cartoons. So, yeah, we know from there that we’re in for the kind of freewheeling experimentation that we’ve since come to associate with psychedelic films.

And no wonder the scientist falls instantly in love with the entrancing Jane Birkin. She typifies the kind of fragile strength men associated with someone liberated back then. Now we realize that this was still the projection of a male ideal, a virginal yet sensual woman who is both frail and tough at the same time. Birkin was good at this type, as is her daughter, the great Charlotte Gainsbourg, especially in the films of Lars von Trier. Director Joe Massot seems to be aware of these contradictions, however, as several times he photographs Birkin dancing with another model using nothing but closeups and medium shots of their legs, only tilting the camera to their faces once, and very briefly. Add to that the fact that Birkin’s character doesn’t have a line of dialogue and her photographer boyfriend is often seen talking about her and you get a strong sense that Massot was saying that the treatment of women in the counterculture, the perceived liberated youth, still had a long way to go in terms of gender equality. This was actually a very grave problem in the movement, as women were still seen as companions and muses, for the most part, rather than artists themselves. Thus, Birkin’s character is worshiped from afar by the scientist and treated poorly by her photographer boyfriend, but in both cases very highly objectified.

George Harrison’s music is top-notch, of course, and the Wonderwall soundtrack represents the first solo record by a member of the Beatles. Massot gave Harrison carte blanche and promised that any music he composed would be used in the film. No doubt this was highly enticing for the Beatle who was just now coming into his own as a songwriter and whose songs were vastly overshadowed by McCartney and Lennon. Harrison made it his mission to use the score as a way of introducing Indian music to the West. But besides that, there are a wide range of styles exhibited here. Expert banjo music and superb guitar work are highlights. The guitar is  vbn,somewhat heavier at times than most Beatles tunes.

Wonderwall is a very conceptually interesting movie, though even at a short 75 minutes in the director’s cut, it seems long and trudges along in parts. But the concept still holds. Imagination should be integrated into, not overtake one’s life. And this is where the scientist eventually finds himself, having been enriched by psychedelic culture but ultimately continuing with his research, which is far more important.