The Beatles weren’t just the greatest band in the history of rock music, all four of them also did a fair share of work in the movies. Beyond the films they made as a band like “A Hard Day’s Night” and “Help!,” they each had their own solo film efforts. John Lennon appeared in “How I won the War” for “A Hard Day’s Night” director Richard Lester, Paul McCartney took to the screen in the 80’s with “Give My Regards to Broad Street,” and Ringo grunted his way through “Caveman.” But the Beatle who made the biggest impact on the film industry was the quiet one, George Harrison. As a producer, he was responsible for films both memorable, like “Life of Brian” and “Time Bandits,” and notorious flops like “Shanghai Surprise.” But in 1968, while still one of the fab four, Harrison cut his teeth in film by scoring today’s film… “Wonderwall.”
The film centers on a scientist named Oscar Collins (Jack MacGowran). He lives a quiet life, retreating to his small apartment each evening after working in the lab. There barely seems to be any space to move in his small quarters, as it is stuffed from floor to ceiling with papers, books, and various specimens.
One night, Oscar hears strange music coming from the apartment next door. In frustration, he tosses an alarm clock at the wall, damaging a case full of butterfly specimens. But then, he notices an upside down silhouette of a woman dancing on his wall. It is a camera obscura effect coming through a hole in the wall. He then peeks through the hole to see his lovely next door neighbor…the way too appropriately named Penny Lane (Jane Birkin). Penny is a model who often poses for sessions in her apartment with her photographer boyfriend (Richard Wattis).
Soon, Oscar becomes quite obsessed with the girl next door; going to great lengths to drill more holes in the wall so he can get better views. He watches various photo shoots and even a lovemaking session between Penny and her boyfriend. Strangely, Oscar actually gets to know the boyfriend to some degree when he stops by to borrow some ice for a party he and Penny are hosting.
Oscar soon becomes so obsessed that he stays away from work for weeks on end to observe the young model. He even starts to have bizarre dreams where he appears in his pajamas and a magician’s top hat and cape, fencing to win Penny’s attention and dealing with giant lipstick’s. When her boyfriend ends up leaving her, Penny becomes severely depressed and somewhat suicidal. Only Oscar, who has been watching all along, can do anything to save her.
To say the story of “Wonderwall” is thin is an understatement. The filmmakers were obviously more concerned with the visuals. Still, the visuals here don’t really contribute to the story and aren’t really all that creative either. They’re just meant to be trippy. So even though the film has a pretty short running time, it drags.
It doesn’t help that there is little opportunity for the characters to become interesting. Oscar spends much of his time alone, peering through holes in the wall. This doesn’t exactly lend itself well to character development. Likewise, Penny is just an image on the other side of the wall. The only character with any real depth is the boyfriend. The scenes in which he pays Oscar a visit show a lot of promise, but unfortunately go nowhere.
Of course, what the film is most remembered for is George Harrison’s music. I admit, many of my favorite Beatles songs are the ones penned by Harrison. His efforts always seemed to take an unfortunate backseat to Lennon & McCartney’s work, though he often showed greater creativity. Here, some of the music does show the uniqueness I expect from Harrison, while some of the other music cues, though interesting, are not quite in tune with the visuals.
“Wonderwall” will certainly be of interest to Beatles completists, but film fans will probably struggle with it. With its emphasis on psychedelic imagery, it’s probably accurately called an experimental film. Just remember, not all experiments are successful.