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April 15, 2006

It Happened to Jane

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Wonderwall
Joe Massot - 1968
Rhino Video Region 1 DVD

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Seven Deaths in the Cat's Eye/La Morte Negli occhi del Gatto
Antonio Margheriti (Anthony M. Dawson) - 1973
Blue Underground Region 1 DVD

One time when I didn't have any DVDs demanding to be viewed, I stumbled upon a documentary about Jane Birkin. At the time, I was unaware of how extensive her singing and acting career really had been, or had knowledge about her political activities. Even though I had seen her in more films than I recalled, Birkin's most memorable performance is one of her earliest, as one of the two teenage girls photographed by David Hemmings in Blow Up. My knowledge of Birkin's musical career was limited to her infamous duet with husband Serge Gainsbourg.

My curiousity concerning Wonderwall preceeded knowledge of Birkin's involvement. The film is most famous for having a soundtrack composed by George Harrison. More people have heard the music than actually saw the film, which was very briefly released in the United States in 1969. The slight story by Gerard Brach concerns an absent-minded scientist who becomes obsessed with the hippie chick/model he discovers is living in the apartment next door. The title refers to the brick wall dividing the two apartments. Jack MacGowran, the scientist, is first seen observing life under a microscope. He observes Jane Birkin in somewhat similar fashion through accidentally discovered holes in the wall. What little the film has to say is about the difference between being a participant or an observer of life. If I saw Wonderwall back when it was originally made, I probably would have said it was one of the best movies I had seen that year.

It's probably unavoidable that the hipness that oozes all over Wonderwall now looks like a quaint muddle. Birkin's apartment is a combination of Peter Max design and color with posters of Valentino, Harlow, Mae West and Garbo. Harrison's score is a mixed bag of inauthentic raga, bluegrass and jazz, with some unmemorable rock. Comic ideas include subtitles to indicate what MacGowran is trying to say over the din of a vacuum cleaner, and a shot of MacGowran filmed in black and white when a colleague tells him that he "looks off-color". The director, Joe Massot, later earned the wrath of three members of Led Zeppelin after making The Song Remains the Same, a film marked by an abundance of shots with the camera gazing up on Robert Plant's crotch. Wonderwall should also be noted as the first of several films with a character named Penny Lane. It may have been obtuse product placement, but Jack MacGowran has several scenes involving apples.

Seven Deaths in a Cat's Eye is based on a story by Peter Bryan, the British screenwriter. The film is firmly similar to other earlier Margheriti films with its haunted castle setting, murderous relatives, lesbians, vampires and nods to Edgar Allen Poe. Instead of a walled in black cat, the title animal is fat and yellow. Seven Deaths also features a gorilla as fake as was seen in Konga a few months back. Berkin portrays a young woman who returns to the family estate only to find that her mother died under mysterious circumstances. Serge Gainsbourg briefly appears as a police inspector. More so than previous Margheriti haunted house films, this one is punctuated by violent slashings, signified by splashes of blood that resembles red paint. There is one particularly disturbing image of a corpse in the basement that serves as a feast for a nest of rats. In one of the several plot points that's glossed over, no one ever bothers to chase the rats out and remove the body. It may be significant that Seven Deaths, a hybrid of gothic horror and giallo, was Margheriti's last film in either genre. The rotting corpse could well symbolize a part of Italian cinema that by 1973 was reduced to the remains of earlier, livelier films.

Posted by peter at April 15, 2006 04:10 PM