ALEX IN WONDERLAND
US, 1970, 111 minutes, Colour.
Donald Sutherland, Ellen Burstyn, Jeanne Moreau, Federico Fellini.
Directed by Paul Mazursky.
Writer-director Paul Mazursky started making films in the mid-60s with such oddball comedies as Alice B. Toklas, I Love You about Gertrude Stein. He then made Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice and became very popular. He made quite a number of films during the 70s and 80, for example Willie and Phil, Next Stop Greenwich Village and An Unmarried Woman. However, he also was allowed to indulge himself in very subjective film-making. Alex in Wonderland, made at the beginning of the 70s, is about a film-maker, LSD, satire on the styles of the 60s. The writer then fantasises about a meeting with acclaimed Italian director, Federico Fellini. Fellini appears as himself, also appearing is Jeanne Moreau. The film is dated - but is an interesting example of personalised and subjective film-making of the early 70s. After moving towards lower-budget films and television dramas in the 90s, he made an autobiographical film, The Pickle - which is also as subjective as this film, and many people found it uninteresting and unwatchable. Alex in Wonderland is a kind of personal blip in an up-and-down career.
1. Audience expectations? Hollywood fantasy? The focus on the title, Alex as the contemporary movie maker Alice in Wonderland? Hollywood as the Wonderland, a topsy turvy fantasy world? Relationship with reality? Alice and her changing shape? Alex and his being shaped by Hollywood? The Hamlet theme? The background of Los Angeles, California, Hollywood? Cinema and the credits?
2. The structure of the film and the style of Alice in Wonderland: reality, mirror fantasy, the back-to-front world of Wonderland, symbolic characters, comic characters, crises, dangers, sense of reality, waking up?
3. The cinema influences on Paul Mazursky? The place of this film in his career? His cinema autobiography ? and the memories of Fellini's 8 1/2? A man and a movie? The importance of Fellini himself coming into the film? Did his presence give the film and its exploration of Alex some substance? The reverence for Fellini? The chorus and trappings? Imitation, model, tribute?
4. The importance of the California setting and the way of life? Hollywood lifestyle and its erratic wealth, homes and building new homes, Hollywood offices, the vagaries of producers, the suburban streets, supermarkets, schools? The beach? The variety of citizens of Hollywood ? black and white, rich and poor, talented and untalented? The background of America in the '60s with alienation, revolution? The drug culture?
5. The importance of Hollywood and the movies? Appearance and reality? Unreality? Individual realities? Hollywood the dream factory? The writer-director and his real life and movie life? Insight into film production? The business side? Creative side? Critical applause and condemnation?
6. The flip dialogue and its humour, pretentiousness? The philosophical implications about the meaning of life? How authentic the dialogue for insight?
7. The background of the family story and its reality? The opening, the presence of Alex's wife, happiness, relationship, sexual relationship? Tears, support, interest? Kids and their questions? Family life and love? The place of school, meals, television? The ordinariness of the situations ? the bath situation? Father, mother, husband, wife?
8. The focus on talk about money, the producers, the status of the film people, houses etc.? Money for the movies, movies making money?
9. The sketch of the producer with his style, talk and patter, relationships, know-how? Sincerity? Paul Mazursky acting the role and sending up the Hollywood producer?
10. Themes of ambitions, confusion, creative dryness, testing ideas, talk? Alternatives, tarot cards and superstition, drugs, religion?
11. The focus on religion, on God, on Christ? The use of Christ figures? Yet the Jewish background of the film?
12. The importance of the fantasies: Hollywood, war, African Americans? Jeanne Moreau and Federico Fellini walking in Alex's imagination: the dream sequence: the subject matter of past Hollywood films, war (soldiers shooting in a street scene), religion (faceless bishops, Fellini style, Hare Krishna dancers); entertainment (men in top hats dancing on a rooftop, clowns and circus); crime (gangsters in black hats and coats, rape scene); Social Issues (rape, blacks, Indians, homosexuals). The images so much a part of Alex's self-centred life (as a Wonderland) that he placed himself in his dreams: the bishop in the cathedral?
13. Alex's friends, ideas, talk? Bigotry? Liberals and causes?
14. The fickleness of the movie industry? The elaborate detail of the movie world and its environment? The effect on people involved?
15. Achievement, meaning? Alexis age, hopes? His place in the system? His retreating to his house?
16. The domestic touches - meals, arguments, the children, the planning of the house, the bath sequence etc.? Going to see the concert with the children performing?
17. The view of the United States in the '60s? Insight to the change of perspective, criticism of the past? How dated is this view now?
18. The continuous play between what is real and not real? Wonderland and the Hollywood mentality e.g. his work his religion, church bells as he goes to work in his office? Forgetting Hamlet's Soliloquy? The incident with Amy at the Mexican border? Alex's theory about teeth-rotting candy and less television and more book-reading ? and his younger daughter watching television, chewing chocolate etc.? His seriousness about his mission as a filmmaker (real or unreal): the choice of a fiction topic: the black attack on Los Angeles, his notion of himself as a social Messiah for the blacks? The dream sequence of black men and women treating him as a Cortez-like God? His withdrawal and his self-preoccupation? The end of the film and the possibility of coming to the real life world ? the appeal of Leon, the effects of drugs, the Wonderland as a background to the children's play? The play with the focus on men with ideals e.g. Martin Luther King. John F. Kennedy? The final realisation in his talking to what seems to be a symbol of God, the sun shining through a tree? Accepting a relief from anxiety by facing up to reality. without necessarily doing away with ideals?
19. The film and its focus on human nature and existence, ambition, meaning of life? Professionalism.. family, friendship? Creativity? Interesting entertainment? Interesting study?