Tuesday, 18 January 2011

BBC Radio 4 Film Season Diary Day 2

Unfortunately for this diary - perhaps - the cinema is full of releases that I don't really fancy, refuse to see on principle (The Green Hornet in 3D), or films that I've already come across.

However this does mean that I can catch up on DVDs that have mewing at me from my collection. A quick word on this. I don't have a particularly large DVD library, maybe 40 titles in all. I prefer the experience of the cinema, especially in the digital 21st century where the picture and sound is large and sharp. My experience of cinema-going is one in which I don't want second viewings and if I do return to a film it's usually years later. No need to have DVDs clogging up the shelves in the interim, especially now that the price of one is equivalent to hiring it from a library.

One of those DVDs that I do have is a Michael Winterbottom film from 1999, which I saw for the first time shortly after its release. Wonderland is an ensemble realist drama concerning a disparate South London family and their relationships within and without. Though, as a South Londoner of the same environs as the drama, I have a certain unassailable affection for the film, I remembered it as a rather torturous work of high drama and heartache. Nonetheless, I decided that this Radio 4 Season Diary would be a good reason to revisit it.

Two hours later and my heart is so full it could burst. The staggered dramatic pivots in the overlapping stories are significant but not explosive, leading to a richly optimistic, hard-fought denoument. This isn't a belligerently existential film, like Mike Leigh's blackly comic Naked, for example. Wonderland-London is closer to the Pet Shop Boys West End Girls video a decade before it than to the 1080dpi, codec-ified skyline of London present. The film reflects on how the characters find themselves distant and incommunicado, but moreover it cradles those scenes in which people connect without interface or simply have the time to think and compose themselves. Even the camera takes time to stray from a character to inhale the life around them. It's a deeply compassionate piece of filmmaking that sits at the very top of Michael Winterbottom's considerable canon of fine work.

(There is an interesting piece on Wonderland at indiewire.com which sheds light on the unusual filming process)

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