Wondrous Oblivion (2003)

This is a feel-good family movie containing a w.i.i.i.i.d.e variety of social and personal issues. If you’re in the mood for something light, but with a heart, watching Wonderous Oblivion might be a pleasant way to spend 106 minutes. It was for me. South London in the early 60s never looked so Harry Potter.

Edit: Wait a minute. Everybody says that this is a feel-good family movie, but what about those multiple lingering tracking shots down Emily Woof’s spine and over her buttocks, just to make sure that we understand where Delroy is headed? And what about those Lindo/Woof lip-locks in the kitchen? Maybe the first one gets a family pass because it snuck up on the two of them, but the movie goes a little Mandingo with the second one, Delroy sweating in his wife-beater and Emily panting with passion, fade to black.

Full disclosure: I haven’t caught Paul Morrison’s commentary track and I can’t write a proper review without it. I don’t know if it’s even available in the U.S. If so, I haven’t been able to find it. Which means that I can only guess at his intentions in making this movie. I mean, his filmography is sparse and he’s no spring chicken, being born in ’44, so this isn’t just one of a dozen flicks he churned out over a period of time to put his kids through college. This one movie is a significant percentage of the man’s ouvre. Did he set out to go feather-light on purpose with this thing? It’s his script; he wrote it. No way this was just a payday for him. But without a phone number or email address for the guy, or that missing commentary track, I’ll never know.

I did spot Delroy Lindo in the Marina Safeway in San Francisco. (He lives in S.F.) My golden opportunity to ask him about working with Morrison!. But damn! I can never remember Lindo’s name. First or last. Delroy. Delroy. Delroy Lindo. Got to find a good mneumonic for Delroy Lindo. Can’t let this happen again. And after I memorize his name, I can take on the names of his wife and son, Neshormeh and Damiri in case I spot one of them in RiteAid instead. Delroy was over there handling the fruit but no way I could approach him without remembering his name. For one thing, he had that series of movies back in the 90s wherein he played various bad mf’s. Scary. Maybe he was all lovey dovey in MO, but when he does that crazy-eye thing that he does, kind of like Calvin in the comic strip when Calvin is going gack!!, I don’t want to be standing in front of the dude. He keeps it under control in MO – it just slips out once or twice, sort of sideways – but still. And speaking of MO, Delroy’s parents are Jamaican and he was born and raised in London, so he’s an excellent fit for his role in the movie. Even though he lives in San Francisco now, he still considers himself British.. I’m perfectly ok with engaging him right there in the produce department because he graduated from ACT in S.F and I consider him part of the community. But not without remembering his name. No way.

Anyway, I understand that Morrison’s commentary focuses on characterization and plot, rather than on making-of anecdotes, so he had his thinking cap on when he made the film, but this is a moviemaker who had to know that he was using a shovel and knee boots to load up his script with motifs that he could never do more than kiss in passing, to mix the metaphor. Was his editor out of town? Was his muse bipolar and running hyper that year? Was he trying to make up for lost time – making two or three movies at once? Or is autobiographical material running roughshod over him? It’s a bad sign, the reviewer wondering about the director’s life goals while watching his movie.

A guy I know gave me an email address that would supposedly get me to Stanley Townsend, who played the Jewish dad in the movie. My friend told me that the address was part of a press packet pimping The Nativity, in which Townsend plays Zechariah. So I wrote a 2000-word exegesis on the role of Jewish father in cuckold movies and got an intemperate two-word response from some sorehead named Townsend who sells Geico insurance in Pores, Nebraska.

Morrison’s previous film “Solomon and Gaenor” (1999) was a romantic tragedy about a Jewish man (Ioan Gruffudd in an early role) and a Welsh woman. Morrison wrote and directed, and filmed the movie in English, Welsh, and Yiddish. It won prizes and respect. Currently, now in his 60s, he’s making Little Ashes, with a script by Philippa Goslett. Set in Madrid in 1922, the movie deals with Salvador Dali at 18 and his friendship with Federico Garcia Lorca and Luis Bunel. Javier Beltran, Robert Pattinson, and Matthew McNulty star. Morrison also did an early movie about Degas and Pissarro. So the man makes movies that are about something.

But in between these efforts we have Wonderous Oblivion. The script runs smooth, fitting into the Billy Elliot, Bend It Like Beckham, predictable coming-of-age genre, but Morrison can’t help letting all of his dogs out of the kennel at once. No ending in scale could possibly put this thing to bed properly. Instead, for example, the movie depicts a black family being harassed, threatened, and partially burnt out of their home and this element/motif is addressed and resolved by restricting the anti-black feeling in the neighborhood to mild glowering and muttering amongst the denizens, but with every actual hostile act assigned to a single vacant-eyed teenage bad boy who can be easily neutralized when/if necessary to the plot. Likewise, when Judy shows up at David’s birthday party and he turns her away, boy loses girl, but since they’re only 11, an apology clears that up.

Let me recommend the first episode of the classic documentary series Seven Up! (1964) as a corrective to this Disneyland version of lower-middle-class England in the early 60s. Or The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962) for boy sport in that era.

I asked an agent I know if he could get me a five-minute interview with the Jewish mom in the movie, Emily Woof.. They say that when the time came for her to choose her screen surname, she looked over at her pet pit bull, who travels with her everywhere in spite of the lawsuits, raised her eyebrows, and when the dog barked, she picked Woof. Strange but true. “You have a dog?” she asked me on the phone and I told her that I didn’t like dogs, but that I had 11 cats. Why? Why did I have to tell her that? Stupid.

I will say that like the young protagonist in the movie, I spent a lot of time laying out bubblegum cards and having tussles between two sides – mostly Wings airplane cards, with the airplanes flying to the right fighting against those flying to the left, my favorites on both sides surviving the longest. The oldest cards were the most magical. But with my baseball cards no; they got laid out, team vs team, when Game of the Week came on the radio.

One thing that did bother me in the movie as I was watching was that to my eye the backyard wasn’t really deep enough to allow the bowling that, with some camera trickery, we are asked to accept. A cricket pitch is about 72 feet long, .plus the extra space needed to run up to the line… but wait. I get it. They’ve laid out a junior pitch . Don’t know how long a junior pitch is, but it could fit into a backyard, so never mind.

If you’ve ever seen top-level cricket, or even if you haven’t, it’s just as fast and violent as major league baseball is. Both sports lull with a pace that features lengthy gaps in the action, but then feature frantic, fast-moving moments. At Fenway Park one day, a British friend and I had a long conversation about pitching vs bowling. His contention was that since the bowler was allowed to run up toward the batsman and then optionally bounce the ball on its way toward the wicket, the ball would be harder to hit than a baseball pitched from a standing start and required to come in between neck and knees. Especially since the bowler can load up the ball and the pitcher isn’t supposed to. This seems to make sense, even though the bowler is required to come in overhand with a straight elbow and the striking surface of the cricket bat is much larger than that of a round baseball bat. The question is settled, however, for me at least, by the fact that a good batsman can remain up for many overs (an over is 6 consecutive bowled balls) – which is to say, can prevent the ball from hitting the wicket – as David did, to the annoyance of his teammates who wanted to be done for the day – whereas the best hitter in baseball will almost surely whiff at at least one good strike within, say, ten pitches.

To gather data on this question, I’ve arranged for a visit from pitcher Earl Scrotile of the AAA Sacramento River Cats and Mani Singh of the Northern California Cricket League to a meetup at the San Francisco Community Playing Fields, Gardens, and Homeless Shelter on Battery Street this Sunday, all welcome, where we will each stand in against Earl and Mani and see who is harder to hit. The event will be filmed as part of a new mumblecore movie called “Ouch! That’s My Elbow!”