Alex In Wonderland

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Alex In Wonderland (1970) is director Paul Mazursky’s (1963). The film’s protagonist Alex Morrison (Donald Sutherland) references the film in dialogue about as often as Mazursky does cinematographically. Federico Fellini even has a cameo in Mazursky’s film. Alex confronts the famous director while he is editing I clowns (1970) to tell him how much he loves . Like Fellini’s Mazursky’s film moves seamlessly in and out of its protagonist’s fantasies. It’s a film of provocative set pieces built around director Alex Morrison’s search for his next project.

One of these set pieces is another cameo by a luminary of European cinema, Jeanne Moreau. Alex Morrison happens upon the actress at a bookstore on Sunset Boulevard and launches into a whole fanboy spiel. But unlike Fellini, Moreau engages Morrison’s fantasy life and breaks out into song as the pair go arm in arm through L.A. Mazursky can’t seem to help himself. At every turn he indulges himself under the guise of investigating the nature and origin of art.

And why wouldn’t he? In Hollywood during the early seventies the director was king. Alex In Wonderland is a snapshot of this particular time and place in Hollywood history. Mazursky celebrates his artistic freedom by indulging himself. It was a culture of rampant misogyny and pretentious navel gazing. It was a battle ground between the new and the old.

At one point Alex Morrison stops to admire two portraits hung in a producer’s outer office. One is of Peter Fonda and the other is of Burt Lancaster. Fonda had just turned Hollywood on its head by producing Dennis Hopper’s Easy Rider (1969) while Lancaster represents the independent spirit of the fifties. It’s night and day for the pseudo revolutionary Mazursky who seems to be straddling both past and present.

In one scene, during a heated discussion, Michael Lerner asks Donald Sutherland’s Alex “what’s the point of the movie?” Mazursky’s film is a kind of personal and political wish fulfillment. On the one hand he is indulging his own cinematic fantasies while on the other he has aligned himself with leftist radicalism. This radicalism is responsible for the sequence of Black men and women parading around, reduced to totems or symbols of leftist revolution. This is followed by a riot in the streets of L.A. as “Hooray For Hollywood” blasts on the soundtrack. Mazursky’s film is as confused and muddled as Alex Morrison’s ideas for a new movie.

Mazursky’s film never manages the humanism of Altman or the stylization of Friedkin. Mazusky’s Alex In Wonderland is New Hollywood at its most crass. Mazursky was given total and absolute freedom and this is the product. There are some stunning images but the only scenes with any heart or agency are those between Alex and his daughters. Here Alex is human. He is a human artist with ideas he doesn’t know what to make of. He is allowed to be fragile in a way that is denied by Mazursky’s pretentious stylizations.