Morning after the Boogie Night before

first_imgThere’s no doubt about it; John Holmes was big. He made over 2,000 films during his career and, aided in no small way by his prodigious appendage (the exact stature of which, Cherwell cannot divulge) became porn’s first superstar during the industry’s seventies heyday. Not bad for a skinny guy from Ohio, with a crap moustache and a dodgy lung. Predictably, though, this fame was fleeting, and the beginning of the eighties found him washed up. An impressive pharmaceutical intake took its toll and, as past, present and future disappeared up his nose, Holmes became increasingly reliant on the wrong kind of people. James Cox’s film takes up the story of his life here, in 1981, eschewing the dubious past glories to focus instead on the one-time king of the adult movie world’s involvement in the brutal murders of four people at a house on Wonderland Avenue. His precise role in the slayings never came to light; whether an active participant or an unlucky dupe, Holmes was acquitted, and never revealed the truth. As such, Wonderland employs a Rashomon-esque approach, exploring the various possibilities by taking separate looks at conflicting versions of the story, all with the flashy editing and grungy hues seemingly obligatory for any film depicting drug-fuelled depravity. It’s not so much gritty as soiled, the world inhabited by the burntout skin flick star revealed in all its scuzzy glory, and though we do occasionally see a more human side to the man – the strange triangle formed by him, his wife and his much younger girlfriend is one of the most interesting, if underdeveloped, parts of the story – this comes second to his portrayal as a cowardly, desperate fuck-up. Wonderland relies to a great extent on Val Kilmer’s performance, imbuing his seemingly worthless character with enough faded charm to suggest that there may be varying levels of truth. The real John Holmes was a mass of contradictions – a vociferous campaigner for mandatory AIDS testing in his industry, he nevertheless continued to make films despite learning he had the disease – so perhaps it’s only right that here we are left with questions rather than answers, both about events on Wonderland Avenue and the nature of the man himself. Naïve victim or craven manipulator, it’s difficult to know, and though this lack of conclusion does leave an empty feeling, it seems in keeping with the subject that all should remain largely mysterious.ARCHIVE: 2nd week TT 2004last_img read more