It starred Jack MacGowran as Oscar Collins, a scientist who lived next door to a pop photographer (played by Iain Quarrier) and his model girlfriend Penny Lane (Jane Birkin). Upon finding a hole in their connecting wall, Collins sees Lane modelling, and in the subsequent days makes more holes and becomes a peeping tom, becoming infatuated with Lane.
Harrison was approached by Massot to provide a soundtrack for the project. Despite his lack of knowledge about scoring a film, Harrison accepted after Massot promised to use whatever music he created.
In January 1968 I was in Bombay, working on the soundtrack for the film Wonderwall – a Sixties hippy movie directed by Joe Massot. He asked me if I would do the music, but I told him I didn’t write music for films. Then he said that whatever I gave him, he would use. That sounded pretty simple and I thought: ‘I’ll give them an Indian music anthology, and who knows, maybe a few hippies will get turned on to Indian music.’
The initial $600 budget for the soundtrack was hopelessly optimistic, and rose to $15,000, with the additional costs reportedly covered by Harrison.
Wonderwall had its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival on 17 May 1968. George and Pattie Harrison attended, as did Ringo Starr, his wife Maureen, and members of the cast.
The London premiere took place on 12 January 1969. It did not gain wide distribution, and was rarely seen.
Wonderwall came out some time later, and probably died a death. Ringo came with me to the première in Cannes. (I know this because they’ve put out the CD and I’ve read Derek’s liner notes. I didn’t remember it until I saw the photos of us with a rather nice young lady called Jane Birkin who was in the movie.)
In 1998 Massot decided to restore and reissue the film, and asked Harrison to provide the master recordings. His search led to the rediscovery of ‘In The First Place’, a song written and recorded by The Remo Four but unused, after Harrison believed that Massot only wanted instrumental recordings.
‘In The First Place’ was issued as a single in 1999. It is believed that Harrison produced the song, as well as singing and playing on it.
The song appeared in the restored version of Wonderwall, both in the theatrical and Director’s Cut versions.
The cover of Wonderwall Music was a painting by American artist Bob Gill, and intended to represent the voyeuristic nature of the film.
It shows a British figure wearing a bowler hat and holding an umbrella, approaching a red wall with one brick missing. Behind the wall ten naked women bathe and play under a tree.
We had a lofty American designer Bob Gill do a post-Magritte painting of a brick wall with an archetypal member of the mid 20th Century British bourgeousie, isolated, loitering, separated by the wall from the Indian maidens at play on the other side in, as you can see, a state and place of ideal happiness. It was a nice painting but missed the essence of hope. George remembers, “I suggested we take a brick out of the wall to give the fellow on the other side a chance, just as the Jack MacGowran character had a chance. Bob Gill didn’t want to do it, but he did it.” Well I remember that wall, that brick. With what diffidence one suggests to an artist that he changes the form and essence of his work, however slightly. Bob Gill and I never quite recovered our compatibility but the brick did have to go so it went. Were we right? Yes.
Wonderwall Music, 1992 liner notes
The inner sleeve photograph of Harrison was taken by Astrid Kirchherr, whose images of The Beatles in Hamburg in the early Sixties had done much to develop their image.
The album was first issued on compact disc in 1992, and again in 2014. That year it was included as a two-disc set along with a DVD of the film Wonderwall, and later in the year was included on Harrison’s Apple Years 1968–75 box set, with the addition of three bonus tracks.
The Apple Years version contained three bonus tracks: ‘In The First Place’ (performed by The Remo Four), ‘Almost Shankara’, and an alternative instrumental take of ‘The Inner Light’.