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Alex in Wonderland (1970) Review

“It was only Paul Mazursky’s second movie and already he made his 8 1/2. This is a subgenre named after Federico Fellini’s movie about the creative crisis of an artist; other examples include Woody Allen’s Stardust Memories, Francois Truffaut’s Day for Night, John Cassavetes’ Love Streams, Robert Altman’s The Player, Orson Welles’ unfinished The Other Side of the Wind, and a proto-example in Preston Sturges’ Sullivan’s Travels”.  (Michael Barrett’s Review of Alex in Wonderland). Not to mention the mockery of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland.

Alex (Donald Sutherland) is a film director who, after attaining big success with the first feature film, is moving to California to choose material for the follow-up. His decision-making process quickly turns into an existential crisis. Mazursky managed to show the two forces pushing and pulling Alex between the ultimate conflict: comfort vs freedom. Just like Mazursky himself, Alex is drawn to European cinema and longing for the artistic freedom and autonomy it stands for. Going to money driven Hollywood couldn’t get him further from his dream of being heard…truly heard.

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Donald Sutherland playing Alex (bathtub scene)

Alex in Wonderland is an alluring study of anxiety and examination of artistic turmoil. It’s also a lesson of compromise and setting the boundaries both in professional and private life. The film was created on the wave of movies such as Easy RiderBonnie & Clyde, and Midnight Cowboy – all bold and driven by counter-culture. All announced the shift from Hollywood’s Studio system to independent authorship. Alex in Wonderland, being a more subtle voice among them, presents Mazursky as an intelligent, self-aware artist with high hopes for his future in shaping the landscape of New Hollywood cinema. Re-watching this movie is a journey into a deep appreciation of the cinema itself. Federico Fellini’s and Jeanne Moreau’s cameos spice up this visual treat.

Alex’s struggles mirrored problems Mazursky faced after moving from New York to Hollywood. It’s the first and one of many biographical movies in director’s career. After a huge success of Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, Mazursky and his friend and co-writer Larry Tucker, found themselves pressured to endure their winning streak. Reviews of Alex in Wonderland were harsh and derogatory. At some point, Mazursky contemplated leaving both Hollywood and U.S. for good. He actually persuaded his wife Betty to move to Europe. They spent some time in Rome where Mazursky got really close with Fellini. After Rome, they went to Venice where he came up with the premise for beloved by many, Blume in Love.

The cast: Donald Sutherland (as Alex Morrison), Ellen Burstyn (as Beth Morrison, Alex’s wife), Paul Mazursky (as Hollywood producer Hal Stern), Meg Mazursky (as Alex’s daughter), Federico Fellini and Jeanne Moreau (playing themselves).

©  2018 Anna Jozwiak

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