There’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 2004