Truth Is A Slippery Eel In Wonderland

I like the style and well I think she did a good job. Most reviews pan the film, but not this time. The only “truth” in Wonderland… was that there was murder. Mike Elliott had written a screenplay titled “Wonderland Ave.”. He is given a Special Thanks credit in Wonderland. I wonder what his script was like? Someone could easily make another movie about this story.

His body is a wonderland.

His body is a wonderland.

Truth Is A Slippery Eel In Wonderland.

by Cindy Fuchs. Philadelphia, October 16, 2003 Issue.

“John Holmes was the first porn star,” begins James Cox’s Wonderland. This is not exactly true; there were porn stars before and alongside Holmes, also known as Johnny B. Wadd and Big Jon Fallus, but none has achieved quite his notoriety. Mention of his name(s) evokes numbers — 14,000 women, 2,500 porn films, 14 inches (or 13, or 15), two wives, $3,000 a day, 50 Valiums at a time and, most horrifically, four brutal murders.

This last figure occasions Cox’s mostly strange and lurid account of the contradictory stories concerning Holmes’ involvement in the 1981 Wonderland murders. That is, the gory bludgeonings of a group of Holmes’ acquaintances at 8763 Wonderland Ave. in Los Angeles: drug dealer Ron Launius (Josh Lucas), his buddy, Billy Deverell (Tim Blake Nelson), Joy Miller (Janeane Garofalo) and Barbara Richardson (Natasha Gregson Wagner). Ron’s wife, Susan (Christina Applegate), suffered severe brain damage, and could never identify the killers. While these were presumably thugs sent by local gangster Adel Nasrallah, a.k.a. Eddie Nash (Eric Bogosian), as payback for the robbery of his home, the case was never solved and Holmes’ part was never determined. Charged and acquitted, Holmes died of AIDS-related illness at age 43 in 1988.

One version of this story informs Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights, in which Holmes, transformed into Dirk Diggler (Mark Wahlberg), appears a naive victim of his own ambitions and self-delusions. In Cox’s less rhapsodic recounting, Holmes (Val Kilmer) is a self-loving lout, coke addict and liar, seemingly unable to comprehend the destruction he brings to anyone in his vicinity. Wonderland begins when Holmes is past his porn prime, and endeavoring, sort of, to convince his beautiful teenage girlfriend, Dawn (Kate Bosworth), to come back to him; she’s tired of living in a series of scuzzy L.A. motels, and has run off with her Chihuahua, sheltered with a sputtering Good Samaritan, Sallie (Carrie Fisher), until her man comes by, drugs in hand.

John’s entrance — lurching, hirsute, desperate — is almost startling, emphatically establishing his look and behavior for the rest of the film. Still caught up in his own legend, he’s jonesing for affection as much as for drugs or any other distraction. Dawn provides the reflection he needs, willing to see him as stud and supplier, lover and father figure. While the film takes a moment here to show the noisy urgency of their liaison (at this moment, on Sallie’s bathroom sink), it’s frankly uninterested in such acrobatics or in sex per se. They go through motions for a camera at low and close angles, cut into a semblance of jerky, anxious immediacy. Discovered by Sallie, they run off to John’s broken-down car, giddy and childish, Chihuahua in tow.

If sex is not Wonderland‘s focus, neither is the extravagant violence to come. This despite the fact that the murder scene — videotaped by the police, the first time such evidence was introduced in court — is represented more than once in a Rashomon-ish hodgepodge. The first narration belongs to biker David Lind (Dylan McDermott), a friend of Launius’ whose girlfriend, Barbara, is among the dead. Another version is John’s interview with a cop, which takes the form of a weirdly ineffective seduction, hinting at his previous performance skills as well as their onetime friendship, apparently premised on John’s celebrity.

Still another comes late in the film, offered reluctantly in flashbacks by Holmes’ wife, Sharon (a stunning Lisa Kudrow), in which he shows up at her place in shock and bloodied clothing on the night of the crime; she plainly resists being carried along by the tidal wave of John Holmes’ colossal ego, but finds herself drawn to him and to Dawn (an epilogue reveals that the women were lifelong friends, following their involvements with Mr. Wadd).

All of these stories resemble each other in basic organization, in Launius’ crew’s infraction and Nash’s retaliation. But John’s participation, as snively snitch or sadistic killer or some entity in between, is never determined absolutely. And though Wonderland does present all sorts of explicit and harrowing images, it really is about the inability to represent something so elusive as truth, even when it might be reduced to something so apparently irreducible as bodies — sexed, dead, absolutely pornographic.

It’s on this point, the exceedingly unpoetic ambiguity of experience, as it’s remembered, willed or narrated, that Wonderland makes the most sense. Though it spends some time introducing the miserable victims (junkies and pretenders, they incarnate the bottom John has hit more than they are detailed characters), as well as John’s own self-inflations, the movie is about loss and perpetual transience rather than certainty.

Cox and Captain Mauzner’s script — drawn from an unproduced screenplay by Todd Samovitz and D. Loriston Scott, as well as interviews with the real Dawn and Sharon, and various Holmes legends — offers no conventionally sympathetic characters or resolution. There’s no truth in this true crime, only the fictions that sustain Hollywood, and all of its metaphorical relations. It’s a grisly business.


Directed by James Cox A Lions Gate release Opens Friday at Ritz at the Bourse