'Wonderland', 1999, Film and Soundtrack: Michael Winterbottom, director; Michael Nyman, composer.
Michael Nyman's soundtrack digs deep into a core of aching sadness at the heart of British urban life. Nadia (Gina Mckee, actress) wanders the streets of London, after another doomed, anxiety-ridden blind date. Cold, objectified images are sped-up, merging with the music, to suggest (despite her bleak environment) a universe of possibility inside this woman.
|Illustration 1: Wandering the streets ...|
One innovation of the score is the naming of each section ('Nadia', 'Franklyn', 'Molly' ... ) after a different person in the story. An 'Unnamed' movement presumably represents a yet-to-be-born child, a new entry into the harsh surroundings that the film depicts.
|Illustration 2: 'Wonderland'; film poster and soundtrack cover.|
The soundtrack also provides a second narrative 'voice', or perspective, describing the inner-life of each character; and the movie is strongly evocative of my own memories as a twenty-something in the nineties. In an important scene, Nadia takes an undignified bus journey home, having been used for easy sex on what she'd thought was an ideal date. There's an identifiable cruelty to this situation: as it contrasts the hopes and dreams of one thwarted individual with the vagaries of city life, in all its indifference.
|Illustration 3: An undignified bus journey ...|
What's striking is the tenderness of the music, which seems to be set against abrasive imagery (shot in a 'vérité' style on lightweight cameras, in real locations). Combined with the sensitive use of close-up, and Gina Mckee's face/performance, Nadia's pain is made transparent, as she struggles to control her breakdown in a public space. It's a moment of beauty that the film retrieves from a desperate world.
|Illustration 4: Nadia's pain ...|