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WONDERLAND

USA, 1997 (MIFF 1999, Urban Myths)

Director: John O'Hagan

Welcome to suburbia ground zero. In 1947, in response to the United Stales' worst housing shortage, architect William Levitt designed the world's first planned community—cheap, mass produced homes that would take his name and become Levittown. This Long Island development, with its row upon row of identical houses painted in calming pastels, became firmly entrenched in the American psyche. For thousands of Gl returning from World War II, here was an affordable dream abode.

A flagpole in the front yard, a television built into the living room wall and a kitchen ready to be filled with the vast array of gadgets that would soon flood the consumer market. Director John O'Hagan takes an oddball and affectionate look at the model for conformity that soon spread around the world. Recalling the quirky documentaries of Errol Morris (Fast, Cheap and Out of Control, MIFF 1998), O'Hagan stocks his film with a cast of loveable, if not more than a touch kooky, characters. The Munsters begin to look like desirable neighbours after you've spent some time with a middle-aged couple obsessed with wood, neurotic plate collectors, a retired champion bowler with a bird fetish (including altar) or the Levittown mystery man who walks his dog exactly nine times each day. Not enough? Then how about a chat with the paunchy, washed up one-hit wonder Eddie Money (anyone remember Two Tickets to Paradise?); the paranoia of Zippy the Pinhead creator Bill Griffith; or an aerobicized widower displaying evidence of the poltergeist infestation of her house?

Daily activities like grilling hot dogs, playing bingo and singing the national anthem begin to seem like nefarious rituals. Indeed, O'Hagan digs deep enough to have some longterm residents give him the low down on the early years of wife-swapping parties, hell bent booze blow-outs and Satanism! Miss this at your peril.

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