04/03/2010

Alice In Wonderland (1903)


To mark the release of Tim Burton's highly unnecessary new 3D version of Alice In Wonderland (2010), the BFI National Archive has restored the first ever filmed version of Lewis Carroll's much abused 1865 classic, directed by Percy Stow and Cecil Hepton 107 years ago. The film was long feared lost after Hepton went bankrupt in 1924, but an original print fortunately resurfaced in 1963 in a Hove cinema's neglected store room. Some scenes were damaged beyond repair but the surviving nine and a half minutes are excellent and well worth a trip down the rabbit hole to the BFI's website for some clever theatrical effects.

Some other notable screen adaptations of Alice include Norman Z. McLeod's 1933 version, featuring Gary Cooper, Cary Grant, W.C. Fields, Baby LeRoy and Edward Everett Horton, and Walt Disney's justly celebrated animation from 1951. Stage director Jonathan Miller produced a famous black-and-white, animal-free version for the BBC in 1966 starring his fellow Beyond The Fringe alumni Peter Cook and Alan Bennett, as well as future knights of the realm Michael Redgrave and John Gielgud plus Peter Sellars, Wilfred Brambell, Michael Gough, Malcolm Muggeridge and young Python Eric Idle. Indian sitar king and friend of the Beatles Ravi Shankar wrote the score, giving Carroll's work a smart post-colonial twist. Another British version followed in 1972, this time a musical, with Ralph Richardson, Dudley Moore, Dennis Price and Peter Sellars (again) joining in. Finally, the inevitable porno version appeared in 1976 with Alice In Wonderland: An X-Rated Musical Comedy. Sammy Davis Jr played the Caterpillar and Ringo Starr the Mock Turtle in a 1985 US TV movie special that adapted both Alice and Through The Looking Glass in two parts - the same year as Gavin Millar's Dreamchild, which featured gory puppets from the Jim Henson team and a script by Dennis Potter that imagined the elderly Alice Liddell looking back on her friendship with Carroll from 1932. A Kafkaesque Czech Alice (1988) came next, directed by legendary stop-motion surrealist Jan ┼ávankmajer, which was arguably even more grotesque. As Mark Sinker has pointed out in Sight & Sound, ┼ávankmajer used Carroll's work as a political allegory for the approaching destruction of the Berlin Wall, Wonderland here standing for "an absurdist regime about to be overthrown by the disenchanted young." Another lacklustre US TV version appeared on the eve of the millennium with a predictable cast of sporting B-listers that was perhaps most interesting for its deployment of Miranda Richardson as the Queen of Hearts. Richardson of course played a childish but deadly Queen Elizabeth I in the second series of the BBC's historical sitcom Blackadder (1986), her performance in which seems a very obvious influence on Helena Bonham Carter's Queen in Burton's new film. Last and almost certainly least, 2009's rubbish British crime re-imagining, Malice In Wonderland, featuring that grandest of grand theatrical dames, Danny Dyer, playing the White Rabbit as an impatient cockney cab driver. Curioser and curioser...

1 comment:

  1. Hello Sommerlad, just stalking you a little. Love a bit of early cinema, always has a little something about it. Might grab the cabinet of Dr Caligari, thinking about it. Hope you are still alive

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