[...] The world doesn’t need a fifth Indiana Jones movie, or any more big-screen retreads of ’80s cartoons that weren’t that great to begin with. And it especially doesn’t need yet another weak reconceptualization of Romeo And Juliet, or yet another stuffy screen version of Pride And Prejudice to join the wave of them that started back in 1938. In fact, here’s a list of just a few of the literary works that have officially been done to death—and some recommendations for where to find newer, fresher stories just waiting on the page.
Book: Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland and Through The Looking-Glass
Adaptations to date: More than three dozen, notably including the 1951 animated Disney musical version and big-event 1985 and 1999 TV miniseries. Other countries have released their own versions as well; there’s a 24-episode Japanese animated adaptation, an Argentinean mime version, and nationalist versions like 1966’s Alice Of Wonderland In Paris and 1979’sAlice In Spanish Wonderland. Plus, of course, the upcoming Tim Burton sequel to Carroll’s original stories.
Definitive version: The Disney version is probably best known. While it has its own charms, though, it liberally diverges from Carroll’s text, like most Disney adaptations.
Why steer clear? The Alice books are simultaneously two of the most-adapted novels in history, and among the most habitually worst-adapted. Film and TV versions necessarily tend to elide over the original books’ densely packed puns and references, and instead concentrate on spectacle or on drearily plodding through a series of events that should be sprightly and disorienting, yet somehow not manic. It’s a difficult balance, and one that directors rarely seem to get right. What’s left behind is a bunch of creative, fun ideas that have had the creativity and fun leached out through repetition. How many times can we watch Alice grow, shrink, and boggle at it all?
What to adapt instead? Other Carroll works, including his novel Sylvie And Bruno and his poem “The Hunting Of The Snark,” bring in as much clever nonsense, wordplay, and episodic adventure, but are less line-by-line familiar.
Sylvie & Bruno!! How about that? The list continues with A Christmas Carol, The Bible, and other books that will by no means stop inspiring filmmakers in our lifetimes.
It’s now only two weeks from opening night of the Tim Burton Disney 3D Spectacular. There’s posters all over bus stops in the East Bay Area, California. The LCSNA is preparing for the plunge (in lieu of the macropsiacal interest in Carroll) by revamping its website, which will integrate this blog (that’s right, we’re moving! so watch for a White Rabbit), all of this pretty soon.
The Winter 2009 edition of the Knight Letter (no. 83) featured an article by Daniel Singer called “Off With Their Heads! Those Awful Alice Movies.” (The Knight Letter is the LCSNA‘s magazine, sent to subscribers for the membership fee of $35.) Of course, this theme is being taken up now all over, retrospectives of the century-plus of mediocre Alice in Wonderland movies. Susan King at the Los Angeles Times blog Hero Complex took a stab at the topic, beginning her article: “The first known ‘Alice in Wonderland’ film … was made in 1903, just 68 years after Lewis Carroll first published his fantasy ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.’” Perhaps she’s onto advanced rabbithole mathematics, and that works in base 17 or something. We recommend the Daniel Singer article if you can dig up a Knight Letter.
Elsewhere at Hero Complex, they quote Tim Burton discussing his Red Queen (played by his partner Helena Bonham Carter):
“In lots of illustrations and incarnations of Carroll’s work through the years, it always seems like she had a big head. It was an interesting challenge for us to find the right size and weight and proportions. One of the things we wanted to do was to use the actors and their performances — to use the real them — and then make them different. It’s still their performance but it’s just made weird. We wanted to achieve this blend. That was an important dynamic.”
“In a lot of children’s literature and other literature it’s kind of the same thing over and over — there’s good queens and bad queens, and here you have that but the elements are a bit blurred,” Burton said. “Everybody’s weird and has weird qualities to them. She’s kind of a mixture. When I look at her now, she reminds me of pictures I’ve seen of Leona Helmsley. There’s a tiny bit of elements of my mother in there too, for some strange reason. And Helena brings her own things to it too.”
Do we have any readers in Vancouver? Near Vancouver? I don’t know, but if we do they should go to Vancity Theatre – the Vancouver International Film Center – on Sunday to see a rare screening of Norman Z. McLeod’sAlice in Wonderland from 1933. See Cary Grant as you have never seen him before – totally concealed inside a giant mock turtle suit!
From the Vancity Theatre website:
“Extravagant all-star assaults on the work of Lewis Carroll – like the forthcoming Tim Burton-Johnny Depp movie – are nothing new, as this rare item from the vaults of Paramount Pictures goes to show. With a screenplay by Joseph L Mankiewicz (All About Eve) and designed by William Cameron Menzies (Gone with the Wind), this has considerable pedigree even before you check out the cast list.
“But what a cast it is! WC Fields steals the show as Humpty Dumpty, but underneath splendid (if uncomfortable-looking) costumes you may also recognize the voices of Cary Grant as the mock turtle, Edward Everett Horton as the Mad Hatter, Gary Cooper is the White Knight, and Edna May Oliver as the Red Queen. Curiouser and curiouser, it has never been released on DVD or VHS.”
Alice in Wonderland, Sunday, January 10th, 2.30pm. All ages.
Vancity Theatre, 1181 Seymour St, Vancouver, BC, Canada, V6B 3M7
The Simposons, Season 21, Episode 8, which premiered a few Sundays ago, featured Lisa reading an Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland pop-up book to her baby sister Maggie. (It begins at 5:34 in the episode embedded above, available for a limited time from hulu.com.) I’ve got a half dozen AAIW pop-ups open in front of me to figure out which one the fabulous animation from The Simpsons was inspired from, but it seems to be their own creation using Simpsons-esque versions of the Tenniel illustrations. Is this right? (If you do not own any Alice pop-ups, I recommend the breathtaking version by Robert Sabuda, available here on amazon.com, & shown in the youtubebelow.)
There’s Bollywood buzz of a big budget Indian Alice in Wonderland. The gossip from One India:
Quick Gun Murugun director Shashanka Ghosh is planning an Indian version of Alice in Wonderland. The film’s lead character will be named Alisha and it will be a modern version of the story.
The film’s script will be written by Samit Basu (writer of Simogin Prophecies). Shashanka wants the movie’s special effects to match up to international fantasy hits like The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter.
Actresses Katrina Kaif, Soha Ali Khan and Sonam Kapoor are being considered for the lead role. A character, based on that of the Alice in Wonderland writer Lewis Caroll will be added in the film.
If you haven’t heard the hype, Syfy is rolling out a hot new four-hour miniseries inspired by Lewis Carroll’s Alice books, this coming Sunday and Monday evenings starting at 9pm. (Syfy used to be called the Sci Fi Channel, and this rebranding is being boycotted by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Slate as an “unsupportable offense against orthography.”) This show should should be a wild take on the Alice “myth”, with Carroll listed as only one of many influences including Doctor Who and other classic genre-benders. The adult Alice (Caterina Scorsone) can do karate. You may remember Harry Dean Stanton, who plays an insurgent Caterpillar “resisting” the Queen of Hearts, as a regular from David Lynch movies and the slithery Fundamentalist Mormon prophet in Big Love. And the Dodo, also an insurgent, is played by Tim Curry, who was of course once the sweet transvestite transsexual from Transylvania. The Syfy plot sounds too complicated to recap before seeing it, involving some sort of coveted ring of power, the Gem of Wonderland, but the production and acting all sound first rate. There’s trailers and other promo material at www.syfy.com/alice, and Troy Patterson’s review at Slate (which I was just paraphrasing) is here. Patterson coined a delicious Carrollian portmanteau “maluscious” (luscious and malicious) to describe Kathy Bates’ Queen of Hearts.
Cinefamily, a “movie lover” organization in L.A., will be showing Lou Bunin’s Alice in Wonderland at the Silent Movie Theatre, 611 N. Fairfax Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90036. Two shows on Saturday, November 28th, at 5:00 & 7:30pm, for $12. Here’s the description & musical clip from their listing:
Alice In Wonderland (1949) This ambitious, highly faithful late-’40s Alice adaptation took years to complete, and features an abundance of impressive, meticulous and labor-intensive stop-motion work from pioneer puppeteer Lou Bunin. After a live-action prologue showing the historical inspirations for the major characters, Alice (a decidedly adult Carol Marsh) is quickly launched into surreal realms of design and color. Remarkably, the film stays true to the original novel’s anarchic construction, and the inspiration of Victorian illustrator John Tenniel’s Alice imaginings. Bunin’s handiwork is at its peak during the musical numbers, which dunk you head-first into the film’s opium-riddled dreamworld–and in addition, live-action director Dallas Bower comes up with clever, simple solutions to the FX limitations of the day. Originally suppressed by Disney for fear of its potential upstaging of their own animated Alice, Bunin’s work comes to you here at the Cinefamily in a rare screening of a beautiful MOMA-restored 35mm print! Dirs. Dallas Bower & Lou Bunin, 1949, 35mm, 76 min.
Strange creepy creatures come out of your dens, and go to the world premier of The Hunting of the Snark at the Queens International Film Festival on Saturday, November 14th, 2009. The 30-minute student film is the directorial debut of Peter Pavlakis, a Brooklynite. The synopsis sounds like the plot sticks close to the Carroll poem, and the film trailer has an actor reading verbatim one of the rhymed speeches – so, we can expect a bit of fidelity, not a psycho-sexual re-imagining of the Bellman returning to sea a decade later to confront his nightmarish inner demons (ending in a car chase).
This will be at noon tomorrow at the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts Charter Room, 35-12 35th Avenue, Queens, NY 11106.
Also coming out this week with the same title, the transatlantic “cosmopolitan post-bop” group NYNDK released “The Hunting of the Snark” on the label Jazzheads. The album includes hip versions of Charles Ives, Edward Grieg, and Carl Nielsen. The titular track (which can be heard online here) begins with some snarky outgribations on trombone, but I couldn’t find any explanation for the use of the Carroll poem’s title beyond catchy inspiration.
Announced at least a year ago, Syfy has finally started releasing pictures and press information for its four-hour miniseries Alice, slated for December of this year.
“…writer/director Nick Willing has created the modern-day story of Alice Hamilton (Caterina Scorsone), a fiercely independent twenty-something who suddenly finds herself on the other side of a looking glass. She is a stranger in an outlandish city of twisted towers and casinos built out of playing cards, all under the rule of a deliciously devilish Queen (Kathy Bates) who’s not very happy about Alice’s arrival. …Rounding out the stellar cast are Tim Curry as Dodo, Colm Meaney as the King of Hearts, Philip Winchester as Jack of Hearts, Matt Frewer as the White Knight, Andrew Lee Potts as Hatter, Alessandro Juliani as 9 of Clubs, Timothy Webber as Carpenter, Alex Diakun as Ratcatcher, Zak Santiago as 10 of Clubs, and Eugene Lipinski as Doctors Dee and Dum.”
Should be interesting, but wouldn’t it be nice to have an adaptation where the Red Queen/Queen of Hearts isn’t the bad guy?
Another opportunity for marketing to me missed… Apparently attendees of the Comic-Con presentation were told to follow the ImportantDate tweetstream, which eventually told followers how to get tickets into an offsite exhibit of props and costumes. Supposedly this will be a touring exhibition, but no where and when information is yet forthcoming.