The LCSNA’s very own Mark Burstein has written a concise list of “all those awful Alice movies” (a theme that many in the media have been attempting, as reported here) for Lucas Films’ Blockbusting blog. An excerpt:
- The groovy Sixties found a resurgence of interest in Carroll’s otherworld of mushrooms and hookah-smoking caterpillars. Hanna-Barbera’s Alice in Wonderland or What’s a Nice Kid Like You Doing in a Place Like This, voiced by Sammy Davis, Jr., Zsa Zsa Gabor, etc. was shown on television in 1966. Later that year, Alice Through the Looking Glass, a musical version with Jimmy Durante, The Smothers Brothers, etc., ran on television as well. Meanwhile, in Britain, the BBC produced a low-key, black-and-white Alice in Wonderland that is arguably the best, certainly the most faithful to the spirit, of all cinematic or televisual adaptations. It was directed by Jonathan Miller, and starred Sir John Gielgud, Peter Sellers, etc.
- The spirit of the Sixties lasted at least until 1972, when a lavish British musical version ofWonderland starring Fiona Fullerton (later a Bond girl) as Alice, and with Spike Milligan, Peter Sellers, Dudley Moore, and so on came to the big screen.
- A soft-core porno-slash-musical comedy Alice in Wonderland spewed forth in 1976, produced by Bill Osco, directed by Bud Townsend, and distributed by General National Enterprises. Ah, me. It’s very nearly watchable, but was the first of many subsequent erotic films “based” on the books, all of which lack even the marginal charm of this original one, and are not subject matter for this brief overview.
The whole round-up, once again, is here
. Elsewhere on the blogosphere, we’ve been following the LA Times
‘ Hero Complex
(which still hasn’t corrected their mistake, in their
list of awful Alice movies, that the 1903 silent version was “just 68 years after Lewis Carroll first published his fantasy Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
.” Mr. Burstein prefers to note that 1903 is “just five years after Lewis Carroll (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson)’s death in 1898.”) Anyway, they are doing a daily countdown to the movie premiere, and today’s entrée
is about John Tenniel:
“If you go back to Tenniel, so much of his work is what stays in your mind about Alice and about Wonderland,” Burton said. “Alice and the characters have been done so many times and in so many ways. but Tenniel’s art really lasts there in your memory.”
Tenniel was already a major name in political cartooning (and, unfortunately, blinded in one eye from a fencing wound) when he took on the illustrations for Carroll’s strange fantasy. The job was a frustrating one due to the intense detail work and specifications that came from Carroll (whose real name, by the way, was Charles Lutwidge Dodgson), but Tenniel had a passion for drawing animals, and Wonderland gave him a singular opportunity for creatures of the fantastic. Tenniel was also a meticulous soul and a demanding artist — the first run of 2,000 copies of “Alice” in 1865, for instance, did not meet his standards and were pulled back. The project was well worth the trouble, however, when the book became an instant literary sensation.
It’s nice of them to quote Burton discussing Tenniel, because, earlier
when they had quoted him discussing his Red Queen’s huge head, it struck me as odd that he didn’t acknowledge Tenniel as the origin of that phenomenon. (“In lots of illustrations and incarnations of Carroll’s work through the years, it always seems like she had a big head,” he noted vaguely.)
I just noticed that Tim Burton’s Alice In Wonderland is rated PG “for fantasy action/violence involving scary images and situations, and for a smoking caterpillar.” Wonderful! Disney’s 1951 version, which also contains a smoking caterpillar, is rated simply G. Therefore, since All Scotchmen are Non-Dragons, and a fish with three rows of teeth is not to be despised, it would follow that it was not that hookah-smoking caterpillar which increased the rating from G to PG.
Smoking in movies is of course a contentious issue, with many organizations and websites tracking Hollywood for how it portrays tobacco use. (There’s something called the “Hackademy Awards”, presented by the Breathe California of Sacramento-Emigrant Trails, for smoke-free movies. Nine, for instance, got last year’s biggest Thumbs Down for “lavishly promoting cigarette and cigar smoking as emblems of sexiness, wealth, power, coolness and relaxation.”) Shisha is not something they come across very often, so I’m curious to see how this goes down.
Alan Rickman (the great actor famous for his Professor Severus Snape) is playing the voice of the Caterpillar in the new film!
Danny Elfman’s soundtrack to Tim Burton’s Alice In Wonderland will be released on CD (an ancient kind of optical disc used to store digital audio) next Tuesday, March 2nd, and there’s some short clips at the Amazon store if you desire a teaser. I couldn’t help noticing the opening song – with children’s voices singing “Oh, Alice, dear where have you been?” – and I found the complete lyrics at a blog called cinemusic.net. I’ll include them with that website’s charming introduction:
Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, starring Johnny Depp as
Elijah Wood The Mad Hatter begins pissing off prickly Lewis Carroll purists on March 5, 2010 in theaters everywhere in eye-popping 3D. Lending musical support is Burton’s constant composer Danny Elfman, AKA film music’s most awesome red head.
Threaded throughout the score is an original song penned by Elfman, called “Alice’s Theme”, and it opens up the Disney Records score album due in stores on March 2 (obligatory Amazon link). Here’s a sneak peek at the song’s lyrics (thanks to the supremely talented LD for these)…
Music and Lyrics by Danny Elfman
Oh, Alice, dear where have you been?
So near, so far or in between?
What have you heard what have you seen?
Alice, Alice, please, Alice!
Oh, tell us are you big or small
To try this one or try them all
It’s such a long, long way to fall
Alice, Alice, oh, Alice
How can you know this way not that?
You choose the door you choose the path
Perhaps you should be coming back
Another day, another day
And nothing is quite what is seems
You’re dreaming are you dreaming, oh, Alice?
(Oh, how will you find your way? Oh, how will you find your way?)
(There’s not time for tears today. There’s no time for tears today.)
So many doors – how did you choose
So much to gain so much to lose
So many things got in your way
No time today, no time today
Be careful not to lose your head
Just think of what the doormouse [sic] said…Alice!
Did someone pull you by the hand?
How many miles to Wonderland?
Please tell us so we’ll understand
(Oh how will you find you way? … Oh, how will you find you way?)
I’ve never met a prickly Lewis Carroll purist, let alone a pissed-off one, but I would presume they’re easily decapitated with a vorpal sword. Or defenestrated with a defibrillator.
Anyway, if you are not familiar with Mr. Elfman, he is the film composer and long-time collaborator with Mr. Burton, the man wrote the iconic music for Batman, The Simpsons theme, and those wonderful songs for The Nightmare Before Christmas. He has done less-than-stellar work for some of Mr. Burton’s more recent mediocrities. Elfman is often mocked in the classical world for basically having a team of composers do his work for him, although I sometimes feel this criticism is harsh. (After all, Renaissance painters employed whole crews of apprentices, Dale Chihuly has a studio to manifest his glass-art masterpieces, and George Gershwin didn’t do the orchestrations for Rhapsody in Blue (free round of drinks if you can name the composer who did!) Art is not always the product of an agonized solo genius, sometimes she can be more of an architectural designer, et cetera, especially in the film music world. Thus ends this parenthetical rant.)
As dear to my adolescent heart as Elfman’s music for The Nightmare Before Christmas
is, there’s many cringeworthy lyrics (e.g., “I wish my cohorts weren’t so dumb / I’m not the dumb one / You’re no fun / Shut up! / Make me!”) I would pay a large sum of money to hire William Shatner to read the lyrics to “Alice’s Theme” as a beat poem accompanied by bongos and upright bass (as he did for Sarah Palin’s verbiage
). In conclusion, Mr. Elfman should hire a real librettist.
In regards to what we wrote below, that many writers have taken on the theme of “all those awful Alice movies” in anticipation of the imminent Tim Burton 3D one (in seven days!), The Onion‘s A.V. Club lists Lewis Carroll’s Alice books in a series on movies that have been adapted to death. Allow me to quote liberally from “Put the book back on the shelf: Literary works that should never be adapted to film or TV again” (February 17th, 2010):
[...] 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.”
You could win a free copy of Jenny Woolf’s excellent new biography, The Mystery of Lewis Carroll, by leaving a comment on this post at alice2010.blogspot.com. This Alice “fan club” blog centers around the Tim Burton movie but also chronicles many other Carroll-related products and things-of-interest.
Blogger Elizabeth Snead reports at The Dishrag that “Tim Burton’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’ press kit is a trip in itself.”
The lucky recipients got “a very large box” containing “a large faux antiquarian book of Alice in Wonderland.”
Inside the first book with drawings/photos of Tim Burton and the Lewis Carroll is another a delightfully smaller book with illustrations of locations and sets.
Inside that book is another smaller book with illustrations of the characters, Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp), the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter), etc.
Inside that book is another smaller book containing a heavy metal key. And there’s a note that needed a magnifying glass to read it that says: The USB key will take you beyond the gates of Wonderland and unveil the many secrets that await you.”
We were kinda hoping for one pill that would make us larger, but whatever.
Anyway, breathlessly, we stuck the key in my computer and….
On the USB key is a cool new trailer and three photos from the film.
Leave it to Disney to make their “Alice in Wonderland” press kit as exciting an adventure as Burton’s adaptation of the classic tale promises to be.
The rabbit hole has never been like this.
Thank you Ms. Snead for the images and description. Now, how do we get one!?
I’m going to try not to blog about each and every thing Disney thinks up to market the new Alice movie, but this one is kind of clever. To announce the first of a purported many designers creating Alice-related couture, an acrobatic Mad Tea Party event with jewelry by Tom Binns took place at the Magic Marketplace fashion trade show on September 2. View the video at Disney’s YouTube channel.
(Though, again, hello Disney, you have my email, you have my age, you know I’m your target market – why didn’t you send me an email about this?!)
Given the opportunity, what question would you ask Mr. Tim Burton about his upcoming movie Alice in Wonderland?
(Let me just say that this is not a spurious question…)
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.