Alice (1988)

In 1988 Czech animator Jan Svankmajer unleashed Neco z Alenky (Alice) on the world. The world was not ready.

The world is still not ready.

This movie is available on the Netflix instant viewing service so I guess there’s a chance some of you might venture to see it. If so, you might consider this post to be fraught with spoilers, but honestly, if you don’t know the plot to Alice in Wonderland by now this isn’t really the movie for you, anyway. Or if you’re afraid of burrowing socks, then this is not the movie for you.

There are a lot of taxidermied animals in this movie that have been animated using stop-motion animation, but the white rabbit is the spookiest. The rabbit has a gaping gut wound that he repairs with a large safety pin. Nevertheless, every time he pulls out his watch, he leaks copious amounts of sawdust. At one point, he eats large spoonfuls of sawdust from a bowl to replenish his guts.


The first 30 minutes were pretty slow, but we’ve managed to hang in there. I’m glad we did because Alice just went into the rabbit’s house and grew large and suddenly the film has become a work of mad genius.

A carriage full of fancifully taxidermied chimera with skulls with doll eyes for heads shows up. The cart is accompanied by foley hoofbeats and horses whinnying, but it is actually drawn by a pair of chickens with skull heads. That’s when things get….

I’m sorry, I was trying to come up with a colorful way to say “bizarre” but I was so hypnotized by the tea party scene, which involves wooden marionettes, a pocketwatch full of butter, and extreme closeups of teeth that I forgot what I was trying to say so instead I’ll embed video of Alice meeting the caterpillar.

First Run Features distributes Alice on DVD in the U.S..

Patti Smith never played Alice, but I’m watching POV broadcast of Patti Smith: Dream of Life so I thought I’d see if you’re still paying attention.

Sometime in the recent past I watched a 1983 Masterpiece Theatre production of Alice in Wonderland that I found surprisingly dull. Shame, too, since it featured Nathan Lane, Donald O’Conner, Richard Burton and Kate Burton (as Alice) so I thought that it wouldn’t be completely awful. It wasn’t. It was just plain awful. Too moribund for the screen, too complicated for the stage. This seemed to be the fatal flaw of a number of Masterpiece Theatre productions from the early 80s. I don’t know why, although I feel like I knew what the leading theories were but have now forgotten. I could look into it, but Patti is more interesting than PBS history to me today.

Not that PBS history isn’t interesting. I recommend David Stewart’s PBS Companion : A History of Public Television to get your started.

If you want to vicariously enjoy our quest to watch every live-action version of Alice in Wonderland/Through the Looking Glass, I’m tagging every post with an Alice in Wonderland tag.

Wednesday, we started watching the epic 3 1/2 hour 1985 made-for-tv adaptation of Alice in Wonderland. I have vague memories of this movie, but mostly I think I repressed it. This version starred Roddy McDowall, Scott Baio, Sherman Hemsley, Telly Savalas, Ringo Starr, Imogene Coca, Red Buttons, Sid Caesar, Sally Struthers, John Stamos, Ernest Borgnine, Beau and Lloyd Bridges, Carol Channing, Merv Griffin, and Sammy Davis, Jr, among others.

I’m pretty sure that watching this movie is what going crazy feels like.

We should have drunk more coffee before we started watching it. We weren’t even through the Love Boat-esque opening credits before Husband was yelling, “This isn’t good. This isn’t good.” Plus, Every time Alice said, “Eat me,” we started snickering like Beavis and Butthead.

We watched the first 20 minutes. During Sammy Davis, Jr’s Father William dance number I checked amazon and discovered that I could own this gem for only $6.99. I think it’s going to take a while to get through the whole movie so I ordered my own copy and returned the Netflix copy.

That means we won’t have it to enjoy during Snowpocalypse 2010 but that may be for the best. I have 9 other versions stacked up here to keep us busy, although none of those feature visual effects were by John Dykstra, of Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, Star Trek and Sewer Shark fame.

I can also use the time to blog about a few other versions we’ve watched recently. Of Alice, not Sewer Shark. There can be only one Sewer Shark.

But back to Alice…If you only own one made-for-tv adaptation of Alice in Wonderland starring every cheese-tastic tv star from the 70s and early 80s, this is the version for you. You might also want to invest in some pharmaceuticals or a good bottle of gin. You’re going to need it.

In 2007, Unsuk Chin’s opera, Alice in Wonderland, was released on DVD. I was so excited I put every available version of Alice in Wonderland onto our netflix queue and then promptly forgot I’d done it. A few weeks ago, they started showing up in the mail. As obsessions go, this was a pretty minor one, but it’s now it’s oh-so-painfully hip in light of Tim Burton’s forthcoming adaptation, which stars Johnny Depp as Alice.

Yes, I know Depp isn’t playing Alice, but Tim Burton devotees seem to have no sense of humor whatsoever and it’s amusing to watch them work themselves into a lather over comments like that. I like Tim Burton. I think he’s squandered more talent on movies like that Planet of the Apes remake than most people possess. But I digress…

There have been lots of adaptations of Lewis Carroll’s work, but Disney’s 1951 cartoon might still be the standard bearer. We rewatched it recently and marveled at how well it’s aged.

French New Wave cinema was a clear influence on the 1966 production of an episode of a BBC series called “The Wednesday Play.” The movie stars, among others, Sir John Gielgud, Michael Redgrave & Peter Sellers. Ravi Shankar composed the soundtrack.

The movie is simultaneously exceptionally dull and hypnotically engrossing.

Alice communicates almost entirely in voiceover (even her dialogue) and never makes eye contact with the other characters. I don’t know if this is a pedantic representation of Carroll’s biting commentary on Victorian childhood or if the kid just couldn’t act so the director worked around it. Whatever the reason, it works well. I found the tea party scene on youtube, it shows much better than I can tell:

As if the movie doesn’t feel enough like a Calvin Klein Obsession commercial put through the Monty Python blender, Eric Idle, not yet famous enough to even warrant a credit, zooms past in an early scene as a participant in the caucus race.

Just for fun, here’s some Obsession ads from the 80s:

I was going to post the great SNL parody, Compulsion, but I can’t find it online.

Next up: The 1985 made-for-tv Alice in Wonderland that’s a 3 1/2 hour musical starring Roddy McDowall, Scott Baio, Sherman Hemsley, Telly Savalas, Ringo Starr, Imogene Coca, Red Buttons, Sid Caesar, Sally Struthers, John Stamos, Ernest Borgnine, Beau and Lloyd Bridges, Carol Channing, Merv Griffin, and Sammy Davis, Jr, among others. Seriously.