Archive for Alice in Wonderland

To Wonderland

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , on February 11, 2022 by dcairns

The 1915 ALICE IN WONDERLAND escaped my notice awhile back when I was comparing different film and teevee versions of Lewis Carroll’s book/s. It’s quite nice. Primitive, but not for 1915. Director W.W. Young has only one other credit on the IMDb, as editor of a 1930 lecture-film on Darwinian evolution, but I’m sure he must have done plenty more.

The Tenniel-inspired costumes are great. You need good visuals if you’re making a silent version of a book where all the humour is verbal. The few visual bits with potential for being funny are the special effects sequences the makers of this film didn’t feel bold enough to tackle. I don’t know why not, since the principles involved had existed since Melies, and anyway, we hardly need to the fall down the rabbit hole or Alice’s growth spurts to be conventionally convincing.

This is the only version I can think of in which Father William actually appears as a character.

They do try to get a bunch of the rhymes in, but have to break them up to fit the intertitles, and they don’t break them sensibly.

The alarmingly thin Viola Savoy lived to be 87, so if she had an eating disorder, she presumably recovered. Nobody else makes much of an impression as they’re trapped inside sweltering Disneyland costumes, as in the 1933 Paramount job. As I say, for as an approach for a silent, it makes sense, though something that allowed performance nuances to come through would also be nice. Of the Banana Splits grotesques, the ones with necks are the ones that work best, even if the Dodo takes things a bit too far, with a head that wobbles alarmingly; the neckless mouse, dormouse, etc, are just kind of horrifying lumps. Lovecraftian Shoggoths. The caterpillar is like something out of Wakamatsu.

Otherwise, the most interesting feature is the prologue, far longer than Carroll’s, but without any plot, just showing Alice puttering about. The attempt is to make a Freudian ALICE, whereby the items and characters in the Wonderland dream are inspired by things she sees in her real quotidian life. It’s an interesting conceit, but while it doesn’t make Carroll’s imagery any less weird, it’s an attempt to do so. I don’t despise it as much as the Tim Burton film’s kack-handed attempt to turn the story into a typical battle-between-good-and-evil narrative, complete with Disney Princess. I think the thing to do when adapting Carroll is to be true to his odd affect, his good jokes, and treat the events as if they had a rigorous logic that must be respected, even if we aren’t allowed to understand what makes it work.

Blue Sky Alice

Posted in FILM, literature, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 8, 2020 by dcairns

“Blue sky casting” is a screenwriter’s trick — you imagine anyone you like, living or dead, in a role, and that hekps you find the character’s voice. If you’re writing for Jeff Goldblum or Michael Redgrave, different things happen. What you probably shouldn’t ever do is cast the person you were thinking of — there’s an exciting tension that happens if you cast, say, Joan Cusack, in a role written with, say, Myrna Loy in mind.

It’s also a fun exercise: here’s a fantasy cast list for Lewis Carroll’s Alice books. I found as i was coming up with it that it was tending to a mid-1950s feel, and naturally British. But it began when Fiona proposed Peter Lorre as the Dormouse.

It turns out I’ve been carrying in my mind various casting ideas for Alice, and they cam tumbling out and were joined by others…

It just seems crazy that Kenneth Williams never played the Mad Hatter. Put it down to typecasting — the Carry On films, though hugely popular, rendered all the actors uncastable in anything other than sitcom or sex farce. The two main productions KW would have been eligible for, Jonathan Miller’s rather wonderful TV Alice in Wonderland, and the execrable musical ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND, have excellent Hatters in Peter Cook and Robert Helpmann respectively, but Williams would have knocked it out the park.

It’s kind of obvious that Jimmy Edwards, extravagantly-tached comic actor, should be the Walrus, but I think Norman Wisdom is very close to Tenniel’s drawing of the Carpenter. It’s starting to look like this production belongs in the mid-fifties to sixties.

Not for any physical resemblance, but the wide-eyed dithering innocence John le Mesurier brought to his work in Dad’s Army seems to suit the King of Hearts nicely. And he practically plays the role in Gilliam’s JABBERWOCKY.

I feel that Irene Handl deserves a crack at the Queen of Hearts — though associated with working class roles (she argued with Billy Wilder about how to play cockney dialogue), she was actually quite posh, seemingly, and derived her characterisations from her observation of her family’s maids when she was young. And she’s the most versatile and surprising and funny of actors, seriously underused. (If you were doing it later, Prunella Scales would be immense, and she’s a lot like Dodgson’s own drawings.)

I’ve always seen Lionel Jeffries as the White Knight. He has such an air of melancholy. I can never read the Knight’s verse without tears springing unbidden to my eyes. Same with Lear’s The Jumblies: “Far and few, far and few…” an incantatory lament.

Okay, granted, Roger Livesey has to be a contender too.

Charles Gray as Humpty Dumpty, because.

When I look at Tenniel’s White Rabbit, I see Edward Everett Horton, which makes it odd that Paramount cast him as the Mad Hatter in the 30s version. They should have borrowed George Arliss for the Hatter and given Horton the rabbit. Fuck Skeets Gallagher. But if we’re going for anxious British players of the 1950s, maybe Alastair Sim? Or Alec Guinness, but there you’d be opening up a can of worms. Who could he NOT play? We know he’d make a magnificent Duchess:

And that’s a role which should really be done in drag, for compassionate reasons. Peter Bull was pretty perfect in the seventies abomination. Leo McKern would be good too.

Peter Sellers is maybe the only man to have played motion picture versions of the March Hare AND the King of Hearts, and he’s another can of worms if we let him in. But in the Miller piece he does the unimaginable, improvising Lewis dialogue in character, so he should be essential. Since this would be early, chubby Sellers, maybe we should be thinking in terms of the caterpillar, a somewhat shadowy figure in the illo.

If we’re having Sellers, then Spike Milligan would be a fine Frog Footman (see YELLOWBEARD for some exemplary footmanning from SM).

Based on Tenniel, there can be no question that the White King and Queen are Thorley Walters and Joan Sims. though Handl is another possibility for the latter. The Red Queen could be Flora Robson or Patricia Hayes, but I’m going for Yootha Joyce (energy) whereas the Red King, apparently dreaming the whole thing like in INCEPTION, doesn’t ever wake up and so it seems like wasted effort to cast a celebrated thesp. Might as well be John Wayne.

Miller cast Finlay Currie as the Dodo, an impressive feat — the only human actor to LOOK like a dodo. But he’s too old, since Dodgson based this didactic fowl on himself, incorporating his stutter — Do-do-Dodgson. Trying to find an actor not aged in the 1950s, with Dodgson’s sad eyes and an impressive beak, I stop at Richard Wattis.

Cecil Parker, arch-ovine, must be the Sheep, a rarely-filmed character but one with great material. I suppose the sheep should really be female, but drag is allowed. We’re through the looking glass, here.

The Gnat also has some really good jokes, and is never presented onscreen — perhaps because Tenniel didn’t deign to draw him. Another tutelary figure — you can really tell the author is a lecturer — he could really be played by anybody from Terry-Thomas to Robert Morley. The latter is more pompous, so he’d do, but then for heaven’s sake why not Noel Coward? Or Dennis Price, who quotes Lewis with relish in Mike Hodges’ PULP?

Of course, given the period, we can have perhaps Britain’s greatest child actor in the title role, Mandy Miller (MANDY, THE MAN IN THE WHITE SUIT), and by happy coincidence it appears she’s a fan of the author:

Randy Cook suggests Benny Hill for the Cheshire Cat. What are your thoughts? I presume that, like me, you have been carrying casting ideas for Alice around in your heads for decades.

At the Mountains of Madness

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , on March 20, 2020 by dcairns

From the hardboiled classic You Play the Black and the Red Comes Up by Eric Knight (a Yorkshireman who moved to Hollywood, author of Lassie Come Home). The main speaker is flamboyant filmmaker Quentin Genter, engaged in a drunken evening with the narrator, Dick, and movie star Jira Mayfair:

“You see, I’ll tell you a secret. No one is sane here. No one is sane and nothing is real. And you know what it is?”

“Sure, it’s the climate,” I said, kidding.

“That’s it–exactly,” he said. His eyes were going sort of funny in the middle, and he was shouting in a whisper. He got real excited. “Dick, you know, you’re the only one man besides me in the whole world who’s discovered it. It’s the climate–something in the air. You can bring men from other parts of the world who are sane. And you know what happens? At the very moment they cross those mountains,” he whispered real soft, “they go mad. Instantaneously and automatically, at the very moment they cross those mountains into California, they go insane. Everyone does. They still think they’re sane, but they’re not. Everyone in this blasted state is mad. I’m mad. You’re mad. So is Jira. We’re all perfectly, gloriously mad.”

“You know,” he whispered again, real low, “we see things. Do you see things?”

“Sure,” I kidded. “I’ve never acted right since I’ve been here.”

“That’s it. It’s the climate. Now look, you see those mountains?”

He pointed out to where the hills went up, blue-black against the darkness, and with lights winding round on the roads like fire-pearls.

“Sure,” I said.

“There! That proves it,” he said.

“Proves what?” I asked him.

“Proves you’re mad,” he said.” You see those mountains there just like I do. And you know what?”

I shook my head.

“They’re not there,” he whispered. “You only think they’re there. And they’re not. It’s just a movie set. If you go round the other side of that mountain, you’ll see nothing but two-by-fours that hold up the canvas.

“And you see this restaurant? Well, it isn’t here. It’s a process shot. All Hollywood is a process shot. It’s a background just projected onto ground glass. And the only reason nobody knows that is we’re all mad.”

The novel was written in 1937. At some point, David Lynch was interested in filming it. It’s a slender volume, 134 pages with intro in my edition, but packed with incident. Each chapter could probably fill half an hour the way Lynch paces things, and they’re mostly about four pages long. I like the Mad Hatter reference here, and the whole phildickian fantasy reminds me of the early draft of THE TRUMAN SHOW, in which Truman prepares to go on holiday and the showrunners build fake pyramids a short distance from his hometown.